How to Organize and Store Christmas Decorations
If you want to start your holiday season off right, then you need to end last year’s holiday the right way, too. And that means cleaning up your decorations in a way that sets your future self up for success. Nothing kills that festive winter mood like having to fight with tangled nests of string lights or finding that the paint has flaked off all of your favorite ornaments because you didn’t store them right.
So, please, resist the temptation to dump your decorations into some haphazard box on New Year’s Day. Treat them right, and they’ll treat you right, too—for many more holidays to come.
Stackable plastic bins: Keep plenty of these around. You may even want to invest in some upright ones, especially if you have lots of wrapping paper to store. You can upcycle egg cartons or wine boxes to help organize and protect the things inside these bins, too.
A dedicated storage bag or tree cover: Use one of these to protect your artificial Christmas tree, if you have one.
Spare cardboard or plastic coat hangers (optional): Though we generally recommend that you just coil your string lights and tie them off in the middle, some people prefer to wrap their lights around a guide, like a plastic coat hanger or a notched piece of cardboard.
Damp cloth: Use this to wipe off any outdoor inflatables or sap-stained decorations before you put them away.
That all depends on how elaborate your winter-holiday setup is. However long it took to put up, it’ll likely take just as long to break it all back down again, plus a little more time to be sure everything is organized.
Part of the joy of a holiday string-light set is its haphazard nature—you can kind of loosely dangle them off of railings, or around your tree, and they automatically elevate the mood with sparkly wonder. But cleaning them up doesn’t have to be tricky. All you have to do is wrap them up by hand. And then, to keep it all together, tie them off in the middle with a twist tie or rubber band.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Our favorite Christmas lights are well-wound and durable, so you don’t have to worry about the wires getting loose and making them even more tangled. Just fold them together, and you’re good to go. Don’t bother investing in one of those cumbersome string-light spools.
“They add unnecessary cost, and actually make reinstallation more difficult,” said Jason Woodward, director of sales and marketing for Christmas Designers, a leading holiday retailer. “You will never see professional installers using this method.”
If you’re still skeptical, there are some DIY hacks that can help keep your lights organized and together. For example, you can cut a piece of cardboard (video) with a notch on one side and use that as a guide to wrap them around. You’ll find similar strategies that involve using plastic coat hangers (video) or empty cans or toilet-paper tubes (video), too. Or you can just keep it simple. Follow the natural memory of the wire to fold lights up, and then tie them off in the middle.
Before you put your decorations away, wipe them down with a lightly dampened cloth. This will help get rid of any pollen, sap, or other elements that damage the material while it sits in storage. You should also remove any batteries that you might be using, lest you start your next year with a corroded mess of battery acid eating away at the bottom of your storage bin.
If you want to save some extra space within the bins, you can repurpose wine boxes or egg cartons and use them to hold ornaments, instead of storing them loose in a bin or smudging them with newsprint. This is particularly helpful for more-fragile ornaments.
Once you’re ready to pack things up, Woodward recommends storing all of your holiday decorations in stackable plastic storage containers. This will help you consolidate space, while protecting your decorations from moisture, heat, dust, and anything else that might damage them.
If you really want to make your life easier, you can get separate bins for each kind of decoration—lights, stockings and ornaments, garlands, inflatables, and so forth. Either way, make sure you label the outside of each bin, so you can actually find what you’re looking for.
Although it may be tempting to put these stackable bins in an unfinished attic or basement, where they can be out of sight, we recommend keeping them in an indoor place where the climate can be better controlled. Fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels can damage the finish on some ornaments, even when they’re otherwise stored away in plastic. This is especially true of vintage or hand-painted glass ornaments. You really don’t want to start the season off by finding your favorite ornaments chipped, cracked, and flaking, especially after doing all the work to store them properly.
If you plan on storing things like wrapping paper, you might need some non-stackable bins, too. For this, we recommend using Target’s 40-inch Clear Vertical Wrap Box. Though it can be a little top-heavy and might require two hands to open, it could come in handy for hiding all of your packaging and wrapping supplies. The smaller upper compartment is especially helpful for stashing spare tape, scissors, and other accessories like bows and blank gift cards.
You may be able to hide this bin away on a closet floor between some long coats, and this will make it easy to access any time of year.
A good artificial Christmas tree is an investment that should last you for at least a decade—but only if you take proper care of it. Different trees will have different instructions. But generally speaking, you’ll want to disassemble your artificial tree, carefully folding the branch tips back toward the trunk to make it easier to store.
Since your fake tree probably won’t fit inside a standard plastic bin, we recommend buying a rolling duffel bag, a tree cover, or a dedicated storage bag, like the Elf Stor Premium Christmas Bag. These will help protect your tree from sunlight, moisture, and other elements that could eat away at its artificial pines. Once again, climate control is your friend.
You’ll want to take a similar approach with any inflatable lawn decorations. Like ornaments, lawn decorations should be wiped down with a damp cloth. Then, unlike ornaments, lawn decorations should be allowed to fully deflate on their own—don’t push! Home Depot recommends keeping all of the original packaging for your inflatables, though you might be able to fit them into storage bins, as well. Some companies even sell dedicated storage bags for their inflatables. Just make sure you buy ones that actually match your inflatables.
The more prep you do this year, the easier it will be next year when it’s time to dig the decorations out again. Woodward recommends taking pictures of your holiday setup and keeping notes about where everything—and we mean everything—goes. That includes things like extension cords and power strips, as well as each of your seemingly identical string-light strands, so you don’t have to keep redoing the work of figuring out where everything fits. Otherwise, you might end up accidentally using a longer extension cord that you actually need for another part of the house (which means undoing all of the work you did to set it up the first time).
Even if you don’t want to make detailed plans of your whole setup, you should still do some basic organizing by labeling all of your storage bins. That way, you’ll actually be able to find the things you’re looking for, instead of wasting precious setup time searching for that very special Ninja Turtle snow globe you got from your great aunt.
Holiday decorations can be fleeting, like the winter festivities they’re made to represent. But also like the holidays, the end of a decoration’s life can be bittersweet as well as hopeful. Incandescent Christmas lights can last for an average of five years, for example, while LED lights will stay with you for twice as long. And when the time comes to retire them, there’s actually a whole international industry dedicated to Christmas-lights recycling.
Check with your local waste-management services to see whether your town already has a system in place for this. If you can’t find any answers locally, try Earth911. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s often have their own recycling programs, too. You may even be able to repurpose your old lights into DIY jewelry, wreaths, or other decorations.
For guidance on Christmas-tree recycling, check with your local government. Make sure you get rid of the tinsel first, however. It can’t be recycled, and it doesn’t do so well in landfills, either. The same goes for all those bows you topped presents with. You should try to reuse those as long as possible by applying fresh adhesive to the bottoms each year.
Thom Dunn is an associate staff writer at Wirecutter reporting on HVAC and other home improvement topics. Sometimes his curiosity gets the best of him, such as when he plugged a space heater and a Marshall guitar amp into the same power strip. Pro tip: Don’t do that.
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