When the holiday season comes to a close, one dreaded chore still looms: putting away all that festive decor. Kate Pawlowski and Ann Lightfoot, professional organizers and the authors of “Love Your Home Again,” know that packing up and organizing the decorations at the end of the holiday season can be a real drag.
“The best tip we have is to be mindful and intentional to your future self when you pack up your decor at the end of the season,” they say. “You think you’ll remember where you put the velvet pumpkins and holiday wreaths, but we guarantee that a year from now, you’re going to be searching through your storage area with frustration and angst if you didn’t store things properly.”
To help you face the task of putting away all those holiday decorations and other seasonal pieces, we asked storage and organization experts for their best tips on safely packing, storing and labeling everything from holiday lights to family heirlooms.
“Properly storing ornaments is essential,” Ryane Montanez, a senior director of marketing and creative at mDesign, says, “so that you can avoid them getting damaged, rusting or fading in color.” She recommends this lidded storage box with dividers that keep ornaments neatly separated and a reinforced exterior that protects ornaments from breaking.
“If you are going to purchase bins,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say, “we suggest clear waterproof bins with locking lids to ensure your treasured items stay safe year after year.”
“However, if you already have colored bins a great system for identification is colored masking tape,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say. “Use orange for Halloween, red for Christmas or blue for Hanukkah so that you can easily pull a specific season of decor from the rest.”
Montanez says, “An easy way to keep your holiday decor organized is to use matching storage containers for individual holidays.” mDesign’s buffalo plaid holiday set also includes coordinating tree bags and wreath holders.
“The clear container makes it easy to see what holiday decor is inside,” Montanez says, “and these bins can be stacked, which saves space in a closet or attic.”
“To make things easier on yourself, bins made specifically for ornaments can be helpful,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say. They like these clear plastic bins because the hinged lids are stackable and they allow for easy removal.
Bins that are designed to hold ornaments come in all shapes and sizes, like this cube that can hold up to 64 ornaments in individual compartments.
The experts we spoke to emphasized looking for storage pieces that are sturdy, and that offer protection for highly breakable items like ornaments.
To avoid what Lightfoot and Pawlowski call “a tangled impossible mass shoved into a box” when storing strands of holiday lights, invest in a light spool and carrier. “You can easily roll up entire strands of lights or extension wires,” they say, “which can then be unrolled without a bit of frustration.”
For a stackable light storage solution, this lidded box that is fitted with three spools for winding strands of holiday lights is a great choice.
“The most efficient way to store holiday lights,” Montanez says, “is to wrap tissue or cardboard around them so they don’t break or get damaged.” Wrapped sets of lights can be stored in bins with other holiday decorations.
Inexpensive spools designed for holiday light storage are a great way to get organized on a budget. This light holder is as simple as it gets — simply wind the strand of lights around it and store it with the rest of your holiday gear.
Storage for artificial trees, garland and wreaths
This extra large storage bag can hold an artificial tree, rolls of wrapping paper, lengths of garland and loads of other large, bulky or oddly shaped holiday items. It has handles to make it easy to transport from room to storage space.
If you’re looking to complete a matching set of holiday storage, mDesign offers wreath storage bags, which can also be used to hold coiled garland, in buffalo plaid that coordinates with the tree bag and ornament organizer boxes.
Wreaths that are especially fragile — including ones with glass ornaments that can easily sustain damage — will be safe in this heavy-duty latching plastic wreath storage container.
How to store delicate items and family heirlooms
The experts we spoke to all emphasized the importance of labeling holiday storage boxes so you can easily determine what’s inside. This is especially important when it comes to storing delicate or irreplaceable items, because the label will remind you to take extra care when taking a family heirloom out of its storage place.
Before putting delicate or very precious items like family heirlooms into storage bins, Montanez says that it’s important to use protective packing materials. “Bubble wrap, foam sheets, peanuts, stretch wrap or packing paper,” she says, “can help keep precious items and family heirlooms safe when not in use.”
Who said packing materials have to be boring?! These plant-based biodegradable packing peanuts in the shape of Christmas trees bring some whimsy and fun to the task of putting away holiday decorations.
“Our best advice for any delicate items,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say, “whether it’s the family menorah or your grandmother’s crystal candy dish, is to use plenty of packing materials.” They prefer bubble wrap with the smaller bubbles because it fits better into nooks and crannies and gives a more secure fit. “Don’t skimp on the empty areas in a box or bin either,” they add. “Make sure that the item itself is wrapped securely and then use more bubble wrap or packing paper to ensure that delicate items won’t move around.”
When it comes to storing menorahs or kinaras, first wrap the piece in protective packing materials. “It is important to store menorahs and kinaras in soft paper first and then inside a closable bag to protect the pieces from tarnishing,” Montanez says. “Once inside the bag, menorahs and kinaras should then be placed in a plastic bin for extra protection.”
Honeycomb packing paper can be used to wrap delicate items, including glass or porcelain holiday pieces, before they go into storage bins to add a sturdy layer of protection.
Fine or delicate textiles like holiday table linens or handmade decorations should be wrapped in acid-free archival tissue prior to going into storage bins, to help protect them from yellowing and to deter pests.
When it comes to storing large outdoor holiday decorations like inflatables or animatronics, Lightfoot and Pawlowski say, “We would recommend making sure they are wiped down if you are bringing them in from the outside, deflating any inflatable decorations and storing them in either large bins or wrapping them in clear contractor bags to keep them clean until next year.”
When it comes to storing large outdoor holiday decorations, Bancroft says, “Things can potentially get tricky, purely for the fact that these are often light but large! We would recommend utilizing an overhead storage system to get these bulky items out of the way and in a spot that is sturdy and secure.”
Many bags designed for storing artificial trees can also pull double duty as protective storage options for inflatables.
Tips and tricks for storing holiday decor
The experts we spoke to also offered some general tips and tricks, as well as things to avoid, when it comes to dismantling, packing and storing holiday decorations.
- Have a central storage area: “A mistake people often make is storing everything in separate places in their home rather than in one space,” Bancroft says. “Having dedicated areas in your garage that are specific for holiday gear will make it easier to find your favorite ornaments, lights and other decorations.”
- Create zones: “We often see people store holiday decor items by type,” Montanez says, “but not by room.” She suggests sorting holiday items in zones. “With zones,” she says, “you can organize like items together — like lights with decorations and baking materials with dishes, and so on.”
- Think vertically: “People often think about floor or wall storage,” Bancroft says, “but don’t realize how much vertical space they have, which can be maximized by adding overhead storage in their garage.”
- Don’t forget labels: “People also tend to forget to label their bins and rely on one type or size of storage bin, making it more difficult to figure out what’s in each box,” Montanez says.
- Level up your label system: “We recommend detailed labeling with a number system,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say. “For example, instead of just ‘Fall,’ take the time to write ‘Fall Velvet Pumpkins 1/10’ so you not only know what exactly is in the bin but how many more bins you have to pull out of storage.”
- Create new traditions: “If possible,” Lightfoot and Pawlowski say, “try to make the putting away of decorations as much of a tradition as pulling them out. It’s not as exciting, of course, because the holidays are over and you’ve been looking at Elf on the Shelf for what seems like years, but taking the time to carefully pack and label everything for next year will only make every holiday easier and more joyful in the future.”