How to Survive the Elf-on-the-Shelf


A few years back, my mother gifted my kids with their very own Elf-on-the-Shelf. My reaction was mixed–on the one hand, I loved the idea of creating a new holiday tradition with my kids, but on the other hand, looking through the dozens of elaborate set-ups shown on Pinterest, it felt overwhelming. I quickly decided from the online tutorials that transforming your Elf into a more pliable, posable version was too much, and that our “Buddy” was going to be unmoldable and permanently clasping his hands. I took some inspiration from the hundreds of online posts I found and pared them down into some manageable, doable ideas (often googling at the last minute right before I moved him and went to bed).

Along the way, I developed some useful tips and hacks for how to survive the Elf-on-the-Shelf:

  1. The first time our Buddy makes his appearance for the season, he brings a note explaining that my kids need to “make room” for whatever new toys they may receive from Santa. You get to clear out space, can use the opportunity to throw out old or broken toys, and teach your kids about donating toys in gently-used condition. Win-win. BONUS TIP: If your kiddos are dragging their feet to sort through their toys, leave the Elf/note out in the same spot until they do!
  2. In the event that you forgot to move the Elf overnight, explain to your kids that your Elf didn’t return to the North Pole during the night, because he/she needed further intel before reporting back to Santa (maybe it’s because they weren’t particularly “good” the day before, and the Elf was trying to do them a favor!)
  3. Your Elf doesn’t have to *do* anything, he/she can simply sit in a different location, and it counts! PRO TIP: If you are super sneaky, your kids will get a huge kick out of the Elf appearing in their own bedroom.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel – just google “Elf on the Shelf ideas” and you will have plenty of options to either imitate completely or just to spark your own imagination. One year, I snapped a quick photo each time I moved Buddy and saved it on my phone, so that I could go back and easily replicate them in future years (your kids probably won’t remember, and even if they do, they won’t care!)
  5. Your Elf will be just as magical without all the branded accessories that are sold alongside them in stores. But, if you are so inclined, wait for the after-Christmas sales (and the waaaaaaaay after-Christmas endcaps), and you can find them for up to 75% off.

Whether you choose to embrace this modern “tradition” or not, it can be fun and memorable without it taking over your Advent season. And even as an adult, I’ve found that we can all use a little more magic in our day-to-day lives.