Minimalist Holiday Decor

One thing I’ve never liked about the holiday season is the proliferation of store-bought décor. Plastic trees, mass-manufactured ornaments, and objects emblazoned with Santas, elves, and reindeer are not only a drain on our planet’s resources; they’re also extra things that must be stored, unused, for eleven months of the year.

I’m certainly not against decorating for the holidays; I simply think we can do it in a lighter, more elegant, and more environmentally-friendly way. Here’s some ideas:

Decorate with nature. Spread evergreen branches across your mantle, or spruce up your table with sprigs of holly. Gather pine cones into a bowl, or place a few poinsettias around your home. Natural items give us a true appreciation of the beauty, and bounty, of the season.

Decorate with food. A garland of popcorn or cranberries is a lovely way to adorn your tree or mantel, and a plate of festive Christmas cookies (not to mention the divine smell of them baking!) is enough to put anyone in a holiday spirit.

Decorate with photos. The holidays are all about family—so what better way to add warmth to your home than with a special display of family photos? Dig out those dusty prints from yesteryear’s celebrations, or make a slideshow of digital ones on your TV, computer monitor, or digital frame. Reminisce over your family history, or simply laugh at your hairstyles and fashions from decades past.

Decorate with color. An item doesn’t have to be holiday-themed to qualify for display. Any object in a seasonal color—like a red throw, green vase, silver candleholder, or gold-rimmed plate—can just as effectively set the mood.

Decorate with handmade items. The holidays are a perfect time to showcase the creativity of your household. For a particularly delightful effect, ask children in the family to create special artwork for you to display. Their Santa drawings and paper chains are infinitely more charming than department store baubles.

Decorate with recycled materials. If you’re crafty, the cards, ribbons, and wrapping paper of Christmases past can make simple seasonal touches around your home. (How about some gift wrap origami?)

Decorate with candles. Some strategically-placed tea light, votive, or pillar candles lend a warm, magical feel to a holiday gathering. (Of course, make sure to take all appropriate safety precautions!)

Decorate with music. The sounds of Bing Crosby crooning classic holiday tunes—or your twelve-year-old playing them on the piano—creates just as wonderful a seasonal ambience as any visual display.

And for the die-hard minimalists: admire other people’s décor. Go on a holiday house tour, visit a botanical garden, or explore your hometown (or a neighboring one) for festive seasonal displays. It’s a great way to get your holiday fix with no stuff, no fuss, and no clean-up!

Do you keep it simple when it comes to holiday decor? I’d love to hear your strategies for a festive (yet clutter-free) look!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

84 comments to Minimalist Holiday Decor

  • Janetta

    We have one green “fibre optic” 3 foot tree (no lights to bother about), a small bag of decorations (some I made), one string of silver tinsel and then whatever Christmas cards I get. Took exactly 40 minutes to put the tree up yesterday. I also use recycleable fabric wrap for gifts and I think it looks great. Simple but pretty, we love it.

  • Mims

    This post made me smile as I visited my aunt, and on the table was a small, white, wooden, horse shaped candle holder with a red ribbon and a twig of spruce around the neck. That was her entire Christmas decoration, and only because my cousin had visited for an early Christmas celebration some days before and insisted on something “Christmassy”. They had also gone to the Christmas market and watched the Christmas decoration on town. The funny thing is that my aunt works in homestaging, I guess other peoples stuff make her want to get rid of as much as possible!

    I myself am big on Christmas celebrations, mainly to ward off SAD. Right now I have put up a freshly made advent wreath, a small runner from my grandmother on the kitchen table, a star shaped light in the window (that folds back into nothing when the season is over) and a strand of lights on the balcony, the last two stay up until the end of February, when we have at least a couple of hours of daylight again. The rest of my pre Christmas decorations are pretty minimalistic; flowers, the smell of cookies baking, Christmas music, Christmas books and Christmas movies, Christmas concerts, trips to watch the Christmas decorations elsewhere. I do however love a lavishly decorated Christmas tree (which I put up on Christmas eve and keep to 12th night together with the nativity scene my mother made). In my defence though, all my Christmas decorations fit in the same box (except for the wreath, whose shape is a bit awkward), and I’m slowly working towards my goal of having all my seasonal ornaments fit one, preferably smaller, box.

    However, I don’t mind going treeless if I’m not at home for Christmas, my aunt, mother and I once spent a glorious Christmas in a basic hotel room in south east Asia with only a candle, a photocopy of the page in the Bible that my grandmother used to read at Christmas (which we realized that we could have skipped since we all knew the text by heart), some home made Christmas cookies, some carolling and some really small and useful Christmas presents. After all, Christmas is in the spirit, not the ornament!

  • This weekend we heard my 95 year old grandmother is suddenly suffering from auditory and some visual hallucinations – until now she has been extremely well, mentally all there, lives in her own home, does all her own housework, garden etc. My mom rushed to be with her (1200 miles) and has reported back that among other things, the neighbours have bright blue, flashing decorations outside, like strobe lights, that have been flashing non-stop since December 1st…. surely that would drive anyone crazy, never mind a little old lady??!!!!

    • Mims

      Oh, goodness, that sounds horrible! I thought I was going to go crazy when the neighbour across the street from my grandmother had a blinking, flashing, colour changing star in all of his windows, and I was only there for a week. But blue strobe lights? They’re known to trigger migraines and epileptic attacks! I don’t suffer from either, but I get queasy and dizzy when I have to go to bathrooms with blue light.

  • Great decorating advice!

    On a more sour note, I have a warning for you, my aunt had her house burn down because the Christmas tree caught fire! She gave a child a candle to hold and she got busy doing something else, next thing she knows the front room is ablaze because the child had lit the Christmas tree on fire. Keep fire AWAY from real Christmas trees, especially when they are dry! Dry Christmas trees burn VERY fast!

  • Mims

    I just realized that I have actually been enjoying a bit of a minimalist Christmas this year. For days I wondered why my office/bedroom suddenly felt so Christmassy when then only thing I had done was to put a candle on my desk, until I realised that I spent my days looking into the flat across and enjoying their Christmas tree! I still want my own though.

  • Tradd

    I had a small 2′ fake tree, but frankly it was kinda ugly. I’ve also got a small space and having it take over my one end table – not good. So I got rid of it just this evening and glad to have it gone!

    I have a small poinsettia, the cards I’ve received, and a couple of nice seasonal scented candles -and lots of good Christmas music – all digital.

  • I had not had a tree for 10 years, my daughter spends Christmas every year with her Christian father, she was going to be in town this year and wanted a tree. I had 12 beautiful silver/gold glitter stars left over ornaments from before ( the rest I gave to friends ) I hung the 12 with new lights, that are now outside strung above my Pergola. EVERYONE complimented our tree with it’s simple minimalist decor!
    I thought it was funny that it turned out to be such a statement when the truth was I didn’t want anymore stuff!

  • RachelH

    I can’t join the “less is more” party in this instance! We have a medium-sized fake tree and several ornaments I love, plus strings of colored lights. I love to frame our inside windows and along the living room ceiling, too. Seeing those glowing colored lights from Thanksgiving to mid-January really makes every day extra-special. I never seem to tire of them. We sometimes hang a wreath on the door. I am not a winter person, and this helps me to enjoy an otherwise dreary season (everything goes downhill from Jan-Mar.) If I were nomadic, I could easily make this more minimal, but seeing as I’m settled for now, this is an area of my life where I am not looking to downsize further.

  • Darla

    I have y own trees that I wait till holidays to trim and use for swags, wreaths and ‘planting’ in an indoor pot. Every year I hve different decorations depending on if I have more plastic or paper in the recycle bin. My pinecones stay in a basket all year round and then make it to the tree or bowl or somewhere. I might share 1/2 an apple and an orange with a swag as well.I like real trees so buy them small, keep them outside all year except holidays then they come in-they are slow growers so last quite a few years before they get too heavy and need to go in the ground.

  • […] innovatively. Instead of buying and storing seasonal decorations that are only used once a year, find other ways to spruce up your house on the holidays. Designing with festive colors or hanging up family photos are just a couple of […]

  • Tina

    I saved the decorations my kids made years ago and display all the cards we get.

  • Tina

    I saw instructions for ball ornaments made by cutting old cards into circles. Trees are 2 tree shapes slid together. I got wrapping paper at Salvation Army and yarn at Goodwill. I am making gift tags out of cereal box cardboard, some paint and a hole punch.

  • Tina

    My husband’s aunt used to always say to save the paper. When my kids were little, some gifts were wrapped in junk mail and some in gift wrap. A friend saves the Sunday funnies to use for gift wrap. Anything colorful that doesn’t come new. I bought rolls of paper at Goodwill and Sal Army a few years ago. I also save tissue paper from packages and use junk mail. Comics go to servicemen abroad. Second hand yarn makes colorful ties.

  • Greta

    We always have a fresh tree {in water so it doesn’t dry out}. I like not storing something that big to only use once a year. My husband doesn’t like putting up ornaments, so one year we only put lights on the tree and it was one of our favorite trees. In general, I try to keep ornaments in white silver or glass, even when picking out a new one to commemorate something. I really like the soothing elegant chromatic look. This past year, we lost a baby who was due in December, so we decorated the tree in only silver and crystal snowflakes {that we happened to have} to commemorate his life. That was my favorite tree.

  • S.C.

    We cover paintings and picture frames in Christmas paper as if the were presents.

  • I was talking to a friend yesterday, explaining how I could make something out of nothing. He said not to tell him, but show him. I made a sailor hat out of a piece of paper and then a boat. Then I told him all the uses for a torn, stained, T shirt. I showed him pictures of all kinds of things people had made my dyeing, cutting, weaving, crocheting,etc..old T shirts. I give away anything useful and like new, but when it has been patched a few times, I just wear it out.

  • I am doing a demonstration on making paper beads which can then be strung on ribbon, yarn,dental floss, etc. I also tear up old silk flowers to make leis. The paper beads are a use for ad flyers, etc.

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