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17 Holiday Decorating Dos and Don'ts for Your Home

Get your home looking gorgeous with these holiday decorating tips from the experts.

Christmas songs are playing on the radio, the weather's brisk, and you can hardly walk down the aisles of your local Target without bumping into a light-up Santa. That can only mean one thing: The holidays will soon be here, and it's time to start preparing your home for guests and holiday gatherings. But for every brilliant decorating idea, there's an equally bad one out there. To keep your home looking festive this season, we've enlisted the help of top design experts to round up the definitive dos and don'ts when it comes to holiday decorating.

Don't keep your holiday décor in a single room.

Christmas Eve traditions, things you should never store in your attic

While it may be tempting to keep your decorations in the room where you keep your tree, sticking to a single room with your holiday décor doesn't exactly make for a festive feel.

"Add some holiday to other rooms, like your bathroom—maybe some holiday towels, candles, or fresh sprigs of evergreen in a small vase—or your bedroom, with some holiday pillows on the bed," suggests Cape Cod-based interior stylist Bonnie Aunchman.

Do try icicle lighting.

icicle lighting and icicles hanging off edge of snowy roof

Sure, those traditional twinkly lights may be a holiday classic, but they're not exactly inspired décor. If you want to brighten up your holiday design scheme—both literally and figuratively—opt for a set of icicle lights instead.

"Icicle LED lights are a great exterior choice because they drape down along your gutters similar to icicles and look great, even if you aren't fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to receive snowfall for the holidays!" says Brett Elron, owner and lead interior designer at BarterDesign.

But don't use staples to hang your lights.

staple gun and staples on plank of wood

Think using a staple gun to hang your lights will save you time? Think again. In fact, doing so can cause irreparable harm to your home.

"Staples damage your roof and siding, only work on certain materials, and are outright cumbersome to deal with," says Elron. Instead, he recommends using holiday light clips, which attach to the underside of gutters. In addition to being easy to use, "you can actually leave them up year-round because they're hidden behind your gutters where no one can see," he explains.

Do try a DIY advent calendar.

mini stocking garland in multiple colors hanging from roof

Though the shelves of your local big box stores may be lined with advent calendars, if you want to make your holiday decorations stand out, try a DIY calendar instead.

"String garland with mini stockings hanging or [put up] a collection of Christmas symbols running down your mantle with days attached to help build up the anticipation until Santa Claus comes to town," suggests Elron.

Don't overcrowd your front door.

black front door with wreath and mini christmas tree and poinsettia

While it may be tempting to completely cover your front door and door frame in Christmas regalia, doing so can actually detract from your overall aesthetic.

"Less is more when it involves your front door," says Elron. "By decorating with one prominent piece, like a wreath, you create a subtle but noticeable decoration that everyone will love."

Do keep a consistent color scheme in each room.

living room decorated in silver and gold for christmas
Shutterstock/Ekaterina Kupeeva

The holidays may be a great excuse to deck your halls in pops of bright seasonal color, but if you want to keep the look of your whole home cohesive, try sticking to a single color scheme in each room.

"Keep it classic with red, green, silver, and gold, or experiment with less traditional color combination like pink, gold, and white," suggests D.C. area interior designer Darlene Molnar.

But don't stick to exclusively red and green décor.

box of red and gold christmas ornaments
Shutterstock/Africa Studio

While red and green may predominate the holiday decorations on the market, those holiday-specific hues don't always mix in well with a home's existing color scheme. If you want to liven up your home, "add white, silver, gold, and mercury glass decorations and accents that will blend with any décor," suggests Aunchman.

Do add greenery to your decorating scheme.

pine garland on wooden mantle
Shutterstock/Andrii Oleksiienko

Your Christmas tree shouldn't be the only nod to the natural world in your holiday decorations. Instead, try adding real or faux greenery throughout your space.

"String garland on a mantel or bar cart, use as a table runner, or use clippings from your Christmas tree in vases for a simple holiday touch," suggests Molnar.

Don't use huge centerpieces.

small christmas centerpiece with pine branches and cookies
Shutterstock/Svitlana Pimenov

Those oversized centerpieces that look great in magazines don't actually make much sense on a standard holiday table. "They are not ideal for having conversations at your holiday dinner," says Annie Thompson, the founder of DIY Décor Mom.

Instead, Thompson suggests putting out two or three smaller arrangements and keeping the height of your centerpieces under 14 inches so guests can easily see across the table.

Do try a DIY approach with pieces from your yard.

pine cones spray painted silver next to white candles in white ceramic dish

You don't have to spend tons of money on your holiday decorations to make them look gorgeous. By using elements from your own backyard, you can save money and lend a bespoke touch to any table.

"Pine cones under a glass cloche or spray-painted branches in a jar are simple, inexpensive, and elegant ways to elevate your holiday décor," says Molnar.

Don't feel pressure to buy entirely new pieces each year.

clear glass cloche full of blue and gold christmas ornaments
Shutterstock/Chinara Guliyeva

Holiday decorating can get expensive fast, especially if you're buying new pieces to add to your collection annually. To keep costs down and keep your decorations looking fresh, Aunchman recommends incorporating everyday pieces you already use into your holiday décor.

"A cake pedestal is a go-to décor item for me," she explains. "I roll small hand towels and place [them] on top of a pedestal for a festive look." Aunchman also suggests using a cake pedestal to highlight candles or small ornaments, as well as using clear cylindrical candle holders to hold ornaments, candles, and pine cones.

Do deck out your bar cart.

two glasses of egg nog and pine branches on wooden cutting board with pine cones
Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock

Want to add some extra oomph to your holiday decorations? Try creating a festive bar station for when you're expecting guests.

In addition to decorating the cart itself with some holiday ornaments or garland, Aunchman recommends setting out coffee or the components of holiday cocktails, like peppermint schnapps or crème de menthe, as well as candy dishes filled with seasonal snacks and nuts, along with cups and napkins.

"I like doing this because I am always ready for guests, and I can relax and enjoy the guests who may pop in," she says.

Don't feel the need to cover every surface.

star of david made of branches and hanukkah decorations on white table

Before you start decorating, keep the functionality of your space in mind. Sure, that centerpiece may look nice on your coffee table, but will it mean that people don't have anywhere to put their drinks down? Does that garland make it hard to hold the banister to walk upstairs?

Stick to areas that typically go unused for other purposes, or that are solely used for decorating—the mantle, the top of a bookshelf, the back of the couch—and only fill other, more frequently-used surfaces in the home if your décor still looks sparse.

Do keep your decorations relevant to where you live.

palm branch with christmas ornaments
Shutterstock/Kaliuzhna Tamara

While you may think that your traditional red and green Christmas aesthetic looks fine in Southern California, using location-specific details in your design scheme will add some whimsy to your decorating while keeping things cohesive.

"Good interior design is always appropriate to its context," says interior designer Jody Wallace of Greylyn Wayne Interior Design & Home Staging. "If you're celebrating Christmas in Hawaii, a winter white tree and silver ornaments are going to clash with your surroundings, so have some fun and opt-in for ocean-blue ornaments, palm leaf wrapping paper, and multi-colored tree lights to enhance your tropical holiday home."

Don't go overboard with the inflatable decorations.

inflatable santa and snowman outside
Shutterstock/Katty Elizarova

If you want to keep the exterior of your house looking tasteful, but seasonally appropriate, it pays to skip the oversized inflatables.

And it's not just their garish appearance that makes them a no-go for many designers. "A large degree of energy is used to decorate with these," making them a non-eco-friendly—and often costly—choice, as Aunchman points out.

Do give your Christmas tree a theme.

silver and white christmas decorations on tree

If you really want to wow your guests with your holiday decorations, it's time to ditch that disorganized jumble of ornaments and give your tree a proper theme.

"The Christmas tree is the focal point of every room, so I recommend decorating it with a specific motif that compliments your style of the holiday season," says Wallace. That can mean anything from using only white lights and complementary ornaments to sticking to hand-felted garlands and décor; as long as you're limiting yourself to a single design ethos, the tree will instantly look like a polished centerpiece.

Don't damage your interiors by using nails to hang decorations.

woman hammering nail into white brick wall
Shutterstock/Syda Productions

While you may put decorations up in the same spots year after year, that doesn't mean they're a permanent part of your design scheme—and as such, you shouldn't be doing permanent damage to your walls or trim work to put them up.

"There are great clear adhesive products now that do not damage walls that make decorating easy," says Aunchman.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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