No Tree, No Problem: Bring Holiday Cheer To Your Treeless Pad

HOLIGAYS 2017 / Autostraddle

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And just like that, the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over and everyone is taking perfectly lit selfies with their perfectly decorated holiday trees. We will not be among them this year. As much as I love watching my spouse attempt to tie a tree to our compact Hyundai Elantra, we’ve decided to give ourselves a break. Why? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with a “t” and ends with “oddler.”

We let our kiddo have a safe amount of independent play and we need to be able to let her be by herself for 15 minutes while we make dinner or do chores or run upstairs to grab something. So that means that everything in her domain must be child-safe and/or not a big deal if she knocks it over and eats it. The very idea of child-proofing a Xmas tree sounds a lot like something we don’t want to bother with. A quick google search confirms it. So we’re treeless this year, but we still plan to entertain and have fun!

How about you, fellow Yule/Xmas/holigays celebrants? Are you in a similar situation? Maybe you can’t afford a tree? Or your place is too small for one? Or you have a destructive pet or small human? Or you’re allergic? Or you just don’t to be bothered? Well, you’re in luck! I’ve got some ideas for all of us to inject some sparkle and holiday spirit into our living quarters without the typical pièce de résistance.

Tree-Like Vibes

You know what I love to buy after Xmas in the bargain bins at Target? GARLAND. Just yards and yards of garland. Even better if it’s lighted garland—though it’s pretty easy to wrap some cheap lights around some cheap garland and make your own. Hang garland on a mirror or a doorway. Wrap your staircase rail. Drape some around your windows. Display it on your mantel. Arrange it in a decorative bowl and throw some pinecones or ornaments on top for an instant tree-like centerpiece.

Garland is so fucking versatile. It can be used inside and outside. You can even hang ornaments off it like a tree! I like to cover the rail of my stairs in lighted garland and hang the holiday cards we receive off of it with metal ornament hangers. You can get it with flocking to look like snow or with berries and pinecones already nestled in. And it comes in all sizes and all price points! If you’re really into authenticity and want that fresh tree scent, you can buy real garland from your local tree place or online. You can buy artificial garland literally anywhere: at your local dollar store, at a craft store, at a big box store, or online. Pretty soon it’ll be like you’re living in a magical winter forest and you won’t even remember you don’t have a tree!

Complement your garland-draped winter wonderland with a pretty holiday wreath! Much cheaper and easier to care for than a tree and you have so many options from whimsical to weird. And it’s an easy DIY if you’re into that and you can make it out of everything from pine boughs to coffee filters to straws!

Want to go really non-traditional? Put up a tree wall decal or, like, a million tiny tree decals! Or hang up a super cute and kid-friendly felt tree that’s fun and safe to play with!

Sparkle and Shine

The queerest part of the holidays is the seasonal embracing of glitter. It’s like Pride, but mired in various religious traditions! So get your craft supplies out because it’s time to sparkle up, friend!

Glitter ornaments are a perfect thing to make with friends or with kids or tucked into a lovely weekend relaxation sesh. Here’s a tutorial that requires glitter, floor wax, and inexpensive plastic bulbs that you can get at a craft store or online. These are so simple! Even I could make these! The best part is, these ornaments don’t shed glitter all over the place! Or maybe you’re into that, in which case you should forage (or buy) some pinecones and make some frosty glitter pinecone ornaments! If you’re short on time or lazy about crafts (like me), you can always buy some cute sparkly ornaments at a store near you!

What to do with these ornaments since you don’t have a tree? Hang them from your garlands! Put them in pretty bowls and containers. Or make a mobile with an embroidery hoop. Think outside of the Xmas tree box.

How about some tinsel to shine up the place? Not the tinsel strands that are an actual nightmare, tinsel garland! Yeah, garland again! Same rules apply! Go wild! One of the best and easiest craft ideas my mom ever shared with me was how to make decorative tinsel trees! So easy! So pretty!

Light It Up

You know what the easiest DIY project is for simple holiday light statement decorations? This is my go-to. Take some string lights and cram them down into a glass container like an empty wine bottle, glass vase, candle holder, or like literally anything. Plug them in or turn them on (if they’re battery powered) and ta-da! Instant cozy ambiance! You can pay an upcycler $17 on Etsy if you don’t have it in you to procure your own empty wine bottles and string lights. It looks really classy, I swear! Also a good hack for centerpieces for fancy dinners or events!

Twinkle lights and string lights are the answer to making your home feel cozy. That’s the best part of the tree, honestly, isn’t it? When you put on a fire (or the fireplace video on your TV or hang up your electric fireplace) and snuggle up with a hot cocoa by the soft lights of the tree? So make or buy a twinkle light curtain and throw some twinkle lights around your bedroom mirror or hang them across your ceiling and get cozy!

What are your favorite ways to decorate for the holidays (that don’t involve a tree)? Let’s hear’em!



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KaeLyn is a 40-year-old hard femme bisexual dino mom. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, over-caffeinating herself, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Upstate NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a scaredy cat, an elderly betta fish, and two rascally rabbits. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 230 articles for us.


  1. Last year we used tape with a Christmas light pattern on it to tape lights to the window in a Christmas tree shape. To get it to stick (especially when I would cook something that steamed up the place) we had to use a ton of scotch tape over it in all directions, but it added some extra cheer inside and out.

  2. Thanks, you don’t know how much I needed this today!

    I still might get a tree, but you know, having a cat plus not having a car makes it hard to get and hard to keep. I’ll be home alone for actual Christmas so making home feel cosy sounds like a very good way to fight the lonely feeling I may or may not have.

    Not sold on the garland but will def. try a wreath and the lights :)

    • The lights are a real winner, @biensurmacherie! Holidays alone can definitely feel lonely. Maybe you can get a new book or TV binge sesh or something lined up so you have something fun to look forward to that day!

  3. I stopped doing a tree because CATS.For a while I didn’t do lights either because my cat Piko (R.I.P.) used to steal the tiny LED bulbs right out of the xmas string lights, bless her little nimble self.

    Since I started putting the string lights inside a mason jar or two, my xmases are much more festive ! And reasonably cat-proof.

    • The glass holder plus lights trick is my favorite. It looks so good! And it’s so hard for cats and children to disassemble!

      Cats really are jerks and I love them. Our cat was never a problem with the tree. He’ll probably miss sleeping underneath it this year, honestly!

  4. I know the title of this piece is “No Tree No Problem,” but have you considered an artificial tabletop tree for your ornaments? Throw some “snow” batting or a tiny tree skirt/blanket around the bottom and it doesn’t look too tacky! One year when I was feeling very festive, I had our one regular tree and a bunch of smaller artificial trees on every flat surface.

    But, like, do it how you want to do it, @owl! Last year, we had a newborn and a ridiculous schedule and we did no decorating at all for the holidays. We turned the Netflix “Fire For Your Home” program on, cranked the heat, and called it cozy enough for present-giving.

    • Ooh, I love the crackling sound, too! Reminds me of growing up in my rural childhood home with our real fire place. I used to love to lay down in front of it in the winter after my bath.

      Have you tried WoodWick candles? They make that same noise!

  5. Holiday plant stand! For various reasons of not wanting to spend money and not being able to lift heavy things, a full-on tree wasn’t in the cards this year. But this is still verdant and alive and full of cheer! (Although it does look better at night/could use some garland now that I think about it)

  6. I love celebrating lights and giving (though not so much the consumerism and christianity). When I had my day care I did purchase a 4 foot tree for $1.00 one summer. Then around the solstice I would give the kids paper, string, pipe cleaners, etc. and let them decorate and undecorate the tree to their hearts content.

    Now the 5 year old has been wanting to decorate, so we did put the tree up by a window. It has lights on it and a few decorations she made. She has been wanting more decorations, so my plan was to go to the thrift stores this weekend. We did just learn that she gets more time with her bio family (which is definitely good progress), so she’ll only be around part of the time. But decorations are fun and maybe we’ll say yes to more kids at some point before the holiday season is over.

    I’m also a big fan of just stringing lights about, but we left ours up for so long that most of them got burnt out last year.

    • Decorating the tree with my family is one of my favorite memories, @shewasnice! We always had artificial trees in my house. My mom has been decorating the same 9′ tree for decades(plus about a million other trees–SHE IS THE LIVING EMBODIMENT OF THE XMAS SPIRIT).

      I look forward to decorating with Remi! We did start a Xmas ornament tradition with her, but we’re picking out the ornaments for now.

      Hope you have a great holiday with your kid!

      • When I was a kid I always enjoyed picking out what kind of a tree we were going to get. One year my brother and I decided on a live tree with roots. After the holiday we planted it outside. The next year we went out with shovels and worked on digging it up. Our parents were a bit surprised but okay with our efforts. We brought it in and after the holiday planted it again. We did not do a very good job of preserving the root ball, and for quite a while it was just dry needles. But then it rebounded and we left it in the ground for many years and it grew quite tall.

        Also last night we got another kid and so far so good!

  7. My mum’s solution last year was to make one of those ladder shelves (Pinterest I’m guessing), and decorate it with her immense collection of singing and dancing Christmas toys. Tackier the better.

    Not having something tree shaped crushes my soul though, so my solution for my tiny flat was to buy one of those super skinny fake trees that people with mcmansions put either side of their front doors.
    Still technically a tree, but it comes apart and goes into a box that doesn’t take up much more space than an umbrella.

    • Haha to your mum’s holiday ladder. My mom-in-law has a whole shelf of those, too. Good grief. The kids love them, though!

      Love your skinny little tree idea, @valentine!

  8. We are planning on drawing a tree outline on the wall in green low tac tape and sticking lights on it. Our toddler LOVES lights (we went to town and just looked at lights in shop windows the other day) so it seems like a good way to have the part of a Christmas tree she’ll like without the part that will kill her (the tree falling on her being my main fear).

  9. I have a tiny white tree from Target that sits in the middle of my dining room table. It has colored lights and blue/grey ornaments from Target and some little Harry Potter ornaments I got as a Christmas gift 10-15 years ago. The cats stay away from it, surprisingly!

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