Live or Artificial? My Internal Christmas Tree Debate

posted by Andrea | 12/16/2016
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christmas tree debate

Growing up, my parents used the same artificial Christmas tree for 25+ years. I didn’t have any issues with it, but I was fairly confident that after I moved out on my own, I would get a live tree.

However, after Dave and I were married, someone gave us a decent-looking artificial tree a month before our first Christmas (November, 2006) — and since I was extremely frugal back then, I decided to just use the freebie tree for a year (yeah right!)

We ended up getting rid of that tree right before we moved into our farmhouse (November, 2010) and since we moved the week before Christmas, we didn’t have a big tree set up that first year.

The next Christmas, I found a REALLY nice, slimline 7-foot artificial tall tree for $30 from our local thrift store — it looked so fabulous with our 9 foot ceilings and was much thinner than most trees I saw in stores!

I reasoned that we would use this thrift-store tree until we had hardwood floors since it would be much easier to vacuum up needles on hard floor versus carpeting, However, after we installed our brand new reclaimed barnwood floors, I decided I didn’t want a live tree with little kids around as they might pull it over.

Now, 11 Christmases into our marriage, we’re still using an artificial tree!

Every year when it’s time to put up the tree, I praise myself for sticking with the artificial tree.

“It’s so practical,” I think to myself. “All I need to do is walk down into my basement, carry the tree upstairs, and put the ornaments on.  I am so smart for using an artificial tree!”

And in all actuality, an artificial tree does make a lot of sense for me.

  • It’s frugal (we already bought it, we might as well use it.)
  • It’s easy (I keep the tree fully set-up year-round with all the lights on in our unused basement. I simply put a trash bag over top to keep some of the dust off.)
  • It’s hassle-free (I don’t need to bundle up, drive somewhere, find a tree, cut it down, pay way too much for it, wrestle it onto the top of our car, drive it home, get it setup so it won’t tip over on the base, clean up after it, water it, clean up after it, dispose of it, clean up after it, etc.
  • It’s more eco-friendly (no cutting down perfectly good trees just to have it in my house for 3-4 weeks)

However, every year when I’m ready to take the tree down, I have a few days where I think, “we should really just sell this tree and buy a live tree next year. Just think how much space you could save in the basement, plus a live tree would smell fantastic and have more of a ‘farmhouse’ feel.”

I toy with the idea of selling our artificial tree for a few days, but then decide it’s not worth selling the tree because no one is going to buy a artificial tree a week AFTER Christmas.

So I hang onto the artificial tree with the intent to sell it the following year… but when the following year finally comes around, I realize I could either set up my artificial tree in approximately 20 minutes, or spend the better part of a day driving to a tree farm, cutting down a tree, and struggling to set it up at home.

Obviously, you know what choice I make each year… and as I take a whopping 20 minutes to bring my artificial tree upstairs and put the ornaments on, I once again praise myself for being so practical.

This year, Nora even told me she was certain our tree was “the most beautiful Christmas tree in the entire world.”

I love our artificial tree… until I see live trees at friend’s houses or in magazines. Then I think about how fun it would be to get a live tree… until I look down at the ground and see a bazillion needles covering the tree skirt.

I truly am NOT an indecisive person (and I really am content with our artificial tree right now), but this internal conflict between “simple and practical” and “farmhouse fabulous” is ongoing every single year!

I suppose we might get a live tree someday — but for now, I have a feeling we’ll stick with our artificial tree (At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now. I’m sure I’ll change my mind in 2 weeks when I’m taking the tree down!)

What type of tree to you have?

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46 comments

  1. Amy

    12/23/2016

    I grew up with live christmas trees in the city so we dragged the tree home on the sidewalk and turned the bare side to the wall. Loose needles everywhere, watering, having to worry about the dogs drinking all the water, the cat climbing the tree and refusing to come out and peeing on the tree in anger when we finally removed her…I guess that’s part of why I don’t push to have a real tree now. I like the look and smell of a real tree, but I have candles that smell like pine.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — yeah, I’d do with an artificial tree all the way after those experiences!

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  2. Leslie H

    12/19/2016

    I don’t have a problem paying for a real tree. If I spent the same amount of money on a floral arrangement it would never be that large, or smell so good, or be as beautiful. I think it’s funny that people will buy $20 bouquets but think $45 trees are too expensive…

    Just my 2 cents…

    The main reason I will someday switch to an artificial tree? Putting on the lights!!! Oh, the aggravation!!

    Merry Christmas!

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  3. Kim

    12/19/2016

    I am apparently one of the lone readers of your site who loves live trees. (I admit, however, that I didn’t read all the comments.) We’ve always had a live tree, except one year when we were going to be out of town for a week at Christmas and I didn’t feel safe leaving a live tree unattended for that long. We borrowed an artificial one and the whole family bellyached about it. Usually, we go to the mountains and cut one down, but the mountains are my happy place and we spend much time there year round, camping, hiking, snowshoeing, etc. My Christmas decor is pretty simple, mainly because I hate putting it all away. 🙂 But I will have a live tree as long as I am physically able.

    Merry Christmas to your family!

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  4. Trisha G

    12/18/2016

    I’ve been married 8 years now. The first couple of years, my father-in-law insisted on helping us out by buying us a live tree. Then the next few years after that, I felt like we just had to have a live tree, no matter the cost. I had usually had a live tree growing up, one we went snomobiling through the mountains to find and chop down ourselves. So settling for an artificial one just seemed totally out of the question. But after a couple of years of dried-out trees from not watering them and half-decorated trees because the kids wouldn’t leave them alone (and after reading your blog for a few years and realizing it is okay to be frugal even with important things like holidays), I decided that we should save $60+ last year and just buy a small tree, a new string of lights, and a few new ornaments from the dollar store all for about $20 (the kids had gotten into our box of decorations while in our storage room the summer before and broke almost everything. We are going with plastic from here on out!) Then we would have more money for presents for the kids, less hassel with set up and taking care of it, and our house would still be festive. Best decision ever! I don’t think I’ll go back to live trees until the kids are old enough to appreciate it more, if even then. I love our artificial tree!

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  5. Mary Ann

    12/17/2016

    For the first 10 years of our marriage, we did the real tree thing. The process of getting the tree was fun but setting it up always turned into way more than it should have and we’d end up having a big argument on this joyous occasion of setting up and decorating the tree. 😉

    A couple of years ago, we found a small pre-lit tree at a yard sale for $8. That Christmas, we set that thing up in 5 minutes flat—no arguing, no stress, no trees leaning and falling… It was glorious. The following year, our neighbors had some brand-new trees at their yard sale. (They love trees and had too many that they hadn’t used.) I picked out a 7 foot one similar to yours intending to buy it. They insisted on giving it to us and even carried it across the street for me. Artificial trees are so much more simple, so far we haven’t looked back.

    I will say that once we have a child, the whole tree farm experience would be fun though and something we’ll maybe do some years.

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  6. Lynn

    12/17/2016

    We have a real tree each year and if we have time, we drive to the mountains to cut it down (we live in NC!). I love seeing the tree farms – they do continue to grow new trees to replace the ones they’ve sold – and it’s nice to support the local economy! How many artificial trees are made in America?! Yes, it may be more expensive, but it’s just part of the Christmas budget, it smells amazing and sometimes we use parts of it for crafts afterwards and the rest we typically burn in the fire pit in the spring.

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  7. Julia

    12/16/2016

    I used to use artificial trees before my husband and I got married. We’ve always had a real tree since then and we love it. I love how it smells, and how every tree is unique. They are more expensive in the long run, but we just budget it into our Christmas budget. We usually get our tree at the grocery store (ha!) or Lowes. I also like that tree farms plant trees to replace the ones they sell, so in a sense they are eco-friendly. We’ve always been able to recycle them for use in fish habitats too. Ultimately, it’s whatever works best for you in your current stage of life. I agree with Nora. Your tree is beautiful! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  8. Michelle

    12/16/2016

    My husband has always insisted we get a real tree. A few years ago I fell in love with an artificial tree from one of my favorite country home furnishing stores and I bought it. That was when we became a two-tree household…his real tree in the family room and my artificial one in the living room.

    Last year we got our older, worn carpet replaced and I told him I didn’t want the needles, melted snow, sap, and such all over our brand new carpet and that we would only put up the artificial tree. Unhappily he gave in. Then, earlier this year, he had knee replacement surgery and isn’t as energetic and mobile as he used to be. A few weeks ago we went and bought a real nice, easy to set-up artificial tree we both love. It had been our family tradition forever to go out to a tree farm and take the wagon ride out to the field, sip on hot chocolate and see Santa and the reindeer. We would also get our family picture for our cards while we were there. However, the cost has gotten awful. A couple of those outings we ended up paying $60 and $75 for our tree.

    The artificial is our choice for now after having a real tree for so many years. It’s probably the best choice as we have two grandsons who are allergic to something in evergreens. Who knows…we may choose a live tree again in the future.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’m glad an artificial tree is working for you now — it does sound a lot simpler! I honestly never really thought of the allergy aspect of the live trees — however, I assume no one in our family is allergic since our house is surrounded by pine and spruce trees.

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  9. Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

    12/16/2016

    So funny, I have the same struggle every year. This year it’s even greater as we got a couch from my parents, replacing one of ours. It’s much bigger, not leaving much room for our regular artificial tree. My tree is not yet up (tomorrow’s the day I think) and I’m really considering a small live tree this year because of limited space. We’ll see. 🙂

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  10. Laura

    12/16/2016

    This is a really great post. So authentic!

    I’m thinking you could have two trees one year, and then decide. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good idea Laura! we could put the artificial tree in the playroom upstairs for the kids and have the live tree on the main floor!

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  11. Chris

    12/16/2016

    My brother and his family made it a yearly tradition to go out to the tree farm at thanksgiving and flag their tree, then before Christmas, they would go back out and cut it down to bring home. Interestingly every tree they picked out all those years ended up having a birds nest in them (Which are considered good luck!). My hubby and I had a real tree for a few years and I loved having the smell and the extra evergreen limbs from the bottom to make a wreath – no wasting- but I hated stringing the lights on it and my arms got scratched up. One year, after about an hour after we brought the tree in the house, bees started coming out of it! We went with a pre-lit tree several years ago and I love it.
    As with everything in life, there are pros and cons and they’re different for everyone. It’s up to you to decide.
    Merry Christmas!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh my — bees in a tree would definitely do me in! I guess that’s my biggest concern is rodents or bugs in the tree. So gross!

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  12. Janice

    12/16/2016

    Just like some of the others here, I always had a “cold” at Christmas as soon as the live tree was brought in. And as someone noted, those tree needles can still be found by Easter no matter how how much you vacuum. Therefore, I made peace with my sentimental self and I have found great happiness with my 7.5 feet slimline artificial prelit Christmas tree. To me using an artificial tree is a little like the compromise I make when using frozen bread dough to make my cinnamon rolls. The end result is just plain worth it!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    We have a slimline tree too — and I really do love how “slim” it is while still being quite full as well!
    Also, I totally use frozen bread dough to make cinnamon rolls 🙂

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  13. Jane

    12/16/2016

    We were gifted a used artificial tree by my in-laws. They had used it for more than 30 years before they gave it to us 22 years ago. I grew up with live trees and figured we would only have the artificial until we got settled into married life. But with each passing year as the cost of live trees goes up it seems ridiculous to waste the money. I would rather spend the $60-$100 on gifts and treats for family gatherings and keep the artificial tree.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I have seen some reasonably priced live trees, but most seem rather expensive to me!

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  14. BB

    12/16/2016

    I have to tell you that keeping your artificial tree is the best thing you could do.
    Not only do you not have to drive yourself crazy getting up those needles that increase in their falling the closer to Christmas you get, but you don’t have to deal with the sap from the tree trunk (or anywhere else on the tree) either. Having had cats a lot of the 42 years we’ve been married, it was very helpful to NOT have a real tree for them to be drinking the water NOR climbing the tree NOR batting the ornaments off of it in middle of the night. Just about all of that applies to kids with real trees, too ~ just the times of day are different. The point someone else mentioned about being allergic to pine was one of my big bugaboos with a real tree. Hubby and his family LOVED the smell of pine/bayleaf/etc, so going to their house a few times over our marriage when time and close enough living made that possible, was a very miserable Christmas for me in that regard. I totally agree with you also in regard to obtaining said live tree. If we were able to get our tree down the basement steps with all the lights still on it each year, I would be ecstatic, but the stairs are too narrow for that. Cie la vie. Hubby wants an artificial tree that is lit from within by fiberoptics. While some are out there, they are prohibitively expensive still, so that’s a no go. I bet the trash man loves the houses that don’t have real trees to be picked up each year, also. ;-D

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ok, I’ll keep the artificial tree 🙂
    Also, you might try checking the stores or even Craigslist after Christmas to see if anyone is selling a fiber optic tree for a good price.

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  15. Nina

    12/16/2016

    When we were first married we would get a real tree, a place a few blocks away sold them so it was convenient. But my cat liked to drink from the holder and I worried about that. I also didn’t want him knocking the tree over on himself. (he was pretty good with the ornaments at this point).

    This year I wanted a real tree but my husband didn’t. (who knows why?) I bought a table top wreath and it smells great.

    I’d keep the artificial tree because you may decide you didn’t love having the real tree, for whatever reason. You can always sell it the following year.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Dave said his family would sometimes just get a wreath growing up too — that’s nice and simple!

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  16. Beth

    12/16/2016

    Don’t get rid of your artificial tree even if you get a real one!! My parents had a real one for years while I was growing up. Every year I had the “flu” at Christmas. I was horribly congested and it would last for weeks. When I was nine, they took me in for allergy testing and I one of the (many) things I was allergic to was pine trees. Keep your artificial one until you know for certain none of your children has an allergy. Christmas = sick for years for me.

    [Reply]

    Nina Reply:

    My friend has a mold allergy and some pine trees have traces of mold, as well. She had to get the tree out of her house and put up her artificial one.

    [Reply]

  17. Kellie Denton

    12/16/2016

    I think you are a complete genius for keeping your ornaments on your free year round! I’m going to adopt this idea! We do a fake tree as well but I think it’s just because I’m content with it at this point! We bought it on sale our first Christmas together, and this dinky tree has held up so well for 7 years! Right now, we have spent about $5/year for this little tree that is so special to us.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    The lights is the big one for me — I hate stringing lights so it’s so fabulous to just haul the tree upstairs and plug it in!

    [Reply]

  18. Sarah

    12/16/2016

    I love cutting a tree every year. I always make sure to pick one with pine cones still on it! I love the smell. Now it’s a tradition and something I look forward to after thanksgiving. When we are done with the tree we cut the branches for mulching plants and to use as a wind breaker for our chickens in the coop. We actually take a few other trees from neighbors to do this. It can help start a composter as well. I also leave a tree in the yard for the bunnies for protection during winter. It’s always nice having the bunnies around.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — aren’t you just so resourceful! Thanks for sharing those ideas for ways to use an old Christmas tree!

    [Reply]

  19. Ann

    12/16/2016

    We had a live tree for years. We have many positive (and more than a few negative) memories of choosing one and cutting one down. My kids were ALWAYS sick through the holidays and were miraculously cured when we bought an artificial tree for convenience. I didn’t realize they were allergic to the Evergreens!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh no, that’s so sad! Glad you have it figured out now though!

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  20. Natalie

    12/16/2016

    I don’t mind about artificial trees. If someone wants to use one, that’s fine with me. But I can’t hear the silly sentece of IT being ecofriendly “because it is a pity to cut a living tree to have IT only 2 weeks in My house”. Unless you are a vegetarian, by eating Meat you are killing everyday animals Just to enjoy their taste during the 10-15 minutes your meal lasts, so cutting a tree to enjoy it look during 2 weeks shouldn’t be a Problem you should care about.
    Kind regards

    [Reply]

  21. Beatriz

    12/16/2016

    I have an artificial tree too. I like it because 1) lights included 2) it’s convenient. I also feel that if I had to go out and buy one every year, I’d probably go Scrooge and just say bah-humbug! I personally do not have the time and a ready to go tree is good enough for me 🙂

    Besides if you hadn’t said it wasn’t “real” I would never have guessed from the pictures. It still looks awesome!

    [Reply]

  22. Karen

    12/16/2016

    We get a cut tree. The nurseries sell “live” trees planted in pots for eventual “landscape planting” here. Not sure how many make it since the ground is frozen solid for another two months.

    I really like your tree, and think the way you have done it is probably the most environmentally friendly way. You bought a used tree that might otherwise have gone to the landfill. Because it was used, you had no new packaging to dispose of and no new materials, manufacturing or shipping was required. You keep the tree assembled, which will likely make it last much, much longer, so you will not need a replacement for years. You use no gas to get your tree either. There is a free tree chipping service here after the holidays to make trees into mulch, but those chippers have a carbon footprint, too. You don’t need that service.

    Best of all, Nora has the most beautiful tree in the entire world. Pretty hard to beat that!

    You could get some cut greenery for the fragrance, but otherwise, I think you already have farmhouse fabulous. I would probably do the same if I found a good used artificial tree.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Karen — I’ve thought about the potted trees before too, but they always seem so tiny at the store by us.
    We do really like the easy and convenience of our artificial tree. I might just get a candle next year 🙂

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  23. Michelle

    12/16/2016

    Artificial! I may be swayed by a pine tree allergy though. It might be nice when the kids are older to have the real tree experience but for now artificial is great!

    [Reply]

  24. Amy O

    12/16/2016

    Stick with your artificial tree. I have done both – and an artificial one is so much simpler and easier. And saves you money – and you have plenty of storage room. You’re right on the first idea – it is so much easier!

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  25. Kristina

    12/16/2016

    We used to use an artificial tree before having children, but now we enjoy going to the tree farm to pick one out! Our daughter is only a week or two younger than Nora & she was begging to go to the tree farm before her birthday this year. I typically wait until after her birthday (first week of December.) Our local tree farm has live animals (including reindeer!), Santa & Mrs. Claus, and other fun, free things to do and see so I figure the cost of a tree is actually an afternoon of fun & memories for all of us – it’s worth it to me. Anyway, picking a tree is exciting for my family & it gets us out of the house for a day just as cabin fever is setting in. Each family has their own preferences, so keep on doing what feels right to you. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh wow — If we had a place with live reindeer and Santa, we might need to get a real tree too. I’ll need to do some research to see if there are any places like this in our area!

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  26. Deni

    12/16/2016

    When I was pregnant with our first child, I set out to purchase the prettiest artificial tree I could find, one that I would keep until she was grown. I found the perfect tree at Walmart 19 years ago and it still looks every bit as gorgeous as it did then. My kids love that we have the same tree with the same traditions to decorate it every year on black Friday (no black Friday shopping for me ;).
    It’s our family tree and we love it!

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  27. Kelly in Texas

    12/16/2016

    I use an artificial tree for many of the same reasons you mentioned. I have a hard time believing it’s more eco-friendly though. Since trees are a renewable resource and they are bio-degradable, my guess is that they are probably friendlier to the Earth than the actual process of manufacturing a tree, adding more plastic to the world, and transporting them (likely) around the world. As the previous commenter mentioned, I liked that it’s more allergy-friendly as well. My #1 reason for using an artificial tree is the lights! I can’t stand putting the lights on the tree so I like that they’re built in to the artificial tree. I grew up with a real tree though, and my parents still use a real tree. They found a delivery service that will actually bring one to their house, which is perfect because it’s hard for them to tie it to the car, carry it inside, etc.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you’re probably right — but since my artificial tree was used, it didn’t come with any packaging and I figure I basically saved it from a landfill 🙂
    At least that’s how I’m justifying it for myself!

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  28. Roxie

    12/16/2016

    I’ve done both real and artificial in the past and I love both. However, as I’ve gotten older and my sinuses get more finicky, I’ve decided that artificial is best for me. In fact, I keep the tree put together, covered with plastic, and stored in our storage building. I take the ornaments off – but the tree stays up year round. Plus, I put up two trees, decorate with a Christmas village and decorate the outside of the house.

    If I get the craving for the nice smell of a fresh tree, I’ll either go to a store and get some clippings for tablescapes or even get a “Christmassy” candle that will suffice.

    Merry Christmas!

    [Reply]

  29. Heidi

    12/16/2016

    I personally really enjoy not having to store an artificial tree during the year- we usually recycle ours at our local city recycling (where we score some free mulch throughout the year!) or give to the Dept of Natural Resources who put them into the lake for fish habitats. I also have friends who put their old tree out on their back deck, put peanut butter and bird seed on the branches and watch the birds come visit. 🙂 I think so much depends on how easy it is to cut down and dispose of a live tree. I’m in South Carolina so we cut down our tree in shorts, tshirts, and 73 degree weather right after Thanksgiving and it could be dry and 50 degrees after Christmas so it’s not too bad. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, it’s freezing, snowy, and windy here this time of year so it doesn’t seem all that fun to cut down a tree in this weather. However, I will say my hatred of storing the tree is the main reason I’m interested in trying a real tree. That said, we have a ridiculously huge amount of unused space in our basement, so it’s really pretty silly that I don’t want to store a tree in the corner 🙂

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  30. Ashli

    12/16/2016

    We’ve done both live and artificial. Currently we have only artificial. I do miss the actual trip to cut down the tree and the smell is incredible, however that’s all I miss about them. My middle kiddo is allergic to mold spores and tree pollen so getting rid of the real tree helped his allergies immensely, plus no more watering, cleaning up thousands of needles that hang around until Easter, etc. Plus, the last time we had a real tree the stand leaked and warped our hardwood floors, AND I find that real trees can be harder to hang heavier ornaments on. In the long run I’ll stick with my paid for artificial trees and light a pine candle! 😉

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