The Christmas season is one of my favourite times of the year, and part of the reason is because I absolutely love decorating for the holidays. We typically put up three trees: one in the dining room, one in the living room, and one in the basement for the kids. Unfortunately we’ve never been able to have a real tree due to family allergies, but I’ve managed to find some gorgeous artificial trees over the years… and on the plus side, I can start my decorating a little earlier in the season!
One of the things I have learned over the years is how to “properly” decorate my Christmas tree. Now, I use the term “properly” loosely, because I think it really just comes down to what works for you, and your own personal style and preference. However, for me, I have always loved having thematic trees that are intentionally styled and well-balanced. So, if this is something that interests you, or something you feel like you struggle to achieve, keep reading!
It’s easiest to break down the process of decorating my tree into a few categories:
1.) Setting up and fluffing the tree
2.) Organizing the decorations
3.) Placing the decorations
4.) Final touch-ups
Step One: Setting Up and Fluffing the Tree
Ok, this is probably my least favourite step. Because we have artificial trees, there is always the process of hauling them out of storage, setting them up, and then arranging and fluffing all of the branches that have inevitably become squished during the time spent in storage.
My husband is really great about physically setting them up for me, but from there on, decorating is basically up to me. I really dislike the process of arranging all of the branches; it always takes longer than I think it will, and I am usually quite a perfectionist, so I don’t like to start decorating until the branches are all arranged so the tree looks as natural as possible.
We have gotten smarter with our Christmas tree storage and have actually purchased Christmas tree storage bags so that the artificial trees stay in optimal condition throughout the year, and I’ve found proper storage really helps with this, and is worth investing in.
The other step that I always include in the “tree fluffing” stage is stringing the lights. I know lots of people are a fan of pre-lit trees, and I totally understand why; they are so convenient! The problem for me is that every pre-lit tree we have ever owned has only lasted a couple of years because there is inevitably an issue with the lights, making the entire tree useless. So, for that reason, I choose to take the extra step of stringing my own lights each year. Just make sure you check all of your strands of lights before you begin stringing them!
One of my best tips for stringing your own lights is to weave the strands in and out of the tree, covering the length of each branch. This definitely takes more time, and will require a lot more strands of lights, but you’ll end up with lights that twinkle from every angle, including deep within the tree branches, which is so pretty, and you avoid the appearance of actual strands of lights hanging on the tree.
Step 2: Arranging the Ornaments
Every year I tend to change up my ornaments, or I’ll use different ornaments on different trees. I should probably just own the fact that I have a shocking number of ornaments, and I don’t always use all of them each year. I have gone through the minimalist trend, the rustic trend, the classic christmas trend, and am currently all over the vintage trend. If you’ve been following me since last Christmas you’ll know that I discovered the mother-load of vintage christmas ornaments and was super inspired to embrace the “Merry & Bright” theme in my decorating.
The biggest challenge in achieving a well-balanced Christmas tree is figuring out which ornaments should go on the tree first, and especially what to do with those one-off ornaments (which are typically the most special and unique)! So, once I’ve decided which tree is going to get which ornaments, the next step in the process for me is to organize all of the ornaments based on three things:
1.) Size/Shape: I like to arrange all of my ornaments based on their overall size and shape, largest to smallest; I find this really helps when it’s time to actually begin placing your decorations.
2.) Colour Family: depending on the colour scheme of your tree, I think it’s really helpful to place your ornaments in colour-coordinated groupings as well, so that you can space them out properly when placing them on the tree, and you know exactly how many you have of each colour.
3.) Amount of Ornaments: I also like to group my ornaments based on how many I have of a particular type or style. For example, I often use candy canes on my tree, and every year I have lots of those, so when it comes to balancing the ornaments across the entire tree, it’s helpful to see how many I have to work with of a particular style. This is also important when dealing with those special “one-off” ornaments (like baby’s first christmas, or a hand-me-down for example). You definitely want to make sure these ornaments receive a special spot on the tree, so knowing how many you have to place before you begin is really helpful.
Step 3: Placing the Ornaments
This is obviously the most important step in the process of achieving a well-balanced, and fully decorated tree.
Depending on where you have placed your tree, you will need to be strategic about which angles to focus on the most. If your tree can be seen from all angles, then you’ll need to consider that; if your tree is in a corner, then you don’t need to focus as much on the side that faces the wall.
To begin, I like to determine what the “front” of my tree will be, and then go from there. This doesn’t really impact the overall end result, but it helps me to have a focal point as I begin decorating.
The first items that go on the tree are always any garlands, such as bead strands or felt pompoms. You’ll want to place these first, starting at the top of the tree and working your way down. When purchasing garlands, break your tree into thirds in order to ensure you have enough. I find the top of the tree usually requires one garland, the middle of the tree 1-2, and the bottom of the tree will require 2 garlands. This definitely depends on how full you want the tree. If you don’t have enough garland, you may be able to cheat (like I did this year), and weave the strands back and forth across the front of the tree, instead of wrapping them all the way around. This really only works if the back of your tree isn’t exposed. Or, if you can’t find enough strands of the garland you like best, try alternating with a complimentary one instead.
Once I have my garland up, I work my way from largest to smallest, beginning with anything I have a lot of. This year, I started with five large paper snowflakes from IKEA. I find it’s best to start this way so you can properly space these items. By working your way down from the largest to the smallest, you will be able to fill in any gaps as you go.
It’s also important to pay attention to the different colours you’re using so that you can properly balance your colour palette as well. This year, I used lots of bright, vintage colours, so it was important to spread the intense colours evenly from top to bottom, and on all sides, so that it looks great from any angle.
Finally, I always hang any one-off decorations at the very end. By waiting to place these ornaments, you’ll be able to use them to fill in any gaps, and also to place them in areas where they will be seen. This may require you do to a little rearranging if you decide you’d like a special ornament to hold a more prominent spot on the tree, but generally speaking, random ornaments do a great job of providing added interest and sentimentality, and actually help to balance the tree by keeping it from looking too symmetrical. Think “organized chaos”.
Step Four: Final Touch-Ups
When I think I’m done decorating my christmas tree, I always make sure to take a step back, and examine it from every angle to ensure that nothing seems really out of place. Truthfully, I often find myself adjusting my christmas tree for several days after I have set it up, as I’ll notice little things that stand out or bother me.
I also sometimes end up rearranging ornaments for other reasons as well – such as little hands or animals that might be tempted to pull lower-hanging ornaments off the tree. Not going to lie, this year, the bottom quarter of both of my christmas trees are primarily decorated in shatter-proof ornaments, or none at all. Granted, this doesn’t really help achieve balance 😉 but, it’s definitely representative of the stage of life we’re in so it doesn’t bother me!
You may also find a need to adjust some of your decor throughout the season if you find something new, or are gifted an ornament that you would like to display right away. Usually this is just a matter of quickly rearranging a couple of ornaments, and definitely shouldn’t mean you have to do a total overhaul of your tree.
Well, there you have it! My tips and tricks for decorating a thematic/stylized Christmas tree that is full and balanced! At the end of the day – there really is no “wrong” way to decorate your Christmas tree if it brings you joy! Happy tree trimming!
Photocredit: Nicole Buhler Photography (https://www.nicolebuhler.com/)