The “Use What We Have” Christmas

Thanksgiving is our road trip holiday. Awake at 5 a.m., ice chest behind the driver seat, and one stop at the Starbucks that opens at 6 a.m. on the way out of town.

Driving past The Destiny Grill in small-town Texas where your destiny is obviously a chicken-fried steak. Pointing to cows at every turn. Dumping your water bottle in your lap, but no matter because you still have a couple of hours to dry before you get there.

We talked about the trips we took when were kids. My family took trips in our green Oldsmobile with beach towels tucked into the back seats so our legs wouldn’t stick to the vinyl. We listened to that distinctive sound the road makes under the tires, and of course, about fifty “are we there yets” which is a tradition that continues to this day.

With Thanksgiving leftovers settling in my stomach, my thoughts now turn to Christmas.

Christmas is our home holiday.

While making up my holiday plans this year, I’m trying to think of ways to use what we already have.


There’s the advent wreath in my granny’s old bundt cake pan.

Our Christmas tree topper is a striped knit hat, and the tree itself is stored in the back room and has to be assembled. The tree skirt is my white summer skirt from my closet.

A couple of days ago I pulled out a tablecloth and cloth napkins that we should use on a more regular basis instead of saving them for special occasions.

There is a rosemary bush growing in front of a building next door to our apartment, so perhaps we can take some branches and use them somehow in our decorations.

Last year we made garlands using dried orange slices and buttons, and this year maybe we’ll string classic popcorn.

What I’m mostly getting ready for are the gifts. I made Tom’s quilt last year from favorite old clothes, and this year Doug wants one for himself. He has old pants I can cut up now that the back pockets and cuffs are frayed. I love sewing in December. I have some worn out sweaters that I think might become a stuffed animal friend for Tom.

For Lane I’m going to record Doug and I reading her favorite stories so she can listen to them on my iPod. We also have some LEGO that we bought a few weeks ago and have saved for her.

What are some ways that you use what you have for Christmas time?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Like you this is the month of sewing, but also knitting and baking. I have a crazy amount of yarn and fabric as well as a stack of old sweaters I’ve already felted and cut into pieces for a blanket.

    I recently resigned from my position, choosing health and family over income. We’re very fortunate to be able to do this for a while and frankly, it is imperative that we do. This season will be full of joy and thanks, but not of new purchases.
    Tepary´s last post…Three Years- Nine Months

  2. Love this idea. I dont want any more stuff. We have enough. We are truly blessed. This year Im taking your lead and using what we have.
    Deb´s last post…Goodbye Mr Rooster

  3. I will be baking and baking and baking. In fact, I should be in the kitchen right now getting started.
    Kim McCallie´s last post…Pecan Pie Cookies

  4. Love the Advent Wreath idea!!! All parts of it.
    “Aunt Amelia”´s last post…Wheeee! I can change my blog look again!!!

  5. I’m in the beginning stages of crocheting small gifts for family members with yarn that I have on hand already – I was surprised by the fun things that could be made from small amounts of yarn once I actually started thinking about it!

    I have to tell you, my four-year-old son kept pointing at that picture of your mantel at the top of your post and saying, “I want to go there Mom, I want to go there!” I guess someone’s ready for Christmas :)
    Jennifer´s last post…Soaked Pancakes

  6. I think in previous years we’ve bought more decorations for the holidays – over the years maybe adding one item for the mantel or tree. Now we have pretty much all we need, which is a nice feeling.

    My favorite is the nativity scene I bought when I met my son Elijah in Liberia (which also happened to be my very first blog post ever almost two years ago!):

    steadymom´s last post…This Moment – Giving Thanks

  7. Great ideas! I have the ornaments my Mom collected (and put dates on) for nearly 60 years, the tree skirt my Grandmother hooked, the table runner my Aunt Rita made. I love the idea of the hat on top of the tree! And a rosemary bush…I’m thinking wreath here, on my wishlist for decorations. You’ve got me thinking … thanks!
    Shelley´s last post…Alternate Email

  8. This summer I finally bought white dishes to go with anything. A set of eight. We use them every day. At Thanksgiving they looked great atop a brown shower-curtain-turned-tablecloth with some fall-colored napkins. At Christmas I will use my red tablecloth and matching napkins.
    Zoanna´s last post…Making Pillows

  9. I love the idea of creatively using items in unique ways. We don’t need “more”. We have plenty. The kids really enjoy the challenge of re-purposing things.
    I Live in an Antbed´s last post…Asking the Lords Blessing on Your Thanksgiving

  10. This will be my goal… next Christmas. haha. The truth is, this is only our second Christmas together and I don’t want a lot, but it would be nice to have a tree this year.

    As far as gifts go, we’ve decided on a family tradition of three gifts a year, representing the gifts of the wise men. Gold= a worldly gift. Frankincense= a spiritual gift. Myrrh= an experience that will be fondly remembered. Travis kind of gets to cheat, though, since his birthday is 4 days before Christmas. :)
    Jennie´s last post…Giving Thanks

  11. I absolutely LOVE the idea of a quilt made up of old clothes and worn materials that hold sentimental value. I am not a quilter myself but am seriously considering learning the craft simply to share this wonderful gift with loved-ones.

    Thanks for the great ideas.

  12. Love your blog! This year I will buy a Christmas Tree but plan to “use what we have” as you this year :) I wanted to make all handmade gifts this year but, as usual, let the year slip by me and now its too late. Every year I have good intentions…when will I ever learn that I HAVE to start in January in order to be ready for Christmas???

    But…life is so good :)
    Teresa´s last post…I Am An Information Hoarder

    • I am the same! Great intentions to make really personalized gifts but then the year slips away from me and I’m doing last minute shopping yet again. Better luck to both of us in 2011. :)
      Lisa´s last post…Happy Thanksgiving!

      • I have good intentions too, but I never seem to get around to it earlier in the year. Last year I started Tom’s quilt the week before Christmas and finished it just in time!

  13. Great post- you’re getting me brainstorming in a really fun way! One thing I know for sure I want to do: we planted holly bushes in our yard the first year we moved in. They have grown nicely every year and are in dire need of some shaping and trimming, but i’ve been waiting until now to do it so i can trim off the branches and use them to decorate around the house.
    I also want to somehow use random ribbon that is not long enough for gifts as a way to hang up Christmas cards this year… just figuring out exactly how. I think down the front of our glass front hutch might work…

  14. WOW. Love this idea. Since we live in Alaska and our kids in Texas we don’t see them often at Christmas. This year…we got lucky and one is coming home for the holidays. I have considerably downsized Christmas for just my husband and I and I absolutely LOVE the idea of using what I have. In the past I have sort of been “miss perfect”. But that sort of overshadows the “reason for the season”. I loving making my Christmas gifts…they are so meaningful to me. Not that I always have….but am heading that direction. Thank you for your awesome ideas….the visions of sugar plums are definitely what I have on hand. Thank you and thank you for Small Notebook….I devour every newsletter. You have definitely contributed to a calmer, less stressful me. Have a great holiday…everyone.

  15. Love your Advent idea!! Every year I downsize a little more for Christmas and love it. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one doing this…glad to know I’m not alone.

  16. Sarah Holm says:

    I am following a tradition of my sister. We are going to purchase a living Christmas tree with a root ball. Enjoy it for the season and plant it in the Spring. It has become a special tradition for their family and an environmental way to enjoy the season while adding beauty to your landscape. It has become so much more than a Christmas tree purchase.

    • Just the other day, my 86 yr. old grandfather was sharing that this is what they did when he was young and then he did with his boys! I never even knew it was an option, but LOVE it … now trying to talk my husband into starting this as our own family tradition! :)
      Erika´s last post…The Illusion of Thankfulness

  17. I use the Christmas cards I received last year to fashion new card with the help of my over-abundant but slowing dwindling stash of paper crafting supplies.
    Colleen (´s last post…Day 331 Take 5

  18. I love, love, love the bundt cake wreath. How wonderful.

    We use what we have too. Lots of paper crafts like snowflakes & paper candles. I want to string acorns, cranberries & popcorn this year too.

    Each year I say I want a BIG tree with LED lights and such, but each year we keep our cheap, small fake tree and everyone is happy with it…it becomes beautiful once the ornaments & memories are placed on it. It’s just about using what you have, as you said.

  19. What a wonderful post – I love how creative you are and how it encourages others to use what we have – this can be taken even further in our homes all year round. Re-purposing items in our decorating makes sense and keeps the cost down and the stress! Thanks!

  20. Love this idea of stringing popcorn.. I’m thinking of decorating with old Christmas cards and am determind not to buy anything more this year. Even, for gifts, am planning a basket with home baked cookies, fudge and am planning to put a bottle of your chocolate fudge sauce:-)
    Prerna´s last post…Simple Planning for Productive Holidays

  21. great ideas! i typically use a lot of things we already have for decorations although i try to add one or two things to our collection from the after christmas sales. i want to string popcorn and cranberries on our tree this year… i think my 3 year old will get a kick out of that.

    my problem is that i fall into the santa snare… wanting christmas to be magical for my kiddos so i buy toys to go in their already too large collection. next year when like isn’t so crazy (hopefully) i want to try to make some homemade gifts that will last them a lifetime (like your quilts).
    stacey´s last post…grat·i·tude a challenge

  22. This is a huge goal of mine at our house. I enjoy using old things and repurposing them into new presents -Such as old clothes turned into doll clothes or mittens. I also like to figure out ways to decorate with what I have. I enjoy pulling out my odds and ends of candles, red things, metalic- whatever and then using it to decorate the house. We are also blessed with lots of natural beauty and natural things like pinecones and branches that we can easily collect and use.

    Holidays don’t have to be expensive or create a lot of new clutter.
    abbi´s last post…Thanksgiving Crafting!

  23. May I ask how you’re recording the stories? I used to do that for my oldest on those old cassette tapes. Haven’t figured out how to do it in this new technological age! Thanks. ~Amy
    Amy´s last post…Unexpected Grace

    • I’m using the Garage Band software that comes with my MacBook. The MacBook has a little microphone built into it.

      Another option would be a hand-held digital voice recorder.

  24. I make paper snowflakes for the windows. I wanted to do a blue and white Christmas theme this year since I’m already living amidst lots of flowery colors. I’m making paper chains out of pretty blue and white scrapbooking paper. I think I’ll even lace up my old ice skates with blue ribbon and hang them from my headboard.

  25. I’m quite jealous of how beautifuly simplistic you make your holidays! I wish I had done that years ago with my kids, it would have made things so much easier, and my wallet so much fatter! It’s hard to reverse the pattern and change tradition.

    We’ve been using what we have accumulated over the years, as I haven’t bought new decorations for Christmas for quite a while. I have been steadily decreasing the amount I put out as decorations, opting for a clean and simple look. I love the idea of the dried oranges for the fireplace, and we will probably be stringing popcorn, as our tree fell over last year and we lost a lot of ornaments.

    I love the look of cranberries, which I may duplicate this year for the advent wreath–LOVE the way yours looks!
    sharon´s last post…November Challenge- Black and Blue Friday Getting priorities straight

  26. Something I did last year was to reuse all the old Christmas cards I have gotten from friends and family that I’d saved over the last ten years. (I know, yikes! I’m a saver.)

    I bought plain cards at the craft store, cut out the pictures and decorations from the cards I really liked, added a few really simple embelishments from the scrapbook aisle, and even cut out the sayings inside to paste into my own cards. I got to reuse them, thereby avoiding the “throw away” guilt and made them my own with a few simple touches.

    This year I’ve asked friends and family to donate their used Christmas cards they’ve been holding onto, and I’ll do the same thing again.

    It’s a great way to save cash and reuse something.

  27. I’ve always (OK for several years now since becoming parents and learning about hand carved wooden toys) wanted the Ostheimer Nativity set, but it is not in the budget. For something used only once a year, I can’t fathom spending $400. So instead we have some wooden people and animals we set up to look like a nativity with a little baby in a cradle. It can be played with too, and the rest of the year the people and animals are played with as a farm. :)

    One thing we love to do is cut construction paper in the colors of a season/holiday and make long garlands of rings of paper. They can be hung quite lovely and are inexpensive so we can throw them away and make new ones next time if we want. Our children make shapes to add to the garland for a unique decoration parents can love!

    We got some wooden shapes from Caseys wood. They have a grab back of shapes that include Christmas shapes. We let the children paint them and then we screwed in eye hoods to make ornaments! You can do this with any chunks of wood you find, even leave the bark on for a beautiful ornament!

    We put out playsilks or other fabrics (I love your skirt idea!)according to the season, and switch out plants when possible. You can also easily switch out pictures in your picture frames-put up some of your favorite snowy scenes from the past.

    Print out or make a cd of your favorite Christmas carols so your children can sing them over and over with you! We are going to print our favorites along with favorite pics of the past.

  28. Some lovely ideas here Rachel.

    I have been using some eucalyptus sprigs from a tree in our garden to dot around the house in bud vases today. Surprised how effective it looks…will make sure it features in my xmas decorating plans.

    Am determined to follow your lead and have a use what we have xmas also.
    Anna´s last post…Three beautiful things

  29. So beautiful! I’m struggling with what to do with our mantel. Seems I need something to give it a little height. Wish we had a mirror somewhere.
    Unplanned Cooking´s last post…Gluten Free Sweet Potato Biscuits

    • Joan Katafias says:

      I propped up an old window on my mantel. At Christmas I hang
      a lighted wreath (artificial) with a red bow. There is so much you can do with an old window. The rest of the year I
      just leave it plain. It does add height to my mantel

  30. Love this post and comments. Armed with a can of gold spray paint, I’m making some festive decorations. I’ve painted some small pear-shaped gourds, some leaves, twigs and some mismatched candles and even some small leftover fall pumpkins. Now I have the makings of a great table display – add a mirror to the back and double the fun.

    I make cards and calendars and this year will make some wine bottle stoppers, using some small drawer pulls I’ve accululated.

    Like many others have said, it would be easier if I started with much earlier ! My good intentions to start in the summer never seem to materialize. Instead, I kick in about now !
    deb mattin´s last post…Family Compound

  31. Since my kids are little, we are slowly introducing the holidays and remaking them as we go along so that Hannukah, Winter Solstice and Christmas all get equal billing.
    I’m making granola and salve for friends and relatives, and for the kids, they’ll get enough from relatives to sprinkle throughout the month of December.
    6512 and growing´s last post…I am made of books and trillions of microorganisms

  32. I loved when I was growing up that Christmas was our at-home holiday as well. We lived 10 hours away from my grandparents, but we stayed at home and celebrated as a family of 4. I hope we’ll implement that when our kids are a little older.

    I made my grandmother a shawl using leftover yarn and some handscrub with kitchen items I already had around the house. I LOVE that cranberry advent “wreath.” I am all about decorating with what I already have.


  33. Wrapping paper can transform anything! Pictures, doors, cabinets, you name it! Its hard not to OD on Christmas stuff in our house! Now that we’re living in half the space (and no room for a tree unless its on our dining table), it should get interesting when I break out the decor!
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Thankful on Paper – Week Four

  34. Love it!

    I turned scraps of fabric that were just the right shape into purses for female relatives. We pack everything very carefully every year, so we can reuse nearly all decorations each year. We do support the family farm business down the road and buy a tree every year, but that’s about it. We’re making gifts for the kids, using a few credit card points to “buy” a bucket-o-crafts for the kids, and focusing on experience related gifts (like a cooking class I want to take). We’re keeping the cooking simple, using the same cloth table linens and dishes we always use at Christmas, and having people over to sing Christmas carols. After all, half of the fun this time of year is getting out the familiar favorites!

  35. My favorite Christmas decorations from last year were the tiny snowflakes me and hubby cut out to hang as ornaments for the tree. He also painted little white tips on pine cones and we sat those on the branches with sprigs of berries. The leftover Halloween popcorn balls became hanging ornaments. Each year we buy a special ornament to add to the tree. So far we have gotten birds and chipmunks!
    Frances´s last post…Thanksgiving

  36. The boy and I wont be decorating this year… because we’ll be in Micronesia for Christmas and New Years. I do so love these ideas, however, and will certainly be implementing them this year. I do plan on doing a bit of sewing for gifts– I’ve had fleece fabric to make the boy pj pants for about a year now.

    Instead of purchasing “stuff” for each other this year, the boy and I decided we’re going to invest in some home beer brewing equipment and try our hand at it. It’s more of a hobby than a “thing,” and it’s something we can do together– so it’s even better! Besides, it’ll allow us to recycle some bottles in the future ;)
    Tara´s last post…Hello Theorists- Can’t We All Just Play Nice

  37. Rachel,
    Great post that gets me to thinking! I have not pulled out decorations yet, will be doing that this Saturday as we are having a party on Sunday! Before I put things away last year, I went thru and got rid of a lot of stuff. And now I am going thru a major purge in the house as well. I will definitely only be using what I have, and once I pull it out, I may decide to get rid of even more!
    If I have one weakness for Christmas decor, it is nativity sets. I probably have 6! Most are small and they are made of durable material. I always wanted my kids and grandkids to play with them, which they have for many years!
    Living the Balanced Life´s last post…Afraid to let people in…

  38. I am so with you on not having gobs of Chrismas decor that must be stored 11 months of the year. Our tree was damaged while in storage, and my husband splurged on a ridiculously large (but beautiful) new one…..I hope I can alleviate my guilt by making it a family heirloom!!

    I LOVE the bundt wreath. We are using silver candlesticks from my great grandmother, with an arrangement of our Rosemary. Thanks for the button idea, I have loads of vintage buttons saved from my sewing great aunt. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it, lack of sleep I guess!

  39. Great post! I re-use decos from year to year and am challenging myself to not purchase any addt’l wrapping paper…I have enough leftovers from prior years to sink a barge! I love taking out the decos from year to year, it so much fun, especially the ornaments.

    I’d love you to do a post on how to simplify your holidays when the wonderful dh that you are married to (and his family) thinks you MUST spend spend spend in order to have a happy christmas…am running up against a brick wall here! Any advice would be great thanks!!

  40. I spent $6 buying some ever-greenery (didn’t know how else to say that- ha!) at a local florist shop. It was a full garbage bag full that they had in the bag of the shop. It included boxwoods, yew branches, holly leaves, and bittersweet. I’m currently working on decking the windows and creating an advent wreath.
    tacy @homemakinghabits´s last post…New York Security

  41. I love this! I saw your blog on Vanderbilt Wife and am so glad I stopped by. The advent wreath is awesome and I love the idea of using what you have–we have so much STUFF already! Great post!


  42. Love these ideas. This is a great start to our new year resolution. We are not buying anything new and especially nothing is coming into our house that was made in china.So the only things we are buying next year are necessities, so I will looking at your blog for more ideas. Thanks a bunch and Merry Christmas.

  43. The best way to repurpose old sweaters, is to take a sweater that is made of acrylic (at least ten percent) so you don’t have unraveling, straighten it out on a piece of cardboard or a cutting table. Using a exacto knife and a ruler, cut a straight line from under one armpit to the other. The bottom of the sweater can then be used as an endless scarf.
    I have made four of these this year to give as Christmas presents. Instead of taking the stuff to GoodWill, you can repurpose old items for gifts. I also bought four mens sweaters last year after Christmas at JC Penneys for three dollars each. I am going to make these into men’s scarfs.

  44. Thanks Rachel, I really like the idea of using what we have. We live near woodlands and forestry so I will have plenty of evergreen sprigs and holly to use as decorations.

    This year will be a very different Christmas as my mum went into a care home just after last Christmas and so we won’t be spending the holidays with her as we have done since we were married. We will visit with her after Christmas instead.

    As this is the first Christmas we are spending in our own home it’s a fresh start for traditions and decorations. I guess it gives us a chance to think about what we want out of the Christmas as a couple.
    scribhneoir´s last post…Snowy Days Are Here Again

  45. I love it when my mom brings old Christmas decorations over when she gets new ones–it’s like bringing little bits of all my Christmas memories as a child and scattering them around the house.

  46. Funny. I have the same moose you have on your mantel. And 2 other ones that are just like him only a little bigger and one of them is white. They are part of my decor year round but look especially festive at Christmas.