It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas is over. What went up a few weeks ago, must come down.

Ah, circle of life.

Un-decking the halls is admittedly not as fun as the front-end festivities, but it must be done. And doing it right can make holiday life easier when Christmas comes once more. Jessica Elix of Empower! Professional Organizing in San Jose (www.empowerpo.com) says this doesn't have to be a chore.

"Spend the same amount of quality time un-decorating as you did decorating," she says. "Use this time to share your favorite stories of this year's holiday season."

And it'll be worth it, says Gayle Grace of All Things Home Organizing in Oakland (www.allthingshome.com). "The problems come from taking decorations down in a hurry," she says. "Christmas is over, there are other things going on, so you stuff it all back in the box, and that's how everything got into a mess in the first place. Doing it right will save you time later on."

"It's counter intuitive," says Lisa Mark of the Time Butler in Los Altos (www.thetimebutler.com). "But when you feel like you don't have time to get organized, that's the time to do it."


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So let's do it. Set aside some time, put on some good jazz and some nice hot coffee and make an afternoon of it. And with the following tips from some professional organizers, even those of us who always end up pulling out light strands that resemble clods of green spaghetti can become models of efficiency. Or at least better spaghetti wranglers.

1. Consider your containers

You may already have some. You may need more. Some organizers suggest getting bins as the first step -- either specially made bins with separate compartments, plastic containers from home-supply stores or even a collection of cardboard boxes. "Get a lot," Grace says. "You can always take some back, but it's better to have too many than too few."

Other organizers, however, recommend getting containers after you sort your items, so you know how many and what kind you will need.

If you go with boxes, look for ones that have dividers, such as the free boxes you can get from liquor stores, so that ornaments can be separated. Some people prefer plastic bins -- either color-coded red-and-green, or clear so you can see what's inside.

"Look for boxes or bins that you can actually carry, store and safely lift over your head if necessary," Grace says. "Look for boxes with handles and snap latches or flip tops. You don't want the tops falling off as you carry them to the garage."

2. Group stuff into categories

General categories might be outdoor decorations, indoor tree lights, indoor ornaments, non-tree items such as wreaths, table decorations like linens and holiday dishware, says Ruthann Betz Essinger of JustOrganized.com.

3. Then purge

This is a good time to get rid of decorations that are broken, faded or just not your favorites. Really, it's OK to get rid of them.

Un-decking the halls is admittedly not as fun as the front-end festivities, but doing it right can make life easier when Christmas comes once more.
Un-decking the halls is admittedly not as fun as the front-end festivities, but doing it right can make life easier when Christmas comes once more. (Clif Bosler/Fort Worth Star-Telegram 2008/MCT)

"There are a lot of people who have gone way overboard on collecting decorations," Grace says. "Some cannot pass up a Santa or anything red, white or green around the holidays, and then their garages are full of this stuff. I call this 'houses eaten by Christmas.'"

Women especially attach sentimental memories to everything, she says. "An ornament could have come from Costco 10 years ago, but if their baby touched it or drew on it with a crayon, it's a national treasure. But it's really just a thing."

So you have to establish criteria, Mark says. "If it's broken, dented or chipped, get rid of it, or at least separate it from other items and consider giving it away."

4. Pack

Lights: You don't have to invest in high-priced pieces to keep holiday lights organized, Elix said. "Holiday lights can be easily wound around a piece of cardboard. Cut small inserts into opposing ends of a rectangular piece of cardboard, and slowly wind the lights around," she said. "You may need to adjust the depth of your cuts. With a permanent marker, label the lights' location directly onto the cardboard's edge, such as 'outdoor over garage,' or 'indoor tree,' and so on."

Other options are wrapping strands around cardboard mailing tubes, or even coffee cans or plastic clothes hangers. This will save you tons of aggravation when you take the lights out next year.

Ornaments: It's great if you have the original boxes for ornaments. Those will take up more space, but your fragile mementos will be better protected, Mark said. Shoe boxes work, too. Reuse discarded holiday wrapping paper, newspaper, paper towels or the bubblewrap that came with your new DVD player. Line the bottom of the bin with a few layers of crumpled packing paper, then pack very loosely on top of that. Try not to pack a container so full that you have to force the lid on.

5. Label the containers

Sure, there are fancy label makers, but masking tape and a marking pen are just as good. Make at least a general list of contents. And then number the bins in the order that you will bring them out the next holiday season, Essinger says. "For example Box No. 1 could be holiday cards because it is the first thing you do at the beginning of the season before you start decorating," she says. "Box No. 2 might be the tree lights, stand and other accessories.

"I also do children's books," she says. "My kids are older now, so we take them off the shelves during the year and store them with the holiday items. Next to Christmas cards, this is the first box down from the attic."

6. Store, sip and enjoy

Take this all out to the garage or attic, and guess what? You're done! Sip your coffee, satisfied with visions of organized decorations dancing in your head, and look forward to next year. Happy 2013!

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, read her Sunday Give 'Em Hill column, or follow her on Twitter @giveemhill.

More TIPS ON
post-holiday organizing

Holiday recipes: "I keep my favorite holiday recipes in a three-ring binder with page protectors, so I don't have to look for the hole puncher," says Ruthann Betz Essinger of JustOrganized.com. "This makes it easy to pull out the recipe and write down any changes or notes. My neighborhood has an annual cookie exchange, so these get added to the binder, as well as any recipes that I rip out of magazines that did not get tried this year."
Recycle used holiday cards: St Jude's Ranch for Children has a greeting card recycling program in which used cards are made into new ones: www.stjudesranch.org/shop/recycled-card-program/, or mail used cards to: St. Jude's Ranch for Children, Recycled Card Program, 100 St. Jude's St., Boulder City, NV 89005.