DIY Holiday Decorating Ideas, Gift Exchanges

Simple Holidays: DIY Holiday Decorating Ideas, Gift Exchanges

Vicky and Jen part 2 of 3 on simplifying the holidays. Part 2 of this series includes more ideas for creative gift shopping, educational gifts for kids, types of gift exchanges, and a tidbit on holiday decorating. Meg calls in and shares her unique family tradition for ending the year and starting a new.

Special Caller: Meg

In This Episode

  • 00:36 – Opening: Simple Holidays 102
  • 01:06 – Homemade Gift Ideas
  • 06:14 – Gift Exchanges
  • 11:33 – Caller: Meg “Calendars”
  • 16:13 – Creative Gift Ideas
  • 21:20 – Decorating Ideas
  • 24:39 – Gifts for Kids
  • 32:03 – Closing Comments

Thoughtful Gift Ideas


Give these to those who are close and follow up. Be sure they are redeemed and at their request. Here are thoughtful ideas: babysitting, home-cooked meal, massage (by you!) and a bottle of wine, a “yucky” job (painting a room or doing dishes), free passes out of a regular duty or chore.


Instead of exchanging gifts, gather with friends for a cup of coffee or a board game. You will get so much more out of the quality time.

Far Away Friends

Write a handwritten letter to someone sharing your feelings for them; draw a picture or record a voice and send with a photo.

Helping Those In Need

Don’t forget about those in need. Have friends gather together a bag full of food items to donate. Visit a nursing home or a hospital. Volunteer for a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Participate in a food, toy or clothing drive.

Instructions for Holiday Gift Exchanges

Secret Santa

Determine who gets whom. Have someone draw everyone’s name from a hat, then make the master list. Encourage family members not to discuss whom they have. As people open their gifts, they’ll guess who their Secret Santa is. Set a monetary limit on gifts. A suggested amount for companies is $10 to $20; among families, it can range from $10 to any amount that’s chosen. It’s fun to play Secret Santa over a week period. You can mail or deliver small gifts throughout the week – you just have to get sneaky!

White Elephant (Yankee Gift Exchange)

Set up the party as you would a Secret Santa event. Go through your closets and dig out unloved treasures, retail disasters, and plastic monstrosities. Bob the Big-Mouthed Bass singing “Take Me to the River,” dancing Santa’s and kung fu rodents are perennial white elephant favorites.

Wrap your elephant beautifully to encourage all those suckers to take your bait. The uglier the gift, the better you need to wrap it. Hand out slips of paper with numbers on them to assign the order in which gifts are chosen. Explain that each person can either choose a wrapped present or take something another person has already opened. If that happens, that poor soul has to brave the gift pile again.

Enjoy all of the pleasure of giving and receiving with absolutely none of the stress. Unwrap the gift you got stuck with and put it away for next year. You can also play with real, meaningful gifts. Set a monetary limit and encourage the gift to be unisex.

Cookie Exchange

Hosting a cookie exchange is a great way to enjoy everyone’s favorite holiday cookies as well as go home with a bountiful supply of them. It is also a lovely way to spend time with friends and family – either at home or at work.

Invite about 6 – 10 people to your home or place of work for a cookie exchange and make sure they RSVP. At work, consider a lunch-hour exchange. Ask guests to bake a dozen cookies for each guest attending, plus an extra dozen to taste. Have guests bring their cookies in containers that they can take their cookie assortment home in – plastic freezer containers work well.

Have guests think about choosing a favorite family recipe or one traditional to their background. Ensure there is no duplication to guarantee the best variety. Bring baked cookies that hold their shape well and have no soft icings that would get messy in transit. Make sure each guest brings copies of their recipe to pass around. Have platters ready for the cookies brought for sampling. Bake your cookies a day or two in advance. Make sure that cookies can be frozen so that they can be enjoyed throughout the holiday season. When you get home repack so you don’t store soft cookies with crisp ones.

Provide sparkling water, coffee or tea and a supply of small plates and napkins for the tasting.

DIY Gift Ideas Under $10

  • A pretty glass jar filled with candy
  • Pancake or waffle mix and a bottle of real maple syrup
  • Gardening gloves with a plant or flower seeds
  • Decorative napkins and napkin rings
  • A few specialty magazines stacked and tied with raffia
  • Deck of cards and book of card game rules
  • Stamps and a set of notecards

DIY Holidays Resources

Episode Transcript

Meg: Hi, This is Meg from Cincinnati. And you’re listing to What Really Matters, at

Vicky & Jen: Hi, this is Vicky, from Hi, this is Jen. Making life simple, so you can enjoy what really matters. Hey, thanks for tuning in to part two of our three-part series about simplifying your holidays. We’ve got lots more tips and strategies for minimizing your stress this holiday season. Now we’ve got even more tips than our last show. So we’ll see what we get today. Let’s get started.

Vicky: Now with other homemade gifts, one of our traditions is that we bake goods — sometimes it’s bread. We’ve done bagels and cinnamon rolls and we’ve done a variety of things over the years.

Jen: Can I put an order.

Vicky: Well maybe you’ll just be on the list this year since you’re part of Vicky and Jen, maybe you just make it to the bread list this year.

Jen: See that’s my goal.

Vicky: But I have to tell you this we started this tradition 10 years ago. Oh my. You know it might have been longer because we’ve been doing it 10 to 12 years and it started to get out of control. So I nipped in the bud. Tell you what I did. Doug did the bread and he did all of these wonderful baked goods and I thought what I need to put my two cents and so I started to add truffles, chocolate dipped pretzels, cookies, caramel dip marshmallows, and pecans. People raved about these things. Then, we had Aiden. And it started to be too much. And Doug said to think about it.

Vicky: Our list has grown by a few people. But we’re really getting away from what this was about. We were supposed to bake bread so that people would have them for their Christmas dinner and we would go out every Christmas Eve morning we baked. The day before Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve morning we load up these breadbaskets in the car and we drop them off on people’s doorstep. We’d ring the doorbell. We leave it on the step and we run. We don’t take time to visit. It’s our little thing is leaving it on the doorstep. Well, we really needed to get back to. This is about the bread. So they’ll have bread for Christmas morning and I stopped making all the other goods because people have too many sweets around the holidays anyway. So I feel good about that for two years now. And he’s not doing the cinnamon rolls and the bagels and the muffins he’s to strictly list the bread. So we are proud that we have cut back on that and it got back to the reason we started doing it anyway. So I’m all for homemade gifts.

Vicky: You can make family calendars with photos for people. Have you done that?

Jen: Have not done that. I need the organization podcast on how to preserve my memories. I need to get my photos is in order first.

Vicky: Well you know what? You can go to a scrapbooking store and they have blank calendars you paste in your pictures or you can go to, upload your digital photos and make a calendar for family members and friends.

Jen: That’s a great idea.

Vicky: So that’s one of my favorite places so I have the two cutest girls in the world. Bright they’d make a really cute calendar. But you know you’re right there is a little bit of planning involved in that because perhaps you want them in their Easter dresses for Easter for the boy you want them in their Halloween costume for Halloween. So yes.

Yeah, but do you have those pictures. You know anyways I would just have to find them to be kind of cool to flip to October of this year and have a picture of them in their Halloween costume from last year. Right. You know like hey look at what you did last. I mean that would be really cute. Maybe I’ll try it. You know there’s an idea.

I see I’m getting so excited about the holidays now.

When I was doing research I found I thought this is absolutely precious. Recording voices for somebody particularly a grandparent or somebody who’s out of town might really appreciate it. But having Jade and Jasmine sing a song. Yeah reading a book telling a story telling funny jokes and you can even go old school on this if you have a tape recorder and share it or send the grandparents a little tape recorder and inexpensive tape recorder or if you can do it on CD do it on a you know on your video cameras and my grandmas know how to use the VCR still I’ll put it on on a VHS tape and I looked down the gift of recorded voice or instead of doing a lot of families do newsletter’s over the holidays. The four of you get together around the recorder and tell your newsletter. But the gift of a recorded voice to me is just precious. Yeah that’s I think that’s a wonderful idea. I think along the lines with gift giving. I love how you said, in the beginning, set the gift limit to be three dollars. That’s hilarious to me that would be a challenge.

It is a challenge and it’s more fun and you have to think about it. I mean go to the dollar store. Look around you could probably find something for everyone in the dollar. I loved those dollar stores are getting better and better. Yeah yeah. Although I hate the ones that aren’t really a dollar.

They’re called the dollar store you go in and something’s five ninety-nine. Right. That bums me out. Expected to be your eyes light upon. The shelf.

Do you have a dollar store in our neighborhood that I quite frequent? I mean I go down there a lot and it’s a great reward. I’ll give each of the girls a dollar and let them know if we’ve had a guy do that. Let them pick something and it might be a dumb question sometimes like what in the world did you pick that for. Do you let them do it? Well yeah, they picked it well but I don’t remember the funniest thing they bought for somebody for a dollar. Well no they were buying for themselves. So I would kind of wonder why they would pick that Jasmine went in and picked this bar thing. And I was like What are you going to do with that. I mean I tell you for three days it’s like the only thing she carried around more aid and bought a bottle of toothpicks. That’s what he wanted. He wanted to pay.

Well, there you go. Doug let Aiden and I buy for everybody at the Dollar Store for Christmas. Maybe we give gifts as a family. But I do let them buy for his grandparents. And he gets a dollar. Now it is a valuable learning experience if you ask me because he cannot buy for himself. We are buying for granny and we’re buying for Paper or rebuying for Bob and papa.

And you have to focus on them.

So that’s a valuable learning experience. But bless his heart he has bought mugs garden gloves flashlights.

He picks up the good stuff and he’s good at it.

So because I think that when kids are that age their minds are so cluttered with other things that they can’t you know if they go in and see garden gloves to Aden it probably just immediately comes into his mind that you know my grandma really likes to plant flowers doesn’t she. She always has flowers. You know all this stuff goes through his mind and he connects that probably so much faster than we can anymore because our minds are so clogged with everything else going on right. You know and I know my kids being as young as they are I feel like they do a really good job when Lauralee just had a baby and we went to buy a gift for her. And we got something for her big brother. And you know and I was just like why I want to punch the ball to you. And I said well but we’re not here to buy something for you. All right. We’re here to buy gifts for Adelaide and Ashton and that’s why we’re here and she’s like Oh OK. Right OK with it. Yeah. There you go. Maybe next time. Yeah, that’s what eight. And then you know Jasmine was so excited cause she actually delivered the gifts you know so and then she said but I still want to punch Paul and I’m like well the next time it’s time you know maybe we’ll be able to get you something. Let’s remember that you want to punch Paul and that’s what we’ll get right.

Well, I love the idea of the dollar store. Take your kids to the dollar store and you know I love that idea of a five dollar gift limit. We have my dad’s side of the family. We draw names and we have a 25 dollar limit. But long ago we used to spend $25 on everybody. So now we draw names. So I think setting limits are a great tip. I think exchanging names is a great way.

And I know people who do like the white elephant thing like you said there is the Yankee gift exchange. And I and you could go out onto the internet I bet and type in white elephant and type in Yankee gift exchange and get real directions on how to do those. What is the Yankee gift exchange? Well, I would have to look it up on the Internet and refresh my memory but it goes a little something like this. Everybody brings a universal unisex gift and it goes in the middle of the circle and you owe a lot that had another name. Well, maybe you think maybe you pick one. Well right. You have an order you draw the number. So let’s say I’m number one. I get to pick one from the pile and I can I have to keep it because I’m number one. But then who ever draws number two does it. They can either steal my gift because they love it or they could pick from the pie right. So just because you grab a gift and you have it in your hands and you love it doesn’t I mean that Number Six can’t steal. And if they steal it from you they get it. And then you have to pick from the pile again.

I haven’t heard of it with that name but I have heard of it. We have another caller on the line.

Yeah actually I think this is great she’s made is actually a friend of mine and she has this tradition that I think is pretty cool and I kind of wanted her to share it with our listeners are you there.

Hi. They can chat mag. Hi. Hey hey.

Thanks for letting us call Yeah I know Bob I wanted you to share with everyone the tradition that your family does on New Year’s. Please.

Sure. This is actually something that my family has done since I was really little and we’ve all adopted it into our own families and it is a way of saying goodbye to the current year and welcoming the new year we always take we always see these big calendars with all the little and the big events written on every day and different members of the family. They have special things that happened to them during months whether it’s engagement or babies being born or a new job or a promotion or whatever so everybody gets a month or two and they get to throw that month into the fireplace and we burn that month in honor of that person. And that’s the way that we say goodbye to the old year and we can’t break open a new calendar until we do that to the old one and that cool.

So sue me tell me that it’s a big calendar peach when you reflect back on the year and jot down things that occurred.

Is that what you mean the things are already we jot down things throughout the year. Imagine if you will you’ve got we would have this big calendar hanging on our kitchen door.

Now I’ve got it in my house. And you write just write down. Even though the little things like a dentist appointment or you know an engagement party or a fiftieth birthday party or a first birthday party all those little things.

But for instance, you know the year the day the year that I bought my first house I remember that that happened in December the month of December was burned for me because that was a big purchase from me. So it’s all there. So imagine you’re sitting around a fireplace. And OK it’s the month of December and there’s that one event on the calendar that’s circled and highlighted and it’s oh this is. This is one big house that you get here with this page off and throw it in the fire.

I think think it’s a great way to you know remember all that stuff that has happened over the past year and we forget that all the successes and all of you know the big things it has some wonderful sometimes bad things to help.

You know remember maybe how your family helped you out with that or something to say hello here because something maybe that happened doesn’t mean sometimes you can just shrug and say you learned from it.

So yeah but you know you’re burning it you’re getting rid of it. Move on. Exactly.

So now how long have you been doing this since I can remember it’s always been a tradition now in.

Are there children involved with this tradition or do you and your siblings are?

Well, there are now. So we take we’ve adopted it with all of our families. So, Mom and Dad, we don’t, of course, celebrate new years eve with mom and dad anymore that they will burn things and our honor and I’ll always tell my mom they burned for us for months they burned for us and then we do it with our own families too.

Makes the first person I’ve heard to do it. So that’s why I wanted her to. Yeah. That surprises me. Really. I’ve never heard of it. I think it’s wonderful. Do you know other people that do it?

Well I guess not but I mean I’ve watched their houses and homes and I’ve seen calendars you know. Right.

Although nowadays you know so many calendars you can you have them Bill you know with pictures and everything pictures of your family so don’t really want to burn those these are just generic calendars.

Thanks for being with us today Meg.

I told you isn’t that nice. I know that there’s something really special.

It’s on from generation to generation. Hope it keeps going. Maybe. You might actually remember something.

Well, you know what is a great gift too is a book. You know if you have read a great book lately and you just want to share it just.

Yeah absolutely. I am all for the practical gifts I am for the books.

The educational stuff. I love giving books to children. You know I mean I think books are wonderful and I think what’s neat science fiction or you know children’s books it is inscribed do you inscribed that book and that inside cover.

And I even had for my baby shower for Jasmine that Megan Lauralee threw for me. The theme was “bring your favorite childhood book”. That was the gift people brought additional things to. Which was great. You can’t have too many books. Yeah. So everybody that came to my baby shower brought a book you know I got to there duplicate. You know there really weren’t. There were quite a few people there but you get the classics you know where the Wild Things Are and The Curious George and you know. And it was great. I love that. Yes. So and don’t forget the gifts of like the memberships for families you know to the Y in the zoo and stuff that can be expensive. But my mom does that for us. She’ll get us a family gift that you know but it for the whole family. And you know that it’s going to be it gives all your money.

It does it does.

I found a great website and it is called and we’ll put that on our episode notes. And the reason I love this site because trust me you type and simplify the whole day. You type in holiday ideas and you will find a boatload.

It’s endless. And you’ll be overwhelmed. So we have decided that on our site we will put all the good resources on there for you. So we kind of narrowed it down for you a little bit with the ones that we did the research.

Because some of them get redundant. You can pick the best of the best and put them on the Web site. This site though creative homemaking. If you click on holidays and then you click on Christmas it gives you at least 60 different ideas or categories on celebrating the holidays, for example, it gives you ideas on practical gift wrap. Frugal gift cards sending out holiday cards. It gives you directions for a cookie exchange. I mean there are really. This is my favorite website out of all of them that I found because under Christmas there were 60 categories that you could click on. And I just estimated I think I counted up to 50 and then I lost track. So then my. But here’s what I found that I’m going to use this year.

There is a category on CreativeHomemaking under Christmas that says 63 gifts under ten dollars. Well usually I think oh 63 gifts under ten dollars that’s going to be stupid.

Listen to I’m looking at the Web site right now on my laptop and I thought these were really good handwritten copies of your favorite recipes and bench them together. And a little BO Yeah a dish towel and dishcloths set little a little dish clock who can use more dishcloths a simple board game. I mean there’s board games for ten dollars a makeup tote a disposable camera couple disposable cameras for somebody gel pens and pretty stationary. Are Great for teenagers. Yeah, it really is. They have movie theater gift certificates you can’t do that for ten dollars.


But a muffin mix and a muffin pan like maybe the mini muffins or a jumbo muffin 10 something that they might not have a prepaid long distance phone card. So there are. Hint hint.

Give that to the people you haven’t talked to a lot of colorful post notepads but that’s a gift and would get us. But there are those are pretty good ideas for under ten dollars and they’re 63 of them. So check out creative homemaking dot com that was one of my favorite sites I think because the ideas were really inexpensive and practical and simple which is what we’re all about.

They also have a great you know kind of jumping to decorating a little bit. You know when you were speaking about the dread of taking it all out just knowing you’re going to have to put it all away. You know something that I enjoy doing is kind of driving around town and seeing all the lights so I appreciate all the people that do that because we don’t necessarily do all that it’s just you know it’s kind of a lot of work.

But something that I like simple beautiful decorations you know a great wreath on the front door does a lot you know with the spotlight up on it or something or simple there are simple light bulb candles in each window.

Somehow Ella is so nice and something I saw again in Chris Klein’s books simply simple family is that I’m totally doing this year too as you know Christmas is pretty much for the kids and I’m going to decorate their rooms this. So I’m going to tell you I do have them help me string up some lights. You know maybe around the top of the walls you know and then they can go to sleep instead of having their night light on. You know then it really would kind of fall asleep to the Christmas lights because it’s for them anyways right. So when you have kids it totally changes your focus shifts. It’s all about that and I just thought that was a great idea that I’m going to be doing this year. I keep saying all this stuff I’m going to be doing and home mom remembers what you said it can’t happen in one year. Now you keep picking the easy things though.

It is so simple. It is the point.

Right. And they’re not costing you anything. Your family already have extra stress dealing now with decorating.

That’s another thought of mine we have a fairly big house because Doug works here and I stay at home with Aiden but I’m going to to decorate the room that we use the most.

The family will have a family room where we would exchange gifts.

Yeah. No, because it never feels I go to put away all the decorations. You forget when you’re going to start Santa.

So dish and it’s already up in the attic in your too I really want to keep this I could donate instead of going to the attic again. Someone might really like you.

So I do believe in maybe decorating one room and when this book simplify your Christmas that I’m going to talk about in a little bit more detail here shortly. She said Sometimes all you need is a wreath on your door. Right. Right. So simple is better. And there’s a lot of reasons to go simple when it comes to decorations. We have a Web site and we have a link on our Web site that is a little list of tips on how to decorate inexpensively and on the Web site that I just gave you. Creative homemaking dot com. They have the ideas too on inexpensive Christmas decorations. So one more gift idea. Now I’m using this and I’m going to use this for kids birthdays as well. And you’re going to want to get out your pen and write this down because you are familiar. Your friend Laura Lee turned you on to family fun dot go dot com. Yes. Wonderful Web site for families yes. Family Fun dot Jeo go dot com. They have the best Web site on homemade gifts and I think it’s it’s 25 homemade gifts for kids. You know I haven’t seen it. OK. They’re not exactly homemade. They’re creative gifts in the dollar store comes into play here. How about this. How about putting together. I jotted down five of my favorites.

How about giving them an explorer’s kit. Go to the dollar store get tweezers. Not the pointy blunt. Sure. Tweezers magnifying glasses things of that nature little boxes to catch things collect things like that. Right. And it could just be little little trinket boxes and stuff where they can put a collection whether it’s acorns or leaves or bugs. I don’t know but an explorer’s kit I thought was great a dress up kit so you can actually go to the dollar store and maybe put together a little birthday box prop box where you get hats and blow horns and little forks and party plates and napkins and put together a little box and give children a little play box you rest up with. You know it may be your theme is what would a house making theme were you get little inexpensive cups and plates and tablecloths and that whole tea party or something. Herse Yeah. So I thought to have a little dress up kids you can go to the dollar store and get 10 items for ten dollars and and you can even add an old wallet of yours or a hat and make a little dress up kit. I thought that was a really created for Christmas or birthdays for children. And it just encourages them to use their imagination. It’s educational.

And I bet they would love playing with a you know they love playing with cell phones and Yance and hats and scarves and the real stuff too.

They don’t fall for. People stuff the fake cell phones and that yeah they don’t do that. They don’t. Yeah. So I love the explore idea the dress up idea.

A third gift is a glue glue collage. You go to the dollar store and you get different types of glue sparkly glue glitter glue color blue fluorescent glue glue sticks and you put it at the Dollar Store you can get pompoms sequins jewels own pieces and paper you give them to paper the collage materials and glue. And how educational and simple and inexpensive is that. So I found that on Family Fun dot go dot com and Plato. Plato don’t do not buy generic play no different isn’t it sticky. It’s the color comes off on your hands it’s different.

Yeah, I don’t know why but I have done that too. I’ve got a story I splurge and get Plato on the rails series recipes to about how to make your own plate. I have never done that.

I don’t know why I just I guess it’s easy to point to our cousin Katie is a teacher and she makes homemade Plato for her preschool and it turns out fabulous. Every time I made it and it was green and greedy and I like it I’ll buy it. So the Plato idea buy him a sleeve of Plato. You know three or four or five cans of the reals Plato and you go to the dollar store and you get Combes potato mashers you get straws a stick in it you get a bowl a little rolling pin cookie cutters on the dollar store and you put them together with a plate. OK. So I thought that was a really creative gift that I found on that Web site. And the same goes for sand. I don’t know if that might be one of those gifts for parents. Gee thanks a lie became my child. Stand up for your own children.

You buy a small bag of clean sand from your home improvement store.

And again you put it in a suit like a dish pan or a Rubbermaid container with the lid make your own sand table type right.

Make it shallow to make it.

You can find something at the dollar store I’m sure with a lid and you put funnels scourging calls gardening journals and give them a kit. My kids love sand right now. And you know sand sometimes can be hard to clean up or whatever instead of sand you can use rice or beans or Macaronis or something. We used Rice last winter because the kids like the manipulation you know with their hands and that type of clothes. It’s like a practical living type exercise I guess both right. I didn’t necessarily want the carpeting and stuff but at least you know Rice didn’t fall down in through the carpet you know. So Rice was better we did rice and beans right. You know I mean just an obviously uncooked beans.

No, I should add No.

They feel good and cold and smooth and fine fill up a dish pan with that stuff and then just kind of hide little things in it too. Right. You know and they can kind of dig it out or give them a paint brush and go on like a little dinosaur dig. Right. You know I and find the items.

Well, these are great gift ideas and you know parents might say oh my gosh I don’t want to deal with the hassle of macaroni on my floor. But you can lay out a shower curtain from that liner from the dollar store or a table cloth in the macaroni has to stay on the mat. Sure.

And they will play with that over and over and over rather than the gadget with the 12 batteries takes to operate it with all the sirens and the lights that Joni gave them. They will play with your macaroni your sand your kit your plate okay your dress up kit all those things that I just mentioned they will play with that. Hours upon hours.

Well because every time they do it it can be different. You know when the battery operated stuff it’s pretty much that’s how it is and you can’t adapt the play at all. Right.

You know so well when I found those ideas on I was tickled I thought oh I’m doing these and even for your own children. Thanks for listening to our show today. We hope you’ll join us again for Part 3 The finale to simple holidays 101. Well, we hope that you will come back again and join us as we laugh and grow together.