A Little Strategy Goes a Long Way When Storing Holiday Decorations

christmas ornaments

Don’t toss the holiday decorations in boxes and crates and shove them to the back of the closet. By planning ahead when you put them away, you’ll save hours of time and even money next year when you’re not checking for the bulb that has burned out or running to the store to replace something that got crushed.

Before you get started putting things in boxes for next year, make sure you want to keep everything. Now is the time to get rid of decorations you don’t like, have no sentimental value or are broken. Even with the best intentions, are you really going to look for the burned out bulb in the strand of lights next year? Perhaps you can find a new strand on sale this year. (Click here for tips on de-cluttering after the holidays.)

Storing the Christmas Tree: Storing an artificial tree in the box it came in is not a good idea. The box deteriorates, making the tree prone to bugs crawling in during the year. You can buy a tree bag or a tree box inexpensively. Other ideas:

Wrap the tree in old belts to cinch it up and make it easier to store and more manageable to handle.

If the artificial tree is getting older, before you put the tree away, label the layers by number so you can see what piece goes where.

Storing Christmas Ornaments: Take the opposite approach to storing your tree for your ornaments and keep them in the boxes they came in. These boxes are designed to protect your ornaments.

Other storage ideas:

Ornaments can be stored in egg cartons and apple containers and you can put a layer of tissue paper for extra protection. Non-fragile ornaments can be stored in sandwich bags. Of course, be sure to wrap anything fragile in tissue paper and line the boxes with paper if you’re not storing in the original packaging.

You can also store your ornaments in plastic cups in a box or container. If you do this, glue the cups to the bottom of the box to keep them from moving around and to protect the ornaments.

Storing the lights: Wrap strands of lights around old coffee cans to keep them from tangling. Put a hole in the top or bottom of the can and put the ends of the lights strand through the holes. If you don’t use coffee cans, use something bold to wrap your lights around, or you can be guaranteed they will come out of storage tangled.

Labeling Your Boxes: You can make unpacking and setting up even easier by labeling your boxes. Number them by how many you have, e.g., 1 of 12, 2 of 12, etc. And label the first box you need as number 1. If the tree goes up first, then label the box(es) with tree stand, decorations and lights for the tree with the earliest numbers. The last thing you want is the tree stand in box number 7.

Storing Wreaths: You can purchase special boxes that your wreaths fit in to protect them or you can store them in plastic dry cleaning bags. Hang your wreath on a coat hanger and then slip it into the bag. If you’re careful when you put it in, it’ll come out ready to hang next year.

It may take a little extra time when you put the decorations away, but you’ll be ready to go next year, with time and money savings in mind.

Countdown to Christmas!

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Are your kids anxious for Christmas to get here? Are you looking for some fun ways to count down to the big day? Here are some fun activities for kids and grownup kids alike to make the time until Santa arrives go a little faster.

Red and green meal – Make a healthy pre-holiday Christmas dinner out of green and red foods. Some ideas: A tossed salad with cherry tomatoes and snow peas; another helping of cranberries; pizza with peppers, tomatoes and broccoli, spinach lasagna in marinara sauce; spinach enchiladas. Let the adults pick a healthy red and green entree and then let the kids be creative with the side dishes.

Christmas lights drive – You can do this more than one time, for sure! Load everyone in the car and check out the holiday lights. You can go to new neighborhoods or see what’s new in your own. Make a game out of it by seeing how many Rudolphs you can find on house roofs, count blowup Santa Clauses or listen for houses that are piping music outside. This driving game makes for limitless fun!

Gingerbread houses – Make your own gingerbread house. You can actually build your own out of gingerbread or buy a starter kit. Decorate with gum drops, cinnamon candies, frosting, marshmallows, or really, anything you can dream of and imagine. Gingerbread houses aren’t just fun for one night; they are great decorations for the entire holiday season.

Christmas movie night – This activity is an oldie but a goodie. Pick out your favorite holiday movie and plug it in. Are you a fan of White Christmas? Or is Christmas Vacation more your style? No matter what your taste, a movie night with popcorn and family is sure to put you into the holiday spirit.

Balloon volleyball – Want an activity that is only as holiday-themed as you make it? Blow off some of the Christmas energy by playing balloon volleyball. Put out some ribbon on the floor for a makeshift volleyball net and blow up a few balloons. Indoor balloon volleyball is a great way to burn some holiday calories and get out a burst of family energy.

Bake cookies (and then deliver them to others) – You may be baking cookies already, so fire up the oven for a few more and deliver them to fire houses, police stations, hospitals, assisted living facilities. If you can think of people who serve others or may be lonely during the holidays, then bring them a batch of cookies to show you care and to say thank you.

Make holiday decorations – Break out the scissors because there are few things more fun than making holiday decorations. What do you have in your house already? Construction paper? Ribbon? Glitter? Sequins and Beads? Glue? Styrofoam balls? If you have these things, you have the makings for a fun craft table. If you are a really festive elf, you can leave the craft table up all season and you can make ornaments whenever the spirit moves you.

Start planning now so you can make the lead up to the holidays part of the holidays!

Inexpensive Holiday Gift Guide

Funny pancakes for Christmas

Looking for the perfect holiday gift but don’t have a lot of money to spend? Here are some great gifts for anyone on your list that won’t blow your bank account!

A potted plant

Some indoor plant life can bring some much needed green into the long, dark January and February months. A potted plant is a great gift for anyone who has recently purchased a home or has lived in their home for years or even decades and needs a change. You can think big or small, depending on the size of their home. But if they have pets, make sure you pick a plant that is non-poisonous to animals.

Kitchen gadgets

It takes a long time to stock your first kitchen, especially with stuff that’s going to last. For that friend who needs basics, think a can opener, potato peeler or corkscrew. If you want to get fancier, you could go for a garlic press, a potato masher or a pastry cutter. Maybe throw in a pretty tea towel or place mats for a splash of color.

Small gardening tools

These are great for new homeowners suddenly faced with caring and tending to their own garden. Think some basic pruning shears or some tools for planting fresh flowers. Want to make the gift even more fun? Put these items in a flower pot and get them started on decorating their deck when spring comes.

A cookbook

A great way to save money is to make meals at home, but there are a lot of cookbooks out there. Choose something simple with a lot of basic recipes that can be adapted or modified. Or choose a cookbook that has an online blog associated with it. Then they will have a built-in community, where they can seek out further recipes as well as tips and tricks.

A few months of Netflix (or the recipient’s channel of choice) and some popcorn.

Cable TV is expensive, and a lot of people are looking for ways to cut their bills. A gift fo a few months of Netflix or Hulu is great for someone who wants to try something new but doesn’t know where to start.

Pancake mix and maple syrup

Pancakes are a favorite weekend treat, light and fluffy and a warm reminder that you have nowhere to be on a cold snowy morning. But making homemade pancakes isn’t always a top priority. A special pancake mix from a specialty food store can make this the perfect gift. Top it off with some maple syrup or homemade fruit compote. If they are new to the kitchen, you may even throw in a small griddle and a spatula!

A deck of cards

A deck or two of playing cards and you can create your own family fun and holiday memories. Old Maid and Go Fish for the kids, Gin Rummy, Poker and Black Jack for the adults. Get a classic deck or go for the recipient’s favorite theme. Whatever you decide you’re sure to bring family fun to your family’s holiday.

Board games

Go old school and get family games like Parcheesi, Monopoly, Trouble, Sorry or Yahtzee. Those games are around today still because of the fun they bring for the whole family. Or you can go with strategy games like Settlers of Catan or Risk. Those will bring a challenge, for sure. Friends like word games? How about Scrabble or Boggle? A walk down the game aisle of any toy store wil spur more fun board game ideas. Check out puzzles while you are in this aisle. Some of the best conversations and comfortable silences happen over the bonding of puzzle building.

Winter skin care kit

Frigid temperatures, bitter winds and dry, radiator air will give anyone’s skin a scare. But you can take the bite out of this pain with some nice lip balm, a good hand lotion, some cuticle oil and maybe a facial moisturizer or shaving lotion.

For pet lovers: A box of pet treats and a pet toy

Pamper your friends by pampering their pets. Get some squeaky toys and some treats. Or maybe Fido moved to a new home but his favorite bed didn’t make the trip. Check out all the options for pets online or in your local pet store. After all, nothing says you like your friend than loving their pet!

Whatever gift you give, at Universal Lending we want to wish you a  warm and happy winter holiday season and a happy new year!

Holiday Etiquette the Whole Neighborhood Will Agree On

House with Many Colorful Christmas Lights

You just moved into a new neighborhood and now you need to know the “rules.” Let there be peace on earth and in your neighborhood this holiday season by following some special seasonal etiquette.

Turn down the noise. A lot of holiday decorations play music today. If your snowmen and Santas are singing, consider turning them off by 9 p.m. No one wants to Jingle All the Way all night long.  In addition, guests come and go more often and at different times during the holidays. Voices carry at night and in the morning so keep your voice down when coming and going.

If your holiday lights are extra bright, turn them off at a reasonable hour (10 p.m.) so they aren’t shining in your neighbors’ windows all night long.

Kids are extra excited and excitable during the holidays. They can swing from happy to sad on a dime. Don’t let them scream from the top of their lungs with delight or dismay.

Keep a few extra inexpensive gifts in your home. If a neighbor pops by with a treat for you, you’ll be ready to reciprocate.

Don’t welcome yourself home by honking in your driveway. You’ll be inside to say hello in no time. Same goes for saying goodbye – no need to honk.

Are you hosting a party? Invite your neighbors. It’s a great way to spur some neighborhood camaraderie. It also gets you off the hook for a little bit when music or voices get loud.

Offer to pick up mail and packages for neighbors who are traveling or working late. Porch pirates are becoming more popular these days so if you can help by keeping packages in your house, you’re doing a great service for a friend.

If you have an issue with a neighbor, discuss it with him in person, politely and calmly. Don’t put anonymous notes in mailboxes or post anonymously in online forums.

Garbage cans overflow at the holidays. Make sure paper and trash from your overflowing can doesn’t blow into a neighbor’s yard. Find ways to neatly toss your trash.

Shovel and de-ice your sidewalks and other pathways. This not only makes your home appear well taken care of, but it can keep people from slipping and sliding as they walk by on their way to school or on their walks with Fido.

Give a helping hand. Have an elderly neighbor a neighbor who could use some help? Shovel their driveway and walk as well.

And make sure you clear a path for your mail carrier as well. Life is easier when you’re not stepping a pile of slush.

Remember your manners and you’ll be the jolliest holiday homeowner of all time. 

Make Your Holiday Home, Holiday Guest-Ready

christmas dog with teddy bear sleeping

Welcome your holiday visitors with a home that is guest-ready. It’s easy to feel ready for anything when the doorbell rings by taking a few simple steps today.

Clear the clutter. For a lot of us our guest room was once our “spare room” or it is still our office. Clear the clutter from the guest room when you know you are going to have visitors. If the guest room doubles your office, put away your files and move your laptop. If you store items in the guest closet, buy some storage bins and put things in the bins to keep the closet organized and welcoming. Clear out at least half of the closet, and leave plenty of open hangers so your guests can hang their clothes and jackets right away. Make sure some of the dresser drawers are available, too. Guests are more comfortable when they have a place to store their clothes and other items so they aren’t tossed around in their room or stacked on top of their suitcase.

Have a luggage rack ready. If you simply cannot empty any drawers or make room in the closet, get a couple of inexpensive luggage racks so your guests can put their luggage on those and pull their clothes from there, without having to work from a suitcase on the floor. Put an inexpensive hook on the outside of the closet and dangle a few coat hangers on that, so your guests have a place to hang up jackets and nice clothes.

Make a guest basket. Fill up a basket with everything from travel-sized soaps to snacks to munch on after you’ve gone to bed. Include a few travel essentials: lip balm, lotion, sunscreen, a lint roller and little essentials they may not have remembered or thought to bring. If you are feeling extra welcoming, put in some fun snacks, such as granola, bite-sized candy bars or fig newtons. Include some bottles of water or a reusable water bottle or glasses in the basket or next to the basket so your guests can get water during the night without having to fumble around in the dark kitchen.

Create an online cheat sheet. Make their stay easy by creating a packet ahead of time with all of the information they’ll need, like your WiFi network name and password, so they can log on whenever they want.

  • Add soft, low-key lighting. Make sure your guest room has a lamp with soft lighting or a 3-way bulb so they can adjust the lighting. Soft lighting makes it easier to read before dozing off and makes the room feel more cozy.Use good sheets. Put nice sheets on your bed. Splurge a little on sheets and a soft blanket. If the mattress is your old one from your youth, it may be time to buy an inexpensive but new mattress that is a little less used. Make the bed look lovely with a throw blanket or pillows, but don’t go overboard on the decorations. Too many throw pillows and guests get flustered trying to make the bed the way you like it.
  • Put extra pillows and blankets in the closet or on a small table or chair in the corner so your guests can be as comfy as they want.

    Provide a fan if the room gets warm, or make sure your guests know how to work the ceiling fan if there is one.

    Clear some space on top of the dresser. Don’t clutter the space with family photos or knick-knacks. Leave the space clear so your guests can put their jewelry, books, phone, etc. in a place that’s easy to see. If you do want to put something on the dresser, nothing says “welcome” more than some fresh flowers.

    Prep the bathroom, too!

  • Put out fresh towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, cotton balls, cotton swabs. If your guests forget something, they’ll be glad you thought of it.
  • Make sure you leave extra toilet paper where they can see it or in the obvious cabinet. No one wants to ask for toilet paper.
  • Put out a box of tissues, as well, if you did not put one in the guest bedroom.

Early Risers?

  • Put coffee by the coffee maker or prep the coffee maker and set the timer so your guests can start their day early (or late if you’re up and out before them). Put out some fruit and muffins so guests aren’t forced to root through your cabinets if they are hungry.

It’s all about your guests. Make them feel welcome and comfortable. By following a few simple tips, you’ll be able to make sure your guest and you have the visit of a lifetime.