Home & Garden

Winding down from Christmas

Admit it: After all that shopping, tree trimming and "Secret Santa" skulking, you're almost over Christmas even before it has arrived.

Perhaps you're realizing that after the holiday has come and gone, there is a sleigh-load of post-Christmas tasks to tackle -- and we're not talking about sharpening the elbows before diving into the post-Christmas sales.

The answer is to map out plans for the inevitable holiday aftermath. Dealing with a needle-shedding tree, regifting unwanted presents and organizing the next 12 months are ways to make the most of any post-Christmas stretch.

Here are a few tips on how to handle life after the holidays.

Tree-stripping party

Decorating that 8-foot-tall Douglas fir in the living room is a worthy centerpiece to any Christmas party, so why not make the most of putting away the ornaments and garlands?

Invite friends over to take down lights and help dispose of the tree. For the most rabid Christmas fans, this is a sad exercise in bidding the season adieu. Use it as an opportunity to gather with seasonal visitors. It also lets you guiltlessly polish off the last of the holiday libations and all those Christmas cookies.

About that tree ...

Break out the hacksaw and start cutting. Cut the tree into 5-foot segments, which can be left by the curb on trash day. Remove all decorations and the tree stand. Help the environment by recycling your tree. To find recycling programs near you, visit www.earth911.com/seasonal/green-your-holidays.

Acknowledge the white elephant(s) in the room

Overloaded with anoraks? Got one too many copies of the latest Lost DVD? If so, organize an Island of Misfit Toys exchange party.

Prove it's never too late to unload -- or score -- a cool present by inviting guests to bring unwanted, rewrapped gifts. This is where all that recycled wrapping paper can come in handy.

Each guest picks a number out of a fishbowl to determine the order in which he or she will choose from the pile of presents. To ensure everyone leaves happy, you can encourage gift-swapping for those unsatisfied with their prizes. And try not to give away presents you received from any of the guests.

Reuse wrapping paper

Not all wrapping paper is equal. Some art supply stores sell imported sheets of printed paper that look more like high-end wallpaper. The number of uses for the old paper is limited only by the imagination. Use it to cover the kids' textbooks. Wrap paper around the stems of a bouquet to enliven a gift of flowers. If the paper is still unblemished and relatively unwrinkled, consider taking an iron to it and reusing it for a future gift.

Go digital

Did Santa get you the PDA of your dreams? How about organizing it for all your 2009 needs?

A less expensive way to put things in order -- and to sync your activities with family members and friends -- is to use such nifty online tools as the Google calendar (www.google.com). Google calendar can send message reminders about everything from important meetings to the expiration dates of coupons directly to a cell phone.

Work that home entertainment center

Catch up on all those shows you've stored away on your TiVo so you can clear the memory and start fresh in 2009. Or organize a marathon viewing session to get up to speed on favorite TV or film series.

Watching an entire block of episodes, whether it's Friday Night Lights or Sex and the City, is an experience akin to ripping through a beefy Dickens novel. Go crazy programming a Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn triple bill or a Lord of the Rings marathon. Or if you prefer a little blood with your eggnog, check out the killer Santa in Silent Night, Deadly Night or Joan Collins fending off a psychotic St. Nick in the 1972 version of Tales From the Crypt.

Get un-jaded

The holidays are all about giving, but the tacky commercialism, the frenzied crowds and the yuletide Muzak piped into elevators can deflate the most bushy-tailed celebrant.

Rather than just donating money to your favorite nonprofit, volunteer with your favorite organization. Commit to doing it for more than just the holiday season. Volunteering is as much about feeling you are a part of something bigger as it is about helping others. It's the kind of activity that puts all your good fortunes into perspective, a rare act that can reward you as much as the beneficiary.

The key here is to find an activity that involves interacting with people in need rather than simply working phone banks or stuffing envelopes. Clerical assistance is great, but helping ailing residents in a senior center, or students trying to write a personal essay at an after-school program, has the potential to be a life-altering experience.

Check out opportunities with your favorite organization or go to Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org).