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Gifts wrapped in the traditional Japanese wrapping called Furoshiki. Two gifts in one, and nothing to throw away.

If you are creative, frugal, environmentally conscious or seeking some simplicity this time of year, decorate this holiday season by recycling and upcycling. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Just add some imagination, ribbon, paint and glue to things around you.

Trees

Christmas trees are expensive, and they take up a lot of room. Consider wall space for a tree this year.

The humble pallet can be transformed into anything – furniture, garden planters, housing and art. Paint a tree shape on one, secure it to a wall, and hang ornaments on it.

Once a pallet is dismantled, there are dozens of wooden slats waiting for you to work magic on them.

christmas tree wall display

Using Bamboo, fishing wire, a picture rail hook, 1 length of xmas lights, candy canes, bells and gold/silver/white decorations only. Massive space saver, way fun to do, preddddy! (image and concept: Vianne Bellic)

Anything can fill a triangle shape on a wall. Depending on the size, you can use buttons, cat food sized cans, yarn, beads, driftwood, ornaments, toys, puzzle pieces, newspaper, corks, rope and twigs.
You don’t even have to fill the space. You can merely suggest the shape. If you are a beach comber, you surely have a collection of driftwood to use.

Ornaments

I have always had fun with ornaments. When my mother got into her folksy decorating phase, she started to use toys, ribbons, photos, dolls, old jewelry, and pine cones as ornaments. I kept that as tradition, and my kids had a blast with it! We’d find small toys at thrift stores, or they would make something at school. We would also save small boxes all year, then wrap them, add a ribbon, and hang them on the tree.

Fill clear glass ornaments with small beads for sparkle. You can also paint the inside of a glass ornament. Pour in a couple different colors, swish it around, then turn it upside down to drain and dry. Alternatively, you can paint or collage the outside. Add ribbons and/or beads to make it as fancy as you want.

Wreaths

A wreath is sort of like a tree in that you can take a round shape and add anything to it to make it festive. It can complement or match your tree for a decorating theme, or it can be unique in itself.

The trees I have bought have always been too tall, so when I cut the bottoms, I use the bottom branches to make a wreath. It’s a two-fer – two decorations for the price of one!

I once cut a ring of sturdy cardboard and glued green felt to it. I added a ribbon, but you could dress it up with a cluster of ornaments, small pinecones, beads, yarn or anything else you want to recycle.

Here is a great page of upcycled wreath ideas.

macaroni diy christmas wreath

A giant sized macaroni wreath made with hot glue, plywood, 4 or 5 types of noodles, and golf balls. The golf balls were painted bright red and the rest was painted gold. They far surpassed our recollections of our middle school macaroni wreaths! (image and concept: Matt Majewski)

General decorations

Put red ribbons on existing everyday items – lamps, vases, floral arrangements, mirrors, doors, banisters. Simple, inexpensive and elegant.

Fill three mason jars with small, colored glass ornaments, and place them as a centerpiece on your table. Colorful and glittery! Singly or clustered, they can also decorate a side table, coffee table or mantle.

Remember how we used to cut snowflakes out of paper and tape them to the windows? Use up your colorful junk mail to make glossy snowflakes!

Wrapping

One of our family traditions was to wrap presents in the Sunday funnies. It was fun to read the old comics while wrapping, then watch the gift recipient read them again, too!

I use paper grocery bags as wrapping, and I love that I can draw and write right on the box! You can draw a big fancy ribbon, or a snowy scene, or Santa coming with a delivery. Think of it as a blank canvas.

I have to try this – making your own gift bags out of newspaper! You could probably use up some junk mail here, too.

I save the cards we receive every year, and cut them into nametags for gifts. This idea can double as tree ornaments, too.

Get creative and reduce your stress

The possibilities are endless for making decorations! Some of these ideas will become traditions, and some items will become heirlooms that you hand down. Hard to believe, but they become so special, you don’t want to lose them!

Always scour second hand stores, flea markets and yard sales this time of year. You can find decorations, ribbons, ornaments, fake trees, gift bags and wrapping paper. Anything you need from a store you can probably find used. Save money and recycle! Hopefully being creative at home instead of shopping for the perfect decorations will reduce your holiday stress, too.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.