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77 quick, easy Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year

Fair warning: Some of these Elf on the Shelf set-ups may land you on Santa’s naughty list.
The Elf on the Shelf sees yoooooou!
The Elf on the Shelf sees yoooooou!Elf On The Shelf
/ Source: TODAY

Editor's note: This story may contain spoilers for prying little eyes!

It’s that time of year — you know, when the Elf on the Shelf keeps an eye on the kids and lets them know Christmas is coming. Which means parents must make a mad dash each night to rearrange their special friend before dawn.

Elf on the Shelf is a popular tradition where families use a plush stuffed elf to “keep an eye” on children during the countdown to Christmas. The family elf gets a unique name and arrives during "Scout Elf Return Week" from Nov. 22 to Dec. 1.

Through the years, the trend has gained popularity with parents often seeking out elaborate measures with their North Pole visitor in an effort to make sure children are on their best behavior.

"The Lumistella Company is proud to offer one-of-a-kind joyful family moments using characters kids’ love at Christmastime," Chanda Bell, founder & co-CEO of The Lumistella Company, home of The Elf on The Shelf, tells "The traditions we offer are simple, classic and timeless."

Bell says the brand has plenty of companion pieces, including props, to help the magic come alive.

"Regardless of age, every family member who chooses to do so can participate in our story-world of Santa Claus by reading books together, watching one of our four animated specials on Netflix or by embracing the silliness of elf hide-n-seek," Bell says.

Whether you plan to go all out with elf accessories or want to keep it simple, here are 77 Elf on the Shelf ideas from arrival to departure to try.

1. A full clean-out.

Nothing says holiday purge like digging through the couch cushions — so put your elf to work! Pose the family elf digging into the couch and stage anything he or she finds nearby. If your couch is pristine, stage a few items like candy, coins or toys.

A full holiday clean-out: elf style!
A full holiday clean-out: elf style!The Lumistella Company

2. Color coded.

Grab your elves and any candy that may be sitting in the pantry. Color code the sweets by color and prop up the elf (or elves!) just in time for your kids to notice what they've been up to all night.

Color coded elves getting to work this season!
Color coded elves getting to work this season!The Lumistella Company

3. Flip it up!

From the window, to the wall, the elf is flipping these halls! Take family photo frames and flip them upside for a silly setup, courtesy of the family elf.

Flip those frames!
Flip those frames!The Lumistella Company

4. Just roll with it!

It's time to wrap it up in the bathroom! Your elf will cut a small section of wrapping paper and tape it to an empty toilet paper roll to create this punny scene.

Just roll with it, OK?
Just roll with it, OK?The Lumistella Company

5. Working up a sweat.

A virtual sweat session might be in order this season. Set up your laptop and display Lumistella Company's downloadable elf image.

It's time to move!
It's time to move!The Lumistella Company

6. Bringing the jokes!

If Christmas jokes make your kids laugh out loud, it's time to bring more fun by setting up the family elf with a joke or two. Make a little sign and get ready for some holiday chuckles.

Knock, knock! Who's there? ELF!
Knock, knock! Who's there? ELF!The Lumistella Company

7. An elf makes their mark.

A dry erase marker is all that's needed to make this all-in-good fun setup come to life. Grab a black dry erase marker and a nearby family photo. Draw on a mustache, a beard or dramatic eyebrows and pose your elf looking mischievous with the marker nearby.

Making their mark this season!
Making their mark this season!The Lumistella Company

8. Waffle pop-its!

Does your kiddo love pop-its? Make a DIY version using waffles for the base and candy, like Skittles, for the pop-its. Even elves can't get enough of this wholesome activity!

Who doesn't love pop-its?
Who doesn't love pop-its?The Lumistella Company

9. Hungry for a snack?

Got a few extra veggies on hand? Make a little plate for the elf and your child(ren) to enjoy this season. Bonus points if it's shaped like a Christmas tree.

A veggie plate fit elf.
A veggie plate fit elf.The Lumistella Company

10. Time for bread, little elf!

It's time to tuck in the elf, who may or may not be confused about bed and bread. Grab some slices of bread and get to tucking — eye mask optional!

Time to get in bread!
Time to get in bread!The Lumistella Company

11. Special delivery, from your favorite elf!

Maybe your polar arrival should come by post this year. Find inspiration from this adorable wooden engraved letter and craft a short note from your child's beloved plush friend and cut holes for arms and legs. Prop up on the counter — or even in the mailbox — for a truly magical welcome.

12. Beep, beep! Elf is here!

Can elves drive? Or maybe they take a bus? Use whatever toy with wheels your child may have forgotten to put away and put the family elf inside for an all-aboard welcome, like this adorable school bus.

13. Ready to pop!

With a little prep work the family elf can arrive by balloon. Companies offering balloon elf arrivals are available online, or parents can snag a balloon at the store and tie their elf to the string. Whichever you choose, arrival by air is pretty awesome — especially if Rudolph comes along for the ride.

14. A full spread!

Get the whole table involved with this elaborate spread fit for ... an elf. Balloons, tinsel, snow globes and festive place settings bring this North Pole party together. Talk about a grand entrance!

15. Countdown to Christmas!

If your child counts the days until Christmas, this Advent-style elf arrival hanging might just be your ticket to seasonal success. A number each day makes the month elf's play.

16. We made you breakfast!

What are your kids eating that day for breakfast? Put your elf beside their plate and "ta da!" The elf has taken credit for their meal, including toast with frosting and sprinkles. Yum.

17. Taking a little elf snooze.

Your elf has been working hard this season — they need a nap! Grab some toilet paper for a homemade hammock and let them swing from a towel bar.

18. Get pumped for Christmas!

How to get swole at the North Pole: Grab two marshmallows (gum drops would work too!) and a straw for your elf's own private sweat sesh.

19. Snow angels for Santa.

What's not to love about a classic snow angel? Whether you use rice, coconut, flour or sugar, you can keep the mess minimal by making it happen in a large baking dish or on a sheet pan.

Elf on the shelf in "snow"
Courtesy Ashley Bryant

20. Climbing to un-bow-lievable heights.

Grab a few bows from your wrapping paper stash and make a DIY rock climbing wall for your elf. Stagger the bows on the wall and affix the elf mid-climb!

21. Elf fun for everyone!

Gather up the toys and get to work on an epic toilet paper game, like this fun example that features many favorite toy characters. No steps? No problem. Roll the toilet paper across any room in your home.

22. Masks make great hammocks.

If you've got a mask handy, make a hammock and call it a day. Hang your family's elf from kitchen cabinets, a shelf or grab some stick-on hooks like this crafty parent.

23. Tic-Tac-Bow.

Tic-tac-toe — but make it festive. Grab some painter's tape or washi tape, a couple small bows and any blank surface of your home for this fun (and easy!) play on a classic.

24. Elves watching ... "Elf"!

@jennycoolies via Instagram

Is this some kind of elf inception? Whether your family has two elves or you just want to gather up some other toys for a Christmas movie night, this scene comes together using a cupcake wrapper, popcorn and a personal viewing of "Elf" on a laptop.

25. Could use a little help here!

@styledmicasa via Instagram

Two rolls of toilet paper and a few raisins (or chocolate chips) aid in pulling this messy scene together. Don't worry, most kids think poop is funny — especially when it comes from an elf.

26. Elf on the Shelf: “Greatest Showman” edition

It's time to bring a circus to your home with some string and a pipe cleaner. Affix the string to adjacent walls and the pipe cleaner to your elves' hands and send them flying.

27. Maybe your elf is feeling lucky.

What is more fun than scratch-off lottery tickets? Have the adults do the scratching the night before and arrange the tickets with your elf. Even better if you've got some winning numbers!

28. Picture perfect.

Family photos will never be the same once the elf comes to town. Grab pompoms for noses (any color will work!) and stick them on family noses for a laugh-inducing wakeup.

29. Giddy up!

It's time to take your child's favorite animals for a wild ride! Grab your elf and put them on the back of whichever animal toy got left out. Bonus points if it's a prehistoric pal, like this one.

30. Foodie fun.

What is funnier than faces on food? Grab some eggs (or bananas) and, using a felt-tip pen, draw some funny faces. A toothpick works as your elf's conductor wand, or place the open pen nearby to indicate a crafty elf.

31. Beep beep!

Parking jam! It's time for the toy cars to get involved in the seasonal fun. Line them up and put the elf on the largest vehicle for some traffic that may surely make the kids smile.

32. Spidey senses.

If you've got a Spider-Man fan at home, this elf set-up will make them squeal. A DIY Spidey mask and some string to get your Santa spy swinging upside-down from a light fixture are all you need to make this one come together.

33. An elf coloring party.

What's more fun than a coloring sheet? A coloring party that gets started by your family's elf (or elves!). Print some Christmas coloring sheets or simply open up to a coloring book that has been laying around and let your elves go to town. In this example, they color in the lines ... for the most part.

Fun Elf On The Shelf Ideas

For parents interested in upping the ante this year, here are a handful of creative Elf scenes that are sure to please ... but do require a bit of planning.

34. Shave a stuffy!

Don't let the elves have all the fun this season. Coat a stuffed animal in shaving cream and wrap your elves' hands around the can. Just make sure a razor is out of reach of tiny hands!

35. Let your elf Zoom with Santa.

Everyone is a pro at video messaging these days, so bring the fun to your elves with a simple printout of a magical Zoom call (complete with Santa!) and a laptop set-up.

36. Cirque du Elf-e.

Prep some stuffed animals, a DIY tent, a mini concession stand and a homemade trapeze to make this Cirque du Soleil-inspired scene come to life.

37. An imposter among us!

Make breakfast fun with some elf imposter oats. You'll need strawberries, an apple, blueberries, coconut, a little creativity and some patience to bring this one across the finish line and mimic the creative idea.

38. Wrap it up!

It's time to bust out the wrapping paper and make the smallest room in your house, aka the bathroom, one giant present. There is certainly a huge "wow factor" for kids.

elf on the shelf on gift-wrapped toilet
Courtesy Jessica N. Turner

39. Twist and shout!

Get all the stuffed animals involved in a homemade game of Twister. Aside from a homemade Twister board (colorfully placed dots on a piece of printer paper), this scene requires a few stuffed friends and a DIY spinner.

40. What's popping?

This is a mess worth making! Pop two or three bags of popcorn and use double sided tape to attach it to a long piece of wax paper. Sprinkle the rest on the floor just in time for wakeup and position the elves inside the microwave!

This example does not feature the official Elf on the Shelf, but would be a cute idea to try with your very own North Pole emissary.

41. Ugly sweater party.

It's time for your make-believe crew to bust out their ugliest Christmas apparel. Doll clothes work well, or if you're feeling really inspired, knitting homemade sweaters for the whole party is a possibility.

42. A special breakfast selection.

@elf_on_the_shelf_joy via Instagram

Grab some cooked pasta, syrup and a collection of sugary sweets to bring this Elf on the Shelf scene together! The only thing you need to add is a homemade sign to pull off this play on Buddy the Elf’s favorite dinner from the Christmas movie “Elf.”

43. Pool and floaty required.

A tiny pool float will have your elf setting sail this season. While this is most fun in a pool or hot tub, as seen here, it would work in a sink or bathtub too.

44. Pucker up, elf!

A kissing booth? For elves? We love to see it! Prep a kissing booth cut-out from cardboard (or other sturdy paper) and sprinkle chocolate Hershey's Kisses candy once your elf is tucked inside.

45. Splish splash, it's time for a bath

Grab some marshmallows or blow up a couple of small white balloons and make the ultimate bubble bath for your North Pole visitors. If your elves wear clothes, make sure to put them over to the side prior to "jumping in!"

Elf on the Shelf in sink
Courtesy Jessica N. Turner

46. M-elf-e Kalikimaka!

Take your elves straight to Hawaii with an enviable beach set-up complete with sand, tiny chairs, umbrellas and any mini sand toys you can find. The biggest obstacle might be wishing you could also be in Hawaii this season!

47. A little help here?

Get out the tape and get to work! Festive Christmas tape puts a delightful twist on this set-up, but any tape will work to pin your elf to the wall (or door) with a homemade sign.

48. Gone fishing!

It's time to go ice fishing ... in the toilet. Cover your toilet with plastic wrap, grab some Goldfish crackers and add some sugar to create the appearance of cracked ice. Your elf will need a fishing pole, too!

49. On a roll!

Write some "punny" notes on toilet paper rolls and stack them on the back of the toilet, so the family can see them first thing in the morning. Bonus points, because this can be done pretty quickly!

50. Not your average church choir...

Get into the recycling bin to create a can choir for the kids this year! Bend each can halfway to create a torso and "legs" look, draw on faces and assemble an audience of elves. Googly eyes help, too!

51. Under ... where?

If you've got clean laundry, you've got what you need to prep this silly scene. The kids will laugh out loud when they see their underwear draped all over the tree.

52. Just a small elf sip.

Everyone knows an elf's favorite drink is syrup! Grab a straw and whatever kind of syrup might be in your pantry to make sure your family's visitor has their favorite seasonal sip.

53. When life imitates art.

Print the funniest human (or animal) body you can find and do a little peek-a-boo elf cutout. If you attempt a human body one day, maybe try an animal later in the month. We love a multipurpose idea!

54. Where is the lie?

The pets can get involved in this year's elf games with some tape and a homemade sign. It helps if your pets want to pose beside their own hijinks for a morning photo!

55. This elf has us “Thinking Out Loud.”

A little "pun" never hurt anyone! Egg Sheeran needs some yarn hair, a mini guitar and, of course, a face. If stick-on eyes are too much, a marker works great too. The sign is the final touch for this refrigerator masterpiece.

56. ...And a family elf on a Christmas tree.

Walk down the steps and put the elf on the tree. No need to overthink this one!

57. Down the hall ... or steps!

As you exit your bedroom, grab a roll of toilet paper. Pick up the elf from yesterday's spot, insert them into the T.P. and roll them down the hall or steps. Easy peasy!

58. Roller coaster time!

Make the household appliances a fun prop this year, especially if you're up against the clock. All you'll need is your elf, some tape and any rogue toy that's laying around. Tape the friends together with their arms up as if they're on the most epic ride ... inside your dryer!

59. These shoes were made for ... riding.

The shoes at the front door are likely piling up, so quickly put together a homemade shoe train for your elf to ride. Of course, the elf can go in the lead shoe and serve as the conductor.

60. Cuddle buddies.

Maybe the family pet thinks your elf is a toy — we will never tell. Pose them next to each other when you hear the kids coming and your daily elf work is done!

61. Pause for an elf-ie.

Elves just want to have fun — and take selfies. Have the family elf take some funny selfies on your phone to share with the kids, or prop your phone up as they're padding down the hall in the morning as if the elf was caught in action.

62. Clean freak.

Finally, the family elf is pulling their weight around the house ... sort of. Put your Santa spy on an automatic vacuum and let them go for a short spin in the morning. No Roomba? No problem! Attach your elf to a mop, stand-up vacuum or broom.

63. A long winter's nap.

Need to quickly throw — err, put — the elf in its place? A baby doll bed, a dollhouse, a play kitchen, a bassinet ... these elves can find any nook to nap!

64. Stroll patrol.

It's time to take these dogs for a walk! Use pipe cleaners to make leashes for the tiniest paw patrol and prop the elf up against a house plant or any décor you've got handy.

65. A good reminder.

Take some lipstick and write a gentle reminder to the kids on the mirror. From the elf, of course. Another fun message might be: "Don't forget to smile!"

66. Flossy, flossy.

Whether your kids are flossing their teeth or doing a dance, this fun elf scene requires dental floss and a tiny sign. You'll get cool parent points for knowing how to floss!

67. A little mess never hurt anyone.

Nutella, peanut butter, jelly or jam is going to be your BFF for this fun set-up. Simply get them from the cupboard and let your elves "dive" in to this slightly messy — but simple — scene.

68. Just hanging out.

Tired parents rejoice! Put the elf between two picture frames or pieces of artwork in your home and call it a big win.

69. Ready to brew.

Have cup, will elf — or something like that. If you're running down the hallway at dawn realizing that the elf hasn't moved, put them in a coffee mug near the coffee pot and call it a day.

70. Let there be light.

Never forget to look up, especially when it comes to finding the elf each day. At least once a week, hang your elf from a light fixture or fan.

71. SOS!

Grab a jar (or maybe a takeout container with a lid) and trap your elf inside with some candy worms. A quick, DIY sign finishes this easy elf setup.

72. A cup of joy.

Whatever see-through cups you may have in the cupboard work well for this elf setup. Stuff your elf inside a cup or glass and leave the cabinet door open to make sure little eyes know there has been some mischief in the kitchen.

73. Chips, anyone?

No need to wrack your brain trying to get this one right — just raid the pantry. One potato, a grater and a handful of chips is all that is needed to make this chip-per scene come to life. Extra points for parents who can make the best worried potato face using a marker.

74. Into the refrigerator, you go.

Maybe the elf is helping pack your child's lunch, or maybe they're just waiting to get caught at breakfast. Whatever the case, wrapping your elf around a fridge item may just be the fastest way to pose it this season.

75. Taking it on the road!

Running out the door and remembering the elf hasn't been moved? Don't panic, we've got you. Put the elf on the dashboard of the car or affix them around the rearview mirror for a fun carpool drop-off (or pick-up) this season.

76. Total freeze

Listen, it's only natural an elf would miss the polar weather this season while visiting. Throw them in the freezer and act surprised when the kids find him or her peeking out from behind the popsicles.

77. When it's time to say goodbye

Is your Elf ready for retirement? Here's the note one reader shared (on behalf of her Elf, of course):

Elf on the Shelf retirement note
Courtesy Sarah Marie

"I apologize for my delay, however I have a good reason.

You see, there are millions of children all over the world that don’t get visited by an Elf. Many don’t receive presents, have clean water to drink or yummy food to eat.

It makes me sad.

SO I thought you would be OK if I spent some of my magic helping them out for a bit.

You are great kids, Santa knows this.

So I’m going to hang out here while my magic helps other hearts, OK?

Here’s what I want you to do...

Instead of looking for me each morning, I want you to look for others. Look around you, on the bus, at school, at the playground ... help spread my magic and kindness to others. Then in the mornings, sit by me and write down your magic. How are you helping make this world more magical?

I believe in YOU. Merry Christmas!"