Life Hack: Clever Tree Decorations without the Big Bucks

When I was a young bride, that first Christmas was a challenge.

I didn’t feel poor. I was happy and healthy and looking forward to my new life. But financially it was tough. Maybe that’s why I took it on as a challenge to decorate our first Christmas Tree with what I could find around our home or purchase for a few dollars.

Back then live evergreens were cheaper than the artificial ones, so we waited until the trees went on sale and were able to purchase a small pine tree.

Now how to decorate it?

I thought about our early settlers and pioneers. What did they use to decorate their trees?

Popcorn and Cranberries—of course!

Stringing popcorn and cranberriesEven as a young child I had done this. So I popped up some corn, got out my thread and needle and began stringing the puffy kernels onto the thread, alternating with the bright red berries. It took a while, but I worked in the evening while we relaxed after dinner. Soon I had a long enough popcorn string to weave around the tree in lovely white swags. The shiny red berries were a nice contrast to the white fluffy popcorn and the green pine needles. But now I needed some ornaments. What to use? I looked around the house and spotted…

Pine Cones:

I’m always picking up little pine cones in the fall, and decided they were perfect for my first ornaments. I could add a touch of white paint on the tips to look like snow and snuggle them into the branches, just like in nature. But when I finished this project, I knew I wanted more color.

Gift Package Decorations:

tree ornaments

I looked through my box of gift wrap, bows, and little package decorations that I kept on hand. I’d always saved bows and any cute little items I’d received over the years. It came in handy! I found tiny stockings, gingerbread men, little tin horns and toy soldiers, meant to add to packages—but they looked darling on the tree. It was a good start, but I wanted some larger ornaments. I started digging through my sewing materials.

Leftover Fabric & Pipe Cleaners:

A section of red and green printed quilted fabric caught my eye. I guess I had decided it was too cute to throw away. But it wasn’t big enough to make anything out of it—except some tree ornaments! I made my own patterns of Christmas Trees and Stars and Candy Canes. Once I had cut out the shapes and sewed up the edges so they wouldn’t ravel, I added green or red yarn along the edges as decoration, including a little loop to hang them by. Perfect! I also found a few white pipe cleaners, no doubt left over from a craft project, which were quickly shaped into stars and snowflakes to hang on the tree. These were kept tiny for the smaller top of the tree.

Miniature Candy Canes:

candy canesFor a dollar I purchased an entire box of the miniature red & white striped candy canes. They were a festive addition. I kept this tradition up for years, and when children came along, they loved sneaking them off the tree when they thought no one was looking!

Saving money on ornaments allowed us to purchase a string of lights to put on the tree and one box of shiny ornaments. Along with all the homemade decorations I remember it being a lovely tree–full of love.

My life took a different direction over the years, with a different partner, and I have been blessed in many ways. But long ago I decided to stay true to making the tree all about handcrafted pieces and simplicity.

Today I use only white lights, which remind me of candles, red velvety bows, pine cones and dainty glass icicles. Hand-crocheted snowflakes accent the many handcrafted ornaments on our tree. Everything from clay animal figures and decorated balls from school days to hand-blown glass, metal workings or carved wood pieces are carefully placed on the tree boughs. Each piece has a story and its own history. We even have ornaments made from the peat bogs in Ireland. What a lovely way to keep memories alive!

Do you have any favorite holiday decorating stories to share?

No matter how you may celebrate the holidays this time of year, I send you well wishes and much happiness!


  1. Alice Quillen

    A very beautiful story. I enjoyed it.I love to decorate for Christmas.It’s a little lonely without out my kids and g-kids but I still love to decorate my house,tree and yard. MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR.

    • indy

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, Alice! I’m so happy you enjoyed the story. Maybe it’s still the kid in us that loves to decorate for the holidays. Thank you for taking time to read and comment – much appreciated! ;0)

  2. Ann Young

    I so enjoyed reading about your ideas—so creative, yet inexpensive and wonderfully simple. I would enjoy seeing a picture of that tree!

    • indy

      Thank you, Ann! Somewhere in my many boxes of old photos I’m sure there is a picture of that tree! I’ll have to find it and scan it, so I can post it. :0)


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