The holiday season is winding down

It's time to take the decorations down and determine the best way to store Christmas lights until they're ready to sparkle again next season. A little effort and planning now will prevent a tangled mess and make it easier than ever to decorate next Christmas.

Assess your current decorations and storage

Don't waste time and storage space packing up items you don't love. Reuse or regift any decorations and Christmas lights that you don't use.

Then, clear space to store the decorations and lights until next year. Closets, under bed storage and high shelves are good spots since you only need to access them twice a year.


Plug in each string of lights and look for burned out bulbs. If you spot a few, that doesn't mean the whole strand is a loss. Replace burned-out light bulbs now, so that you don't have to take the time to do it next year when you unpack.

If your lights are traditional incandescent lights, a few replacement bulbs probably came with the string when you bought it. If not, or if you've misplaced them, replacement bulbs are widely available for purchase. Many LED lights also accept replacement light bulbs.


If the strand is a total loss or you can't find replacement bulbs, recycle your Christmas lights to repurpose the glass, plastic and copper. Just don't throw them in the recycling bin. A special program needs to separate the materials inside.

HolidayLEDS and Christmas Light Source offer nationwide mail-in Christmas light recycling programs. Many municipal waste facilities also recycle used Christmas lights, so call your city for a location near you. Some home improvement chains and hardware stores also recycle Christmas lights, although programs vary from year to year. Consult store websites for updated information.


When it's time to replace your Christmas lights, consider switching to Energy Star-Certified LED Christmas lights. They're up to 75 percent more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and boast a three-year warranty. They last longer, too, so you'll have to replace them far less often, which saves money in the long run. Shopping for the after Christmas sales will get you a discount, too.

As an added bonus, LED lights are more durable than those old incandescent bulbs they're replacing, since they don't contain delicate filaments and glass. You probably won't break as many LED lights as traditional incandescent bulbs, although you'll still need to protect them in storage.

How to store Christmas lights in a small apartment

Now that you're sure you have working lights and you've assessed your available storage space, you can choose the packing solution that works best for you. The method you select depends on the number and type of lights and the space you have available.

Storing lights in the same container is the most convenient, but those in very small apartments may need to choose two or more methods to best use their space. Delicate incandescent lights require additional packing materials to prevent breakage. If you're deciding between two storage methods for these particularly breakable lights, choose the one that offers the most protection.

1. Try the ball and bag method

This method is simple, but not effortless. (No, you can't just toss your Christmas lights in a bag and forget about them!) Wrap and package each strand individually, or you'll have a tangled mess on your hands next year. Gather a plastic bag for every strand of lights and you're ready to start.

Separate each string of Christmas lights. Start with the female end of the strand in your dominant hand and wrap the strands around your fist until it makes a small ball. Repeat this loop five or six times. Don't force, bend or crease the cord, or you could damage it.

Eventually, you can remove the ball from your hand and continue to wrap the cord until you have a few inches left. Insert the male prong into the female end. Place each strand of lights in its own bag and place them inside a larger container or into the pockets of a hanging, behind-the-door organizer to keep them separate.

2. Use the box

To keep things simple, reuse the original box for the lights. If you still have the plastic spacer that the lights came in, you can thread the lights through and pop them all back in the box. This is one of the best ways to storage Christmas lights if you don't have additional boxes or totes to stash them in.

If you tossed the plastic piece, don't worry. But don't shove the lights back in the box — they'll get tangled.

Instead, wrap the cord around the box, connecting the male and female ends when you finish and secure with a small piece of masking or electric tape. Since the lights are vulnerable, you'll need to tuck them into a larger container and cushion them with bubble wrap, tissue paper or brown craft paper if the bulbs are delicate. This storage solution works best with shorter strings of lights, as longer ones might slip off the box.

3. Make a cardboard light winder

Turn leftover holiday boxes into a storage solution. Just make sure the cardboard is sturdy enough that it won't bend.

First, cut a 10- to 12-inch rectangle from a box or scrap cardboard. (Longer strings of lights require larger cardboard pieces. ) Then, cut several one-inch notches directly across each other on the top and bottom of the longest sides.

Start at one corner. Thread the end of the string of lights into one of the notches, then pull it up and around to the notch directly opposite. Continue winding the lights around the cardboard, from top to bottom, tucking the cord into the notches as you go. If possible, connect the male and female ends. Cushion with packing materials and place in a larger box for safekeeping.

4. Fashion a tube winder

Mini lights or smaller LED lights might be too tiny for the light winder storage solution detailed above, so try a tube winder instead. You can make one with a sturdy wrapping paper tube or a Pringles can. Make sure the tube is thick enough to support the lights without creasing or bending. This option works best for shorter, thinner strands of lights with smaller bulbs since the tube might not support longer strands or large bulbs.

Cut a slit in one end of the tube to hold one end of the light string. Guide the lights around the tube in a circular motion, moving from end to end.

If using a tube, tuck the loose end into the center of the tube. You can place the string in a slit or apply tape to secure it. If you're using a Pringles can, you can put the cap back on to secure the lights. Add additional cushioning materials if you're packing the lights into a larger container.

5. Create a winder spool

If you don't have any leftover cardboard to recycle, use what you have. Turn a chair or stool upside down and create your own winder spool using two of the legs.

Weave a strand of lights around the legs stool or chair legs in a figure-eight pattern. Stop with about a foot of lights remaining. Wrap those last 12 inches around the center of the bundle, pulling the plug through so that it catches to secure the lights. Then shimmy the lights up and off the chair.

Stack wound bundles neatly in a larger tote or box, separated by tissue paper, brown paper or other soft packing materials. You can also borrow from the bag method and tuck each string into a plastic bag for safekeeping — if it fits, that is. The winder spool method works well for medium length to very long Christmas light strings.

6. Try the clothes hanger method

If you don't have any shelf space, the best way to store Christmas lights is on a plastic clothes hanger. This option works well for shorter strands of lights and small apartments with limited storage space.

Start with a plastic clothes hanger that has small hooks on each side. Secure the strand of lights on one of these hooks, then wrap the lights gently around the hanger from top to bottom, working your way from one side of the hanger to the other. Wrap back in the opposite direction as needed.

When you're finished, tuck the other end of the cord into a hook to secure it, then hang the lights up until next year. Wrap in paper to protect both the lights and clothing.

7. Purchase a cord reel

If you have more storage space to work with, like a garage or a storage unit, invest in a cord reel. It's one of the best ways to store Christmas lights on the market because it's specifically engineered to prevent tangled cords.

One of the best things about using a cord winder is that you don't have to separate strands of lights. You can take them right off the tree, the banister or any decorated spot in your apartment — and even keep them connected in one long string. Just attach the string into the notch and one end and keep winding until the lights are spooled together.

The size you need depends on the number of lights you need to store. Hardware stores and home improvement stores will have a variety of cord reels in different sizes and at many different price points. High-end options often include a sturdy storage case.

How will you store your Christmas lights?

The best way to store Christmas lights depends on the number and type of lights you're using and your available storage space. By choosing the best option now, you'll save yourself time and tangles when you unpack your holiday decorations next year.

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