Christmas clutter: Tips for enjoying a clutter-free holiday season

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12 2012 5:25 p.m. MST

Some gifts add to clutter and may hurt the giver's feelings if they are not displayed.

"InverseHypercube" via Wikimedia Commons

Suzette Smith, a professional home organization expert in the Washington, D.C., area, was helping a client go through her Christmas decorations last summer when she opened a bin and saw a crumbling papier-mâché decoration and cracked ornaments from Wal-Mart.

"You are really keeping this?" she asked the client.

Smith, who is executive director of White Space, a personalized home organizing business in Tysons Corner, Va., helped the woman reduce her Christmas decorations by half.

Too many decorations are just the beginning of Christmas clutter. The holiday season is also the time people receive and give presents.

"We are conditioned consumers," says James A. Roberts. "We are conditioned to think of Christmas as a time we give presents. And we spend and we celebrate … despite whether we can afford it or not."

Roberts, a professor of marketing at Baylor University and author of the book "Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy," looked at National Retail Federation predictions of $586.1 billion in holiday sales this year — including gifts and other holiday purchases. The U.S. Census estimates there are 115 million households in the U.S. This means, on average, households are spending about $5,100 during the holidays.

"That is hard to get my head around," he says.

With that kind of money being spent on everything from iPads to big-screen televisions, it shouldn't be a surprise people may feel more pinched by excess clutter this holiday season. There are, however, several things organizational experts say people can do to cut back on waste and clutter and enjoy a simpler, more stress-free Christmas.

Deck the halls

Smith says it doesn't bother her if her clients like to fill up the space in their home with decorations for the holidays — if they have the room to store them. For those who live in small spaces, she suggests keeping the few really sentimental items and buying temporary decorations that can be tossed, recycled or donated at the end of the season.

Jennifer Ford Berry, another professional organizer and author of "Organize Now!" takes that idea and makes it greener.

"Use natural materials to decorate," she says.

Take extra branches from evergreen trees (or a real Christmas tree) and hang them up with pinecones and berries, she suggests. She says natural and woodsy decorations are the latest look.

"You don't have to store them all year," Berry says. And people can throw them in the yard or garden when they are done.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Berry says the best time to begin cutting back on Christmas clutter is when you first pull out the decorations and open the bins.

"When you pull something out of the bin, keep only what you actually love," she says. "If you don't love it, get rid of it right now. Donate it or throw it away."

Berry says a little bit of organization at the end of the year makes for an easier decorating session the next year.

Cynthia Ewer, the editor of OrganizedChristmas.com and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Organized, Fast-Track," suggests concentrating on the essential "big three" areas when decorating: the front door, the Christmas tree and a focus point such as a fireplace or coffee table.

"Hang a wreath on the door, decorate a tree and create a pretty tablescape over the fireplace and you've hit the holiday high points without having the burden of a tree in every room," she says.

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