I need some ideas for Frugal Christmas decorations.
December 10, 2003 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I need some ideas for Frugal Christmas decorations. We're quite strapped this year (due to unexpectedly having to move when our landlord sold our rental house out from under us), and buying a tree would mean cutting into the meager budget for the children's presents. We're forgoing presents for ourselves or anyone else, or at least delaying them until the new year when our financial situation will be better. I have lights, ornaments, garland and such from years past, but what can I do with them with no tree to put them on? Does anyone know how I could cheaply make some sort of a tree-like thing for hanging the ornaments on? Or some sort of way to display them? I only want something 3 or 4 feet high that I could put in my bay window.
posted by Shoeburyness to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you had a paypal address or snail mail address in your profile, I bet you would have something to hang your stuff on this year. (hint)
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:54 PM on December 10, 2003

I mind two cats over the holiday season and they wreak havoc with my trees. After a few treasured ornaments broke, I switched gears. Instead, I drape a swag of evergreen garland from my bay window and put my lights and ornaments on that. It actually shows the ornaments up nicely. I got the idea from a friend who swags garland from her ceiling beams - it looks awesome - very magical.

We grew up in very modest circumstances - some of my fondest memories are stringing cranberries and popcorn, and stencilling angels, wreaths and snowmen on our windows with spray *snow.* It wasn't what we had that made the difference, it was my parent's attitude - they made opening and unwrapping each ornament seem so special. I bet you have some of those same special parental powers, Shoeburyness - happy holidays to you!
posted by madamjujujive at 1:04 PM on December 10, 2003

Response by poster: Well, I didn't really want to come and beg. I've got a fairly nice house to live in and enough food to eat, which is more than a lot of people have. There's a reason I don't have my e-mail address on my profile. It has to do with a real life person, not anyone from MeFi. But, a snail mail address would be problematic for the same reason. And a less commercial Christmas would probably be good for the kids, anyway. I've seen kids who get lavished with presents constantly, and they aren't very pleasant children to be around, to say the least.
posted by Shoeburyness at 1:11 PM on December 10, 2003

You live in Colorado, right? Couldn't you just go cut something down somewhere?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:21 PM on December 10, 2003

Minnesota Pine Tree from Target?
posted by timothompson at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2003

I don't know what to do about this year, but I strongly recommend that you make some cheap after-Christmas purchases to prepare for next year. You can get some great stuff once Christmas is over.
posted by oissubke at 1:23 PM on December 10, 2003

decorating your mantle to the nines is a great idea, if you have a mantle. other than that all i can think of is making a tree out of old wire hangers... like a big spiral that's shaped like a tree, then you could hang all your decos on that to hide the wire. sorry, i'm not in a very creative mode today, heh.
posted by t r a c y at 1:28 PM on December 10, 2003

We're using a branch as a tree this year. We've seen it done before and with the right eyeball on the project, i can look as good as any "real" Christmas tree. (Maybe good looking branches are hard to come by in Colorado though. Depends on where you are. Maybe a Cottonwood?)

1. Head out into the woods and find an interesting looking branch.
2. Trim as required.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:30 PM on December 10, 2003

Response by poster: Re: cutting down a tree--Well, if we know someone who owned land with pine trees, we could. We used to do that when I was younger, since my grandparents had wooded land. But, now it would either be the private land of someone we don't know, or public land, for which you need a $10 permit. The public areas on which you are permitted to cut down trees are about 90 miles away, so by the time we got the permit and spend the gas money for a 180 mile round trip, it wouldn't be much of a savings, if any. It sounds like a fun thing to do if we could afford the gas, but not this year. Maybe next year. Cities actually spray outdoor pine trees on city land with something that smells bad at room temperature, to prevent people from cutting them down for Christmas trees. Since I'm a knitter, I'm making what I can, and I'm going to fill up stockings with some fancy homemade cookies (not seen before Christmas) rather than candy.
posted by Shoeburyness at 1:35 PM on December 10, 2003

Er, 2. Trim as desired.

Been thinking too much as an architect of late. Although if I was really thinking as an architect I would have said "as necessary". (Slinks off for sheepishly for spoiling the mood of the season.)
posted by Dick Paris at 1:35 PM on December 10, 2003

As madamjujujive suggested, my first thought is swag your actual windows with the garland and hang the ornaments from that. We used to do that when we decorated our treeless apartment in college.

The other thing, and this is sort silly, but it seemed to work, is wire coat hangers. I haven't used this for personal decorating, but I did see it in a store. They had this hanging on an empty clothing rack, but I imagine you could hang it from a hook in the ceiling or something.

What they did was build up layers of hangers. The first layer, the top of the tree has only one coat hanger. Hanging from it was three more coat hangers hanging in a perpendicular direction (I imagine they used tape or something to get them to hold still, but I didn't look that closely). If you divided the first hanger into quarters, they were hung at the half way mark and on each quarter. This left some of the top hanger sticking out like a branch. The next layer was built down from there with what I'm sort of remembering as five hangers. Two each on the quarter marks of the outside hangers in the second level, and one in the middle of middle hanger in the second level. They had 5 or maybe 6 layers like this that built it up in width and height. Liberally strung through and around the hangers were garlands that gave the structure it's weight and density. Then they hung decorations on that.

Having only seen the thing on display, I can't offer much more information on the actual construction process. I don't know if they hung hangers and then strung garland, or strung garland along the way. It looked cute and festive, though, and it might be just what you need this holiday season.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on December 10, 2003

I know you're not begging, please don't take this as an insult...and believe me, I would much rather have asked this privately...but would you do me the favor of emailing me a paypal or snailmail address (mailbox@banjocat.com) I would consider it a privilege to be able to help in a small way.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2003

Gather up a whole bunch of beautiful, bare, sturdy, free twigs, big ones, and leave them natural or spray-paint them white, and arrange them into a big clay pot, umbrella stand, or metal bucket. Decorate the twigs with ornaments and lights. Stuff the bucket or whatever with foraged pine cones for scent and weight and eye appeal. I've done this before and it's unbelievably gorgeous. Magical, even. And totally free.
posted by iconomy at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2003

One of the cheapest (and loveliest) decorations I know is the luminaria. Basically, it's a small brown paper bag with the bottom weighted with sand. You put in a tealight/votive candle and light it, and it glows a pretty gold color. They're pretty much outside-only decorations, due to the flame, but you can set up a bunch of them along the walk to your house, up the driveway, etc. If you get a large box of tealights (any Mexican grocery will have these at sale prices right about now), and a super-size pack of paper bags, the total cost to decorate a house is about $10-20. If you go and blow out the lights before you go to bed, they'll last several days, too. Sometimes the bags burn down, though, so be sure not to put them near anything that could catch on fire.

Here in New Mexico these are quite common, though they're slowly being overtaken by an electric version (bleah). When I was in college, everyone got together during the holidays, to set up hundreds of them all over campus. The effect is really quite beautiful.
posted by vorfeed at 2:04 PM on December 10, 2003

When I lived in a small apartment, one year I just hung Xmas lights on the wall in the outline of a tree and taped some ornaments in the middle of it. Maybe you want something w/ a little more class.
posted by transient at 2:05 PM on December 10, 2003

We have had years with no tree and very little money for presents. As the others suggested, we had a lovely bare branch one year, tied with ribbons, and I'm ashamed to say that we actually stole a Christmas tree from a store lot near our old house in our old home town, many years ago. Mind you, I don't recommend that. But we were much younger and more foolish and broke in those days.
posted by Lynsey at 2:42 PM on December 10, 2003

Madame JJ's window idea is a classic.

If you have enough ornaments, garland, and maybe a bow or two to spare, you can create a centerpiece for your coffee or dining room table. Whatever cards you receive can be placed around the centerpiece, along with fruit and nuts. A pair of scissors and some blank paper are enough for snowflake doilies, and pine cones can often be had for free.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:47 PM on December 10, 2003

When I was a kid my family would thread popcorn onto sewing thread, make bird-feeders by smearing peanut butter onto pinecones, and then go out into the woods and decorate a living tree for the birds. It costs almost nothing, the kids get all the fun and satisfaction of decorating a tree, and you don't have to buy a tree.
We also sometimes put tiny decorations on large houseplants. Gather a few together, and you've got a charming mini-forest of decorated "trees."
posted by bonheur at 3:03 PM on December 10, 2003 [1 favorite]

Fabulous bonheur. (The idea and the appropriateness of your name as a match for your suggestion.)

Stealing a tree reminds me that you can sometimes get trees FREE on X-mas eve. Now, this may seem a bit late for most folks but, when I was a wee tot, my parents bought and decorated the tree on Christmas eve — we four children never saw the tree until Christmas morning! You can bet we thought Santa brought that baby down the chimney. My folks would stay up all night decorating and wrapping.

Recently, in France, my experience has been to decorate the tree on X-mas eve. Big meal, load music, lots of cheer.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:29 PM on December 10, 2003

I second the wire coat hanger thing, and decorating the windows and mantle and doorways, or if you have chair rails or any other wall elements to use.
You can also hang ornaments on clothesline rope or even dental floss doubled or tripled across a room or part of it (from one picture hook to another?), or on a coat rack, or along all the chair and sofa backs. : >
posted by amberglow at 3:33 PM on December 10, 2003

I'm amazed nobody has suggested making a wreath, which seems like something perfect to put in the window and to festoon with ornamentation and blinky bits. The wreathmaking itself is a reasonably pleasant family activity and costs nothing but the time to wander through a couple of parks and pick up the odd downed [or poached] branch or two. The run for mateirals is itself not too shabby as a family activity.
posted by majick at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2003

If there's a tree lot near you somewhere, stop by and see if they have any lone branches laying around. They most likely will, and they will most likely let you take them for free or a very small charge. (They can't do much with them once they're off the trees, so a lot of times they're happy to have you take them off their hands.)

They're perfect for on the mantle or along a large windowsill. You can also use them to make a nice centerpiece for your table (or for in the windowsill display, if you have a large-enough window). Just stick 'em in a big bowl with some pretty ornaments and maybe some pinecones. Very festive. Very cheap.
posted by aine42 at 4:34 PM on December 10, 2003

I don't know what kind of cost this would have, but maybe buying a small, potted tree-like plant would be good and then you can decorate it year after year as it grows. You wouldn't need to get anything too large, but maybe something that would get larger as years went by.
posted by zorrine at 6:54 PM on December 10, 2003

It appears I'm the closest MeFi person to you. I've got a little, 2-foot artifical tree, and some extra lights. It's small, but looks good on a table. Let me know if you'd like to borrow it.

See my user profile for contact info.
posted by jazon at 7:46 PM on December 10, 2003

Oh, I see - close MeFi members are sorted by zip code. Ah, well, I'm not the closest, but the offer still stands.
posted by jazon at 7:51 PM on December 10, 2003

Here's a classic UK coat hanger decoration, string some together for a tree effect. Could also make for an afternoon's entertainment for the kids.
posted by biffa at 2:52 AM on December 11, 2003

Got a ladder? This is my tree solution! This pic is a couple of years old, we put it up for the 6th time this year and have accumulated many more ornaments. It's great - no maintenance, no needle droppings, plenty of room under for presents/pets, and you don't need to stand on anything to put the bowling pin on top. :)
posted by yoga at 6:58 AM on December 11, 2003

In kindergarten I made my mother several tree ornaments -by brushing glue onto round pine cones and sprinkling them with glitter, and then once they were dry attaching a thread for hanging them up. Twenty-five years later she still has them and they are really pretty. The glitter trick is inexpensive, would work with lots of items, and it's so simple the kids can do it.
posted by orange swan at 7:29 AM on December 11, 2003

Response by poster: I used to like to make strings of colored paperclips when I was younger... that might be fun for the kids.
posted by Shoeburyness at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2003

not sure anyone's going to see this, but craftster has great ideas for make-it-yourself stuff, many perfect for gifts...i'm making a variation of these for friends
posted by amberglow at 1:08 PM on December 14, 2003

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