- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cecking the halls and trimming the tree can be a joy, but taking down Christmas decorations and storing them for next year can be overwhelming at best. Not to mention that the house can seem bare when stockings are no longer hung by the chimney with care.

A few organizing tips can make storing holiday items a bit easier. Also, special decorating touches can add extra color during the bleak winter months.

Always take a picture of the Christmas tree and decorations before taking them down for the season, says Pierrette Ashcroft, owner of GetOrganizedDC in Northwest. Homeowners even might consider taking a picture of outdoor decorations as a guide for next year.

The photographs will come in handy the following year when the boxes are unpacked. So will notes of what worked well while entertaining, Ms. Ashcroft says.

When this year’s holiday successes have been documented, it’s a good time to clean house, she says.

“Take an overview of what you have,” Ms. Ashcroft says. “Anything that is damaged or broken, either fix it or toss it out.”

The end of the holiday season also is a good time to go shopping for next year’s frills, she says. Discounts usually can be found in many stores. If ornaments can be found on sale, it’s the perfect opportunity to change the theme of a Christmas tree.

As far as storage, stores such as Target and Wal-Mart sell plastic containers that are good for keeping fragile and glass items safe, Ms. Ashcroft says. Ones can be found that have compartments and layers. The Container Store usually offers more upscale options. However, a simple egg carton can be used to store tree ornaments, she says.

“Make sure you buy containers for what you have to store,” Ms. Ashcroft says. “People tend to buy containers instead of figuring out what they need to store in the containers. Then the stuff doesn’t fit. They don’t have enough, or they bought too many.”

Try to find containers that stack because they will take up less space, she says. This will be helpful when trying to cram holiday decorations in the attic or a closet.

The “cheap and cheerful” method will get the job done as long as the items are well-protected, says C. Lee Cawley, owner of Simplify You in Arlington. She encourages her clients to invest money in things that they use every day rather than storage for decorations that are used once a year.

Storage should be done in a systematic way, she says. When placing ornaments in boxes, people might consider marking them with the date of purchase. If they were a gift from someone, the name of the giver can be included.

“Once you start taking things down, the biggest trick that will make your life easiest is to go in reverse order,” Ms. Cawley says. “The last thing on your tree is the first thing in your box. Then, next year, the things on the top of the box will go on the tree first.”

Ideally, a large cardboard box can hold multiple layers of plastic boxes or egg cartons, she says. Flat or crocheted ornaments can be layered between the plastic boxes in paper towels. Precious family ornaments that are dispersed evenly on the tree should go in last.

Garlands, tinsel and lights can be stored on top of the ornaments. Right before closing the cardboard box, place the picture of the decorated tree, Ms. Cawley says.

A separate box also can be made for garlands, tinsel and lights. Lights can be wrapped around a store-bought plastic holder, or one can be made from study cardboard, such as a shirt or cereal box. It is helpful to make a notch for the plug so the lights can be tested next year before they are unwrapped. An envelope with extra bulbs should be kept in the box.

Marking a special box for mantle displays also is helpful, she says. Soft-sided bags are good for storing wreaths. They might take up less space than square boxes.

“Separate boxes allow you to do one room per box,” Ms. Cawley says. “You might decide you only want to do the tree one year, instead of every room of the house. Try to get that in its own box. The boxes should be well-labeled.”

Although it may take longer to organize the goods, it is worth it in the long run. No one is pressed for time to take down Christmas decorations, she says.

“People take their stuff down maybe by Epiphany, maybe by Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Cawley says. “Just make it easier for yourself next year.”

After the boxes are shut tightly, they should be placed in the most remote storage areas, she says. Consider where the boxes are placed, in case of a flood. Many of the items could be unglued or ruined by water.

“People shouldn’t use the accessible garage for storing Christmas ornaments,” Ms. Cawley says. “Put them in the crawl spaces. Put the skiing equipment in the garage.”

Once holiday decorations are hidden in storage, bringing nature indoors is one way to add life to a home in January and February, says Michael Roberson, owner of Michael Roberson Interior Design in Arlington.

Amaryllis and paper-white flowering bulbs can be bought in the fall, planted in pots and forced to open indoors, she says.

A tall vase can be filled with tree branches or cut flowers. New house plants are another option.

“It’s a lovely way to bring spring indoors,” Ms. Roberson says. “When you take down the Christmas decorations, you are missing the greens, the trees and the wreaths.”

A wreath can be put on the front door, as long as it doesn’t look like Christmas, she says. Or the branches from a Christmas tree can be placed in a window box outside. When it’s cold, the needles hold for a long time.

Bowls full of apples, oranges, pebbles and pool balls might add color to a coffee table, she says.

Bright pillows and silk flowers always make a room more cheerful, says Erin Glysson, owner of Erin Glysson Interiors in Woodbridge, Va.

“Some people will leave up little white lights to bring some cheer,” Mrs. Glysson says. “It’s important to use good lighting; where bad lighting really shows up is in the winter.”

White and ivory candles add a special glow to a house during the winter months, says Sandy Hutcheson, a designer at Lustig Interiors Inc. in Vienna. Also, it’s never too soon to start thinking about spring. By March, pussy willows can lighten a home.

“A lot of decorating is common sense,” Mrs. Hutcheson says. “If it’s a Santa Claus, it can’t be used after Christmas. If it’s a big pot of beautiful green holly, you can still keep that up.”

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