Taking Down Christmas: How to Organize Your Holiday Decorations


by Larry West Jr.

My very first paying residential job as a professional designer was a HUGE Christmas project. It was on Chenal Circle, and the home was as big as they get out there. I’m not sure who the designers were who had the project before me, but if I had to guess, they sent out a group of unorganized people with no concept of product preservation or an idea of how miserable their lives would be the next year when it came time to decorate. 

It was 24 years ago, and I was meeting a client for the first time. I opened the door and the two of us hit it off immediately. We had spoken on the phone a few days prior to my arrival and discussed a plan of action which included having her people bring all of the Christmas decor from their storage facility to the home a couple of days before the install. She told me she had a ton of things and was ready to dispose of some of these items and get new things. We agreed that I would weed out the old broken things or items that were out of date and then organize the remaining things and make a list of new items.

I literally had no idea what I was about to walk into. She opened the garage door and my obsessive compulsive disorder flat-lined from overexposure. Things were in broken-down plastic storage bins, boxes, paper sacks, trash bags or simply loose. Name it and it was in it or not in it. 

Once I picked myself up off the floor, the client said, “Here ya go. Let me know if I can do anything … I have a nail appointment.” I’d only been in business for about two months and my staff included me and my energy. But lucky for this client, I was only $25 an hour, with no other bookings in sight. The decluttering and organization began.

From that previous year’s packing, the string lights were all gathered and thrown into a big box.  There were large ornaments which had been exposed to the elements and were covered in dust. The ribbon was wadded up and tossed in a trash bag. It was all a complete mess. 

As an “unofficial” decorator from the time I was old enough to think about organizing a space, I would use anything to decorate. So it was in my blood to try and salvage all of the string lights in that big box. I literally spent hours untangling strands of light and then taking the time to go through each strand and finding the burned out bulb causing half the strand to not work and then replacing it simply to get that other half working (so annoying). It was not until later in the day that I realized that a strand of lights cost approximately $1 and my fee was way more than that. I was wasting my time and my client’s money by dealing with broken-down string lights… just buy a new replacement box. Needless to say, I have never made that mistake again, and to this day, when I see a new staff member pilfering around with one strand of lights looking for the reason it does not work, I tell them my first Christmas story, and we toss the lights to the side.   

Organization at Christmas tear down is the key to decoration longevity and for keeping the lighting and very expensive Christmas decor beautiful. It drives me crazy when I walk in the following year and see things in disarray from the following year. Packing up Christmas is easy, and if you go by the following suggestions, you, too, can make sure your expensive Christmas decor is preserved and lasts for years.

READ MORE: A Christmas Story with Larry West Jr.

The first thing we do at tear down is find a designated staging place for all of the décor; the garage is usually the best place with the most amount of open space. We pull everything off the trees, gather up garlands and pluck all of the Christmas accessories from the designated surfaces throughout the home. We then take all materials to the garage and each item has its own little section. There are sections for ornaments, lights, garlands, trees, etc. 

Wrap lights around your hand

One of my first goals is preserving the string lights, if at all possible. Yes, even though they are only a couple of dollars per strand these days, I still want to preserve them and keep them from going out and getting tangled. What I’ve discovered is that a string of lights can easily be rolled tightly around your hand into a ball and will store easily and will last a couple of years. The key is to wrap tightly around your hand to create a tight ball, not a loose ball.

 Through the years we’ve been introduced to many types of storage containers, but currently my favorite storage solutions are canvas Christmas tree bags and plastic storage boxes with matching snap-on lids. Canvas bags are great for storing garland, plastic ornaments and other sturdy décor, while the plastic storage boxes are best for items made of glass and more fragile materials. 

 Once we have everything separated in our designated staging area, we begin the packing. I start with packing the canvas bags. My first goal is to pack the garland and ornaments. I use the garland as a cushion and then sandwich in the plastic ornaments throughout the bag. The reason I love the bag for the larger ornaments is that it is collapsible whereas the box is not. I label and fill each bag to its fullest, but I make sure there is some “give” left inside the bag for proper stacking. If it is too full and looks more round it won’t stack properly, so there needs to be some give in the bag. 

 After the garland and plastic ornaments have been tended to, I pack the trees next. Getting all the greenery and large plastic ornaments out of the way makes for an easier packing experience for any fragile decor. Obviously the trees go into the canvas bags, but first ensure that you have all trees and their stands in the bags marked with which room they will go. If the bags are not marked, you find yourself the following year putting bases to trees with bodies of other trees in different rooms and that can waste time, and it will result in frustration and a possible spike in your blood pressure. 

Canvas bags are great for packing!

Now that all of the chunky stuff is packed and out of the way, it’s time to get the fragile stuff packed. I basically use any wrapping material I can find. Salvage your gift wrapping paper, tissue paper and bags from Christmas Day and use these items to wrap the fragile decor. Make sure the tubs are filled tightly and that each item is wrapped and secure. The tighter the box is filled the less movement in the box and the less chance that a fragile item will be damaged during the transport stage. After each tub is filled, label the box as “fragile” or “breakable.” There is no sense in listing everything that is in the box, because next year you will be unloading and then organizing all of the fragile things and choosing where those items and others will go. We will discuss unpacking next year in a new blog post. 

 Everyone has his or her own technique for organization. My clients spend a lot of money on Christmas decor and on that first year, they spend a TON of money on decor. I do not want them to spend that type of money every year, so it is important to protect and secure these items. Plus, it helps with my OCD issues. I’m hopeful you all have a Happy New Year, and until next time, be safe and be kind to one another. 

READ MORE: Straight, Level and Square: Decorating with Larry West Jr.

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