Boughs of Holly? Been there, done that. In part three of the special series, “Real Simple Holidays,” Anne-Marie O'Neill, of Real Simple magazine, shows you how to deck your halls with a few surprising (and inexpensive) everyday items you can pick up at stores you'll be visiting anyway, from the garden center to the craft store.
From the home and garden center:After you've picked up your tree from the parking lot, wander inside for decorating inspiration. Best part? The garden department will be the only uncrowded spot in town.
Make an entrance
A pair of stone-look plastic urns flanking the front doorway can be dressed up to welcome holiday visitors in grand style. Place a tall foam cone in each urn, anchor it with sand, use florist sticks and wire to attach greenery and Christmas balls, and voila — instant Tuscan villa. There will also be Christmas balls tied to the doorknob with ribbon. Urn, $49.98; Christmas balls, 48 pack for $15.99 at Home Depot
A stroll through the woods to gather pine cones doesn't fit into your schedule? Buy them prestrung to make an easy swag. Tie a big bow in the middle so you can center it perfectly over the doorway, then tack the swag up with nails. On set, we have our pine cone garland (fireproofed!) over a mantle. 12-foot pine cone garland, $32.99 at jamaligarden.com
A rite of passage in winter is forcing paperwhite narcissus for a sneak peek at spring. Instant version: Buy several bunches and display as is. Or cut them to different heights, tie bunches at the base, and arrange in identical containers. Scatter loose bulbs about like au naturel Christmas balls. Paper white bulbs, $1.25 each at Home Depot
From the craft store:Don't worry — you can find more interesting holiday decorations in the craft shop than foldout tissue poinsettias. Some easy, artsy, goop-free ideas.
Don't be square
No need to spring for holiday place mats when $1 red felt rectangles can do the job. Tie a matching ribbon to the stem of a wineglass and upend it on a plate for flair. Felt rectangles, .79 each; red ribbon, $3.99 per roll, michaels.com
The bell jar
Fill a brandy snifter to the bring with silver bells of all sizes. You won't hear them ring-a-ling, but they will dress a table in sparkling holiday style. Silver bells, $2.99 per pack at michaels.com; brandy snifters, $3.95 each at Crate & Barrel
Give store-bought presents a crafty touch by using wooden tags instead of those self-adhesive Santas. Spell out the good boy or girl's name with stick-on letters. Wooden tags, $4.99 for 5; stick-on letters $1.49-2.99 per pack at michaels.com
Time to retire the felt Christmas stockings with the kids' names written in glitter? You'll fit more booty in a canvas tote personalized with iron-on letters. Another use: a gift bag with an afterlife. Canvas tote, $3.40 at Pearl Paint; iron-on letters (athletic style) at michaels.com
Decorate a windowsill or a mantel with Frosty and other jolly, happy souls. Join two foam balls with a toothpick and mass snowmen of different heights. Secure the bases with double-sided tape. Styrofoam balls $3.49-4.49 at michaels.com
From the office supply store:Behold actual holiday magic: humble office supplies, such as erasers, transformed into fun and fuss-free decorations.
Liven up a dinner by using dry-erase whiteboards as place mats. Mark each with a guest's name. After the meal, pass around a bowl of markers and let the kids doodle or play hangman. Wipe the boards off an they're ready for the next party. Magnetic dry erase boards, $9.49 each; colored markers, $3.25 for pack of 10 at Staples; melamine plates, $3.50 each at Crate & Barrel
For a kids' table, tuck a place card into a slit on an eraser (made with an X-Acto knife), place the eraser and a paper napkin on a plate. $1.99 per pack of 3 at Staples
For a kids' party (or to bring out the kids in grown-up guests), fill paper cupcake liners with penny candy and set them out in bright-colored plastic pencil cases — a presentation to make Willy Wonka proud. Colored Pencil Cases, $1.79 at Staples