Consider this the ultimate Elf on the Shelf idea guide with something for every day you need to cover in December. (And some of them include a little fun for you too!)

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I vowed I would never be an Elf on the Shelf mom. We were already doing a lot: The advent calendars, gingerbread house-making, cookie baking, holiday special-watching, plus St. Nicholas Day on December 6 (aka Christmas-lite, with just the stockings).

But my kids begged, and so there I was spending countless nights dragging my weary self out of my warm bed after I remembered I forgot to move Candy Sandy and Jelly (yep, I got two elves) to a new spot.

elf-on-the-shelf-ideas
Credit: elfontheshelf.com

Now that my elves have been permanently shelved, I can share the Elf on the Shelf guide I wish someone had written for me—one with just enough magic and very little effort involved. These easy Elf on the Shelf ideas are so quick that they can be pulled off last-minute, making them ideal for busy Santas. You'll even find a few self-care moments woven in because, let's be honest: It doesn't get more magical than that.

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1 Start off on a good foot

Leave your Elf on the Shelf out on the first night with a note saying "Howdy" and a couple of pieces of candy for your child.

Pro tip: Sneak a piece or two of their favorite candy out of their trick-or-treat bags at Halloween, and that can be your kiddos' gift from the elf.

2 Give your elf a buddy

You open yourself up to a whole new world of ideas if your elf has a friend (or five). No need to spring for an extra Elf on the Shelf unless you're feeling extra at the moment—your kiddo probably has the perfect elf friend—a stuffed animal, Potato Head, or Barbie gathering dust in a corner of your house right now. Have them hug or sit next to each other. 

3 Make a couple of snowflakes

Leave your elf out with the handiwork and a pair of scissors. They're fun, they're easy, and bonus, they'll look festive hanging in your windows. 

4 Have your elf bring out a box of Christmas decorations

Oh, look! Candy Sandy has helped you get something done you need to do.

But oh, no! She is sitting on top of the box, so you can't actually decorate today without touching her and ruining the magic. Oh, well. 

5 Set up a Scrabble game for your elf and his friends

They can play two words: Merry and Holly. (We'd suggest Xmas for the triple points, but that means hunting high and low for the two Xs in the game.)

6 Let your "elf" have hot chocolate

Maybe your "elf" likes boozy hot chocolate with extra whipped cream—and likes to just leave the dirty mug on the counter and go to bed. We aren't judging.

7 Give your elf a workout

Have your elf attempt to lift a weight, or put her on that exercise bike that you haven't touched since quarantine.

8 Put the elf on the shelf

That's where he's supposed to be, after all. 

9 Use an elf printable

The Elf on the Shelf people seem to feel some sort of shame for what they've unleashed during an already incredibly busy holiday season, so they make printables you can use when you're running out of ideas. I'm partial to the Elf Insider magazine.

10 Put your elf to work

Arrange your elf with a duster or hanging onto your vacuum cleaner (maybe hitching a ride on your Roomba). 

Maybe it'll inspire your kids to help with the chores—or maybe they'll just laugh and leave more dirty dishes strewn throughout the house.

11 Sit your elf in a stocking

Your Elf on the Shelf will have a bird's eye view of your kids' shenanigans from there. 

12 Rate your kids' behavior

You're halfway through the season, so it's the perfect time for a behavioral report card for your kids. (Use a red pen for extra festivity.)

13 Marshmallow fight!

Bring your Elf on the Shelf's buddy back, toss some mini marshmallows on the table between the pair, and call it a night.

14 Tangle your elf into the tree

Hang your elf (by the arms!) from the garlands and lights on your tree, or have him hang from a branch. If your tree isn't up yet, have him interact with whatever decorations you've put up (maybe he's hugging a Santa figurine, or resting in a wreath).

15 Chill your elf out

Elves are from the North Pole, so the freezer is the perfect place for them. Set her up with a spoon and an open pint of ice cream that's partially gone. (It's a tough job, but you're going to have to eat that ice cream.)

16 Don't let your elf tag along

Cozy your elf up in your coat, purse, or boot, hoping to hitch a ride to the kids' holiday concert. (Just make sure you nestle the elf in an item that you won't actually use that night, or you'll spend the entire concert worried that your kid will see you absent-mindedly touching the elf in your pocket.)

17 Make a sprinkle snow angel

Pour sprinkles on the table, and swipe your elf's arms and legs to make it look like a snow angel. (Use the flat-style sprinkles so they don't roll all over and make an even bigger mess!)

18 Have your elf Netflix and Chill

Elves don't need to worry about screen time. Sit him and his buddy down in front of the TV with the remote and maybe a snack. (Just don't let him watch Bridgerton.)

19 Build a gingerbread hut

You can sub in graham crackers, and marshmallow fluff kinda works okay if you don't want to make royal icing

Or you can just leave out a sleeve of graham crackers, a jar of frosting, some candy canes, and a note that says, "help me make a house" and let your kids take over from there. 

20 Give your kids an elf warning

Let's face it—T-minus five days is when the behavior really starts to slide. This is where the Elf on the Shelf can finally work his magic. Leave a note warning that they're perilously close to the naughty list, and see if that turns things around.

21 Give your elf a good book to read

Not the Elf on the Shelf book that comes with him. Maybe The Grinch Who Stole Christmas instead.

22 Don't make cookies

You're too tired tonight to help the elf make cookies. Put out the ingredients for cookies, sit your elf amongst them, and make the cookies with your kids tomorrow.

23 Arrange it so your elf's friends "wrap" her in gift wrap

On a night when you're up late wrapping gifts, throw a little gift wrap around your elf, too. (Make it as sloppy and fast as possible—you know Mr. Potato Head is all thumbs.)

And don't use the gift wrap that "Santa" uses at your house. 

24 Give a parting gift

You've made it! Your Elf on the Shelf is ready to hibernate in the dark recesses of your attic for another year. Let her leave a note saying "Be good! See you next year!" and a small gift—like socks—for everyone in the family. (Make yours cashmere.) Merry Christmas!