Decorating a Minimalist Christmas Tree

Earlier in the week, I talked to you about the importance of traditions during the holidays. (Click here to read about Finding Belonging and Community Through Actions Rather than Things)

Our first Christmas tradition is getting a tree. That means hiking up in the mountains and finding the perfect tree: I like them sparse (or minimal as my kids say), not too tall and more on the skinny side.
It’s about an hour drive up to the mountain, we always go with our second family (very good friends) and normally we’re the only ones there. It’s always so still and beautiful, well, until we get there. Most years there is snow, in which all the males proceed to have a snowball fight and white wash the teenagers who for some reason, seem to beg for it.
Meanwhile, I wander in the semi-quiet and admire animal tracks and snow covered fir trees.
Then we make the trek home and get dripped on as the snow melts off the branches while we try to get the tree into the tree stand.

A day or two later we spend an evening decorating the tree.
We use 2 different sized lights- large globes and small globes. They are multicolored and are the closest I could find to the size I grew up with. (The large bulbs that got so hot one could melt tinsel on the bulbs. Oh yes, fun times!)

Then we sit around the table, share our 2 pairs of scissors and cut out paper snowflakes to hang on the tree.
We came to this tradition after many years of saving ornaments and hauling out boxes and boxes of them. What a lot of work it was! And each child had their own special ornaments, and if I had neglected to mark them, there would be fights (“No! I had the snowman with the red scarf! You had the one with the green!”)

Not exactly holiday cheer.

So, we changed that. We got rid of our 6 boxes of Christmas decor (Now we have 1). We found some really cool snowflake patterns and figured out how to fold the paper so we could get 6 points (which is what real snowflakes have).
We all enjoy sitting around the table, telling stories and jokes and creating new patterns.

The little ones can’t cut the snowflakes yet, but they love finding branches to hang them on. Sometimes we stick them right to a branch and other times we tie a loop of thread on the snowflakes so they dangle from the branches.

The tree looks different each year and we don’t have to carefully wrap each ornament as we put it away. Instead, when we’re done with the tree we remove the lights, chop it up and burn it in the fireplace, snowflakes and all. I have boys- they like that sort of thing.

What are your tree decorating traditions? Do you keep ornaments each year or make new ones? Leave a comment and let me know!




About the author, Rachel

Hi there! I’m the Joyful Space Specialist. it’s my desire help others create a joyful space of their own and enjoy their time spent at home.


  1. Laura on 11/30/2012 at 8:19 PM

    Great idea. We have a recycled tree and ornaments from mine & hubby’s childhood. One strand of pre-lit lights burned out this year, so we added a new strand. When they all go, I’ll cut them out of the tree. I prefer real trees, but we inherited this one and we love the financial savings. We have exactly enough ornaments for our tree and all of our minimalist Christmas decorations fit into two storage boxes.

  2. Anonymous on 10/31/2013 at 3:35 PM

    How do you fold the paper? I am soo not talented or creative to figure it out! lol

  3. Angela on 11/08/2014 at 5:41 AM

    We do have a box of ornaments, and each one is extremely special because they are the ONE thing we buy while on vacations…one new ornament about the place we are visiting. So when we decorate we get to remember great times we had as a family. We use a prelit tree and keep other decorations to a minimum so the tree is the focus!

    • Rachel on 11/08/2014 at 10:36 AM

      That’s very nice Angela! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Stacy on 11/23/2014 at 6:00 PM

    I do very minimal decorating at Christmas (or any holiday) but getting a real tree every year is a tradition. The evening of decorating is a treat even to my grown daughter (she’s single) who comes back to join us. On that night I give each of them a new ornament representing something about that year. My oldest is married and we gave her the ornaments to take with her when she married to make their own traditions. I like to get their ornaments at Hobby Lobby where they are inexpensive but unique. Each child has their own box of ornaments so there is no confusion. We have two red tubs of Christmas ornaments, lights etc. and that’s it! It always must fit in those two tubs. The tree skirt is one I made in the very early years of our marriage copied from one his mom & dad had given to them by a friend. Our decorations have always been sentimental or clearance on the day after Christmas. I try to keep Christmas simple and make it a season. Activities and movie nights at home to be enjoyed. Gifts opened one a week for the four weeks in December so that we can savor the giving and the reason for the season!

  5. Jennifer on 12/04/2015 at 4:19 PM

    We haven’t put up a tree in years as work and family obligations kept us away from home most of the season. But it occurred to me the other day that we could engage in a new-to-us holiday tradition of decorating the doorways/window casings/mantle with boughs (probably nice artificial ones) to create a festive tone without giving up limited floor space or tempting the pets. I think that would be a good stand-in if trees aren’t your thing.

    • Rachel on 12/04/2015 at 7:51 PM

      That sounds like a great idea Jennifer. I’ve seen some really awesome tree alternatives. It’s important to remember that this is something we do for ourselves, there is no “right” way. 🙂

  6. Sam on 12/04/2015 at 5:01 PM

    We only have homemade ornaments on the tree. I crocheted a bunch of white snowflakes and red stars for our first tree. When my son was a toddler, I added a garland with bells on it so i knew when he was trying to climb on the tree. That is always the basis for the tree, but over the years the kids have brought home a few ornaments from school, or we’ve crafted a few items from buttons and string or clay and we’ve added them to the tree as well.

    I love Christmas ornaments from the store, i think they can be so beautiful, but I like my hand crafted tree and am really proud of all the memories of making the ornaments with the kids or of receiving them as gifts.

    • Rachel on 12/04/2015 at 8:11 PM

      That’s great Sam. 🙂

  7. Ruth on 02/28/2017 at 5:27 PM

    We used to get a (real) Christmas tree every year. It looked very pretty when it was up – but every year, it would cause conflict: the stand would be missing a piece, or one of the three strings of lights would have stopped working, or someone started decorating before everyone was ready, or… whatever. The lights went on first, so if they were wrong it held up everything else.

    Then one year, our cat was very sick and setting up a tree would have disturbed him, so we quietly set up the nativity scene in its place, added a string of golden lights that looked like glowing lamps among the figures, added some greenery, and piled our presents on the floor underneath it. We’d previously had it as a side display, and this made it central.

    We liked this so much that we do it every year. We got rid of the tree stand and the sets of “basic” solid decorations that didn’t mean anything to us. We also put decorated greenery and lights up around the room, with tinsel – even draping a few lightweight “icicles” and ribbons on the houseplants. With some outdoor lights, it still looks as festive, and because it’s distributed around the house, each person can decorate at their own pace, and keep adding to it throughout the season as the mood takes them.

    This year we realized we didn’t need the big stable, just the figures. I think we could eliminate even more from our one Christmas box, without losing any of the experience.

Leave a Comment