Holiday cleanup

The magic day has arrived. Enjoy the moment and cherish the memories. But do you dread what comes next? Try an organized approach to holiday cleanup.


A little organization helps you get the most out of new gifts.

  • Gather owner’s manuals. These documents tend to get stuck in the nearest drawers. Label a folder for your filing cabinet to house them. If you prefer, download digital copies and trash the paper ones. One source is
  • Get them working. The phrase “batteries not included” is familiar in the world of Christmas toys. Take care of any required assembly and batteries. Make sure the present works while you still have the instructions at hand.
  • Gather receipts for items to be returned. Handle all returns in one trip if possible. A little organization on the front end makes things at the service desk go smoother.
  • Donate or discard old items. Much of the clutter in our lives comes from getting something new but still hanging on to the old one “just in case.” When you get that new toaster oven, donate the old one. For someone, it’s going to be the only one they have.
  • Organize those gift cards. In this post, I provide a method for storing and reviewing your collection. The aim is to use them, not lose them. Read the post or listen to the audio. Either way, you’ll thank me as you dine out.

Buy Now

What will you need to start the holiday season next year? While it’s fresh on your mind, buy now. You’ll enjoy the benefits of after-Christmas discounts.

  • Holiday cards—How many do you have left over for next year? How many more would you need? Get them now. Pack them away with your other Christmas items.
  • Christmas stationery—If you include a letter to friends with your cards, see how much letterhead is left and buy whatever you will need while it’s on sale. With everything else that’s going on during the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas transition, your future self will thank you for having already made some of these purchases.
  • Gift wrap—You have a rough idea of how many rolls you used this year. You’ll likely need the same next year. Inventory what you have left, figure how much you’ll need, and take advantage of the sales.
  • New ornaments or a new tree—What has caught your eye over the last few weeks? While it’s fresh on your mind, buy now.

Pack with Purpose

  • Label liberally—How many ornaments have their own special boxes? I wrote about my own dilemma in this post. When you figure out what goes where, label it. Next year, you’ll know what’s in each box before you open it. When it’s time to put it away, you’ll know exactly what goes where.
  • Avoid a tangled mess—Use cardboard strips to wind lights. Tape each end to the cardboard so lights stay in place.
  • Purge—We welcome new decorations. As time goes on, we run out of space to display them. Before packing it up, select the items that are older or not of as much value to you and donate them.
  • Red and green tubs to the rescue—Invest in large, inexpensive tubs to house decorations. A red tub with a green lid provides a clue that Christmas materials are inside. They stack nicely and keep the contents clean and secure. Put extra holiday stamps, holiday-themed return address stickers, next years cards, gift wrap, etc. in there.
  • Those newsletters—Your friends send a nice newsletter updating you on the events from the past year. Consider scanning them and discarding the original. I use Evernote. Every word is searchable, even if handwritten.

Update the Christmas card list

I have an Excel spreadsheet that dates back well over 20 years. As you would imagine, it has columns for name, address, city/state/zip. I print the mailing labels from this spreadsheet.

Another column provides a complete history. Here is an example: 18SR,17SR,16S,15S,14S,13S,12S,11SR,10S,09SR.

As you read that line, it means we sent a card to and received a card from this person in 2018 and 2017 as well as in 2011, 2010, and 2009. We sent one in each year from 2012—2016 but did not receive anything in return. It’s fun to look at the relationships with people going back decades.

After printing the labels, I print an additional copy on paper. As Christmas cards come rolling in, I highlight the paper copy with the ones we received. After Christmas, I use the paper copy to update the spreadsheet. We send to everyone from whom we receive, so I will be pasting “18SR,” at the beginning of the appropriate cells in Column H.

And for the Excel formula fans…

The spreadsheet includes everyone with whom we ever exchanged cards. Over the years, our list changes, as yours probably does also. The spreadsheet also keeps track of the birthdays and anniversaries of people to whom we send cards on those special days.

How do we get the spreadsheet to filter down to just the people to whom we want to send this year? We need another column and a formula.

In my spreadsheet, Column H houses the years we sent/received cards. It’s the line you saw a moment ago (18SR, 17SR, etc.)

“Column I” houses a formula and refers to the cell beside it in Column H. The formula reads as follows:

=IF(ISNUMBER(SEARCH(“18″,$H2)),”Christmas Card List”,””)

The formula looks at the cell in Column H to see if it has “18” somewhere in it. If it does, it displays “Christmas Card List” in Column I. If we neither sent nor received a card from the person in 2018, the cell in Column I remains blank.

After you compose the formula, “fill down” on Column I.

Next November, pull up the spreadsheet and filter Column I to show only the records that say “Christmas Card List.” There is your list!

The after-Christmas cleanup is never as much fun as the decorating that will take place 11 months from now. However, a plan will make the cleanup easier and next year’s decorating even more fun.

What do you see here that appeals to you? What tips you have?