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Un-Decking the Halls | Do Your Old Holiday Decorations Need a Tune-up or a Toss-out?

After the Thanksgiving turkey dinner, excitement builds when we traipse up to the attic, grab the Christmas decorations and embark on the adventure of turning our home into a Winter Wonderland. Weeks later, though, after that champagne toast and midnight kiss to ring in a new year, excitement turns to dread when we have to put it all back where it came from. The Christmas spirit is gone as we haphazardly pack all the decorations away for another year and trudge on into January.

The post-holiday doldrums can have us all bent out of shape—and that includes our decorations, too. We carelessly stuff wreaths, bows and garland into boxes. Those dainty tree ornaments we admired in the glow of their tiny spotlights every night? We hastily drop them into containers and tell ourselves that we’ll just assess the situation when the holidays roll around again.

But we all know we can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we take care of our decorations before we store them. As far as I know, there’s no lively song to go along with this task, but below are some handy tips to un-deck your halls and get a head start on the fa-la-la-la-la’s of the future.

Repair and restore
I have a box I like to call my “Christmas clinic.” Before I start packing away, I look over the decorations and shake them a bit to make sure there aren’t any parts coming loose. After kids and cats, there’s always a few ornaments that just can’t “hang on” any longer without my help. I clean off a table, grab the superglue and hot melt glue gun, and go to work on anything in the box that needs repair. If you’re as sentimental as I am about decorations that are part of your family tradition, you’ll try everything you can before saying your goodbyes. For glass ornaments and decorations, use superglue; after it dries, scrape rough areas smooth with a razor blade. A small paint set or even a set of Sharpies can help, too, to fill in scratched places on ornaments or figurines and wall décor. If you have paper ornaments or kids’ schoolwork you want to keep, use contact paper or a laminator to preserve them. For cracked ball ornaments, consider covering with a decorative Christmas ribbon.

If you have any decorations you can’t repair, try upcycling. If a part of your favorite ornament is still intact, drop it in a clear, fillable ball ornament with beads, glitter, curling ribbon or raffia. Or find a wooden cutout, paint it, and glue on the salvaged piece to revive your wounded keepsake.

Take stock of seasonal towels and linens, too. Though they may be functional, designs fade with use and multiple washes, and become hard to even recognize as part of your holiday decor. Odds are you’ve received some new ones as gifts anyway, so instead of letting them pile up on the shelf, gather the ratty ones to use as scrap towels for tougher jobs, like checking your car’s oil.

Outdoor decorations also need a careful look. For lawn ornaments, check to see if the ground posts need fortifying or replacing. Weather may have done a number on bows and wreaths, and it’s better to repair or replace them now than be disappointed when you unpack them later. Faded artificial greenery can be refreshed with exterior spray paint. Bows can be replaced (take advantage of those post-holiday discounts at local craft stores). Outdoor lights are always a gamble, right? Sometimes there’s an easy fix to squeeze another year’s life out of them. Test the fuses (found in plugs) and replace any that are blown. Buy inexpensive bulb testers to check out your string lights every year before storing them. Many problems with string lights are caused by carelessness in putting them up or packing them away, so don’t forcefully pull them down or push them tightly into containers where bulbs can knock against each other. Handy light organizers work, but so does a scrap square of cardboard from the recycling bin; cut one-inch slits on two sides to wrap the lights around and label the cardboard.

Finally, take advantage of the postholiday slowdown to sort and purge any decorations that you haven’t used in several years. Seasonal decorations are certainly easy to collect, with cute new designs available every year. Most years we receive some as gifts, but they can take more space than we have. Pick your favorites and donate the rest.

Once repairs and culling are done, take stock of your storage system. If containers are wearing out, maybe it’s time for new ones. There are hundreds of durable specialty storage options nowadays, all for specific uses—gift wrap, wreaths, ornaments and trees.

Regular totes work wonders, too—if you pack them and label them correctly. Clear totes are especially helpful. A simple trick for turning generic bins into ornament keepers is to glue the bottoms of plastic cups to a piece of sturdy cardboard. An additional row will usually stack on top. Egg cartons work for tiny ornaments and small village items. Use original packaging if it’s still in decent shape. It may be a pain to store individual ornaments away on their own but taking special care will ensure their safety. One idea for storing many of your decorations in one place is to use a self-standing closet organizer; hang wreaths and linens on hangers then place other items on the shelf below.

Even though we may be in a haste to take everything down at once, making a strategy can help in the long run. First, label multiples of items such as garland with gift tags, to remind you which piece goes around the stairwell and which piece decorates the fireplace. Also, pack away your items in the groups in which they were displayed. If you were especially fond of your mantle ensemble, for example, put the items away together and include a picture in the box of what it looked like.

I rarely put all my decorations up at the same time, so I always have an “Early Christmas” box with all the items I need at the very start of the month—an advent calendar and Christmas cards—stowed away in the most accessible location.

Also, don’t forget to remove batteries, which discharge and corrode after time and could put an end to singing Santa. Candles need special care, too; keep in a dry, cool place and wrap individually in tissue paper or even old pantyhose.

For an artificial tree, it’s worth it to invest in a durable container; try packing it in the original box and you’ll likely give yourself a post-holiday headache. Options include large bags, bins and upright coverings—the perfect solution if you’re lucky enough to have nearby storage space for a fully decorated tree. A quick internet search will take you to how-to instructions for shrink-wrapping your tree.

The season of giving may have drawn to a close for now, but when it arrives again, all the extra time and effort you spent caring for your decorations could be the first and favorite gift you open next year.

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