Christmas Cleanup Tips for the Not Naturally Organized

Dreading the postholiday chores? First let yourself unwind. Then grab some boxes, a few supplies and this easy guide

By Alison Hodgson / Courtesy of

Cleanup? I finally got my feet up! Let’s face it: After all the time and work we’ve put in to making the holidays, the last thing anyone wants to do is clean it all up.

If that resonated with you, you are probably Not Naturally Organized and this is just the holiday version of the core issue that divides the Naturally and Not Naturally Organized: now or later. While we, the Not Naturally Organized, want to finally relax and maybe think about cleaning up someday, our Naturally Organized brothers and sisters are twitch, twitch, twitching to haul it all away today.

But what about savoring the beauty? I’m with you completely … until February when your tree is moldering in the corner of your living room. Who wants that? Go ahead and relax; whenever you decide to tackle the mess, here are a few tips to make the process as easy as can be.

Take pictures

Before you tear everything apart, take some quick pictures of all of your decorations. I did this last year, and these were my reference when I pulled out the boxes this year. I made a few small changes, but this gave me an easy start. 

Be sure to take close-ups to see the details.

Separate the non-breakables

This is my biggest time saver and how I start on the tree. I remove the non-breakable ornaments and lay them in their box. I don’t bother removing the hooks, and with a few exceptions they don’t get tangled. I began doing this to save space on the divided boxes but found it saved me so much time. Bonus!

Break it down into categories

In addition to
non-breakable and fragile ornaments, I have boxes for trees, books, lights and miscellaneous larger items like snow globes and the Advent calendar. 

With the trees I set the large ones on the bottom and carefully stack the others. The glass or pottery trees I wrap in tissue and securely place in the middle.

Buy the right supplies

In my family growing up, taking down the tree was as much a part of the tradition as setting it up. My siblings and I were responsible for packing up our personal ornaments, and I carefully wrapped each one in tissue. When I had my own tree with hundreds of ornaments, I dreaded putting them away every year until I finally bought a slew of boxes with dividers.

After the non-breakable ornaments, I remove the fragile ones. If an ornament is precious to me, I’ll take time to wrap it in tissue, but most of them I set in their little cardboard cradles. I’ve never had an ornament break in storage.

This is a really good time to cull the ornaments you don’t love or use. If it’s sitting in the bottom of your boxes when you take down the tree, there’s a reason. I always have a bag for Goodwill at hand.

All season long I have a big basket of our Christmas books by the tree. Every night youngest and I read several titles — a favorite tradition. Storing the books is as simple as emptying the basket into their labeled box. A non-breakable tree or two is often stacked on top.

Make a note

This is one of my miscellaneous boxes. Here I’ve created an inventory for this box: nativities, Advent calendar, snow globes, wreaths, luminaries, lights for the tree.

Under that is a second note and a reminder that we needed to buy two more strands of lights. I was glad to have this when we opened the boxes and before I hung the lights on our tree. 

What do you need or want to buy before next Christmas? Take note and write it down.

Get help at the end

I work alone stripping the tree. I’m able to move quickly without breaking anything. When all of the ornaments are boxed, I ask one or two members of my family to haul them down to storage.

Although this looks like mayhem, it’s really only some cardboard, a few boxes, a bit of paper and tissue, and some greenery. This is when I want to throw in the towel, but I make myself keep going. Once I’ve recycled, thrown away or put away everything outstanding, my husband and son haul the tree out and tie it back on the van to take to a local park for recycling. I sweep and vacuum everywhere, but we’ll still see needles here and there for weeks.