How To Decorate A Small Apartment For The Holidays On A Budget

You’re the type of person who starts playing Christmas music in early November. You have several ugly holiday sweaters, and at least five different eggnog recipes.

You’ve seen The Muppet Christmas Carol so many times. You’re embarrassed to reveal the number — but let’s just say it’s in the triple digits.

Basically, you love the holidays. But it’s hard for you to really unleash your cheer, when your apartment (and bank account) can barely accommodate a stocking.

Don’t let space or money hold you back from celebrating the holidays to the max. This guide will show you how to deck the halls even when you have less of a “hall” than a three-person railroad apartment.

With a little strategy and DIY know-how, you’ll have your place looking like Santa’s workshop in no time:

1. Research the Christmas tree market.

christmas trees for sale in nyc
Flickr/Jazz Guy

So you’ve decided to get a tree. The first thing you have to do is figure out where exactly you can get one.

Stroll for a few blocks in your neighborhood and pay particular attention to churches, hardware stores, or any shop that already sells plants. You will usually find Christmas tree pop-ups in front of those places, but they can also show up beside the local CVS.

Still struggling?

amNewYork compiled a bunch of spots in all five boroughs, and DNAinfo has an interactive map.

Now, you shouldn’t necessarily settle for the first tree hub you find. Prices can vary wildly based on your location. If you’re in a ritzier area, you may want to venture outside your neighborhood for a better deal.

Just make sure you have a way to get your out-of-town tree home. Look for vendors with delivery options, or bribe your friend who has a car with cookies.

2. Consider different tree sizes.

small christmas tree for small apartment
Flickr/Stacie

Obviously, prices grow with the size of the tree. Those staggering six-footers are definitely impressive, but they may be a drag on your budget — and your tiny apartment. So ask the vendor for a full breakdown of sizes and prices. The tallest trees might be out of reach (pun intended), but you may be able to snag a mid-sized fir for under $50.

There’s also the beloved Charlie Brown tree. Yes, we’re talking about the scrappy little tree that Charlie Brown picks out, much to Lucy’s chagrin, in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

A 24-inch Charlie Brown Christmas Tree and a MakeSpace storage bin on the side.
MakeSpace

Tree vendors figured out a long time ago that most of their New York customers were pressed for space, so they began offering small, table-top trees or “Charlie Brown trees” as an alternative.

They usually go for about $25-$30 a pop, and they’re often lusher than Charlie’s actual pick. But if you still want to decorate it with a single red bulb, no one will stop you.

3. Get a Christmas tree stand.

christmas tree stand
Flickr/Anthony Crider

A basic Christmas tree stand isn’t going to break the bank, but vendors also don’t throw it in for free. Make sure to bring an extra $5-$10 in cash to cover the cost.

Vendors typically only offer one or two types of stands, so if you prefer a larger selection, shop for the stand separately. Sporting good and hardware stores will have them. So will Target.

Look for a durable tree stand so that you don’t have to return it next year for a replacement. Also look for one that can hold some liquid, because you’re going to be watering the tree constantly.

4. Don’t want to haul a tree? Buy an artificial one online.

fake xmas trees on a table in an apartment
Flickr/Joshua Blount

Are the logistics of finding and hauling a tree back to your place giving you a yuletide migraine?

Skip the stress and buy a fake Christmas tree. There are plenty of convincing (and cheap!) faux trees on the market.

The best part: You can reuse an artificial Christmas tree for as many years as you want.

If you’re planning to order yours online, make sure to do that early, like right now. Otherwise, it won’t show up until New Year’s Eve. (If you’re lucky.)

5. Ask around for spare ornaments, and DIY the rest.

red and gold christmas ornaments
Flickr/Paul VanDerWerf

Alright, now it’s time to decorate your prized tree. If you’re starting your ornament collection from scratch, the cost can quickly rack up. So before you start mass-ordering Golden Girls ornaments, ask your family and friends if they have any spare stuff taking up space in their homes.

There is a high chance your uncle has, at the very least, an extra set of lights gathering dust in his garage. If he’s not using it himself, he’d probably be happy to give them to you.

Once you’ve tapped out those resources, consider making the rest of the ornaments on your own.

Bake clay snowflakes. And sew together felt Santas:

 

You can also make pipe cleaner reindeers. Prefer penguins? Idunn Goddess shows you how to DIY an adorable penguin ornament from a light bulb and paint:

 

6. Hunt for cheap holiday decorations.

manchester christmas market
Flickr/Phil Long

Your apartment’s holiday makeover is not done once you’ve placed a star on top of your tree. You still have walls, coffee tables, and windows to decorate, which you can do for cheap.

Rummage through yard sales and surplus stores first. After that, stalk the aisles of your local drugstore for discounted displays. And don’t forget to search online for any festive flash sales.

You can also stroll through holiday pop-up shops in your neighborhood. A lot of the stuff there will be overpriced, but you can still find affordable items like those ubiquitous paper star lanterns.

7. DIY holiday decorations for your apartment.

diy candy cane pine wreath
Flickr/ProFlowers

Another surefire way to save on holiday decorations? Make them yourself. Start with a crafting classic: the Mason jar snow globe. You can find almost all the supplies — glitter, glue, and tiny sleighs — at your local crafting store.

As The Washington Post points out, the project is simple enough for a child to make. So if you have kids, this is a fun and engaging holiday activity to do with them.

You already know that Mason jars are good at storing pretty much everything. But did you know that Mason jars are also good at being Underwater Forests? You just need some fake flora to bring this forest to life.

You can also make a cute votive display with upcycled cans, wrapping paper, and a wooden hanger. (Make sure to hit Google Translate on that link. The site is written in Hungarian.)

Want a wreath but already blew your greenery budget? Build one out of gift bows.

As Woman’s Day explains, simply attach a loop of floral wire around a Styrofoam wreath ring, which you can find at craft supplies stores, save-on-crafts.com, and even Dollar Tree.

Next, hot glue your bows to the ring. Just remember to think of a color scheme before you start gluing things down.

All of these are excellent DIY holiday decorating ideas, but they each have one flaw:

You can’t eat them.

So let’s turn our attention to the ever-edible gingerbread house. Watch this video from How to Cook That to learn, well, how to make one:

 

8. Make Christmas tree potpourri.

christmas tree close-up
Flickr/Oregon State University

If you ended up getting a larger tree (i.e. one with ample needles to spare), collect a few fragrant branches for a festive potpourri. Olivia Cleans Green has a super easy Christmas tree potpourri recipe.

All you need to do is collect two small branches, break them up, and then combine them in a brown paper bag with cinnamon sticks, cloves, dried orange peel, and cotton balls containing essential oils.

Shake it all up and then marinate it in an airtight container for one week. After that, you can bust out the potpourri whenever you want your apartment to smell like Christmas.

Bought a smaller tree, and think you can’t pull this off without depriving your Charlie Brown tree of one of its precious few branches?

Think again.

Most tree vendors will give you loose branches for free if you ask nicely. Their trees shed all the time, so they have plenty of needles to spare.

9. Line your windows with paper snowflakes.

stick paper snowflakes on windows
Flickr/suzette.nu

Paper snowflakes aren’t just for kids. Now that you have an adult-level set of crafting skills, you can make some seriously intricate ones. You know, the kind that would make Buddy the Elf’s collection look amateur.

 

Regardless of your paper-folding proficiency, these snowflakes are a cheap and fun way to brighten up your windows. Here’s a tutorial from Martha Stewart on how to make fancy paper snowflakes.

10. Display your holiday cards.

things organized neatly holiday cards
Flickr/Lauren Manning

Maybe you don’t have a mantel, but you’re still getting tons of holiday cards from your friends and family across the country. Displaying your loved ones’ smiling faces is a surefire way to boost holiday cheer, so don’t relegate those cards to a pile on your counter.

Make use of your apartment’s vertical space by hanging the cards up on the walls. You can even take a play out of the Real Simple book and turn the holiday cards into a jolly display with a tree branch and some ribbon.

11. DIY a menorah.

There are plenty of creative ideas for anyone celebrating Hanukkah. Try making any of these 13 DIY menorahs from Brit + Co for a candelabrum all your own.

You can use wooden blocks, spray-painted bottles, or color-blocked candlesticks for example.

If you’re really down to get wild, head straight to the rhinestone rhinoceros.

12. Wrap your cabinet doors like presents.

You’ve just wrapped enough sweaters, books, and Hatchimals to last a lifetime, and yet miraculously, you still have some extra ribbon and bows. Use that surplus to apply a cheery touch to your kitchen cabinets.

As these holiday decorating hacks prove, wrapping your cabinets in a simple red ribbon can make your kitchen downright holly-jolly. But if you still feel like that room is lacking holiday spirit, move onto our next tip…

13. Transform your fridge into Frosty the Snowman.

 

Your fridge is already chilly, so it only makes sense to transform it into Frosty the Snowman.

For this cool DIY project, you’ll need to cut out cardboard buttons, eyes, a mouth, and a nose. Then paint the mouth, eyes, and buttons black, and paint the nose bright orange. After the pieces have dried, tape them onto your fridge.

For the finishing touch, upcycle a few strips of old wallpaper into the snowman’s scarf.

14. MakeSpace for Santa’s sleigh

 

You thought you had enough room for a Christmas tree and a few decorations. But somewhere between your first and 50th rotation of “Jingle Bell Rock,” you got a little carried away with holiday cheer and eggnog.

Now your apartment is covered from head to toe in holly, snowflakes, stars, and a giant unmeltable snowman. If you and your less festive furniture is starving for space, you don’t have to ditch the holly. You just have to MakeSpace.

Schedule a pickup and we’ll come collect any chairs, bikes, surfboards, or AC units that are getting in the way of your holiday displays. We’ll then transport everything to our secure temperature-controlled storage facility, and create an online photo catalog of your stuff so you never forget what you packed.

But that’s not all. Here’s something that’s sure to bring joy and goodwill:

When you want your stuff back, you won’t have to unpack a bunch of boxes in a dim self-storage unit way across town. Simply log into your MakeSpace account, select the item’s photo, and we’ll deliver it to you.

Until then, enjoy your decorations and the time with your loved ones. We’ll be here when your decorations need a vacation. Happy Holidays!

a makespace bin used for holiday decoration storage