With the holiday season winding down, there’s a good chance your thoughts are turning to putting away the trees, ornaments, wreaths, lights and other decorations that festooned your home over the past month.

If that prospect feels daunting, you’re far from alone, says Sherri Monte, owner of Elegant Simplicity, a Seattle-based organization and interior design firm. 

Many people struggle with “the dread and overwhelming feelings of putting the mess away, because you’ve just spent days [or] weeks relaxing, unwinding and enjoying it all,” she says.

Holiday traditions and activities, such as gifting an annual ornament or hitting after-Christmas sales, can contribute to the accumulation of decor. Combine that with the drudgery of putting it all away and the result is a disorganized assortment of who-knows-what being hastily tossed into whatever receptacle one might have on hand after the holidays. 

Worse, this approach can lead  to finding your beloved pieces damaged next year — if you can find them at all amid the mess. 

If you take the time and effort to organize and care for your decor now, it will pay dividends in the months and years to come. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to make the process easier and set yourself up for success. 

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Start with a smile

Putting the decor away after the holidays is inevitable, so try to make it fun and enjoyable, advises Jean Prominski, owner of the organization company Seattle Sparkle.  

“To get into a positive mood while you’re organizing is really important,” Prominski says. She suggests giving yourself a boost by flooding your senses with things you enjoy.

“I’m really a multisensory person, so when I’m helping people organize I’m always like, OK, let’s try to engage all the senses, because you want to get in that state of joy. So, what smells do you like, or what do you like to listen to?”

Monte says it’s important to make the storage process a priority, and to carve out time for it like you might for exercise.

“It starts by acknowledging that it has to be done,” she says. “It’s sad because it’s the end of the holiday season, but really, you’re priming your environment” for its next design phase.

And if you need extra motivation, think of all the extra space you’ll be left with when you’re done. “It’s like pre-spring cleaning,” says Elizabeth Lee, owner of Seattle Organizing Works. 

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Pool and purge

Start by collecting your decor from all over the house, depositing it in one room and evaluating it en masse to see what you might want to get rid of.

“My first step after gathering everything is to look at what it is and ask if there is anything I don’t want. Is there anything that got broken, or it was kind of broken, but I put it out just because?” Monte says.

Decide if you want to repair any of the broken pieces, Prominski says. If so, do it before you pack them away. 

“People have broken ornaments, and then every year say, ‘Oh, I’m going to fix that next year,’ ” she says. “Either decide now that you’re going to fix it or let it go.” 

There may also be items that are intact that you decide you don’t want anymore. That’s OK. 

“Figure out which ones bring you joy and feelings of celebration and excitement,” Prominski says. “And if you have ornaments that you feel blah about, or that illuminate unhealthy family issues, just let them go.”

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It can be difficult to discard your belongings, especially items that have held a special place in your home in the past. But it’s ultimately worth it, Monte says.

“You’re left with only the stuff that brings you joy, that makes you happy, that you really want to pull out and bring into the next holiday season,” she says.

Categorize

After weeding out the decorations you want to discard, it’s time to organize the items you’ve decided to keep.

This step of the process is going to be different for everybody, Monte says. “We all have what I call different decorating brains,” she says. 

For example, some of us might want to keep all the tree decorations together, then put mantel items in a different category, centerpieces into a third category and wreaths into a fourth. Others may prefer to gather together all of the pieces that typically go in the dining room or on the porch or the mantel, and store them as their own set.

“Group the like items,” Monte says. “Put them into a category that makes sense to you, then you can put it away in a way that makes sense, too.”

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Monte says it suits her style to organize her ornaments by color. But “for all of the other stuff, I organize by what it is and how it’s used,” such as wreaths, tabletop trees and holiday-themed books. 

In some cases, it may help to break categories down into subcategories, Monte says. Within a broad “Christmas tree” category, for instance, “You’ve got garland, you’ve got fun family decorations that the kids made,” plus glass balls, light strands and more. 

Protect and package

Next, you’ll need to prep and store everything you’ve decided to keep. The pros agree that this is a part of the process that shouldn’t be overlooked or skimped on.

Lee emphasizes the importance of packing items properly. A large part of her business is helping people move, as well as conducting estate sales, and she brings that perspective with her when she helps clients organize their holiday decorations. 

It’s important to wrap things really well, Lee says: “I like to make sure everything is packed as if you’re going to move.” 

Monte agrees. “You want to preserve them so that the next time you open them after they’ve been stored for a year, things aren’t broken. You’re not having to go out and find a replacement or find something else because you [carelesly] tossed them in a container,” she says. 

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Monte uses packing paper and bubble wrap to protect her items; Lee also likes to use tissue paper.

Lee suggests protecting smaller items like ornaments by placing them in egg cartons or in plastic takeout containers. Metal hooks left on ornaments can leave scratches, so Lee makes it a point to remove them before storing the ornaments. “It’s a pain in the butt, but I do it,” she says.

“There are lots of commercial boxes that people can buy from The Container Store or Amazon with dividers” for separating decorations, Prominski says. “If you don’t want to buy the ones with dividers in them, you can use muffin tins or muffin cups or coffee filters to separate each of the ornaments.”

Before packing your lights, Prominski says, test the bulbs, untangle the strings and then wrap them around something so they stay untangled. “You can use cardboard tubes or cards that have notches cut out of them, or use coffee cans,” she says. 

Another option is to put the lights in individual plastic bags and label them according to where they are used, Prominski says.

Zip-top baggies are terrific for storing and separating different types of decorations, Monte says, especially gallon-size bags. When you place the bags in storage bins, she says, put delicate or light items at the top and sturdier and heavier pieces below, separated by bubble wrap or other protection.

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Pack it away

There is no shortage of options for storage bins, and deciding which ones to use to store your holiday gear can quickly lead to mental overload. To beat the stress, Monte suggests thinking utilitarian.

“Don’t worry about going for pretty [containers]” she says. “Go for things that are uniform.” 

Monte also suggests using bins with straight edges to maximize the available space inside.

Prominski says to store decorations in clear plastic boxes so you can see what’s in them. But those boxes should be stored away from windows, where sunlight can cause items to become discolored. 

Lee prefers to use plastic bins that are different colors, with each color corresponding to a different category. “I’m a big fan of color-coding,” she says. 

No matter what type of bins you use, be sure to label them with an inventory of their contents, Lee says. This might mean writing on the outside of a box, or typing up a list of the contents and taping it to the side. You can even create and print QR codes using services such as Sortly, Lee says.

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Prominski suggests taking photos of your decor while it’s in use, and including that photo for reference inside the bin. One of her clients, she says, “took a photo of a certain display that she did, and then she put everything that was in that location in a clear box and labeled it.”

Taking down your holiday decor, repairing it, organizing it, caring for it — all of this takes time. But the benefits are worth the investment.

“You don’t want to start the holiday season with frustration or sadness” over broken or ruined decorations, Monte says. “Giving a little bit of thought on the front end of the post-holiday season makes it that much better when you have to get back into it all” next winter.