Nobody writes songs about what a joy it is to un-deck the halls of his or her garlands and boughs of holly—and then put it all away. For most people, picking up after the holidays is a major pain. But it doesn't have to be.
"I've got it down to a science," says Sarah Svoboda, a mom in Graham, Missouri, who decorates 17 trees inside her home—and whose outside lights on her farmhouse are visible from miles away. She relies on her own system of plastic bins and detailed labels to keep her organized for the holidays, storing items room by room.
Like Svoboda, you can figure out how and where to store your holiday keepsakes and decorations in a way that will save you time, money, and headaches. Our tricks from Motherboard Moms and professional organizers will help.
The most common way to store holiday decorations? In plastic tubs. Choose solid colors and color-code your holiday gear (red and green for Christmas, orange and black for Halloween, and so on) or clear so you can see the contents. One big advantage of plastic is that your cherished decorations won't get ruined. Barbara Alden Wilson, a Motherboard Mom in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, discovered that after her basement flooded a few years ago.
A storage trick: Decide on uniform sizes that fit the space you have so they'll stack evenly and take up less room, says Chris McKenry, owner of Get It Together LA!, an organizing company in Los Angeles.
Whether you pack away your holiday decorations in plastic or cardboard, don't put too much in each box, warns Rebecca Anselmo, a Motherboard Mom of three in Edison, New Jersey. You don't want to hurt yourself schlepping containers down from the attic or up from the basement—or risk dropping a tubful of breakables.
Throw in some silica gel packets—the kind that come in new purses, shoes, and even vitamins—to help keep humidity down in the bins, says Paris Love, owner of Organize With Love, a personal and virtual organizing company in Gulf Shores, Alabama. (Just be careful your kids or pets don't get ahold of the packets.)
Motherboard Mom Karen Pfost of Maryville, Missouri, admits she comes from "a family of savers." Her parents used empty popcorn tins to store holiday decorations, and she has continued the tradition. "It seems like a practical use for the empty tins," she says. "And they're already decorated for Christmas."
Christmas-cookie tins also come in handy, particularly to store small items like holiday napkin rings, says Lea Schneider of Pensacola, Florida, owner of OrganizeRightNow.com, a virtual organizing business.
Another storage solution from your recycling bin: using empty diaper boxes or liquor boxes. Diaper boxes typically have handles and liquor boxes are often extra sturdy and contain ornament-ready cardboard dividers, says Donna Smallin, of Rochester Hills, Michigan, author of A to Z Storage Solutions.
It seems so basic, but don't forget to label your boxes. You won't remember by next year that you put Great-Aunt Martha's tablecloth in the same box as the stockings your mother-in-law knitted for your kids.
To make labeling super easy, uber holiday decorator Svoboda uses a label maker. "I list everything that goes in that box and where it goes in the house," she says. "Such as the Nativity set that goes on top of the piano." No label maker? Write with a large black marker.
Another good idea: Consider numbering your bins so you know which ones to open first. Try to put things away in the reverse order of what you need.
Different organizing experts swear by different strategies. Svoboda and Wilson prefer storing each room's decor in separate containers. They also use the containers to hold any items they remove during the holiday season. "I take down some picture frames to make room for Christmas decorations, so the frames go in the bin," says Wilson. Others store like with like, such as all tree accessories together or all holiday linens in the same bin.
Take a digital photo of each decorated room or area. "Keep it with your decorations to give you a quick and easy reference," says McKenry. He suggests taping a photo to the side of the box as a label.
Most people store their holiday decorations out of the way—in the attic, the basement, or the garage, but you may want to make some exceptions. Designate one tub that can be tucked in the back of a closet in the main part of the house, says Schneider. In it, keep irreplaceable items like heirlooms and linens that are at a higher risk of damage from breakage, temperature extremes, dampness, and pests. Candles or ornaments made of waxy material should be stored away from heat as well.
Your best bet? Schneider recommends looking for storage inside of your home. "There's that dark corner in the kitchen where the cabinets meet, or the cabinet up over the refrigerator that's not much use for anything else," she says. Those are great locations for holiday dishes. You may be able to clear out some clutter in the back of a linen closet, for example, to make room for holiday linens.
Some Motherboard Moms use special ornament boxes they've purchased that contain shelves and dividers. Another option is to store small, delicate ornaments in egg cartons, says Love. "Remove the little hooks first so they don't get tangled up." Either buy new hooks each year or store them in an envelope or zip-lock bag with the ornaments.
For larger but fragile items, Pat Austin uses plastic cartons that contained apples. "You have 12 large round spots to put fragile stuff in," says the Overland Park, Kansas, mom. Save the tissue paper from opening gifts to wrap around ornaments before storing. "That way they get fresh, new paper each year," says mom Michelle Speak of Parker, Colorado. If you don't have tissue paper, make a nest of shredded newspaper in your boxes to cushion ornaments. Never use bubble wrap around ornaments—it can stick to them and ruin them, especially when temperatures are extreme.
Finally, pack everything as if you might be moving, advises Smallin. She ended up moving unexpectedly last year after her husband was transferred and was happy she'd done a good job of packing up her holiday decorations.
Not all ornaments are created equal. You know the ones you cherish more than others—an heirloom handed down through the generations or the one your youngest child made in kindergarten. Wrap these ornaments in acid-free paper to help preserve them. "There's a reason heirlooms look old-fashioned and tarnished," says McKenry. "It's because of moisture and acid." Always remove the hooks from delicate ornaments so they don't get scratched in storage.
Bonnie Joy Dewkett, owner of The Joyful Organizer in Ridgefield, Connecticut, likes to use plastic shoe boxes for sentimental ornaments. "It keeps them separate from the other ornaments," she says. "Label the boxes with the year the ornament was purchased, received, or given, or group ornaments by child or life event."
Trying to untangle twisted strings of lights may look funny in a cartoon or comic strip, but it just creates frustration in real life. To avoid this fate, use specially made plastic bins that have spindles for wrapping lights, says McKenry. Other specialty boxes contain cardboard inserts for the lights. Or, make your own light wranglers with empty paper-towel rolls, wire hangers, or flattened, empty cereal boxes.
The original box for your artificial tree probably gave up the ghost of Christmas after just a year or two. Invest in a large plastic or canvas tree bag, or a solid container, to store your tree and keep the dust off of it, recommends McKenry.
Svoboda stands up her collection of 17 trees in her basement. The smaller ones she covers with trash bags. "There's no good way to cover the larger trees without smashing them," she says. Instead, she cleans them with a Webster duster, a "funky feather duster."
Motherboard Mom Dawn Schnake hangs her holiday wreaths on nails in the beams in the basement of her Overland Park, Kansas, home. She wraps plastic bags around the wreaths to keep them dust-free. Garland can be hung up the same way to avoid being crushed in a box.
Custom-sized wreath containers are available as well. Or do as Wilson did: She bought most of her wreaths online—and saved the packing boxes to store them in. She labels the boxes and keeps them on shelves.
Store gift wrap in specialty containers, in flat underbed storage boxes, or—for a cheaper option—in a small garbage can, says Dewkett. She also likes creating a gift wrap station by using a tiered pant hanger to hold sheets of tissue paper and other wrapping paper. An over-the-door shoe holder has pockets for tape, scissors, gift tags, ribbons, and bows. "Everything is readily accessible and it's easy to keep track of your inventory," she says. Another option: using a garment bag to hold all those leftover rolls of paper neatly.
Before you pack up this year's decorations, "Take a good, long look" at what you didn't use, Smallin suggests. "My general rule of thumb is, if you don't love it, toss it," says Dewkett. "Why waste your time putting it up and waste your space storing it?" What's important is to cherish and carefully store those things that really matter to you. As for the rest: Throw out anything broken and donate items in good shape to charity.