Storing Christmas decorations

If you celebrated Christmas this year, you’re likely ready to take down your decorations (if you haven’t already). The following are suggestions for how you can do that chore and be organized in the process.

Trees

Artificial trees must be broken down and stored, and there are numerous storage solutions available to you. In our house, we use tree bags by Vickerman. They easily hold a tree and its stand. The handles on the bag are nice and wide, so you can get a good hold of it while crawling into the eaves of the house (where we store ours). The bag’s material is sturdy, too, and after years of use there’s not a tear or a puncture to be had. Plus, they fold up to be quite small when the trees are out and on display.

If you have a real tree that is ready to go, you have a few options. Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s will often take your trees, as will local Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups. Alternatively, call your local municipality, as many governments have erosion programs that utilize old Christmas trees.

Lights

It’s tempting to toss these into a bag and figure you’ll deal with the mess in 11 months. Again, there are several options here, but my favorite is the good old coat hanger. Just wrap them on, hook them into place and hang as you would an article of clothing.

Extension cords

This is one of my favorite tricks for storing outdoor extension cords, so often used for outdoor lights. Don’t wrap it around your arm or wad it into a ball. Instead, braid it. By putting the two ends together, making a loop, pulling the length through to make another loop, repeating until you have a perfect braid that can be hung in the garage or basement. The best part is that the next time you use it, you only need to “unbraid” the length that you need.

Ornaments

Some of our ornaments have a strong sentimental value and deserve a little extra protection. An archival storage box does the trick. For the rest, we use significantly less expensive containers that are sturdy and easy to store. What I like here is that the wing-top folds completely out of the way, making it easy to get items and hands in and out.

Wreath

For storing wreaths, we use a wreath-shaped storage containers with a handle. My wife made a pair of artificial wreaths a few years ago that fit nicely in these containers, which keep them protected throughout the year. I will admit that after a few years of use, the latches aren’t as trust-worthy as they’ve been, so I’ve supplemented with a little bungie cord. Other that that, they’re fine and easy to transport.

What are your strategies? Let us know in the comments.

Holly jolly clutter

While it’s such a fantastic privilege to be able to share gifts with friends and family this time of year, this privilege often comes with the side-effect of discovering clutter in your home. I’ve found several options for dealing with holiday clutter, some of which come from Unclutterer readers, and I’d like to share them with you.

Way back in 2007, we suggested you use the “one for one” rule. That is to say, if you receive a coffee maker, get rid of the old one. Love that new pair of jeans? Eliminate an existing tattered pair. For many items this rule is a good one to follow, but it’s not always practical. For instance, you can’t swap out consumables, like one-of-a-kind homemade items or cards.

Speaking of cards, readers Jan and Kate have shared some awesome suggestions for processing greeting cards. Jan cuts the front of cards off and reuses the colorful cover as a post card. Kate massacres (her word) the cards to use their images as gift tags. Those are both good ideas.

While you’re at it, this is also a good time to do a general purge of the items and decorations you typically only see once a year. If something is worn beyond repair or no longer working correctly, get rid of it. Decorations that are faded or looking a little long in the tooth should go, too. Resist the urge to just pack them away and get them out of sight until next year. And, if you have ornaments or decorations that need to be repaired, do that work now so you can enjoy the items this season.

If there are any items you didn’t unpack this year and left in the holiday decorations box, it might be a sign that it’s time to get rid of those things. Items you simply don’t like any longer can always be donated to charities and organizations that decorate for the holidays. You’ll enjoy freeing up some space and the eventual recipients will have the benefit of your generosity.

Gift giving is a tricky business and you may receive some items you appreciate but aren’t interested in keeping. If you’re thinking of re-gifting the item, check out Clementine Daily’s interview “Regifting: Yay or Nay?” with a modern manners and etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. She provides tips for doing this in such a way as to be considerate to everyone involved.

I’m sure several of you also have inventive and effective ways to manage holiday clutter. So, share your favorites with everyone in the comments below. How do you deal with the holly jolly clutter?

Happy Thanksgiving from Unclutterer

Unclutterer is taking the day off to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones. We hope you’re having a great, restful day, too. In the meantime, here are some posts from Thanksgivings past to review at your leisure.

Have a great day and we’ll be back in full swing next week.

Have a great day, folks! We’ll see you next week.

Introducing the 2014 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide

Starting Monday and going through the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we will be running our annual Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide. Each post will focus on uncluttered, useful, and/or organized gifts that you might want to consider giving to others this season.

The holidays are a time when we can easily feel overwhelmed with responsibilities, as well as by stuff. With our Guide, we hope to inspire you to think outside the traditional gift-giving process or to be more aware of how you proceed within its regular bounds.

The next seven weeks, however, aren’t only about gifts. You’ll likely be invited to parties and have special work or school obligations. You may be the host of this year’s Thanksgiving gathering. And you may find yourself packing up a suitcase or two or three and heading across the country to see far-flung friends and family.

So, how do you keep yourself from going mad?

  • Make a plan now. Create a to-do-list of everything that needs to be accomplished. Then, set specific deadlines for shopping and preparations or whatever it is you have to do in the next seven weeks. Mark these on your calendar with blocks of time to work on meeting your deadlines. If playing host for a holiday meal, consult a guide that lists day-by-day and hour-by-hour suggestions for getting food on the table.
  • Take a break. You don’t have to constantly be on the go until the New Year. When scheduling all the things you need to do on your calendar, be sure to include time for reflection and rejuvenation. You’re likely to go bonkers, otherwise. Also try not to be afraid of saying “no” if you feel that your schedule is becoming too much to reasonably handle.
  • Keep it simple. Whether it’s with your decorations, your gift giving, or any other task that could complicate this time, try your best to keep things simple. You don’t have to put out every snow man you own. You don’t have to serve every dish your grandmother did at Thanksgiving. You don’t have to give New Year’s guests four choices of champagne. Have a signature cocktail and make a pitcher of it instead of standing behind a bar all night making custom orders. Santa Claus can bring the kids a single, larger gift instead of 40 little ones. Don’t be overly complicated about things unless you have to.

Stay focused on enjoying time with family and friends and you should be fine this holiday season.

If you’re eager to get started planning your gift giving this season, feel welcome to check out our past Guides for ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Have an uncluttering party

One of the fun things I’ve done a few times with friends is to have a clothing swap party. During the party, people exchange articles of clothing that are still in good condition but that they no longer use. It gives participants a chance to unclutter their closets, socialize with friends, and pick up a few items that they really will use and enjoy. Although donating can be accomplished through charity drop-offs and services like Freecycle, the Swap Party is a good excuse to get together with friends.

It is fairly straightforward to organize a Swap Party. Send an invitation to your friends indicating the date, time, and location of the party (send it electronically and you won’t even have to worry about the clutter of invitations). You should also lay out the Swap Party rules in the invitation. Here are the rules that I used for my last clothing swap party:

  1. Bring unwanted women’s clothing; clean and in good condition.
  2. Feel free to bring shoes, purses, scarves, jewelry and other accessories.
  3. No arguing over the clothes — remember we are friends!
  4. You may take home as many or as few clothes as you like.
  5. Don’t feel bad if nothing fits you and you don’t get to take home anything. There will always be a next time.
  6. Don’t feel bad if no one takes the clothes you brought. There will always be a next time.
  7. You may return home with the clothes you brought or you can leave them with the hostess to take to a local charity.

Before the party, ensure you have an area that can be used as a changing room. Make sure it has good lighting and good curtains. Ideally, you should set up a full-length mirror in the room. When the party is over, arrange to deliver the leftover clothing to charity.

While women’s clothing swap parties seem to be the most common, there are other types of swap parties you can organize with your friends and neighbours.

Holiday decorations: You can limit this to one specific holiday such as a Christmas Ornament exchange or include all sorts of holidays.

Baby/toddler items: Swap parties of baby and toddler clothes, furniture, and accessories are popular with the parent-tot crowd.

Toiletries: The hairspray you don’t use since you got your hair cut, the hand cream that Aunt Bertha got you for your birthday, and those other personal care products cluttering your cupboards might be of value to your friends.

Pet products: Your pet-loving friends may enjoy a get-together to swap pet clothing, unused pet shampoo, and toys. It could be a chance for the pets to socialize too!

Cleaning products: There is no point storing a can of oven cleaner if you have a self-cleaning oven or carpet shampoo if you have hardwood floors. Prior to spring-cleaning, consider gathering for a neighbourhood cleaning product exchange.

Sports: Sport specific clothing and equipment, especially children’s sizes, as well as specialized cleaning products and accessories, can be swapped within your sports team or club. You could also invite the teams in your league to participate for some pre-season socializing.

Office supplies: Fellow entrepreneurs can get together and trade supplies to get what they need: pens, markers, report covers, binders, even computers.

Hardware: If you have friends who are into building, have a hardware swap. Eliminate the nails, screws, hardware, lumber, and paint cluttering your garage or garden shed. You may get the items you need for that fix-it project.

Hobbies: Whether your hobby is rebuilding cars or scrapbooking, find a group of fellow enthusiasts and “swap ’till ya drop”!

Remember, it should be good stuff, good friends, and good fun at your party. With the extra items going to charity, it is also good for the community and the environment.

Uncluttering during the holiday season

Holiday parties, festivities, and gift giving can generate clutter. One of the ways to reduce the clutter build-up is to have effective clean up and disposal systems in place before the big holiday rush begins.

Parties and Festivities

At banquets in hotels and restaurants, they often have tables in the corners of the room on which guests can place their used dishes and cocktail napkins. Set up a similar system at your home party. You may choose to clear a section of kitchen counter near the sink or place a festive tray in each room. As a host, you can see when the trays are filling up and remove the dirty dishes quickly and easily.

Having a small garbage bin near the dirty dish collection point will allow your guests to drop in their soiled napkins. You may wish to have a separate bin for soda cans/bottles for recycling. Most guests are happy to put trash in its place if bins are accessible and clearly labeled.

If you decide you do not want to keep party decorations and holiday flowers, they could be donated to local hospitals and nursing homes if they are still in good condition. Please call ahead and see if they would appreciate your donations prior to dropping them off.

All of these tips could work for parties at any time during the year, too.

General Clutter-Busting Tips

This is the biggest shopping season of the year so more stuff than ever enters the house. Keeping donation boxes or bags in the closet or laundry room is a good idea to help you quickly get rid of any old stuff (like clothes) that will be replaced with new stuff. Once the donation bin is full, take it to your favourite drop-off location or arrange for pick-up from an appropriate charity.

Designate a place in the home for out-dated electronics. It could be a box or bin in your laundry area or office. If they are still functioning, you may be able to sell or donate them. Broken and non-functioning electronics can be sent to electronics recycling programs. Check your municipality’s website to see how electronics should be disposed.

Batteries are required for almost all electronics and many toys. But, many batteries contain materials that can leak into the environment when they are dumped into the trash. In order to protect the environment and keep dead batteries from cluttering up your home, consider creating “Dead Battery Bins.” Ideally there should be three small bins; one for alkaline batteries, one for button batteries, and one for rechargeable batteries. Used batteries may still have a bit of life left in them. Grouping used batteries together can bring these live batteries into contact with one another creating safety risks, so it is important not to accumulate a large amount of alkaline batteries. Small “dead battery bins” such as clean yogurt or margarine containers should minimize the risk and allow you to safely dispose of the batteries before you collect too many. Ensure the containers have tightly fitting lids and keep them out of reach of children and pets.

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season sometimes the simplest things get forgotten, such as the day the waste bins need to be at the curb. Often municipalities will reschedule waste pickups so that they do not fall on statutory holidays. Check with your municipality to confirm the trash and recycling pickup dates and mark them on your calendar. If you need to have your bins out early in the morning, set a reminder for the day before.

Uncluttered Valentine’s Day gift ideas

We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in two days. Haven’t bought your loved ones anything yet? Don’t panic. OK, maybe a little panic. You’ve got 48 hours! The following are some nice gift ideas that will express your feelings and keep you out of the dog house, all without creating a pile of clutter that must be dealt with at some point:

  1. Create an unexpected playlist. Many Gen-X’ers out there remember the labor-intensive, excruciating process of creating a mix tape for a loved one. The careful selection of exactly the right songs, placed in precisely the proper order to create a crescendo of meaning and feeling. Only the right mix of sentiment, fun, humor, and truth would do. And it all had to fit perfectly on a 60-minute cassette. The harder you worked, the more your recipient meant to you.

    Today, the process is less labor intensive (raise your hand if you remember holding a tape recorder up to the radio to capture a song), but just as meaningful. If your loved one has an Mp3 player like an iPod, sneak into his or her iTunes account and create a playlist of songs that speak to your relationship. Give it a fun name and sync the results to her device. Her commute to work, etc. just got that much more pleasant.

  2. Get the car detailed. My wife did this for me last year and I was elated. I keep my car tidy but I can’t get it anywhere near as nice-looking as a well-equipped professional can. Some detailers will even travel to you for on-site cleaning. While the kids did eventually track sand and Goldfish crackers into the car again, it was a nice few weeks before they did and extremely appreciated.
  3. Gather favorite photos. I admit that I still like looking at paper photos more than their digital counterparts. Holding a picture in my hand is nicer than sitting in front of a screen or even holding a tablet or a smartphone. That might be a function of my age, but I suspect some of you feel that, too. It’s also nice to browse a well-ordered album, and there are several companies that produce great-looking photo books. Shutterfly does a great job, as does Apple, if you use its iPhoto software. I’ve ordered several photo books from Apple and they look great.
  4. Get a landscaping consultation. I love “fiddling in the yard” as I call it but I’ll admit that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Last summer, I spent about an hour talking with some folks at a local nursery and learned so much. Most landscaping companies offer free consultations, so consider that if your better half enjoys gardening or landscaping. Also, check with local colleges, universities, or adult education organizations for classes in landscaping or really anything that will encourage an interest or hobby.
  5. Re-live a first date. In 1986, I took my very first date to see Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I’m not eager to see that movie again, but I suspect it’d bring back some pleasant memories if I did. It’d be great fun to take your significant other back to the restaurant, theatre, hot dog stand (etc.) that marked the beginning of your relationship.
  6. Digitize home movies. This one will take some planning, but it’ll be worth it. Many people have boxes of 8mm movies sitting around or old VHS tapes. The simplest method of digitizing them is to set up the projector (many rental stores will have one if you don’t) and a digital camera. Roll the film, record with your digital camera and then import it into your computer.

    When recording, keep these tips in mind. Make sure the room is as dark as possible. Position your digital camera on a tripod and keep it as close to the reel-to-reel projector as possible, so that the angle is nearly identical. Zoom into the projected image as closely as possible. Finally, manually set the camera’s focus, as the auto focus could have trouble in this scenario.

Happy (early) Valentine’s Day!

Keep your holidays festive and safe

Over the last few weeks, we’ve shared holiday gift ideas (even last-minute ones) and now that there is just one more day until Christmas, today’s tips are geared toward safety. Whether you’re uncluttering or planning a holiday event, it’s important to unclutter potential hazards.

Unclutter decorations that are harmful to pets

Your pets will probably get included in the holiday fun, but there are some things that can be dangerous for them. In a recent interview, local D.C. veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson mentioned that decorations like tinsel and curling ribbon (both are very attractive to cats), can be very problematic to a cat’s digestive tract. She also mentioned that the water your live Christmas tree sits in, though not toxic, can be upsetting to your pets, so make sure that they aren’t drinking it. For more information on ways you can keep your pet safe, check out the ASPCA’s holiday pet care tips and visit WTOP.com to hear the rest of Dr. Nelson’s safety suggestions.

Keep specific plants out of reach

There are several plants that can be harmful when consumed by pets and humans and one popular holiday plant, the Poinsettia, is on the list. Though you’ll probably only feel ill if you eat it, other plants like Mistletoe, Amaryllis, and Holly are seriously poisonous. If you have them in your home, keep them out of reach of children and your four-legged friends. And, since the needles from Christmas trees can also be choking hazards, try to keep little hands interested in other things. To see the full list of plants that can be harmful, read Poisonous Holiday Plants on About.com Chemistry.

Keep entryways clear

Just as you wouldn’t put your tree in front of a fireplace or near a portable heater (this is a fire risk), you’ll also want to keep your entryways accessible. Keep your decorations from blocking doors and hallways so that you can easily exit in the event of an emergency. This is a good, uncluttered idea for all times of the year, not just the holidays.

Attend to fireplaces, candles, and cooking

If you have a fireplace and intend to use it during your celebrations, remove any decor (like stockings) from around it before you light a fire. If you use candles, do not put lit candles on your tree and be sure to blow them out after using them. You’ll also want to keep them away from gifts and place them in an area where they cannot be easily knocked over. At the height of the festivities, you may forget that you have food simmering on the stove or in the oven. Consider designating someone to periodically check in on the kitchen if you can’t do it yourself. For other safety tips, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has a guide that you might find helpful.

Though your holiday plans are probably well underway, take a look around and and use today’s uncluttering tips to ensure that you will have fun and be safe this holiday season.

Stop holiday card clutter in its tracks

What do you do with your cards after the holidays have passed? Do you keep them on display for a while or put them away in a box? Do you throw them out? When the holiday season comes to a close, you may find it difficult to part with them. If you’re not quite ready to let them go or not sure what to do with them, they can easily clutter your space. Instead of them taking over the top of your dining table or whatever surface they’ve landed on, consider using them in different ways so that you an extend their usefulness.

Make digital copies

Digitizing your cards may be a nice option especially since you can use your favorites as desktop screen savers. You can scan them and continue to enjoy them long after the season has ended and not have to worry about them cluttering your home or office. And, when you decide that you no longer want them, uncluttering will just be a few, quick clicks away.

A fun idea I’ve seen linked to numerous times on Pinterest is to snap pictures of family photo cards you receive with your smart phone and link the images to your contacts so the appropriate picture appears when you get a call. Ashley Ann Photography has a tutorial on her site for how to do this project yourself (the tutorial begins halfway down the page, so you’ll need to scroll).

Donate your greeting cards

Did you know that you can donate new and used holiday cards? The St. Jude’s Ranch for Children accepts used all-occasion greeting cards year-round. Children who participate in St. Jude’s Kids’ Corp. program use your old cards to create new cards for sale. Also check with your local community and senior centers, schools, and after-school programs to find out if they have a need for writing and craft projects.

Make something new

Used holiday cards can be transformed into holiday postcards. Whether you’re sending your usual holiday greetings or participating in Holiday Mail for Heroes, you can host card-making parties and involve friends and family in the card-making process.

Last week, I mentioned that you can make something fun with orphaned socks. Well, you can do the same with holiday cards, too. Indulge your creative side and make gift tags (Instructables has a tutorial), paper ornaments, placemats, magnets (using photo cards), book marks, or game and puzzle pieces.

Frame your favorites

Why not frame the cards you love? Pick a spot on a table or wall to display your favorite ones. If you have several cards that are meaningful to you, consider using hinged frames (like the Easy Change Artwork Frame) so that you can easily rotate the cards you’d liked to display. Depending on the size of the frame you use, you may also be able to include multiple cards at one time.

No matter how you choose to repurpose the holiday cards you’ve received, remember that you can be creative with ways to get more enjoyment from them. Just be sure that they don’t end up cluttering your home or office. And, don’t forget, you can always trash and/or recycle them.

Pre-paid postage greeting cards save time

It’s the smallest of improvements that often make the biggest difference in my life. For example, Hallmark made mailing cards significantly easier in February with the release of their postage-paid envelopes.

My sister-in-law sent my son a card in one of these envelopes a few weeks ago and when I saw the envelope with that image printed on it, I actually cheered. (I’m weird, I know.) From Hallmark’s corporate website:

Hallmark Postage-Paid Greetings feature the U.S. Postal Service’s Intelligent Mail barcode on the front of the envelope. When the cards are processed at a Postal Service facility, the barcode automatically indicates to the Postal Service the postage is paid. The postage is treated like a Forever stamp, and its value will always be equal to the price of a standard First-Class stamp, regardless of when it’s mailed.

In the article “Birthday cards and reminder systems” from back in 2007, I wrote about how I buy all my cards for the year at a single time to be more efficient. I’ve also been buying enough Forever stamps to cover all the postage for those cards around the same time. These new pre-paid envelopes make it so I don’t have to worry about the second step in the process. Also, it saves time if I need to pick up a last-minute card at the store — I just sign the card and drop it into any mailbox without having to go to the post office (which, since I haven’t yet bought my supply of cards for the year, I’ve actually done twice in the last week). Hallmark saves me from having to run another errand, and I like not having to run errands.

These new envelopes might not be for everyone, especially if you never mail cards, but for someone like me who sends a lot of cards they’re extremely convenient.

What small improvements have made a big difference in your life recently? Share your finds in the comments.

Unclutter stress from your holiday season

With Christmas just a few days away, Hanukkah already in full swing, and New Year’s Eve a little more than a week away, this time of year can be stressful for everyone. A simple trip to the grocery store to buy milk and bread can easily become an hour-long affair as you navigate your way through hordes of turkey buyers. Need a new shirt? The mob at the mall will easily make that trip an anxiety-filled adventure. In addition to all the shoppers, people’s fuses are short and folks are ready for an argument. So much for holiday cheer …

To help keep your stress at bay this time of year, I strongly recommend employing the following three strategies:

  • Keep perspective. If the present doesn’t arrive until after the holidays, the ornaments aren’t hung on the tree, or the gravy never makes it on the table — you will be okay. In fact, you’ll probably have a funny story to tell for years to come about the year you didn’t serve ham because it was frozen solid and Uncle Jerry broke his knife trying to cut it.
  • Adopt a mantra. I’m not really one for mantras (especially after watching Annie Hall: “I forgot my mantra!”), but this time of year I’m willing to give any stress-reduction method a try. I like to repeat, “What is really important?” It helps to keep me focused on what matters instead of what doesn’t. Whatever positive saying works for you, use it. Often.
  • Let it go. You are not a superhero. Perfection is unattainable. Buy a smoked turkey if you’re nervous about cooking the bird. Throw all your clutter into a closet and deal with it after the holidays when you’re more level-headed. Purchase a gift card instead of hunting for the exact gift you think you might discover at the last minute. A happy holiday celebrant is much more enjoyable to be around than someone who is miserable and curt with everyone around him.

Happy holidays from all of us at Unclutterer! We wish you and yours a stress-free and joyful season.

P.S. Check out our 2011 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide for ideas if you still have shopping to do. There are many gifts on these lists you can get online and never have to set foot in a store.

Is a surprise wedding the perfect solution for a procrastinator?

Today’s post falls into the We Don’t Know What To Think category. Is it the perfect solution when one person in a relationship loves to organize and the other person doesn’t? Is this a procrastinator’s dream situation when he is head over heels in love with a non-procrastinator? Is it the worst idea we’ve ever encountered? Would we be incredibly angry if someone had done it to us? Or, would we have been incredibly relieved, the way the “I’ll get to it one day” guy in this video appears to be?

From the website RightThisMinute.com:

Is this the ultimate uncluttered wedding (at least for the unsuspecting groom)? Or, is it strange? Would you have responded as positively to it as the groom did? Would you be the organized one and spring it on your future spouse? We still don’t know what we think about it, so share your responses in the comments. One thing we do know is that the couple appears very happy, and that made us smile.