There's about a million (slight exaggeration, but only slight) ideas on Pinterest for Christmas countdowns or Advent calendars.
Bummer, though, none of them seemed to really fit our family's needs, or they required lots of craftiness (which I am not lacking, but it does take time to be crafty and time is something that I do not seem to have enough of here lately) or would be expensive to put together, or just weren't what I was looking for. So, I made my own. Typical, I know.
I knew I wanted to do something with clothespins and clip some type of card or pocket with an activity written on it, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. I got some inspiration from Leigh Ann and Jamielyn (love LOVE their blogs!) and here's what I came up with (more about the activities later):
I have a habit of keeping cute Christmas cards from year to year. Most people only write on the right hand side of the interior of the card, so if you just cut that part off, you end up with a still useable picture from the front of the card. You can use these card fronts for all sorts of things, but that's another post altogether.
In this case, I used recycled cards to decorate half of my Christmas Countdown clothespins. I simply cut around a character or snowflake, etc. from the card front (this way I could decorate more than one clothespin from each card). I also cut off the whole fronts of cards as well to use for the activity tags - I'll get into that in a minute.
For the other 12 clothespins I used die cuts, stickers and cardstock cut into 'tag' shapes from my scrapbooking stash.
On the clothespins, I wrote the numbers 1-24 for each of the days of December leading up to Christmas. It's definitely easier to write the numbers on the decoration before attaching them to the clothespins. And, I would recommend using a glue stick or double sided tape to put the decorations together. Elmer's school glue will work, but it tends to make cardstock warp when as it dries, which can then affect how well the decorations stick to the clothespins. Don't ask me how I know. Hot glue works well to attach the decorations to the clothespins, but depending on how permanent you want this to be, you may want to consider a less permanent option, like attaching the decorations with double sided foam sticker squares. (This is what I used. I got the foam sticker squares a long time ago with a scrapbooking kit, but you can also buy these at hobby stores.)
Most of the advent calendar/countdown ideas I saw were based on some type of gift or treat for each day leading up to Christmas. Nice, but not terribly frugal. Not to mention, not appropriate for a toddler with food allergies on a strict diet. And, I also would rather focus on family togetherness, building simple traditions and serving others during the holiday season.
Focus on the give, not on the get.
Which is why I really like Jamielyn's 25 days of service post. She had some great ideas, but most of them weren't feasible for us this year. We look forward to adding more service activities with Ry Guy in future years as he gets older.
Instead, I did a combination of family activities, Christmas crafts or learning activities, and sprinkled in a few "date" things for just us grown-ups. I'll be posting my list of activities week by week, so be sure to check that out.
I used a combination of recycled Christmas card fronts, gift tags I made at a Stamping Up party a few years ago, and plain pieces of cardstock from my scrapbooking stash. I wrote an activity on the back of each card/tag.
Putting it all Together
You could certainly hang your clothespins on some ribbon/yarn/string of choice on an empty wall or down a banister or in a frame, but I chose to use the clothespins to spruce up my mantle. I attached 3 removable 3M Command Hooks to the top of the mantle, then tied ribbon from my Christmas stash around the hooks making sure it was draped evenly. Then I used 3 ribbon bows from my Christmas stash (bought the ribbon and the bows on clearance years ago - funny story that I'll save for another time and have used them multiple times and in multiple ways since) to cover the hooks from the front and greenery, candles, etc. to cover the top. Of course you could decorate your mantle any way you choose.
The plan is to remove one tag per day, do the activity listed on it and place the tag in a box (part of my Christmas décor elsewhere in the living room) as we count down to Christmas.
Clothespins = free (bought them at the dollar store last year)
Decorations = free (recycled Christmas cards, cardstock, die cuts and stickers)
Glue/Double Sided Foam Sticker Squares = free (from my scrapbooking stash)
Ribbon = free (clearance originally, bought the ribbon years ago)
Total Cost for me = FREE
Total Cost if you had to buy materials = up to $5 depending on where/what you needed to purchase
So far, it's been a big hit with my 'boys'. Ry is loving all the new experiences and gets so excited every time I bring a Christmas box out of storage.
I realize I'm a little late in posting this, so you can't do the whole 24 days at this point, but keep it in mind for next year, or just pick up from here and go on. If you have a toddler, they won't notice! :)