Tips for Simplifying Christmas Decorating

Reasons why simplifying Christmas decorating will add more meaning and joy to your holiday season this year. 

Now that it is the first week of November, I’m shifting into “the season to be jolly” mode …aka… holiday mode.

I know it may seem a bit early to start blogging about the holidays, but when you’re a DIY decorating/lifestyle blogger with projects to create, photograph and then write posts about, I need to do it early enough so that come the day after Thanksgiving, readers can reference the ideas and have time to create for themselves.

Last year, when I was putting my Christmas decorations away, I vowed to take a step back this Christmas… to only decorate in a way that would make the holidays – Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day feel magical, but not overwhelm me.

Table clock on table decorated in white, red and green.

The time has arrived… the holiday season is 18 days away and I am going to take my own advice.

When we moved to the lake house, I purged quite a lot of Christmas decorations and did so again when I put the decorations away last year. I held each item in my hand and if it no longer had meaning in our lives… I placed it in a box to take to the thrift shop.

Going through this process, I discovered that it wasn’t all the decorations that made it feel like the holidays for me. It was more about the memories of family all around me and the atmosphere I created for us to enjoy it all with music, food and events. I am still going to create a festive atmosphere, but one that is more pared down and less decorated.

Perhaps you feel the same way?  Thanks to the internet and especially social media, we’re all bombarded with the most polished and highly edited sides of other’s holiday decorations and perfect Thanksgiving table settings and decorated Christmas trees, mantels and homes. 

I have been yearning to unwrap all these perfect expectations and take the pressure off myself and inspire you to do the same, whatever it is that will make the holidays feel festive and magical for you and your family.

This year, I am passing on the “I have-to this, this, and this… holiday checklist” that follows a certain script and instead, looking at what will make the truest version of the season come to life for me.

When I broke it down to figure out what makes Christmas feel wonderful and magical, here is what was on my list. These items are what I am going to focus on this year.

White Twinkle Lights on the Christmas Tree

Christmas-tree-at night in living room with lights-that-twinkle

Since I was a child, every Christmas tree my family has had was draped with twinkle lights. Not blinking lights, but mini lights that twinkle.  There is a huge difference between twinkling and blinking strands of lights. Blinking is when whole light strand blinks on and off.

Twinkling is when only a few lights per strand slowly blink on and off at a time, not the whole strand. It creates a magical atmosphere. I like to turn all the lights off in the house and sit by or even lay under the tree and enjoy the magic the twinkling lights create in the room and on the ceiling.  Here are the strands of lights I use:  Twinkle Lights

This year I also want to focus more on who is around my tree and not what is on it in the way of ornaments and garland. I may go rogue and keep the tree quite simple. :-)

Christmas Decorating Ideas All Through the House

My retail display background sometimes takes over when I get Christmas decorating ideas. Big and grand was our goal. We had to create impact!  I follow my ideas and instinct. This was the case with finding a dead Christmas tree back in 2014 at the Christmas tree farm where we bought our tree.

Bringing this dead tree back to life was pure joy, but it was a second tree to decorate that year. I want festive, pretty, but simple this year.

Candles in the Windows

Merry Christmas written on a snowy window with a candle inside.

In the rooms other than my living room where the Christmas tree is, I like to have a candle in each window at night.

Christmas Candle decorating ideas for tables

When I am in the room, I use real candles, but for other rooms, electric candles create the same holiday magic for my family…

DIY Christmas song lyric art.

…just like the song from the movie, Home Alone, Somewhere in My Memory.

I made this canvas for my guest room two years ago.  You can find out how I made it in this post: Getting The Guest Room Holiday Ready


The guest rooms where my daughters sleep when they come for the holidays don’t have windows. Instead they have sliding glass doors that look out to the lake. Candles in their bedroom windows were a must when they were growing up and still are for them as adults.

I had to tweak the window thing a little to make the candlelight magic happen by the glass doors for them.  Making my children, no matter how old they get, still feel the magic of Christmas will always be one of the most important things for me to do every year.

Christmas Music


When you read my Christmas blog posts where I share photos of my house decorated for the season, one very important thing is missing in each photo. That missing element is that you can’t hear the Christmas music playing in the room. For me, Christmas music is part of the decor.

Christmas music in my house is playing… All. The. Time! I think the music is more important to me than the Christmas tree.  I even have it playing in my car on Sirius – The Hallmark Channel, channel 70 started this past week. So far I like the type of holiday music they are playing.

When I am home, I play dozens of Christmas CD’s or playlists on my phone from traditional to current day musicians. You can find out my favorites here: The Sounds of Christmas

Christmas Movies

Christmas Movies that I love

Not the Hallmark variety, but classics from the 40’s and 50’s like Christmas in Connecticut, Desk Set, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. Plus a few from recent years: While You Were Sleeping,  Home Alone, A Christmas Romance, A Holiday for Love and The Santa Clause.

I get excited just thinking about spending a relaxing afternoon or evening with a fire in the fireplace and the twinkling lights on the tree watching a favorite holiday movie.

Baking Christmas Cookies

Pecan Cherry Cookie Recipe

I may not eat all of them, but I enjoy making cookies to then put out on the kitchen counter for all to enjoy or to pack up to give to family and friends. Ed’s favorites are called Pecan Cherry Cookies. Mine are Almond Cookies – made with vodka. :-)

An afternoon of baking in a warm and cozy kitchen with Christmas movies or music on in the background truly makes it feel like Christmas in my house.

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks

Illustration of Christmas shoppers shopping on snowy city street

Silver Bells is one of my favorite Christmas songs. I love the line… city sidewalks, busy sidewalks.

Photo of Radio City in Manhattan

Christmas shopping in NYC was something I always enjoyed doing growing up with my sisters and family over the years. Now that we are in South Carolina, I can’t get into NYC as easily.

I do miss spending the day Christmas shopping in NYC, but this year I have planned 2 days to spend strolling the streets of the two nearby cities to me, Columbia, SC and Greenville, SC.  I know there won’t be any snow, but I hope the streets are dressed in holiday style, even if it is just a little bit for me to shop for a few more gifts I need to buy.

Doing my Christmas shopping all year long so I don’t have to rush around buying just any ole thing to give to family and friends is one way to enjoy the holiday season more. I store everything I buy in one of the guest room closets.  This week I will take it all out to see who I still need to buy or make something for.

Natural Elements

How to hang a real evergreen Christmas wreath on a mirror with ribbon.

Moving to the shores of a large lake with nature all around me has made me appreciate decorating with natural elements such such as small touches of fresh greenery and DIY natural Christmas decorations.

Not garlands…I will never use fresh pine garlands inside… ever again, they make too much of a mess and dry out way too fast for the expense.  But hanging a simple cedar wreath, pine branches in a vase or centerpiece are doable and create a festive holiday vibe.

Over the next few weeks, I will share how I implemented each of these items into my home and life. In my next post, I will start by showing you how I am going to decorate the fireplace mantel with a pretty, simple and crafty DIY project.

What Can You Do To Simplify Your Christmas Decorating This Year?

Are you yearning to enjoy the holidays more in “your own style” this year? Discover even more Christmas Decorating ideas.

How to do it with confidence?  The idea is to let go of the things about the season that don’t bring you joy anymore so you can create a holiday festive feeling that is right, just for you and your family. It could be anything from not bringing out bins of holiday decorations to saying no to invites that overbook your schedule. You are the boss and can decide on the plan that will make you enjoy the joy of the season.

Follow your heart, listen to yourself and focus on what really matters.

If you know what you are going to do this year,  share your holiday decorating musts in the comments so other readers can benefit from your ideas and may want to begin implementing them in their homes this year.

Simple and Pretty Christmas Decorating Ideas

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  1. Julia King says:

    Thank you so much for all your wonderful suggestions. I had no idea that the Home Alone Theme song had lyrics – it made me shed a few tears. We are lucky enough to have my Mother living with us for almost 2 years (Dec. 1, 20016 she moved here to Concord, NC from Jamestown, NC). She is 98 and all of her Christmas Memories through the years are wonderful. We dearly love this time of year with family and hope to pass it on throughout the generations. This year my decor will be simple also. I hope more will inspire to be simple, remember the meaning, gather with family and not be obsessed with the latest decorating craze!! Again, thank you for your inspiration.

  2. What a great post – inspirational on so many levels. I enjoyed reading the comments also, so many of us sharing the same sentiments. The holidays seemed to be coming too quickly this year, but after reading your post I feel upbeat and cheerful!

  3. Stacey Harrison says:

    These are great ideas and I always like seeing what makes the holidays special for people. It is so interesting seeing different perspectives of what makes for great memories for everyone.

    For me the absolute “must-have” are my tree ornaments. Every year, since I a very little girl, my mom has bought me a tree ornament – usually something that held some meaning for me that particular year. I’m now in my 40s and she still does it and I always love seeing what she thought was “me” that year. I followed in her footsteps and did the same for my son, and he actually just told me tonight that he really liked the one I got him last year which was tenor drums since he’s in high school marching band. My son and I also get one ornament from each new place we visit. I likely don’t have to say but it takes us quite a while each year to decorate the tree as we remember the places we visited, and the things we’ve enjoyed over the years.

    Other than that must- have I’m also thinking of ways to simplify this year. I started with my autumn decorations and went with a ‘less is more’ approach. I pared it down from 3 to 2 tubs of decorations last year and this year I have likely put another 1/2 bin of decorations in the donate pile. It really does look so nice to have just a few favourites out. I find I can now appreciate each and every one and they don’t get lost in so much stuff.

    Now off to read about how to get my guestroom ready for the holidays as I have parents and a mother-in-law to be coming this year!

  4. patti erickson says:

    Can you link to your lyrics artwork? I love it! Thanks!!

  5. Last year I skipped the big live cut Christmas tree in the living room and it was wonderful! I kept the smaller artificial tree that houses my blown glass birds in the corner of the kitchen/family room, but instead of decorating two trees inside the house, I bought a live balled and burlapped Norway Spruce and kept it on the front porch. It was donned in white lights and wide burlap ribbon and all other decorations were harvested from our gardens like fronds from ornamental grasses ,the flower heads of tall Autumn Joy Sedum, winterberry and beautyberry branches with their red and purple berrries, pine cones and homemade birdseed ornaments. The tree was planted in late winter and is doing very well. Can’t wait to do it again this year!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Debbie – I enjoyed the many years of going all out with the Christmas decorations…. all those days and hours spent lighting up the outside of the house were worth it back when the kids were growing up :-) Now I crave festive and simple and am not going to feel like I should do more. Your trees sound very unique and perfect for your house and style. Knowing you I am sure they are really pretty. Enjoy adding them again this year. You will have to text me a photo or share on FB where I will see them. XO

  6. Becky in 'Bama says:

    Thanks for this post. For those of us who are not very ingenious when it comes to decorating – there is something reassuring that it’s okay to pare down and do less. Every Christmas I struggle trying to come up with some decorating idea that is spectacular – but have never achieved that high mark. I retire next year and finances will demand scaling down – so I’m thinking I’ll begin this Christmas! For us – the holiday is just me and my husband and our closest friends – since our only child and grands live over 800 miles away – so low key is gonna be the way to go. Merry Christmas to everyone!

  7. I decorate simply with a tree, lights, wreaths, and a few meaningful items. I am 76, live alone, an hour away from my daughter/grandchildren, so 20 years ago, rather than their family of 4 children coming to grandma’s house, grandma spent the night on Christmas Eve so she could wake up and see the kids open their gifts on Christmas morning. That became our lovely tradition and still is to this day, even though all grandchildren are 20 somethings. They and their spouses/significant others also now spend the night on Christmas Eve at my daughter’s large and welcoming home, everyone opening their gifts on Christmas morning. There are no great grandchildren yet, so that may change one day, but for all these years, my daughter and son-in-law have done the decorating and cooking and my job is to bring everyone’s favorite cookies – plus a brand new one each year that gets voted in or out of the “favorites.” My Christmas decor at home between Christmas and New Years doesn’t go to waste, however. Then its my turn to set aside a day that week to host a dinner for relatives and friends who either have no family or could not for whatever reason be with their family on the actual holiday. It has become a favorite tradition for all of us “older” friends and family and is looked forward to each year.
    Candles I put in my windows are always mentioned by my guests as so welcoming, so candles in the windows they get. Some of my guests do not decorate their own homes, but look forward to seeing mine, and one cousin even brought an ornament special to her to place on my tree so she sees it every year. Life is good.

  8. My mom made a Christmas tree skirt for me some 40 years ago and nothing brings back memories like putting that under our tree ?. The fabric is out of date and the colors are wrong and it’s just perfect!

  9. Last year on Pinterest I started searching for Scandinavian Christmas ideas. I decorated with a glittery silver & gold theme for years with my daughter, but now that we’re empty nesters, I’ve really embraced a natural, cozy xmas Nordic style. I love branches, pine cones, a reindeer here & there, a simple wreath etc. We’ve never had twinkling lights! And I adore the picture of the little red stool with the candle! Exciting grand child news for you!! Our grand daughter was born last February, and even though she’s too young to notice, I’ve really been thinking about how I’d like grandma’s house to feel for her when she comes over. I never had a grandma’s house to visit, have only seen that in movies, and I really want it to be a cozy home to create memories.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Holly – I feel the same way about how the Scandinavians decorate for the holidays. Festive and simple. I am going to go with it this year and could not agree with you more about making Grandma’s house cozy and festive for many happy memories to be made. My first grandchild is due at the end of March. Next year’s Christmas will really be extra special. :-) Enjoy making your house festive and cozy to enjoy your family and especially your granddaughter.

  10. Carol Heartfelt Whimsies says:

    I can see by the comments above that this beautifully written post really hit a chord with folks. I couldn’t agree more. Most of the things you mentioned are the things I look forward to each Christmas.
    Simple and meaningful —my goals this year!

  11. Great post!! Working in retail for years we get used to Christmas starting extra early ?? Each year it does seem to start rolling in earlier but I try to embrace it and being around it everyday gives me to
    time to really think of what I want to do in my home.
    The past couple of years I’ve been simplifying as well and it feels great! Ornaments on the tree are all memory filled from my husbands and my childhoods as well as our kids. Unwrapping each ornament is so special !!
    Thank you for bringing us into the season!! ?

  12. I loved reading this post and many people I’ve talked to and/or read blogs have said much the same thing: We want to simplify this year.

    Each of us will know what ‘simplifying’ means for us and how that will manifest itself in our homes. To me, because I decorate in a northern France style (lots of white and items that are French-inspired) it lends itself to ‘less is more’ though I must admit in years past, I have at times allowed too much at Christmas! Or as one person has said about their own home “It looks like Christmas exploded in here!” Hahah! I don’t think I’ve gotten that far off the mark, but I too vow for “less is more” this year.

    With both our children in the military and far away, there is no chance they’ll be here for the holidays. So we hold an open house for friends and neighbors usually amounting to about 30 people. Food is very simple with the emphasis on the getting together. :-)

    Thank you once again Diane for a lovely and very intelligent post! You remind us to look within, instead of without, so many times not just for our decor ideas, but our life in general.

    We all wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

  13. This isn’t a decorating comment, but the past few years, I’ve stopped having a big Christmas open house and now have several small brunches or dinners instead. Much more fun, intimate and less stressful.

  14. Hi Diane! I’m thinking just like you this year! We moved in August from a large home to a lovely Cape! So I know I will have to be selective in my decorating!
    I’m very excited to put all of my MOST favorite things in my new home! Always a real tree for me! Wreaths, candles and beautiful faux garland!

  15. I love this post so much! Did you make that canvas with the song lyrics? It’s great and the words brought tears to my eyes. I need one as a sweet reminder to keep things simple in order to enjoy the reason

  16. Mary Kaiser says:

    My daughter and son in law live near Columbia SC. He is in the army and they are stationed there, I haven’t visited them there yet, but they are expecting their 1st baby in February so I will probably get the chance then! Nice post by the way, I am taking your advice and editing what I have for Christmas, thanks!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Mary – I haven’t been to the Fort Jackson area yet, but it is a large base. Lots of Army families in the area. Flying into Columbia is so easy since it is a small airport… never any hassles. My daughter is expecting her 1st and my first grandchild at the end of March. I am beyond excited and can’t wait! :-)

  17. I love this post!!!!! I follow quite a few blogs which I refer to as being above my pay grade that have gorgeous over the top decorating . I pick out the ideas I really like and go with just a few. I learned traveling in an RV for a few years to do it all with less and it was liberating. Less stuff, less stress, more enjoyment. But now I’m back in a home and am starting from scratch. The nice thing is I can be very deliberate with what and how I choose to decorate. I may implement the candle in the window and the twinkling lights. Reminds me of my childhood.

  18. After I got all my Christmas decorations up and just the way I liked them in 2016, I took a lot of pictures. When Christmas 2017 rolled around I put everything in the same place as 2016 with small changes here and there. By doing the same thing as the previous year, I spent only a day decorating instead of maybe the 3-4 days as I had done in the past.

    Another thing I like to do at Christmas is bake cookies. It seems that I also liked eating them so what I’ve started doing is when I have company, as they’re leaving I get all the containers of cookies out and give each guest a tin and tell them to fill it up. I get the joy of the baking and they get the joy of eating.

    We don’t do anything for Christmas until after Thanksgiving and I can’t wait. It is a fun and magical time of year!

  19. I love this! I love being told I have the choice to simplify and do what my family loves. Thank you for encouraging me in what I do.

  20. Diane, I have to agree with you about making the holidays a lot simplier. June 2017 my husband passed away. That Christmas was just a blur for me. I don’t think I felt the whole impact of it at that time. My lovely daughter-in-law asked me to stay overnight Christmas Eve so I could be there Christmas morning with the grandkids. I’m hoping to do the same this year. I desperately need to par down on the decorations and get rid of some and as a family we are scaling down on the gifts and instead doing some day events like a train ride called “The Polar Express” for all the grandkids. I have 5. This will be their gift and then only one present of something they really want. Like you it’s more about family and that special feeling that we can think about in the future and smile.

  21. Kathryn Rhyne says:

    Let me know when you will be Christmas shopping in Greenville!!! We’d love to have you over for a drink or a meal, or just meet you downtown to say hello :)

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Kathryn – Sounds perfect! I will email or call you with a few dates to see when you will be around. Maybe I can even get Ed to come with me. :-)

      1. Tell him he better!! :) LOL

  22. When you said patio doors in your guest rooms, I instantly thought I would hang a wreath with an electric or battery operated candle in it.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Heike – Great idea. I have never used battery operated candles, only electric. Do you have a brand of battery operated candles you like?

      1. No, sorry Diane. I haven’t even decorated for Christmas in years as my children are grown and I go home to Germany for 6 weeks right after Thanksgiving. There aren’t any grandchildren yet, thank God, so I take that opportunity to visit my elderly parents.

      2. Luminara from QVC make great candles that are battery operated and the flame flickers.

        they look beautiful!!