How to Organize Holiday Decorations

Ornaments in a box.
Organized ornaments are less likely to get damaged. See more Christmas pictures.
©2009 Jupiterimages Corporation

Even when the holidays are over and all the leftovers have been eaten, the task of putting away all the holiday decorations may still loom over your head. Perhaps your annual tradition is to throw your lights, ornaments and garlands into boxes or plastic bins with little or no organization. However, this can lead to a few other annual traditions that take place in late November -- nights spent untangling holiday lights and gluing broken ornaments back together.

But there are ways to avoid these tedious rituals. This year, you can resolve to get your holiday decorations organized. Putting in a little extra time and effort now can mean less wasted time several months from now, when you are ready to get all of your decorations out again. Think of how pleasant it could be to pull your untangled, unbroken decorations out of their boxes and place them around your home, with a cup of tea in one hand and music playing in the background. Getting organized now can potentially increase your enjoyment of many holiday seasons to come.


However, keep in mind that there is a difference between "getting organized" and "being organized." The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) emphasizes that organization is an ongoing effort and involves changing old habits into new ones [source: NAPO]. However, "getting organized" is the first step in this process, and that is what you will learn more about as you read this article. First up: taking an inventory.



Taking Inventory of Holiday Decorations

Before you start organizing, you need to figure out what exactly you have. If you've been accumulating decorations over a number of years, the first thing to do is pull out your storage bins or boxes and look inside. Are there any decorations still in there? Many people hold on to some broken or unused decorations, for no reason other than that it seems wrong to throw them away. But in doing so, you may be losing several inches of storage space in each container. So, take a few minutes and a plastic garbage bag, and decide whether those unused decorations should go in the trash, be recycled or be given away to someone who might actually use them.

The next step can be to gather up all your holiday decorations, and place them in one area or room of your home. Try bringing your boxes or storage bins there, too. If you have a tree full of ornaments and lights, you might just gather everything near the tree and go from there. Decide whether you are going to store your indoor and outdoor decorations separately. Many people choose to store their outdoor decorations in the garage while their indoor decorations go into the basement or attic.


Once you've collected your decorations into one place and your bins or boxes are within sight, you may have a better idea of how many containers you need and whether the containers you have are adequate. Sometimes things that are packed away properly might take up a little more space -- for example, your fragile decorations may be better protected if packed inside newspaper or small individual boxes rather than crushed dangerously into a corner of the bin. So if you need an extra container, now is a great time to get one.

Now, you should be ready to move on to the next step. Read on to learn techniques for sorting your decorations.


Sorting Holiday Decorations

Now that you've purged your storage containers of any damaged ornaments, you can deal with the decorations you really use. To start, try determining what categories you want to divide your decorations into. You might choose categories such as lights, ornaments, and decorations for tables. Or, you might want to separate the decorations by room. Then start sorting. Make piles of decorations that go with each category, and create new categories as needed. You can use index cards to label your piles with the appropriate category name [source: ABC, Just Organized, LLC].

Once you have that done, it's probably a good idea to distribute your containers near the piles. Choose the appropriate number of containers for each pile. If some categories have only a few things, you may decide to combine them into one container. Now, peel off (or cross out) any old labels you have on the containers. This is very important. Make new labels to match your new categories, and place them on the containers. A label maker works great for this, of course, but masking tape and a permanent marker do the trick, too.


Another idea you may want to consider is numbering your containers. Think about the way you generally decorate your home each year. If you always set up the tree first, followed by the knick-knacks, followed by the dining room table, label these bins 1, 2 and 3. This will be helpful if someone else in your family has the job of digging the bins out of their storage spot and carrying them where they're needed. If the first bin you need is tree lights, you could label this "#1 Tree Lights" [source: Just Organized, LLC].

At this point, you are ready to pack. For storage tips as you begin the last step in this process, read on.


Storing Holiday Decorations

When it comes time to put your decorations into containers, generally it's a good idea to pack heavy things near the bottom of each container and light things on top of them. Try not to pack a container so full that you have to force the lid on. That's probably not good for your decorations, and it doesn't leave room for anything new.

Here are some specific storage suggestions for some different types of decorations:


  • Lights: These are the hardest to pack because they can become tangled easily. One idea is to wind your lights around a piece of thick cardboard. A plastic version of this idea is available at some stores, with notches for the strands. Another method of storing lights is to gather each strand up individually and place it in a plastic grocery bag. You can get very creative with this: Some people wind their lights around empty coffee cans before storage [sources: ABC, Good Housekeeping].
  • Tree ornaments: Wrap them carefully in newspaper, tissue paper or some other protective covering. You might reuse wrapping paper from gifts for this purpose. You can also buy special storage containers with small cells inside designed to hold your tree ornaments or use empty liquor boxes (most liquor stores give these away) that contain cardboard dividers in which you can separate them. Using the boxes these ornaments originally came in may also provide extra protection [sources: Good Housekeeping].
  • Other delicate items, such as holiday dishware: Try wrapping these in paper as you did with the tree ornaments. You can then place the really delicate pieces into small, plastic boxes to prevent them from getting crushed in storage [source: ABC].

For more information to help you organize your life, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Good Housekeeping. "Christmas Decoration Storage Ideas." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Holiday LEDs. " Christmas Light Recycling Program." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Just Organized, LLC. "Putting Away Christmas: How to organize your holiday decorations." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Keep Your Ducks in a Row. "At Home." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • National Association of Professional Organizers. "Get Organized." (Accessed 1/17/10)
  • Sandoval, Stephanie. "7 Tips to Organize Holiday Décor in the New Year." January 4, 2009. (Accessed 1/29/2009)
  • St. Jude's Ranch for Children. "Recycled Card Program." (Accessed 1/17/10)