The 8 Most Common Christmas Tree Decorating Mistakes - and How to Avoid Them

Christmas tree not looking quite picture perfect once it's all dressed? These experts share the most common decorating mistakes and how to fix them

Christmas living room with blue velvet sofas
(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

Is there a more exciting Christmas decorating ritual than dressing the tree? It's probably the most nostalgic moment in the run up to the big day - the time when the Christmas tunes go on, the presents start to appear, and the whole family comes together to revel in some festive cheer. As wonderful as the atmosphere may be, though, have you ever made the finishing touch of placing the star on top of the tree, only to step back and find that your Christmas tree just doesn't look quite right? 

Before we go any further, allow me to point out that we know what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. Perfecting the appearance of the tree is by no means the priority. That said, there are some common Christmas decorating mistakes that many of us prone to making, whether aware of it or not, that can easily be fixed. 

But why should we care? 'The tree is so often the centerpiece of our Christmases so making sure it’s expertly decorated is often the top priority for households,' explains Jennifer Derry, interior design expert at Christmas decor store, Balsam Hill. 'With that in mind, there are some dos and don’ts to bear in mind when it comes to decorating to make sure your tree looks like it was dressed by a professional.' 

To make sure your tree is the worthy heart of the home this Christmas day, we've rounded up the best advice from interior designers to help you avoid the seven most common Christmas tree decorating mistakes.

1. The wrong size tree

A neutral living room with a large Christmas tree in the corner

(Image credit: Caffe Latte)

For some of us, choosing the perfect Christmas tree has become as big a ritual as the decorating itself. As tempting as it might be to choose the biggest, fluffiest tree you can find, be sure to bear in mind whether it's the right shape and height for your space. The same goes for artificial trees, too. 

The notion behind this is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a big living room, you'll need a big tree to look proportional to the room size and really make an impression. For renters or those who live in apartments, opt for a small Christmas tree. On a more specific note, you'll want to leave at least a foot between the top of your tree and the ceiling to avoid bending your branches and making the room look too small. 

2. The wrong number of tree ornaments

An artificial lit up Christmas tree in a dark blue living room

(Image credit: Balsam Hill)

If you're anything like my Mom, when it comes to decorating with tree ornaments, you won't be able to resist using every one you own (after all, they only come out once a year - they deserve to be have their moment, right?). 

The thing is, if you have an especially large collection of tree ornaments, using every single one will end up overcrowding your tree. 'While the number of baubles you need will vary depending on your tree and your decorations, getting an even coverage - be that maximalist or minimalist - of tree ornaments is important for a balanced look,' says Jennifer, interior design expert at Balsam Hill

She adds: 'At Balsam Hill, we have our very own Decorations Calculator to help you accurately work out how many ornaments you might need for your tree but, generally speaking, a 6ft tree with a full shape is going to need around 135 ornaments for standard coverage.' Christmas tree world also has another free bauble calculator you can use online. 

If you find you have a surplus of ornaments after you've finished decorating the tree, why not give a bauble arch a try? 

3. The size of the decorations  

IKEA's Christmas tree

(Image credit: IKEA)

Besides perfecting the right amount of ornaments, the size of your decorations will come into play. In general, you'll want a range of different-sized ornaments to avoid your Christmas tree looking too uniform and two-dimensional. 

'Your decorations will work in tandem with your tree,' notes Jennifer. 'It goes without saying that the larger your ornaments the less you’ll need to cover your tree but incorporating decorations of different sizes will always be more interesting to the eye. What's more, extra large ornaments may look out of proportion on a small tree.'

When choosing different-sized decorations, it's a good idea to take texture into account too. As Alysha Alli, Head of Interiors at Redrow, says: 'Using different textiles and materials like velvet, faux fur, colored paper and felt can add new points of interest.'

4. Skipping the garlands

tree with garlands

(Image credit: Balsam Hill)

You’ve added your ornaments and topped your tree with a twinkling star, but there’s something missing. Consider adding an extra festive touch to your Christmas tree by adding one of the best Christmas garlands. From beaded garlands to natural-looking pine garlands that add some depth, there’s a garland for every decorating style.

“The garland really ties the whole tree together and gives it a finished look. Choose a garland to fit the style of your tree decor,” suggests Mercedes Feller, VP of Merchandising at Balsam Hill. “Garlands of rhinestones and pearls have an art-deco feel and really shimmer on the tree. Or go rustic and choose a garland with felted wool and wood balls.

5. A lack of a theme

Christmas tree filled with flowers

(Image credit: Hello Flora)

Just as a curated sense of style pays off in the rest of your home, the same applies to your tree. If you put extra thought into themed decoration when dressing your tree, the results will pay off.  

'Mixing genres will lead to a mish-mash of decorations (and not in a kitsch and cool way),' warns James Mellan-Matulewicz, Creative Director and Designer at Bobbi Beck. 'There are lots of new themes on the rise this year to consider, including Great Gatsby-inspired art deco and vibrant festival brights. Even if you’re going all out with the multi-color festival theme, it can still look curated and classy if you stick to it closely. Throwing in some Scandi chic icicles will throw the theme off completely.' 

James is quick to point out that tinsel or foil bunting should be avoided however, as these are outdated and not very eco-friendly. 'A subtle nod to nostalgia is all that’s needed to keep it stylish,' he adds. 

When it comes to a theme, be experimental and choose something personal for you. If the rest of your home has a neutral color scheme, that might mean subtle Scandinavian Christmas decor. 'Forget the overly color-coordinated traditional Christmas tree, next-level personalization is what will really make your tree stand out,' says Alysha. 'For those looking to start afresh this year, whimsical woodland vibes with fall colors, dusted finishes for a frosty silver and white scheme or using romantic plum and metallic accents for a dark glam theme will be popular Christmas tree trends this year.'

6. Not spreading decorations evenly through the tree 

IKEA's Christmas tree

(Image credit: IKEA)

Are you guilty of only hanging your decorations on the outermost branches of your tree? Then that might be why it lacks dimension. Be sure to add plenty of decorations deep into the innermost branches to add depth. 

'A top tip is to divide your tree into three sections and then similarly divide your decorations accordingly,' says Jennifer. 'Starting decorating from the top and working down to the middle and then the bottom section of your tree. This way you can ensure that each section has even coverage and you don’t run out before you’ve reached the bottom!'

She continues: 'Start with your largest decorations and place these deeper into the foliage. Then, build up around these larger pieces with smaller ornaments, moving out towards the tops of branches. This helps to create a layered look with more depth than hanging all your ornaments on the ends of branches.'

7. Forgetting a topper 

A large Christmas tree in the corner of a living room, neutrally decorated with a star topper on top

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

It might be the last decoration, but it's certainly not least - the tree topper! 'Don’t forget to top off your decorations in style,' says Jennifer. 'You shouldn’t feel tied to the traditional star or angels; feel free to change your topper as your theme demands! You can create unique toppers very easily with paper or cards which can then be recycled if you don’t feel you’ll need them again for future Christmasses.' 

8. Failing to prioritize sustainability 

It's 2023, so that means there's no excuse for throwing away cheap, non-recyclable Christmas tree decorations this year. Time to embrace more sustainable living when it comes to your Christmas decor. 

'No matter how wild you choose to go with your decorations, choosing sustainable options will always make things more refined,' says James. 'Wooden tree decorations, paper garlands and reusable crackers are all on offer this year. Choosing to be more eco-friendly with your Christmas theme shows thoughtfulness, which is always classy and very on-trend. No matter how tacky you end up going, your sustainability efforts will make it tasteful.' 

Lilith Hudson
News Editor

Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.