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How we keep holiday decorating simple, inexpensive and fun (for everyone.)

by Meagan Francis on December 13, 2013

stockings, holiday decorating

Decorating for the Christmas holiday is one thing I look forward to year-round. Despite having a large family and a limited budget, we manage to turn out a cozy-feeling house each year with minimal stress or chaos.

I think the secret is keeping everything very simple, so that it’s always a joy and never a chore.

Here are some of my strategies for keeping holiday decorating simple and fun:

I don’t force participation.

While decorating the tree is possibly my most-favorite-ever holiday activity, I can appreciate that not everyone feels the same. This year Owen, a previous tree-decorating enthusiast, only wanted to hang the ornaments that he’s personally made – three or four, tops. Fine by me.

Not only do I not force the kids to get involved, there have been years – like when I had a toddler and a crawling infant at the same time, for example – that I’ve purposely done 95% of the decorating when they were asleep or out of the house and then let them “help” with the final touches. 

Now that they are older, we have a small pile of ornaments that “belong” to each child (like the ones they’ve made or chosen at the store), and I do ask them to put those specific ones on the tree. We also ask the big boys for help with some of the larger jobs, like hauling in the tree or stringing the lights.

Otherwise, they can come and go as they please, and they don’t have to stick around the whole time. But everybody does (willingly!) participate in some way every year. 

owen tree

We mix it up.

In our house there’s just one tree, and it’s a hodgepodge of the nice glass ornaments I’ve collected at boutiques throughout the years, ornaments that were passed down to us by my mother-in-law in our early marriage, and the kids’ crafts.

I’m not against the idea of separate kids’ and adults’ trees or tables, but we don’t really have enough space to separate it all out, and besides – some of my favorite decorations are the kids’ creations like these Nutcrackers that William drew last year.

nutcracker drawings

I let the kids have a say. 

See the gold garland hanging around the Nutcracker pictures on our secretary, above? Think that was my idea? Heck no. But since I like the kids to have some sense of ownership over the way our house looks, I give them reign over certain areas of the house…and try very hard not to “fix” things when they aren’t looking. (Unless it’s truly heinous, that is.)

I also leave some of the decorations unused each year, so that the kids can decorate their own spaces if they like. For example, Clara’s four-poster bed currently graces a multi-colored tinsel garland that we aren’t using on the tree this year. Totally her idea, and she has declared it “beautiful.”


We keep crafts very simple.

We add some new handmade item into the repertoire most years, but always keep it very low-key and low-cost and only make something if I feel inspired by something I already have or can easily get.

I made the tree garland above from a $1 package of felt coasters I picked up at Target a few years ago – I just sewed them onto a long length of forest-green embroidery floss. If you look very closely you can see where I made some mistakes, and the edges are getting a little ragged….but since it’s hanging a foot or two above everyone’s heads, nobody ever looks very closely!

We incorporate play into our decorations.

Sure, for me decorating is all about having something pretty to look at. But the kids prefer something much more hands-on. I make sure to include pieces that can be moved around or played with, and try to have a relaxed attitude about the fact that not every ornament is going to stay exactly where I placed it.

I tell the kids – clearly – which decorations are hands-off so there’s no confusion. The rest, like the wooden creche puzzle (a gift from my mom in 1997) and the porcelain Nativity figures (picked up at a thrift store for $2 last year!) pictured below can be played with as long as they don’t “travel” away from the table where they were placed.

You can see here that Clara has been playing with the set, as the shepherds and Wise Men (whom Clara believes are all Jesus’s daddies) appear to be worshipping nobody, and Jesus is hanging out with the animals. 


One great way to make holiday decoration a little more hands-on is a play-based Advent calendar, like the Playmobil Forest Winter Wonderland* calendar Clara is playing with below.

This is our third Playmobil advent calendar, and the kids just love them – they come with adorable little accessories (like the bird Clara is attaching to the branches below.) There are several different themes, but the Forest Winter Wonderland is my favorite.

Playmobil advent calendars are a bit of an investment, but if you are very careful while opening each door, you could probably use these from year to year. Unfortunately our other two disappeared – I believe they were mistakenly donated to the thrift store last year – but they had held up well.

*Affiliate link – if you click and make a purchase, you will support The Happiest Home at no extra cost to you.

santa calendar

 What are your favorite ways to keep holiday decorating simple and fun?

PS: Want to know more about our simple holiday decorating style – and see a few more photos? Check out my most recent Babble post!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire December 13, 2013 at 10:22 am

I can’t imagine having to encourage my son to decorate. I have the opposite problem! It was fine until the Christmas right before he turned 3. By then he was big enough to reach things and get into all kinds of trouble. So the following year, when he had started preschool, I did the majority of the decorating while he was in school, saving the tree-trimming for him and his Dad. I’ve done it that way every year since. I do a little rearranging when they’re done, but like you, the homemade ornaments are some of my favorites, and that’s more important to me than having a designer Christmas tree. I also make it a point to let him know which decorations are okay to play with and which need to be left alone. We actually put our tree on top of a table so it’s not quite as tempting. The advantage of this is that when we cut it down to size, it provides lots of branches for decorating the porch, so I don’t have to buy as much of the pine roping. And because it goes on top of the table, it means we don’t have to rearrange the furniture to make room for the tree. But before too long we’ll do the full-sized tree, while he’s still young enough to enjoy the thrill of having a big tree.


Ana December 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I LOVE your first point. No need to guilt kids into doing it for YOUR enjoyment. Something I really want to remember as my boys get older….the more I leave them alone, the more they’ll be likely to wander back.


lyle @ The Joy of Simple December 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Hi Meagan and thanks for sharing.

I love the way you allow your children to be children, but at the same time, to have a say, much like an adult, of how they would like things to be in their little parts of the house. Nicely diplomatic :)

As for keeping things simple, well, as a bachelor I tend to not have many decorations to put up. But I do have a small tree and there are some brightly lit decorations that I put up to make the place look festive. At least me cat likes them!

Thanks again for sharing and really enjoying your blog. I first heard of you on Pat Flynn’s podcast and I really liked what you had to say.

Take care and my best to all. Happy holidays to all in the Francis household.



Marjorie December 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

I just love your laid back approach to things Meagan. :) We are so on the same page. Hope you and your family are having a great week!


Christian Toto December 16, 2013 at 9:27 am

We’ve learned to say ‘no’ to invites that will make our lives more complicated this year. We decided to do less gift swapping with family members (adult siblings). We’re concentrating on what makes us the happiest this year — new family traditions and times with old friends.


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