Much like returning from a vacation, putting away the holiday decor just isn't as fun as getting it all out.
The following pointers from a trio of organizational experts can keep the seasonal clutter safely out of your way — and even make next November easier.
* Pare down. "Don't be afraid to get rid of the stuff you don't like," says Darcy Munzer, owner of Organize4U in Independence, Mo. "If you don't love it, get rid of it."
If it's broken, it doesn't work or you haven't used it, toss it, but donate what's in good condition.
* Consider the sentimental value. The half-melted choirboy candles have always been on her mantel at Christmas, says Mary Ellen Vincent, owner of OrganizeMe in Kansas City, "because they remind me every year of my mom."
For some items, though, you may be able to snap a picture to preserve the memory, Vincent says.
* Take inventory. How many wreaths do you own? Strings of lights? Remember that big stash of wrapping paper you got on sale last Dec. 26 but couldn't find this year? Before you can organize and store, you need to be aware of how much of everything you have, says Noelle Micek, a San Francisco-based expert in residential organization and design.
* Keep track. Munzer writes everything down, including special Christmas recipes and the gifts she buys throughout the year, in a notebook that she keeps in her home office.
* Choose your storage space, and measure it, so any containers you buy will fit, Micek says. Most people will store holiday decor in the basement, attic, garage, storage shed or even under the bed. Just make sure it's out of the way; you don't want to fight those bargain rolls of wrapping paper for the next 11 months.
"Let the space you have limit what you own and keep," Vincent advises.
* Keep it together. Store all the Christmas items — ornaments, cookie cutters and everything in between — in one spot, if possible. The exception: Keep certain heirloom items, linens and high-risk breakables in a temperature-controlled environment in the main part of the house. Holiday dishes can go in that hard-to-reach cabinet above the fridge. Munzer has a special cedar chest for holiday linens.
* Color code your containers. Use see-through plastic containers with the same color lids for each holiday, Micek suggests.
* Label. Never put a box away without a label. Write on the sides with a black marker, or list the contents on a 3-by-5-inch card or color-coded construction paper.
"You don't want to look through 50 plain white boxes to find the four with ornaments," Munzer says.
* Number your boxes. Number them in the order they should be opened. "You want the tree stand and skirt before you get the lights and ornaments," Micek says.
* Choose the right containers. Buy the best quality containers you can afford. You'll protect against water damage, accidental breakage and even pests such as mice. Shop around to find what fits your needs. Cardboard can be recycled, but plastic offers a better defense against moisture and pests.
"Organizing and storing Christmas decorations is just like tackling any organizing challenge," Micek says.
And there's a payoff, Munzer points out: "You can relax and enjoy Christmas."
* Ornaments: Find a box or bin with partitions to keep ornaments from clanging against each other. Nest them in shredded paper or tissue paper; wrap the most delicate ornaments in bubble wrap.
* Cardboard drawers that pull out are great if they can sit on a shelf in the basement, off the floor. Otherwise, go with plastic.
* Lights: Micek recommends the light storage boxes made by Iris; the lights wrap around corrugated cardboard "spools" and fit into a plastic container. Or make your own with a piece of cardboard. (Wrap lights around it and tape ends down.)
* Trees: A zippered bag will keep the tree clean and dry if you can store it on a shelf. Otherwise, find a sturdy plastic tub to store it in on the floor. Some bags have handles and even wheels; others fit over a standing tree.
* Wreaths: Special plastic boxes will keep these from getting crushed, but they take up a lot of room. Another option: Use your vertical space, says Micek, and put the wreaths in bags that hang on the wall or from a clothesline strung in a corner.
Now you know
Call to order
www.napo.net to find a local organizer
* www.stacksandstacks.com (Iris light boxes and other supplies)
* www.ultimatechristmas.com (archival acid-free ornament boxes)
* www.organizeit.com, 800-210-7712 (holiday and seasonal storage, including holiday wreath storage bag, $22 to $25; upright Christmas tree storage bag, $50; six-drawer holiday chest, $32).