House & Home

Clearing Up After the Holidays

Posted December 28, 2013

The holidays tend to generate large volumes of waste as you raise the roof with your celebrations. You've got wrappings; old tech and other discards replaced by shiny new presents; trees and greenery swags; ugly and unwanted presents (come on, you know you got at least one); extra food; and so much more. It can seem a little overwhelming to stagger out on Boxing Day and attempt to figure out what to do with all this junk, and we've got you covered.

*Packages, wrapping, and more.

If you managed to restrain yourself while unwrapping, you may have a tidy array of wrapping paper to reuse next year. Tip: roll it up to minimize creasing so it will be in good shape. You can save all your ribbons, and bows, too. If you were a little more zesty during the unwrapping process, that wrapping paper is compostable, and can also be recycled. (Next year, consider using burlap, cotton, silk, and other organic materials for ribbons, as they can be reused or composted much more easily.)

Got boxes? We wouldn't be surprised. It's a good idea to keep the packaging for items you might need to return (but you probably already know that), and if you got any fragile items, you might want to put their original boxes in storage so you can re-use them when you move. Other boxes can be broken down and recycled, or you can check out our epic list of things to do with cardboard boxes.

*Out with the old, in with the new.

Many people get new gadgets for Christmas, which leaves them with laptops, phones, tablets, and more that they no longer want to use. You have a couple of great options for these. One is to wipe and resell them to people interested in used electronics; Craigslist can be a great resource for finding new homes for old tech. You can also donate them to organizations that specifically request them (for example, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence works with a cell phone recycling program). If you know of less fortunate people in the community who might benefit from having personal computers or tablets, like high school students who are struggling to keep up with their peers, they can be good candidates for a gently-worn older item.

You can also submit your old tech directly to recycling firms. Make sure to check their supply line and confirm that they dispose of items ethically. Ask where their e-waste is recycled (if it's shipped overseas, it may be contributing to pollution and workers could be laboring in unsafe conditions). Thanks to fees charged with the purchase of new technology, you can also drop your technology off for free at any regional e-waste collection center. Take care to wipe your hard drives to remove any and all personal data first!

*What to do with all these greens?

Trees, wreaths, swags, mantel decorations, what do you do when they start withering and shedding everywhere? Many cities have a municipal recycling day set aside for the collection of trees and associated debris. You can also contact a tree recycling center directly, or ask around to see if a local charity is collecting trees for chipping and recycling. We have more ideas for recycling old trees here, and many of them apply to other greenery items as well!

*Unwanted presents

Hoo boy. We feel you on this one. Useful items can potentially go to charity and resale shops, as long as you're confident the offending gift-giver won't stumble upon them (and won't demand to see them later). You can also get creative about potential uses: did you get an ugly sweater made from great yarn? Unravel it, and use the yarn for your own knitting project. Gruesome plate? It might make a great plant saucer (and you can hide a multitide of sins in the depths of your San Francisco landscaping). Hideous clock? You could replace the clock face with something more interesting.

*Extra food

Extra food in packages can totally go to the food bank (which also appreciates donations of things like personal care items including sanitary napkins, shampoo, conditioner, soap, and so forth). Leftovers can be frozen for future consumption (tip: consider freezing in small batches so you can thaw a few servings at a time) or stored in the fridge for up to a week. Consider reusing your leftovers in creative ways: turn that Christmas turkey into turkey tacos, for example, so you're not eating endless servings of increasingly dry and boring turkey.

*Extra family

You're on your own with this one!

Katie Marks writes for

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