Decluttering Christmas

Pretty silver ornamentsMy minimalism Facebook groups are starting to heat up with discussions about Christmas. Some are asking for advice on telling family members that they don’t want to receive gifts, or that they’d prefer family members gift experiences to their kids rather than more stuff (a weekend with the grandparents, a trip to an amusement park, etc.). Some are asking how to deal with family members who outright refuse to respect or even acknowledge their minimalist wishes. And then they’ll be looking for ways to deal with the inevitable pile of unwanted things after the holiday is over. A weighty topic, worthy of several blog posts.

I guess I’m fortunate in that respect. All of my family members are adults, as are their children, so we’ve all gotten away from the “more is better at Christmas” mind frame. We do exchange gifts, but they’re usually not much more than tokens. I’m the only one who is striving toward minimalism, and the others respect that. I’ve decided that everyone will be getting home-baked cookies, something I know everyone will appreciate. So I’m not feeling the usual gift-buying stress that permeates this time of year.

But the decorations. Ah, all those decorations.

Some group members have only one small table-top tree while others have several trees just because that’s what they love. Some focus solely on decorating the living room while others decorate every single room in their home. People are seeking information on how much decorating others do, trying to find their happy place, that balance between doing too much and hardly doing anything.

That’s kind of where I am right now. This Christmas will be my first opportunity to solo decorate in almost 20 years. I’m also looking for that balance, that happy place between decking out every single room and doing just enough to please my minimalist leanings. Between honoring my mother’s traditions and doing things my way. Between using only Mom’s decorations and pulling my stuff out of storage and seeing what’s still usable (and using them!)

Time to start decluttering!

Christmas storageFirst, you’ll probably notice the empty area in this attic photo. That space used to hold three artificial trees in their boxes. I got rid of them about two weeks ago before I thought to take this picture. These trees were between 10 and 20 years old and were showing their age. One still worked, but the other two were not worth looking at–dead lights, broken limbs, and one was missing a section. I can’t begin to guess where that went. The tree that was still in good shape was donated, and the other two went to the landfill.

Then I did a quick sort. The cardboard boxes are all labeled, so it was easy to decide what I want to keep (the cat tree) and what I want to get rid of (the outdoor swag lights). All the keep items went into one pile, donate into another. Some things I’m not sure about, so those went into the keep pile for later. The red and green bins would require unpacking to sort through, so they would also wait.

This process took about half an hour and resulted in four separate piles: keep, donate, sort later, and trash. I took the donate items down to my car and took them directly to one of my local thrift stores. I decided to get rid of them, and that’s what I did. Done and done.

Back home, I took the trash out and then brought the seven green and red bins down to the living room. The majority of our year-to-year decorations were in those bins, so I would take my time in sorting through them.

Surprisingly, it went rather quickly. I liked most of what was in those bins, so I’m keeping most of them. For now at least. One bin was filled with linens (two shower curtains, themed towels, tablecloths, etc.) and another with outdoor lights and a large Santa to sit out on the front porch. All keepers. I found a few more things to go into the next donation run, and I filled another trash bag.

Then I opened the bin with the tree ornaments. And I hit a brick wall. Hard.

Back in the mid-1990’s, Mom owned and operated a Victorian bed and breakfast. At Christmas, she had Victorian-themed ornaments on her tree. After almost 20 years, there aren’t as many ornaments as there used to be, but there’s still a lot, and they constitute about half the ornaments in the box. And I couldn’t throw out a single one.

Really, I tried. I pulled out four identical ornaments and thought, “I could get rid of half of these, go from four to two.” And I put them right back in their box. “How about these two purple balls? There used to be four, but we lost two to breakage over the years. Why not get rid of these last two?” And they went right back into their box. “Oh, I like these bells. I’ll definitely keep these. And the one with the five angels. But do I really need these glittery icicles?” I guess I do because they’re all still in the bin.

Last year, Mom bought what I feel is the best artificial Christmas tree on the planet.

Bradford Exchange Pull-Up TreeAvailable from the Bradford Exchange (they’re not endorsing this post, but I’ll give you the link anyway), the tree is pre-lit and pre-decorated and collapses down to a 3′ x 3′ square.

I freaking LOVE this tree because it goes up in less than five minutes and goes down even faster. The decorations are wired in place, and I can add more if I choose, but I don’t have to. It sits nicely in the corner and is easy to move. I’ll be keeping this tree for as long as I possibly can.

Now you know why I got rid of the old trees.

But the old ornaments? I don’t need them now, but perhaps I will in the future. So I’m going to keep them.

So now what?

Keeping the ornaments does not please my minimalist side, but my sentimental side with all the hang-ups about tradition and memories and keepsakes is the winner in this battle.

There’s no such thing as a perfect minimalist. There are no guidelines and no rules. You and only you can say whether something stays or goes. So for now, the ornaments stay. I’m going to label the bin so I always know what’s in it and it’s going back into the attic. There it will stay until that one day far off into the future when I feel like putting them on a tree. Or I feel ready to donate them. Or…whatever.

Next up, I declutter my Christmas decorations.

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