Cleaning up after Christmas isn't just taking down the tree and hauling out the holly. Packing carefully this year can help preserve Christmas keepsakes for holiday seasons to come.
"There is nothing mysterious about how to pack decorations," said Judy Hibbs, textile specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. "The most important thing to remember is to clean before you pack."
Check your tree skirt before you pack it away. If you had a holiday party or the kids had Christmas breakfast around the tree, make sure no food was dropped on the skirt.
"Insects are attracted to the food," Hibbs said.
If the skirt is felt, don't wash it.
"You can use a hand-held vacuum cleaner or the upholstery attachment of your vacuum to clean felt before storing it," she said. "If it has food spilled on it, spot-clean the spill."
If your skirt is washable, wash it. Then pack it.
Did you pull out last year's satin ornaments and find them fuzzy? Did your grandmother's favorite ornament get broken in storage?
"If you have family heirlooms, store them in a pillowcase and then put them in a cardboard box," Hibbs said.
Cardboard is better for storage than plastic because it breathes and lets air get inside. But make sure your box isn't contaminated.
"Check the box you store your ornaments in and make sure it doesn't show signs of insect infestation," Hibbs said. "If it does, get a fresh box."
If you have old ornaments or stockings made of wool, put them away clean. Don't use moth balls.
"Moth balls will only repel moths and not other pests," Hibbs said. "And when you get your ornaments out next year, they will smell, and you won't have time to air them out."
Silverfish will eat cotton, but they're usually after something spilled on the fabric, not the fabric itself.
"Unless you have wool ornaments that may attract moths or carpet beetles, you aren't in much danger of insect damage," Hibbs said. "Again, the secret is to keep it clean."
The biggest Christmas headache can be untangling all those strands of lights. If you organize them when you pack them away, you won't face that problem next year.
"You can buy commercial holders for lights," said Pat Bruschini, county extension agent in DeKalb County. "Or you can use extension cord holders, garden hose holders or even pieces of cardboard."
If you have lights that go certain places in your home, label them.
"I usually put a stick-on label that tells me where certain lights go," Bruschini said, "whether it's on the tree, on the mantel or outside."
When you pack your lights, be careful not to bend and damage the wires, or they can be dangerous next year.
If you notice that some lights or wires are damaged when you bring them in, throw them away. Lights will be on sale after Christmas, and you can replace them at a bargain price.
"If you don't repack your lights in the box they came in," Bruschini said, "cut the label off the box and put it with the lights so you know the voltage and wattage if you need to buy replacement bulbs."
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)