Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree for $0

Each year around the end of November, we are faced with the reality that CHRISTMAS IS COMING and we totally didn’t budget for it the way we should have.

For my family this year, this is due in great part to a giant international move that we were not planning on at the beginning of the year.

But as Christmas approached, we did not panic, and neither should you! Christmas does not have to be ridiculously expensive. I plan to post a few different money-saving ideas that living on student loans and freelance illustrating has driven me to dream up.

One great thing about being an international grad school family is that it makes you resourceful and inventive. And it’s actually a lot of fun!

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Today’s Christmas budget-saver is a 100% totally free Christmas tree. There are several ways to get a Christmas tree for free. You can grow it, cut one down in the woods, steal one from Walmart, or make your own. The first suggestion will take you about five years, the second is not kind to the forests and is also probably illegal, and the third is definitely illegal, although totally feasible. At least according to the Walmart cashier who subtly suggested it to us last year. I’m not sure if he was kidding or just didn’t want the hassle of going outside to ring it up.

I weighed my options. There are no Walmarts on our island to steal from,  no pine trees to cut down in the forest, and the only soil I own is in my dustpan, so I decided to make my own Christmas tree.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I gathered my materials.

  • I used the pole from a miniature flag (the kind that’s popular to attach to your car windows here on the island. I ripped off the flag, hung it on the wall, and just had the stick laying around). You can use anything long and skinny: a dowel, a skewer, etc. Sharpening the end to a point may be helpful, too, if it’s not already sharp.
  • A whole lot of paper and cardboard. I used about 5 old newspapers, a used notebook, a consumable book, two magazines, this year’s used-up calendar a big box and a bunch of little boxes. Even the box your toothpaste came in will work.
  • Scissors and possibly an exacto knife
  • A pen
  • A ruler (optional)
  • A large tin or something along those lines for the base
  • Decorations: String, tinsel, ornaments, ribbon, popcorn, shells, hairclips, etc.

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The next step is to anchor your pole. I just duct-taped it securely to a square of cardboard.
Now prepare to cut your paper. What size do you want your tree? The paper part of my tree is about 2 feet tall. It took me four hours to cut and stack the paper. The bottom layers of paper are a foot across. If you want a taller tree, cut larger squares. If you want a tiny tree, start with smaller squares.
Cut about half an inch of stacked paper to 12″ x 12″ or however large your bottom layer needs to be.
Pick up the first sheet of paper. Fold corner-to-corner and crease so that I makes a triangle. Do the same the other way so that you have a creased “X” on your paper. Where the lines intersect is the exact center of the paper. Use your pen to poke a hole in the center. Slide the paper onto the pole.
Repeat this until all your 12×12 paper is gone. Now, cut another stack of paper to about 11.75″ x 11.75.” Crease and slide the paper the same way you did before.
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Continue in this way. You’ll have to feel out the size changes as you go. If you want your tree tall and slim, you should decrease size of your paper less often and make more gradual decreases. I you want it shorter and fatter, decrease the size more often and make the decreases in paper size greater.
As you go, alternate the type of material you use. Be creative! Have fun with color and texture. Raid the recycle bin, check your pantry, and go through those stacks of paper you don’t need. I was amazed at how much recyclable material I found in our tiny one-bedroom apartment.
Leave a few inches of your pole paper-free. Slide the paper up to the top of the pole so that you can anchor the pole into the base.
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To make your base, fill your container (I used an empty Nido tin) full of beans, rocks, or sand. Create a hole in the top and stick the pole of your tree into it. Make sure to anchor and balance it.
Now is the most fun part! Time to decorate.
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Make a tree topper. I used tinfoil to fashion a star.
Use a needle, thread, and popcorn to make a popcorn strand.
I made woven paper heart ornaments. Directions coming in a future post.
The little pink hearts are made with clay mixed with cinnamon essential oil.
You can sew baubles directly onto the tree or hang them from a strand of popcorn/tinsel.
You’re finished! Congratulations. You have created a Christmas tree for free. Now, go enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. You deserve it after saving those trees and that money.
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