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Un-deck the halls

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It's always a little sad when we have to take down the holiday decorations.

Maybe that's why we tend to hurl everything into the nearest box and wad up the lights until they're twisted into an impossible knot.

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Still, there are many advantages to "de-decorating" with care.

Orderly décor takes up less space and is a lot easier to put up the next year. And your heirloom ornaments will last much longer if they're packed with a little TLC.

Here are a few tips on clearing Christmas clutter, courtesy of local organizers, an interior designer and the experts at www.marthastewart.com.

Simply ornamental

* For best results, swaddle ornaments, especially vintage ones, in acid-free tissue paper. This type of paper is free of any chemicals or dyes, which could damage your favorite pieces. Or try old, white linen sheets or plain dish towels, which provide the added benefit of padding. Never wrap ornaments in old newspaper, as the ink can rub off and damage them, says Kimbra Amerman, professional organizer and owner of In Your Space Organizing in Kindred, N.D.

* Keep your most valuable ornaments safe by placing them in plastic zippered storage bags, then blowing in a few puffs of air to create a protective nest for breakable baubles, Amerman says.

* Store small Christmas balls and other petite items in egg cartons. You also can keep oddly shaped trinkets in take-out containers lined with bubble wrap or tissue paper.

* Hang onto segmented cardboard boxes - like the cartons used to ship liquor, glasses or fruit - for ornament storage. Save space by stacking several ornaments in one compartment, placing layers of tissue paper between each one.

* You could also create your own custom-made ornament box. Cut a piece of corrugated cardboard or foam-core to fit inside the bottom of a plastic storage bin. Then use a hot-glue gun to attach paper or Styrofoam cups to the cardboard. Wrap ornaments in tissue paper and place in cups. The cardboard-and-cup flats can be stacked atop each other in clear, deep bins.

* Don't have time to design your own storage system? Many manufacturers have created affordable, cleverly designed bins for this purpose. We especially like the soft-sided canvas ones, which provide protective padding for the most fragile of finery.

* Ornaments made with natural materials (such as kids' crafts made with macaroni) should be kept in airtight containers to protect them from pests. Archival storage boxes, like those used for scrapbooking, can save items made from paper or other natural fibers from yellowing.

* Resist buying additional decorations until you've done a thorough inventory and know what you already have. Too often we see something cute and buy on impulse because we forget that we already have Santa and Mrs. Claus salt and pepper shakers or a stuffed snowman for the entryway table.

* Don't be a ho-ho-hoarder. If you haven't used a decoration in two years, get rid of it, Amerman advises. (Consider donating it to a thrift store, where affordable Christmas items can brighten someone else's home.) An exception to the give-away rule: kids' homemade ornaments. You'll want to keep them forever, even if you don't always display them. Just remember to periodically go through them together so you can enjoy them.

Bin there, done that

* Melissa Schmalenberger, a professional organizer who writes a lifestyle blog for The Forum's Area Voices blog site - http://mssimplicity.areavoices.com - recommends that you store holiday items in red, green or clear bins for quick and easy identification.

* Stow away your decorations according to rooms: For instance, "living room decor," "decorations for front staircase," or "foyer décor," says Monica Hart of Monica Hart Interior Design in Fargo. Then you just need to pull out a box and decorate a little at a time. Hart also recommends labeling both the sides and top of each box with its specific contents, so you can identify what's in each container no matter how it's stacked.E Wreaths, trees and inexpensive ornaments are just fine for storage in a garage, basement or attic - as long as they're kept in plastic bins or bags. But some antique ornaments will fade and deteriorate in these parts of the house, which may experience extreme swings in humidity and temperature. Instead, store your valuable and extra-special pieces under the bed or in a climate-controlled closet.

* Plastic bins also can be harmful to vintage ornaments because the resealable lids can trap moisture.

* Love how your décor looked this year? Photograph each area, then tuck the relevant snapshot into storage boxes for next year.

Oh Christmas tree

* Tree-storage bags are ideal for keeping bugs, dust and cobwebs off the tannenbaum, and they also save you from the maddening task of reassembly next year. Look for a bag made of heavy-duty plastic with reinforced threads and a sturdy zipper.

* Another option is to simply wrap the whole tree in a large sheet to protect it, Schmalenberger says. You can remove ornaments first, but keep the lights on. Store the wrapped tree in the basement or attic. Of course, the tree will have to be "fluffed up" when you remove its wraps next year.

* Wreaths can be stored in a large pillowcase or a plastic comforter bag.

En-light-ening hints

* Get rid of those non-working light strands cluttering up storage. If you haven't fixed them yet, you probably won't. "Lights are so inexpensive, and just the fire hazard alone means you should get rid of those that don't work right," Schmalenberger says.

* If you discover a broken bulb on a high-quality strand of lights, mark the blighted light with a twisty tie so you can easily replace it next year, Amerman and Schmalenberger recommend.

* Try coiling the strand of lights around your forearm as if you were wrapping up a length of rope. When finished, wrap a twisty tie or masking tape around one side of the coiled lights so they don't unwind or become tangled. Label each coiled strand so you know the size of the light string and where it belongs.

* Another way to store lights: Wind each strand around a piece of cardboard cut to fit in a plastic bin. Use scissors to cut a 1-inch slit at the top of one long side and the bottom of the other long side of cardboard. Secure one end of the lights in the slit, wind strand around, and secure the other end in the bottom slit. Store stacked lights in bins.

* Invest in a bin designed especially for light storage. Some consist of vertical spools, which are wrapped with lights and nestled inside a box. The Wing-Lid Holiday Light Storage Box by Iris consists of four honeycombed, hanging reels, which will vertically store four strands of garland, lights or extension cords at a time.

Tinsel-aneous

* Wrapping paper: Keep the old cardboard tubes that once held giftwrap to store large, loose sheets of paper; use a rubber band to keep paper from unfurling from the roll. You can also store spare papers inside wide cardboard mailing tubes or poster tubes, then label them.

Under-bed storage is ideal for wrapping paper. There are numerous long, shallow boxes designed specifically to store your gift wrap, bows and labels this way.

* Taper candles: Loose candles can break or get beat up in storage. Fortunately, paper-towel tubes are the perfect length and shape for storing them. Wrap a pair of candles in white tissue paper, slip the wrapped tapers into the tube, and close each end with packing tape. Label each tube with the candles' color for easy identification.

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