20 Quick & Simple Elf On The Shelf Ideas Because You're Over It

It’s tough to be creative on demand.

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Many parents have, at one time or another, woken up in a panic because they forgot to stage their Elf on the Shelf before going to bed the night before. This year, you may want some simple Elf on the Shelf ideas to have in your back pocket, just in case it happens again. Your kids won't care if their elf isn't decked out with playful props just as long as it's not in the same spot as it was yesterday.

Even if you didn't forget to pose your scout, sometimes you just want a quick and easy idea because it's late and you're tired. Or, maybe you want to set the bar low so your kids don't expect their elf to have extraordinary adventures every night. Or, perhaps the kids spent the day testing Santa on the whole "naughty list" thing and they simply don't deserve the time and creativity that goes into a Pinterest-worthy staging.

No matter the reason, here's a list of simple Elf on the Shelf ideas for you to use on those days when you're short on time or short on brain power. None of these scenes require more than one prop, and any prop that is needed is likely easily accessible around the house.


Stuck In The Wash

To recreate this idea, you’ll need a front-loading washer or dryer with a window. If you don’t have a window on your appliances, then stage the elf so that it’s trying to climb out or about to fall into the washing machine instead. Don’t forget to hang up the “help me!” sign, too.


Climbing Something

Even Santa's best elves are mischievous, which means they're not afraid of getting into things. Stage your elf to look like he's climbing a bookcase, scaling a wall, or the top of the cabinets. Basically, anything you remind your kids not to climb is fair game for the elf.


"Sleeping" Somewhere Cozy

A slipper, a box of tissues, a jar of cotton balls, or even a loaf of bread are all cozy spots for an elf to curl up and sleep. Pick a spot, lay the elf down, throw a paper towel over it as a blanket and call it a day. If you have a few extra minutes, find something small (it can just be a scrap of toilet paper) to cover its eyes like a sleep mask - but that's totally optional.


Going Through A Cabinet Or Pantry

Make it look like your elf was searching for a midnight snack by propping open a cabinet or pantry door with her eagerly looking in (or even grabbing for a treat). You can also have her sitting there with the treat in hand or with wrappers scattered around.


Lounging Around The House

Even elves need to relax now and then. Pick your own favorite spot to cozy up in the house and place your elf there to make it look like he was just kicking back for the night. If you really want to sell the idea, you can also give him a cozy pillow or a blanket or him some fresh popcorn as Twitter user SteveThorlbyCoy did.


Reading A Book

Find your kids' favorite books and pile them up. Pick one to have laying open on the floor and stage the elf to appear as she's "reading" it. You can also have her sitting somewhere (like the counter or on a table) with the book propped up and open in front of her.


Surrounded By Treats

Have your elf sitting next to the cookie jar, climbing out of your kid's stash of leftover Halloween candy, or hugging the pint of ice cream in the freezer. Whatever you pick, just make it looks like the elf really indulged in some sugar (and be prepared to give your kids a bite of whatever you use as a prop).


Playing With A Stocking

If your stockings are already hanging up, have your elf popping out of one or appear to be swinging from one to the next. You can also drop a stocking on the floor and have your elf hanging from its hook. He will look like he had a fun time playing overnight, and you won't have to spend more than three minutes (at most) staging him.


Having A Tea Party

If your kids have a play tea set (or any play kitchen toys), put a cup (and the teapot, if you'd like) next to the elf to make it look like he was sipping on some tea over night. You can make him look really distinguished by having him sitting with his tea at the family table or in a reading chair.


Hiding In Plain Sight

Just like your car keys or your kids' shoes, things hiding in plain sight are often the hardest to find. You can mimic Twitter user BethanyMel13 and have your elf sitting in your Christmas tree, or you can simply have him sitting on a windowsill. Just put the elf somewhere that seems like it would be too obvious to be noticed right away.


Using A Tablet

Maybe the elf was listening to "Baby Shark" on a loop or maybe she was FaceTiming with Santa (a good story for when the kids are acting less than "nice"). It won't be hard to come up with a reason for why your elf was playing on the family tablet overnight. If you want bonus points, plan it out so that when the kids log in to the tablet it opens into a game or funny video.



Grab a coloring book, a few crayons, and your elf. Open up the coloring book to a page that hasn't been colored on yet (or tear out a page), lay a few crayons around it, and prop the elf up like she's holding one. You can color some of the page if you want to really sell the idea, but it works with a few scribbles, too.


Playing With Toys

If you have kids, you likely have plenty of toys laying around that your elf could easily get into, as Twitter user ProVVinx's elf did. Grab some LEGOs to make it look like the elf made a tower, have him doing a puzzle, or stage him to look like he was playing video games.


Peeking Out Of A Backpack

If your kids hang their backpacks up at night, have the elf zipped in and peeking out at them. You can say she was reading their books, checking their homework, or was just curious about what they take to school. Either way, coming up with the simple story will be the hardest part of this idea. It's best to do this on a weekend, when the kids don't actually need their backpacks that day.


Eating The Kids' Favorite Cereal

Do the kids come into the kitchen and go for the same cereal every morning? Get the box out, sprinkle a couple pieces on the counter or table, and prop the elf up against it. Your kids will love that they share a favorite food with the elf, and will probably want to have breakfast "with" her (possibly giving you a few extra minutes of peace to have your coffee).


Playing A Board Game

This elf seems to have a bit of a potty mouth but you can’t help but appreciate these parents’ creativity. Grab your kid’s favorite board game and set it up to make it look like the elf was having some late-night fun. Keep it simple by opting for a game that doesn’t require much prep, such as Trouble or Candy Land.


Sipping On Some Coffee

Next time you grab your favorite take-out coffee, ask the barista for a second cup and top to take home. Write your elf’s name on the cup and prop the doll next to it. Quick, simple, and an excuse to grab a hot cup of coffee next time you’re out and about (it’s for the kids, after all).


Having Fun With Dry Erase Markers

All you need for this Elf on the Shelf idea is a dry erase marker and a good picture. You can decide whether the elf is naughty by drawing over your family’s faces like the one in this picture, or nice by drawing some hearts, smiles, and pretty flourishes. Either way, this setup won’t take more than a few minutes.


The Floor Is Lava Game

A lot of kids absolutely love playing “The Floor Is Lava” any chance they can get, so why wouldn’t your elf feel the same way about the game? You’ll just need some painter’s tape and a danger sign as a warning that feet aren’t safe (either print something off like this or simply write it out on a piece of paper). Adding other toys to the scene is optional, but not necessary.


Taking A Bubble Bath

A bag of mini marshmallows goes a long way when it comes to Elf on the Shelf season. Recreate this scene by filling a glass bowl with the marshmallows and “submerge” your elf in them for some relaxation (including a small bath toy doesn’t hurt). Another similar idea is to fill the crock pot with marshmallows to create a jacuzzi for your little elf.

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