An Easy Guide to Stylish and Affordable Holiday Decorating

Here's one of my most popular blog posts that I am re-sharing to help you get some easy and cheap ideas for Holiday Decor. Plus, I share my 5 steps for decorating your Christmas tree--just in case trimming your tree feels more stressful than merry. 

Well hey there, holidays!! 

Did they show up before you were ready too? Aren't they so sneaky, always doing that? You'd think we'd start to catch on to their sly behavior, but I naively fall for it each and every time. One moment it's September and I'm like hurray for apple seas--BAM-- Thanksgiving and Christmas are on my doorstep like Cousin Eddie expecting to be fed and celebrated. 

Good to see you, Holidays. Air hugs because I have a cold. No, it's not a bad time at all (surveys the disheveled house, the pile of empty Halloween candy wrappers). Won't you come in? 

We have plenty of room. Plenty of towels. Plenty of everything.  

Same. Story. Every. Year. :) 

For this blog post, I've decided to share some tips for having a stylish holiday with minimal prep and expense because when holidays sneak up, you've got to prioritize to get it all done. And just in case you feel anxiety about decorating a Christmas tree, I've got that down to an easy 5-step science

Let's start with a picture of my house decorated for the holidays. 


KIDDING!!! Stop, I do not have that glamorous a house. And that's not my style. You know my vibe is way more relaxed. But I admit, I absolutely love homes that are dripping in holiday cheer. I've lusted after a beautiful holiday setting since I saw Home Alone as a kid. Have you ever noticed that even the wallpaper and linens in the parents' bedroom are red and green? So holiday dreamy. I mean, granted, the color palette makes no sense come July, but for a holiday setting, it just doesn't get any merrier. 

I don't know about you, but I don't have time, energy, or budget to recreate the Home Alone set. However, I can and DO make my home feel festive and cozy with a few simple touches and not a lot of money. How? Let's find out! 

For starters, less is more. Let's do the math:

Less decor = less time. Less time = less stress. 

Less stress = Hallelujah Chorus.

This goes for setting it all up and packing it all away. Less really is more.

The key to simple, no-fuss holiday decorating is to highlight just a few main areas of your home. If you happen to have decorations to go further than the hot spots, then that's icing on the Christmas cookie. I recommend starting small, beginning with the high-traffic areas of your home. There's just no sense in tucking snowmen and Santas in nooks and crannies that don't get much air time. It's kind of like my approach to drying my hair: focus on the front since most people see that. Do the back if you have time and inclination.

Be Resourceful. 

Some of my favorite holiday decor has come from Target's Dollar Spot section, Walmart, and the Dollar Tree. I also have pieces from Hobby Lobby and Stein Mart, but really nothing expensive at all. I confess that I am a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to spending on decor because I prefer to spend my discretionary dollars on my clothes, naturally. 

After-Christmas sales are a great way to score decor for the next year. If you're too Christmassed out to do this though, stores run really good sales leading up to Christmas  

Let's Hit the Hot Spots.

The high-traffic spots in your home may be different than mine but most are probably the same: the foyer, the kitchen, the living room, and the dining room table. These are the places I concentrate on when it comes to holiday decorating. Some of these areas are a bit of a work in progress for me but most feel just right for my simple vibe. 

Oh yeah, you'll notice that I left off the front door. Here's why: 

Even though the front door sets the tone for guests the same way that an invitation does for a wedding or party, guests generally don't linger there very long because you're not going to leave them waiting in the cold just so they can admire your door decor, right? You hesitated. But I'm not judging. ;)  

And like an invitation that rests momentarily on the fridge door before it goes into the trash can, the front door is just a brief stop on the way into the real event: the warmth of your home. 

To clarify, I think curb appeal is fantastic! I aspire to own an inflatable Frosty and one day grit my teeth while I watch Josh scale the roof to hang a patch a Christmas lights.  #Christmasfuturegoals ...But for now I am a girl on a budget who simply hangs a wreath on my door and calls it good. (I envision a small cluster of topiary trees and maybe a vintage sled leaning against the wall. Possibly garland draped across the door frame... Must remember less is more. Less is more...) 

So excluding the exterior, let's start with the entry way or foyer. 

You really don't need a lot here because it can be pretty overwhelming for guests who've just stepped inside to feel like they've been whisked away to Santa's workshop. Comfortably ease your guests into your holiday vibe with just a couple of nice touches to create a warm welcome.  

Holiday florals. Your hall table is a great spot for a holiday-inspired arrangement or floral because an arrangement is tall and has presence, filling the space with relatively easy effort. I like easy because a) instant gratification and b) my Christmas cookies are not easy and I like to conserve my energy for that task.  

This year I whipped together an arrangement using open stock floral from Hobby Lobby. The entire she-bang was under $25 (50% off sale plus a 40% off coupon for the container). That's pretty much my personal threshold for faux arrangements because I can be somewhat of a cheapskate on certain items (for example wrapping paper, greeting cards, and evidently artificial arrangements) In truth, investing in a nice silk or other arrangement is smart because a good one will last you for a long time and they seriously make a big statement. Shame on me for wanting something for nothing but I'm being honest. :P 

Let me also be transparent that I am not super experienced in creating floral arrangements. But I felt up to the task and simply followed my gut. I used two "snow" covered cranberry branches ($6 each on sale), and then my instinct said I needed a little greenery to make it feel like the outdoors had come inside ($5). I am a big believer in decorating in a rule of 3-5-7. Three branches is the minimum; five is ideal; use seven (or more) if you want something super full. My vision was something that felt pared down and quaint so I went with three (also because I am admittedly thrifty when it comes to decor, if you haven't noticed.) 

The metal container is cool because it adds a touch of shine on the otherwise dark table. It was on sale for $8. I already had the spool of ribbon left from a previous project so it didn't factor into my budget. 

You can stop at just the holiday arrangement for the entry way, especially if your aesthetic is minimalist. 

Or if you desire, add another one or two decorative touches. 

I have this cool cloche from Hobby Lobby that I usually have on the front table with conch shells in it. Typically I hide it in the laundry room until Christmas passes, but this year I decided to use it to house a snowy scene that reminds me of a giant snow globe. It was very easy to make. 

The church is an ornament that came from Walmart for $1. The bottle brush trees were on sale for $1 each at Hobby Lobby, and a three-pack of street lamps was on sale for under $2. I don't need two other street lamps but I consider them like extra light bulbs. I might need them later on if this one gets lost or breaks. A package of fake snow was on sale for $2.50 and there's enough in the bag to last for a decade. So a sweet snowy scene for around $10. 

If you need to count the cloche in your decorating budget, then this one was around $30-40 and I either bought it half off or used a 40% off coupon. Hobby Lobby currently has a  glass dome on sale for $19.99. It doesn't come with a base but you can use a random plate or even wrapped cardboard as a base. 

Pictures with Santa
A really affordable (ahem FREE)  way to add holiday cheer is to swap out framed pictures for the holidays. It's so fun to put out old pics of me and my brother on Santa's lap, and for an extra touch of funny, I always add in my framed Santa Glamour Shot that I took when I was fifteen. Please tell me someone else has had Glamour Shots taken? What a funny concept that business was. Hair, makeup, capes and half outfits to wear while essentially vogue-ing in super cheesy poses. I promise, everyone was doing it. 

Before we leave the entry way, I finish up the space with a cute burlap and buffalo plaid banner hanging across the table that is from Target Dollar Spot. And I either use tape or Command Hooks for all my hanging needs.     

Next stop, the kitchen.

Create small scenes. (Like I always tell Iris, no major drama required!) 

Counter space is at a premium in the kitchen since I like to do some crazy holiday baking and I don't love counter clutter. The scene above sits beside my red Keurig and it cost about $15 total. I like having a cheerful message next to my coffee every morning to remind me that it's the most wonderful time of the year so I won't take for granted that it will be gone in a twinkle. Gotta enjoy every blessed stressful moment! ;) These are the days, friends. Remember January (the Debbie Downer of months) is coming. 

The Christmas tree chalkboard and Be Merry sign are both $3 finds from Target's Dollar Spot. I got them last year but I know you'll find something that inspires you in this year's Dollar Spot inventory. Even Hobby Lobby has really cute canvas signs with holiday scenes and messages on sale for $3-8. Lots of vintage reindeer and ski lodge looks are trending this season. So are bottle brush trees which I already mentioned were $1 each on sale. They did come in a large package so I couldn't buy just a couple, but since I used them in the foyer cloche and here they were a good value for $10.   

The red ornaments came from Walmart in a pack of 30 for around $4. The rest of them can be found hanging on my Christmas tree. 

So there you have a cheerful scene for under $20, and that's really all you need in the kitchen unless you have a lot more space. This scene is great on an island if you have one. Or you can duplicate your foyer table arrangement on the island for a cohesive look. 

I don't have an island, just have a small bar that we don't keep stools at (because toddlers). I put out a bowl of cinnamon scented pine cones and another cute Dollar Spot banner that says Oh What Fun in felt circles and the kitchen is done, man. 


Let's head to the Living Room!

Since the Christmas tree usually lives here, you only need a few additional touches around the living room to make a big impact on the space. I like my decor to be comfy and cheerful so you won't find a lot of fancy stuff in my house. But the same rules work if you like fancy, just substitute more elegant finds. 

Pillow talk. 
For holiday, I swap out my ocean coral pillows for these navy and white ones (below) that I got a few years ago at Hobby Lobby. The pattern is dark to anchor the space and the design reminds me of Nordic snowflakes. Beside them are the red popcorn textured pillows. These stay out all year and came from Stein Mart for cheap. Red is my favorite color all year but especially so at Christmas. A pop of red in a few spots will liven up your home in a big way. 

Also on the couch, I scored this Royal Stewart Tartan Plaid pillow from Ross for $10.99 last week.  

Speaking of Royal Stewart Tartan Plaid, henceforth referred to as RSTP, it's my favorite holiday fabric. It's classic, bright, and plays well with blue, which is the other main color in my home besides red. 

Lean in close here because I am whispering to you one of my silliest (or most genius?!) Holiday Hacks: I wrap my every day throw pillows in table cloths at Christmas. 

What?! Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?  (I think you mean crazy smart!) 

I found the RSTP table cloths at Marshall's for just $7.99 each and that was cheaper than I could find oversized RSTP pillows (my chair pillows are jumbo sized, just the way I like my Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes). 

Besides, who likes to devote valuable storage space to separate big holiday pillows for 3/4 of the year? So I use these fabric tablecloths, and they fold up teeny tiny at the end of the winter season. Confession: I intended to have these sewn into actual pillow covers but time got away from me, yada yada yada, and safety pins do the trick quite nicely. Plus it's a fun flashback to the days of folding notes in middle school.  ;) 

Pillows most of the year: blue concentric squares. 

Pillows at holiday: Tartan-tastic! 

By the way, I did happen to find a two-pack of RSTP throw pillows at Ross the other day for just $16.99. They were a good bit smaller than the ones I have and they were black wooly fleece on the back. These may be perfect for you! I'm sticking to my tablecloth wrapped pillows as a matter of pride. :)

Other odds and ends. 

Here are a few cute finds I use in the living room as well. Pepper your favorite decorations around the room, making sure to group them in twos or threes. Meet Robert Deer-o, courtesy of Marshall's, and this cute word art Christmas tree that came from Dollar Tree for A DOLLAR.  



These red snowflake candle holders are favorites of mine because they are red and shiny like Rudolph's nose. They also pull double duty on the dining room table as part of my holiday tablescape. I forget the price but they were probably around $5 each from Marshall's. 

The Nativity is of course the focal point in my living room, apart from the tree. I spread out the characters on my sofa table where they are seen from every angle. I keep this area clean and simple in hopes of letting the true meaning of the season take center stage here. 

Iris is fascinated by the nativity and keeps inviting her friends to witness the miracle. It's going to be a packed house at the stable come Christmas morning, but truly the more the merrier. 

Still waiting for the last box of Christmas decor to come down from the attic with the stockings so here's a screen shot of them. 


Before we move on to the tree, I like to take a step back and look at the room as a whole. Does the eye keep moving around the space? Are there any big holes in the flow of the cheery vibe? If so, consider adding a small bit of color or sparkle there for balance.

Ok. Time for a sip of cocoa. Or wassel. Or wine. Take your pick. 

I feel like I always write fast, throw a lot at you quickly, and I want to give you a minute to let your thoughts marinate. Are you gathering some good ideas to try at your house with either your current decor or are you making a short shopping list of affordable finds to pick up? Good, good. And you know you can ask me for advice any time.

Hey, I promised you an easy 5-steps to decorating your tree. Here goes.

I'm not going to waste one of my steps to state the obvious: Put up the tree/lights. (I'm an artificial, pre-lit girl in more ways than one.)

1. Start with the specialty ornaments. The largest ones. Presumably you have just a few of them versus filler ornaments like those red balls I showed you earlier. Place the unique and large ornaments first. Spread out duplicates starting at the top and working diagonally downward.


Example: I have 3 large filigree-egg looking ornaments. I place one high near the top, one midway down on one side, and the third closer to the bottom on the opposite side of the second one.


2. Add in the keepsake ornaments. These are usually smaller than the specialty ornaments but they are really dear so you want to be sure they get a good spot on the tree.


3. Next place the filler ornaments. These are the balls or globes or other small ornaments that you have in multiples. I have red ones that I generally put on the exterior branches for color pops. And, bonus tip: I have silver and gold glitter ones that I bury inside the branches near light bulbs to give the tree dimension and make it look like it glows from within. What I wouldn't give to stick an ornament beneath my cheekbones to look so nicely illuminated.


4. Add in any sprigs or curliques or feathers or candy canes that stick in the tree or hang from it. Remember again to start at the top and spread them out working down and diagonally across the tree for the most balanced and natural look. I have three sprigs of holly and berries and basically follow my advice in step 1. One at the top, one down and diagonal, the next one lower and opposite side as the second sprig. It's an easy formula that yields nicely balanced results. (We opt for a small tree right now so we can keep it high above Iris's reach. The same tips work on any size tree though)

At this point you will feel like your tree is done once you add the topper. It will look beautiful but keep going with one more step for easy dimension and the extra element needed for wow factor and pop in your pictures.

5. Finish the tree with garland or ribbon. Nothing fancy. I use ribbon because garland requires more effort to get the draping just right. I start at the top (back side) of the tree with the ribbon on a spool and wind it diagonally down the tree. Then I go back and make sure each row is parallel to the ones above and check to see if the way the ribbon falls looks right. I'll make adjustments like tucking the ribbon in front of or behind an ornament if necessary.


That's it! Throw on your tree skirt and your holiday is made. 

There's actually plenty more easy ideas that I'd love to show you. But let's stop here for today since there's a good Hallmark Christmas movie on, and you probably need to get back to whatever else you're working on. Here's a couple teaser pics of what I'll share with you next. Holiday baking and table decor. :) Stay tuned!

I'd love to see your holiday decorations, and if you found any useful tips from this post, let me know and tag me when you share your photos with #sarawisestyle.

Stylishly yours,

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