Decorating for Christmas is one of those iconic moments on the calendar. With a cup of cocoa in hand and Wham! (or Mariah) playing softly in the background, it's that time when you get to revisit your favorite ornaments and maybe add a few more new Christmas decorations into the mix. Sometimes though, no matter how much effort you put in, it can feel like your holiday display doesn't add up to the decor style or vision you had in mind.
While it won't put you on the naughty list, there are some Christmas decorating mistakes we all want to avoid. We spoke to a bunch of interior designers who know how to tackle holiday decorating in all types of homes. Whether you're working with a small space or a larger house, the same themes present themselves time and time again.
"When decorating your home for Christmas, it can sometimes feel like something is missing," explains Sylvia James, interior designer at HomeHow (opens in new tab). "Whether you’ve been using the same decorations for years or recently changed the decor in your living room, there are a few key reasons for feeling like this."
You may be doing too much, have mismatched your decor, or forgot to consider small but important accents. Try to stamp out these mistakes and see how many compliments you get this year.
You may even still be undecided about when to put up Christmas decorations, but keep these Christmas decorating mistakes in mind so you can quickly correct them for the most stylish home in December.
15 Christmas decorating mistakes to avoid
Whether you’re worried about making a holiday decor faux pas or you need a little inspiration to make your decorations pop, here are some of the biggest Christmas decorating mistakes according to interior designers — and what to do instead.
1. You try to do too much
It can be hard to limit your decoration purchasing, especially if you have tons of ideas and want to integrate them all. But this is a big mistake that could result in your home looking overwhelming.
"Even if you have large spaces in your home, you can’t have every theme take place," warns James. "To make an impact, it’s best to focus on one theme and pay extra diligence. Limit the use of textures and materials and stick to just one aesthetic for a consistent look."
The same goes for the Christmas colors you choose. Interior designer Anthony Immediato (opens in new tab) urges us to "pick a color scheme for your holiday decor and stick to it throughout your whole house." Noting how a cohesive look is a winning one.
2. You don't work with your home's natural style
One of the easiest ways to not do too much is actually to take a good look at your surroundings and decorate in a way that embellishes its decorative feel, out of the holiday season, rather than work against it. Immediato says that one of the biggest Christmas mistakes is to "mix in holiday decor that clashes with your everyday decor/color scheme."
Instead, Immediato suggests looking at your usual design tastes and building a more festive look off those. "If you have a traditional home I'd suggest a more classic decor route," he says. "If you have a super modern home I'd suggest going with decorations that are less ornate and have more simple lines and colorways." That way you'll strike the perfect balance.
"Aside from tinsel, because please do not use that, I think that adding all your decorating on top of your existing decor pieces is a big mistake," says principal designer of StruckSured Interiors Samantha Struck. "It's all too easy to go overboard in the holidays and to not be sympathetic to your home's regular aesthetic. You really need to pair down your focal points by putting away your everyday pieces and really allow Christmas to take center stage without competing."
3. You cover every inch
"So often I see people stressing over their holiday decor, making sure every inch is covered in seasonal decor and it’s exhausting," she says."If you want to make a big impact, focus on two or three focal points: the mantel, the entry, and the tree. When decorating for Christmas, I’ve found the best way to create magic without stressing yourself out is to keep it simple. Let the greenery do the work — a fresh garland always wins and accenting it with long velvet ribbons makes maximum impact."
4. You play it too safe
On the flip side, if your Christmas display feels nice but also like a non-event, the simple mistake you could be making is not experimenting with other colors, according to Lauren Sullivan of Well x Design.
"I love considering variations instead — burgundy, plum, wine, dusty purple, merlot, chartreuse, olive, and deeper forest greens," says Sullivan. "Neutrals (browns, taupes, creams, and even copper) can also be a gorgeous festive alternative without screaming Christmas and can often be left up longer throughout the winter season, not just for the month of December."
5. You go faux
If you invested in an artificial Christmas tree, garland, or holiday wreath for a more eco-friendly option, that's perfectly fine. Don't get us wrong, there is some stunning fake greenery out there and it does mean less upkeep, but if you want your display to feel a little more sophisticated, you'll want to choose the real deal where you can. Immediato says, "Opt in for 'real' greenery (wreaths, garland, trees) or super realistic faux greenery when possible for a more elevated look." Whats more, making wreaths is super fun and not that hard.
6. You buy into holiday signage
We can allow a little cute signage for a Christmas tablescape on placeholders perhaps, but going big on holiday signage is just not. a. vibe. Another of Immediato's Christmas decor don'ts is using "holiday sign decor or holiday word art to decorate," adding that there is just no need. "You can make your home FEEL like Christmas without a sign telling you that it's Christmas time," he says.
7. Your tree topper was an afterthought(opens in new tab)
"It’s important to choose a tree topper that is to scale with your tree," explains James. "Leaving it until the last minute without any thought will result in a topper that is disproportionate, and using the same one with a different tree is lazy."
James suggests taking the time to invest in a few different shapes and sizes — and to continue adding more to the collection as the years go by. This is especially key if you prefer a real Christmas tree over something artificial as your tree’s silhouette and size will change a little bit each year.
8. You buy all of your holiday decor from one place.
To keep your display fresh, you need variety. And if you shop in all the same places, your home might end up feeling like a storefront. "When you buy everything from one place you lose that sense of uniqueness and your holiday decor won't feel curated to you or your home," says Immediato, so switch it up when buying new Christmas decs.
9. You rush it
Slow and steady wins the Christmas decor race, and while we decorate our trees what seems earlier and earlier each year, taking it step-by-step will pay off.
"Much like your everyday home decor/furnishings, it's going to take time to collect and perfect your look," says Immediato. "I always think it's better to take your time to curate the look you want rather than buying a bunch of trendy decor you want in a rush just to hate it next season."
10. You don’t change out the family photos
A subtle yet overlooked change is switching your family pictures around, says James. Distinctly summery shots can look jarring alongside festive decor.
"Try to swap any family summer holiday pictures with festive alternatives," explains James. "Shots of last year’s festive activities, such as the family ice skating, will add an individualized touch to your home. It’s a great way to cherish the memories and start a tradition."
11. The decorations lack personal flair
"If your Christmas decorations can be in any house, you’re doing it wrong," says James. "Whether you have kids or live at home with your parents, everyone can make their decorations look personal to them."
James suggests spending a little extra time investing in personal baubles, stockings, and even integrating photos into memorabilia. Investing in DIY Christmas decorations will make all the difference, "A little touch of character will create your own grotto masterpiece."
12. You don't start with a clean slate
It’s important to have a clean slate to start with. If you start setting up your decorations around dust and clutter, you can ruin the finished look.
"Try to minimize the existing clutter before you add in the Christmas cheer," suggests James. "Take time to give your home a thorough clean and you’ll notice the difference at the end." Start pre-Christmas cleaning as early as you can for results that will last throughout the holidays.
13. You don’t have a plan
"The worst thing you can do when decorating with Christmas is to start out without a clear vision of what imagery you want to achieve," says Stacy Lewis, interior designer at Eternity Modern (opens in new tab). "When you set out without planning first, you will tend to come up with ideas as you go, which isn’t bad by itself, but only if you already have an overarching theme to start with."
According to Lewis, this is the reason why too many Christmas setups look random and disorganized — and it’s also the reason why you end up with those mysterious objects that you somehow have but can’t use.
"My best advice is to always start with a plan; start from the beginning," she notes. "What would you like your house to look like? What kind of atmosphere do you want to convey with your decor? Deciding this beforehand will help you pick the right items even before you start decorating and avoid ending up with a lot of clutter to deal with after the holidays."
14. You don't put safety first
Kelly Fitzsimmons, owner of Light Up Your Holidays, would rather not see you up on a ladder trying to string lights. She says homeowners often underestimate the danger of attempting to set up rooftop lights and other outdoor Christmas decorations themselves.
"Do not get on more than a stepladder," she says. "Don’t risk it. Because it’s not what you do every day." If your heart is set on an elaborate display but you’re short on time, energy, and expertise, consider hiring a professional to do the work for you. And, be sure to get clued up on Christmas lights safety also.
15. You don't decorate how it makes you happy
While there are ways to make your festive decor look more polished and put together, the main Christmas decorating mistake you could make would be not adorning your house in a way that makes you feel happy and content.
There’s nothing like coming home after a long day of work and seeing your house bathed in a beautiful display. "If it makes you smile, that’s the goal," Fitzsimmons says.
The lesson here really is to go with your gut when decorating. Don't overthink it and also don't give yourself a hard time, decorating for Christmas should be fun and joyful, so prioritize that and the finish will reflect that.
There are a bunch of cool tree themes to inspire you if you do want to try something new, but if you're unsure, there's nothing wrong will staying true to tradition as Immediato tells us. "When in doubt, stick to the classics," he says. "You can't go wrong with reds, greens, silver, and gold."