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Best Tips for Christmas Clean-Up

It’s the weird in-between of Christmas and the New Year, where time seems to stretch like Laffy Taffy. If the after-Christmas slump has you eyeing your Christmas decorations and itching to return to a cleaner, less cluttered domicile, here are some tips to save yourself time and money next year, before you put Christmas back in its box.

Real Christmas Tree Recycling

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If you tromped out to the wilderness with your family to find that perfect, real Christmas tree in true Griswold family tradition, it’s likely by now that tree is looking a little less evergreen than it did weeks ago. Before you haul it out to the curb, consider one of the many ways you can recycle or reuse your tree. 

Investigate whether your city offers a Christmas tree recycling program. Some cities turn Christmas trees into mulch or compost. Trees make great habitats for fish in nearby lakes or ponds; check with a local park to see if you can drop your tree off to help feed the fish.

If you’re the outdoorsy type yourself, you can cut your tree up to use as firewood outdoors (the sap in evergreens isn’t great for indoor fireplaces). Wood from evergreens is ideal for bonfires because it tends to burn hot and fast. The trunk of your Christmas tree makes great decorations or wooden coasters in your home, and all it takes is a saw to cut 1” strips. You’ll want to let the wood sit for a couple of months to dry out before you cut or burn it, and if you’re using it for decoration in your home, you may want to varnish it to keep away water stains.

Artificial Tree Recycling

Even if you’ve been able to get years and years out of your artificial tree, there still comes a point when even the needs of your fake tree start to fall off (not that I have any real-life experience with this). When it’s time to say goodbye to your artificial tree, there are ways you can give it life beyond the years it graced your living room.

Crafty folks can repurpose branches from your artificial tree to form wreaths, boughs, swags, garlands, table settings, and other wintry decorations. Use the top of the tree as a mini-tabletop tree decoration to complement your new (reused) branches that are serving as a centerpiece or advent wreath. Treetopia offers directions for how to use your artificial tree branches to make a wreath.

Clip and trim pieces of your artificial tree for gift toppers next Christmas, or use pieces of the tree as decorations for your child’s dollhouse or miniature Christmas village.

If your tree isn’t dropping needles like it’s planted in the Sahara Desert, you might consider donating your artificial tree to an area nonprofit organization. They can use the tree themselves as decoration or give it to a family in need, who can’t afford a Christmas tree. That goes for any old Christmas decorations as well.

If crafting isn’t your thing and the tree is beyond reuse, connect with your local waste management service. Most regions will take metal, plastic, paper, glass, and other old artificial trees and recycle them as part of their recycling program. You’ll need to disassemble the tree and make sure all ornaments, tinsel, strings of light, and other garlands are removed to make the job of recycling easier.

Save Your Gift Bags and Boxes

No matter how sustainable you tried to be with your gift wrapping this year, you or your family members inevitably received some gifts in bags and boxes. Don’t trot out the trash bag just yet! Those bags and boxes can be tucked away to be reused as part of your present preparing process next year! How many years can you keep a box going? There’s something delightfully nostalgic about opening up a gift in a box from a department store that hasn’t existed since you were a kid.

Recycle and/or Reuse Wrapping Paper

Depending on your style of unwrapping, many wrapping papers can be reused in future years. Even the paper you’ve torn to pieces in the unwrapping process can be segmented away to be used for smaller packages or gift tags next Christmas.

Not all wrapping paper is recyclable, but if you aren’t sure where the nearest wrapping paper recycling location is, you can find one using Earth 911’s recycling search guide. The damaged boxes and bags you just can’t make last one more Christmas can be recycled somewhere as well – just change your search terms and see what is nearby.

Trim and Save Christmas Cards

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I love to receive Christmas cards from friends and family near and far each year. So many of the designs also can double as gift tags for next year. Carefully trim away the words and images you want to save and tuck them in your gift wrap bin for next Christmas. The notes from loved ones that are printed on recyclable paper can be recycled once more.

Between these and the wrapping paper tags from this Christmas, you’ll never need to buy new gift tags again!

Reduce Food Waste

Whether you cook for four or forty, it seems like there’s always a ton of leftovers after the holidays, and really, who can stomach another plate of ham and potatoes? Rather than throwing away leftovers, compost your food waste to reduce the amount of junk that ends up in landfills. Look for spinoff recipes to reuse your ham or turkey, like turkey soup or ham and bean soup, or other creative options. Leftover celery and carrot sticks from your vegetable tray that no one ate can be diced up and tossed into the soup, too.

Package leftovers to save as freezer meals to bless a friend in need later down the road, or, if you know someone right now who is quarantining because of illness or is otherwise a shut-in, consider preparing a plate or two for their family to save and eat in the coming days.

Reuse Wine and Glass Bottles

If you threw a Christmas party that involved a little imbibing, don’t trash your glass. Do you know how long that stuff takes to decompose? Four thousand years, or more! If the guys who erected Stonehenge had made something from glass, their bottles would just now be able to decompose. That long.

Wine bottles and other glasses can be reused in all kinds of creative, crafty ways. Turn this year’s celebrations into next year’s gifts! If that really isn’t your style, pop those corks out, peel off any metal foils, and place your empties in the recycling bin. Spare your descendants all those glass remnants in 6,000 A.D.

Christmas clean-up just got a whole lot more sustainable and fun, don’t you agree? Happy Christmastide to you and yours!

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