Queries from the Curious: Ask Helen

Q: I love the holidays because the activities stimulate my creativity and bring my family close together. I’m not so inspired by the thought of dealing with the aftermath — stuff that turns into clutter. Any chance you could give me a game plan to deal with, well, the mess?

So you relate well to the Elf on the Shelf, but what you really want is guidance from the Mess Fairy? It’s ironic that one of the top five New Year’s resolutions is the vow that “this year, I’ll get organized.” OK, ease up on the consumption of sugar cookies so you avoid feeling lethargic and sink your teeth into these guidelines for making a graceful transition from December into January.

Have a de-trimming party to involve the family with the packing.

Put the decorations away carefully so they are clean and ready to be enjoyed again next year. Trees, wreaths, lights and all of your decorative trinkets probably have plastic or durable corrugated boxes. Buy whatever you need to house your collection and then label the contents or affix photos for easy identification. Put any extra lights into the boxes with the light strands.

Use the holiday cards you received to update your contact lists.

Cut out the return address labels and tape them to the front of the cards. Put these into a holiday box for “processing” later. Some of us like to save cards until the next holiday season, although few of us ever take the time to pull them out for reminiscing. Only you can decide how many cards or holiday letters you have the room to store. If the ghosts of holidays past start to overwhelm your space, purge the collection.

● Put away gifts after purging one or even two items from the same category.

New mugs? Recycle old ones. A new sweater? Sorry, but you have to remove one or two worn models. You can start a box for items to regift, being careful to note who gave you the item originally, or a bag for donations as a tribute to your holiday spirit. You also might want to set aside inventory for a yard sale.

● To avoid having the kiddos feel overwhelmed by the new toys, set up a rotation plan.

Some folks call this a toy library. An old favorite that has been shelved for a while and then pulled out on a rainy day can spark hours of happy play. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, indeed. Formal toy drives may be ending, but many agencies around town still need donated toys for their young clients.

● The kitchen usually takes a beating during the holidays because of the unrelenting emphasis on food.

If you don’t have the time or energy to tackle those messy oven racks or sticky refrigerator shelves, invest in paid help, a practical present for yourself.

● Unless you’re filling the accumulated empty mailing boxes with donations, recycle them.

Now, take out that fresh 2017 calendar or use your favorite calendar app to schedule time for these organizing activities. Meet with the family to gather ideas for who wants to do what and when. All of you will transition out of holiday mode feeling nicely organized, just in time for Valentine’s Day!