Digging out from avalanches of Christmas past

By Jura Koncius
The Washington Post
Updated 12/15/2017 6:27 AM

If you're feeling like the space in your basement, closet or garage you devote to holiday storage is getting out of control, this may be the year to tame the Christmas creep. It's hard not to add something new each year to your decoration stash. But it's hard to make time to actually edit.

There are plenty of ways to reduce your holiday clutter and still be festive.


• Donate it: Thrift shops that raise funds for charity are usually happy to have your donations of gently used Snoopy tree skirts or elves on shelves, but it doesn't hurt to call first. There's a spike in donations of holiday merchandise in December, as Americans unpack holiday treasures to deck their halls. But charities report that in recent years, holiday donations have been brisk throughout the entire year. What with baby boomers downsizing and inspiration from HGTV organizing shows and Marie Kondo's tidying tips, more Americans are putting their homes on diets.

The easiest way to lighten up is to bag up gently used decorations and drive them to a place that can sell or use them. On a recent November morning at a local Goodwill store and donation center, the Christmas department was well stocked with Santa votive holders, strings of blinking lights and pine cone wreaths. Store executives say drive-through donations accepted outside the store are priced and put out within 48 hours.

"We used to hold seasonal merchandise in a warehouse until the end of the year, but not anymore," says Brendan Hurley, chief marketing officer for Goodwill of Greater Washington. He says stores in his region usually keep a shelf for Christmas goods throughout the year.

• Sell it: Think your Rudolph mugs are worth cash? There's a resale market for only a fraction of previously owned holiday merchandise. Lisa Siegrist, consignment manager at local consignment shop Evolution Home, says this time of year, her shop is deluged with holiday items.

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"Last year, not many sold," she says, "and the consignors had to take most of them back. Interestingly, people still buy vintage glass ornaments, even if their metallic paint is chipping off. They might sell for $4 to $6." Top sellers include nostalgic wooden sleds or Spode's Christmas Tree china, especially the original sets that were made in England, she said.

• Swap it: Holiday swaps are another way to cycle holiday decorations out of your attic. Check to see whether your local library or community center hosts a holiday decoration exchange -- but vow not to leave with more ornaments than you came with. A local services-bartering community sponsored an all-holiday swap in October, where about 25 people dropped off things and about 30 came to shop, says Kathy Jentz, a volunteer who organized the swap.

"I sorted through my holiday stuff and gave away some aqua and pale pink 'Miami Vice'-colored 1980s ornaments and an assortment of little teddy bears with gold strings for hanging on a tree," Jentz says. But could she resist taking something? Not exactly. "My neighbor had asked me to look for a menorah." She found three to choose from. And then she spotted an item she could not pass up: a holiday stocking in the shape of the famous leg lamp from "A Christmas Story."

How and when: Professional organizers say that growing piles of seasonal adornments seem to be a problem for many people. Consider examining your seasonal stuff as you dismantle your decorations this year, suggest Ashley Murphy and Molly Graves, founders of the Neat Method, an organizing company with 35 locations nationwide. "When you are decorating, you are usually in a rush trying to find all your lights and ornaments and other items, and you don't have a lot of time to spare," Murphy says. "We think the best time to evaluate your decorations is when you are taking them down."


They recommend making piles of similar items. "A good way to start editing is to put like things together in one spot. You might find out you had no idea how many Santa statues you had," she says.

Murphy says their advice to clients who want to clean up their holiday act is to start fresh with a supply of matching storage bins. They suggest clear plastic bins, though their favorites are see-through green or red latching bins by Sterilite, available at Target.

"Keeping the bins all the same will make your storage space feel less cluttered. They nest well together and fit nicely, towered or stacked," Murphy says. After sorting and culling, put the rest back and stick on large labels. List the contents of the box on the label with a black permanent marker. "Next year when you unpack, you'll be grateful you did," Murphy says.

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