Decluttering: Christmas Decorations

October 29, 2014


So, remember when I went through every closet, cupboard, and drawer in my apartment this summer and decluttered/purged everything I could? Well, there were actually a few small boxes I ignored, during that process. And by ignore, I mean I literally didn’t open them. I knew what was inside and I knew I wasn’t ready to go through them, so I pushed the boxes to the back of my bedroom closet and told myself I’d deal with them at Christmas. Well, Christmas came early…

If you know me in-person, or if you’ve read my posts around Christmas time before, you know I love the holiday season. I love the cooler weather, all the lights, the smells, the traditions and the feelings of nostalgia. I loved playing Santa in our house (bringing up the gifts and putting them under the tree, when Baby Bro and Baby Sis were asleep) when I was a teenager. Now, I love seeing my “niece’s” face light up when she hears even a whisper of his name. The whole season just puts a little bit of magic into the air, and I can’t get enough of it.

One of my favourite traditions with my family is picking out a tree and decorating it together. Every year, we head down to the Braefoot Lacrosse Box in Saanich, and walk up and down the rows of real Christmas trees, until we find the perfect one for our living room. After getting it into its stand and letting the needles drop overnight, we bring it inside, string up the lights and take turns hanging ornaments. My favourite part in all of that is how each ornament causes you to reminisce, and the feeling of nostalgia that brings up.

Years ago (I’m talking 2007), after I finished college and moved out of my parents’ house, I decided I needed to decorate my apartment for the holidays. I promptly went out and bought a 4′ fake Christmas tree. I also bought white lights, some fake garland to hang over two windows and countless ornaments. I was set.


From that year on, I also began to collect penguin ornaments. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, actually, except that my friends all knew how much I loved penguins, so I started to receive these ornaments as gifts. (I forgot to move the mermaid, but she’s a keeper in this household.)


Up until Christmas 2011, I continued to collect more ornaments, accepted more white lights from a friend who didn’t want them anymore (someone else’s treasure?) and was given even more penguin decorations. (More more more!) Altogether, I ended up with three boxes of Christmas decorations…


 …and I barely use any of them.

When I moved to Toronto in September 2012, I tossed my 4′ fake Christmas tree – and that was easy to do. I couldn’t, however, find it in me to open my three boxes and even consider tossing any decorations. So, I just packed them up and put them in storage (a.k.a. my parents’ basement) while I was out there.

My Christmas decorations remained boxed up and unseen for Christmas 2012, of course, because I was living in Toronto. Last year, however, I opened up the boxes and only pulled out a few things: garland and white lights to go over my fireplace, and one penguin ornament to hang from it. (I’m a dork.)

In July, when I did this massive declutter/purge, I looked at the three boxes of Christmas decorations and thought: there’s nothing to declutter in there. I need all that stuff. But why? For sentimental value? That feeling of nostalgia? What exactly was I holding onto? I finally decided to open up the boxes and find out.

What I discovered (and what you can see above) were ornaments I hadn’t hung on a tree since December 2011. Think about that: I haven’t let them serve their purpose in three years. Since I don’t plan on buying another Christmas tree anytime soon, they will continue to sit in boxes. And if I relocate again one day, I’m guessing those boxes will come with me, yet again.

As I started opening the small boxes within those bigger boxes, and unwrapping pieces of tissue paper, I found ornaments I literally couldn’t ever remember owning. (Not the penguins – I know who gave me each one of those.) Altogether, I counted out 50 items. It wasn’t easy to go through them all with my sentimental comb, but in the end I tossed (will donate) 35 and only kept 15.


The toss pile.

I kept the garland, a string of white lights, a few decorations Mom gave me and many of the penguins – and that’s it. I filled the small brown box up 2/3 full (mostly with that garland) and put it back in the closet, then stacked up the other 35 items to go. And with that, I’ve achieved my goal of removing 50% of my belongings from my home!

Original inventory: 904 954
Items removed: 482 (51%)
Current inventory: 472 (Probably closer to 480, as I’ve received a few free books, candles, etc.)

It’s funny… you’d think that after achieving my goal I would be done and satisfied. And I am, to some degree. I will celebrate this and call it a huge win. But when I look around my apartment, I still see more that could go. There are books and magazines I’ll donate after reading, clothes I’ll toss after they wear out, etc. I don’t have a specific number of items I’d like to get rid of, and it isn’t about that anymore. But I’d guess I could toss at least another 10-15% and be just fine.

If I felt qualified to give any piece of advice after this experience it would be this: decluttering is a never-ending process. I don’t walk around my apartment with a scary clutter stare, just looking for things to get rid of. But after taking that first step and purging so many things in the summer, I’ve continued to take notice of things I don’t actually use/love/need. It feels good to remove a few items each week, and doing that when I think of them (a.k.a. not procrastinating!) is the only way to stay organized/on top of it.

My second piece of advice: if you want to learn a lot about yourself, partner a declutter/purge with even a monthlong shopping ban. Seriously.

When was the last time you sorted through your Christmas decorations? What’s stopping you?

  • Strandedrocks October 29, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I really hope you kept that cute little Santa with the skinny legs.

    • Cait Flanders October 29, 2014 at 6:53 am

      I did! You can’t see it but the penguin beside him has skinny legs too. :P

      • Strandedrocks October 29, 2014 at 7:05 am


  • susie October 29, 2014 at 6:59 am

    This summer I actually gave away a bunch of generic christmas decorations.. White christmas lights & the single coloured bulb ornaments.. I looked at them and decided that we had too many white lights & I didn’t want ‘filler’ ornaments, I wanted ornaments that meant something or were special in their own way. So out they went. (I literally put them on my lawn for the taking and someone walking by grabbed them)

    We really only have a christmas tree (artificial) and the few decorations that go on it. That’s as far as I’ll take it. Maayybe in the future we’ll get a wreath to hang on the door, but it’s not a priority right now.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Haha, that was a great visual, Susie. Free Christmas in July! Yea, similar to your tree being your only priority, the fake garland I hang over my fireplace is mine. I wrap lights around it, so it just warms up the room a bit more. A few penguins may make an appearance, too. :)

  • Trista October 29, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I purged a lot of my Christmas decorations last year. I may do it again this year. Right now I’m still trying to see how things fit in to my new apartment. I just finished one big purge on the things that didn’t immediately find a home. I need to do a swing through my books and movies before I drop everything off.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      Nicely done, Trista! Good luck with your continued purge.

  • Ms. Mintly October 29, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Man, Christmas decorations totally fall under the “want to purge but can’t figure out how” category for me.

    When we moved a month ago, I did work hard to purge quite a bit from my stash (but I had way more than 3 boxes!), and I was successful at paring down our collection.

    What I realized that I needed was actually to figure out what the “look” is that I’m going for around the holidays. I eventually decided that since green ornaments never show up on our tree anyway, I could get rid of most of those! I want mostly burgundy and gold (with some silver) as my decorations, so if the ornaments don’t have sentimental value and they don’t match the color scheme, they’re out! But you can tell by that previous sentence that we still hold onto some ornaments that don’t “match.” (You can’t toss out the baby mouse in the walnut half-shell ornament that was yours when you were a baby!…. at least I can’t!)

    But seriously, that stuff just takes up room the rest of the year. I guess I love the holidays so much that I can’t give it up. This year I plan to purge more as we unwrap them and decorate, but there will always be more than 3 boxes, I fear.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Haha, see, I can toss the baby mouse… but the penguins are here to stay, so maybe that’s just my thing. And it’s ok to have more than 3 boxes of stuff IF you actually use it every year! You can have as much as you want. I just wasn’t using these decorations, nor did I think I ever would. So, out they went. Keep that in mind!

  • Jacquie October 29, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I really like this post, good for you for getting rid of so many decorations. It makes the ones you keep feel even more special.

    I’m not big into the holidays (planning to go to LA this Christmas, actually! To avoid all the hype, and dinners etc…plus I have 5 days off! Gotta take advantage!) So I’m trying to avoid accumulating decorations. I have a large tacky mickey mouse snowglobe that lights up and sings (I LOVE IT) and a few things from the classic Rudolph movie, and that’s all I’ve kept!

    I also got started thinking last year about Christmas wrapping. I started to imagine all the wrapping from all over the world, money being spent on it and then it all just being chucked into the garbage. Aaaaahhh! It’s such a scary thought!!! Now if I have to wrap anything I’m just going to use one of those brown rolls of paper, then it’s good for birthdays etc too! Christmas wrapping is just so bad for the environment!

    • Bet Crooks October 30, 2014 at 5:54 am

      In some cities non-metallic non-foil wrap is recyclable with your regular papers. You may want to check. If not, I remember many people wrapping presents in the coloured comics from the newspaper: definitely recyclable and usually well received.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      LOVE Rudolph. We have a few Rudolph decorations that go on our tree at home. I’d probably cry if my mom ever got rid of them (without offering them to me first, lol).

      Also, love the idea of just using brown rolls of paper!

  • Morgaine October 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    I’m actually moving in the opposite direction! We went from having a 2 ft tree (last 7 yrs)to a 6 ft tree last year. Luckily I had quite the ornament collection saved up from my childhood (that had previously been kept at my parent’s house) and filled the spaces with generic bulbs from the dollar store.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Hey, if you use ’em, why not? I just didn’t use any of mine, so it wasn’t worth keeping them.

  • Louise Rayner October 29, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I love Christmas, and have 5 large Rubbermaid totes of stuff. Since we have a 10 to 12 foot real tree, we need lots of ornaments. I collect santas, so that is one box. I would find it hard to part with any as I have collected for so long. It’s well organized, so I don’t consider it clutter.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Then that’s perfect, Louise! If you use everything you own, all the better.

  • Jill October 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Great post! I desperately need to go through my Christmas decorations. Christmas decorations take up a large space in my attic. We are hosting Christmas Eve & Christmas at our house this year, so the plan is to fully decorate the house. (Some years we don’t put everything out if we aren’t having company). If I don’t use something this year it is probably safe to say that I will never use it. It would be a good time to get rid of some things! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Nice! Yea maybe decorate the whole house, then look inside your boxes and see what’s left. Are you ever going to take them out of the box? No? Time to go!

  • Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore October 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I got rid of a few Christmas decorations last year. I would’ve gotten rid of more of them, but my mom was there and was very insistant that I keep some of them. I don’t exactly know why. If she wants them she can have them, otherwise they are going out of my house this year!

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      I definitely think it’s best to declutter when you’re alone. Other people’s opinions about YOUR stuff shouldn’t be the reason we keep anything (but it’s also tough to ignore, I know).

  • Nadia October 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I’ll probably go through my stuff when we decorate. We have a fake tree because that’s the rules with our condo. It’s a pre-lit tree so the nice thing is we don’t have to take them off. They just go back in the box with the tree. I have a lot of decorations and am sentimental about it so it ‘s going to be difficult.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      You don’t need to get rid of anything that means something to you. It was easy for me to donate all the generic decorations… they have no sentimental value for me! But I kept the few things that did, and that’s ok. So don’t feel like you need to get rid of things just because!

  • Rob October 29, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Over the years we’ve gradually cut down on the number of Christmas tree and outside house decorations, as well as downsizing the size of our artificial Christmas tree (which is a cheaper alternative than annually going out to get a real tree, as well as having to keep it watered). We do, however, keep a goodly number of decorations which our young grand kids (as well as my 95 y/o MIL) still enjoy looking at. It tends to help brighten up a rather cold dreary time of the year, contributing to an overall festive atmosphere.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Artificial might be cheaper, but there’s something to be said for the smell that comes with having a real tree in your home. I don’t think our family would ever go the artificial route. It’s also just another thing that people toss in the landfills, one day.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods October 29, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Oh I love Christmas! It’s a weakness of mine. We have a ton of decorations (most of them hand-me-downs from family) and we put them all up. It’s like a Christmas explosion up in here. But, we love it. I need to get my clutter stare-down on and go around opening closets. Stuff lurks in there…

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Do it, lady! This weekend! Just tackle one. :)

  • Will - October 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    My aunt gives me an ornament each year. And I have a small Christmas tree which they go on. That’s it for me! I always go to my parents house for Christmas and they decorate! Maybe when I get married, my wife can do the decorating. I don’t much care for it lol. I love Christmas though!

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Me too! The lights’ll go up December 1st here. I absolutely love the holidays.

  • K @ One More BROKE TWENTY-SOMETHING October 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    All of my Christmas decorations have spent the past two years in a storage unit! I need to go through mine and see what I find! I’m sure I’ll find some things I can get rid of! ‘Tis the season to start preparing for the holidays! :)

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Haha, yep! Well, maybe tomorrow. I guess people should celebrate Halloween first. ;)

  • Christine @ The Wallet Diet October 30, 2014 at 11:59 am

    I live in a shoebox of an apartment with my boyfriend and storage space is a big luxury. We borrow ornaments from family and friends if they have extra stuff lying around. When it’s time to tear down the tree, we return the ornaments :) this set up works for us because we don’t have any space to store them!!

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      That’s awesome, Christine! I’ve never heard of someone doing that, but think it’s a great idea.

  • Amanda @ My Life, I Guess October 30, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    I have one bin that has Christmas decorations and wrapping paper that’s not very big, but that’s about the extent of my Christmas stuff. I’m not a big Christmas person so it’s not surprising, but I do have an excessive amount of wrapping paper, ribbon, etc. for all seasons.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      And do you use it all, Amanda? I’m just curious! I’ve seen people who have entire closets full of wrapping, and I always wonder if they actually use it or just buy more because they forget about it.

    • Lois October 27, 2015 at 10:33 am

      I always loved to buy Christmas wrapping paper after Christmas when it was on sale. And not just any wrapping paper, always Hallmark. Since the kids are grown and my parents have passed away I had too much. I donated it to a local charity, Secret Santa, who uses it to wrap donated gifts for children. Now what about all the Hallmark ornaments?? Any suggestions?

  • Walnut October 30, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    We’re loosely in the market for a new house, so we’ve begun to look at every item in our house with, “Do we want to pack that, move the box to the car, drive it, move it to a new house and then move it again to wherever it’s final landing space is?” eyes. Turns out, the answer more often than not is NO!

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Crazy! Your move will be much easier, if you get rid of it all before, haha.

  • Casey October 31, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    SO needed to read this today! My goal this weekend is to put 5 items on Craigslist/Kijiji. There I said it. No more hanging on to “sentimental” things that I don’t use and clothing that doesn’t fit perfectly.

    • Cait Flanders October 31, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      Woo! You got this, Casey. Getting rid of clothing that didn’t fit properly anymore felt sooo liberating, for some reason. Hope you enjoy the process!

  • elaine December 10, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    We have a 2200 sq. ft. unfinished basement… and it has been the storage centre for us, and our 2 daughters who have places of their own. That being said, we are slowly eliminating our basement “stuff” now as we hope to build a new home in the next three years…a home without a basement. We are moderate minimalists at heart and declutter regularly. We have enough! After reading your post and the comments, and because our Christmas decorations are up now, tomorrow I’ll go to the basement and box many/most of the unused decorations and donate them to a thrift store…whew.