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This article was first seen in the Athens Banner Herald on New Years Day 2008 and was subsequently picked up for the Jan 6th, 2008 Sunday Edition of the Augusta Tribune as well as sydnicated newspapers throughout the Southeast

Lights out, time to pack up: Decorator has miles to go

The cards have been sent, the parties are over and the gifts have been opened. The only thing left to do, perhaps the most loathed holiday-season chore, is to pack up all the tinsel and lights for next year.

While some people grumble about taking down the Christmas tree and boxing up the wrapping paper and wreaths, they may want to think about Christopher Philpot, owner of the Bluelights House on Brickleberry Ridge in Athens. Philpot, a freelance designer and artist by trade, will spend two weeks stripping more than four miles of lights off his house, coiling up about a quarter mile of extension cords and boxing up 30 Christmas trees. And even with all that work ahead of him, he still thinks it's worth it.

"It's weird the first few nights the blue light is not shining through the windows," he said. "It's kind of sad to see them go ... but I don't get depressed or anything about having to take them down. As soon as they come down, I can start thinking about what I'm going to do next year."

For seven years, Philpot has added to his personal collection of Christmas lights, and as the line of drive-by traffic stretched, he decided to put it to good use. For four years, he's collected for Toys for Tots, racking up well over 1,000 toys this year. But when the lights go out Dec. 31, Philpot must plan the long process of closing up the show. Over the years, he's come up with strategies to make packing up more than 100,000 lights a little easier. Some have worked and some didn't.

"If you really like the way your lights look one year, it might be tempting to just take them down in one long string - so you don't have to sort them all out the next year," Philpot said. "Don't do it. They'll end up so tangled you'll never be able to get them unwrapped."

Instead, Philpot advises coiling each string of lights separately as it is taken off the house or tree and placing each string in its own plastic grocery bag. Tie the bag and pack it into a 35-gallon storage bin. Words of caution though, don't over pack the bins.

"If you get 30 or 50 strings of lights in there, you won't be able to move it," he said. "I've made that mistake early on. There's a lot of copper and glass in those lights and they can get heavy quick. Also, keep each color together and you'll be more organized when the lights come out of storage next fall. And, be aware that colored lights fade each year and you need to label the lights to avoid having a faded strand in a line right after a new, richly colored one. On large panels like my roof and walls, I try to mix them evenly."

Inside the house, Philpot boxes each of his 30 artificial Christmas trees with the extension cords and lights. He puts the ornaments as close by as he can.

"I've learned to keep the power cords and everything you need for each tree together," Philpot said. "It may only save you a couple of minutes, but it is just easier to be able to pull out one tree and everything there."

That advice applies double to his prize tree - a 16-foot Frankenstein tree Philpot welded from several smaller trees. Including framework, branches, 6000 lights, 7 power cords and a motorized 10" disco ball star, the whole assembly consists of over 400 parts which must be reassembled correctly the following year.

Philpot's packing philosophy makes a lot of sense, said Adele Gross, a professional organizer who owns the Athens-based At Your Service organizing service. It's also important to choose the right containers. One of the biggest frustrations, she said, is returning from the store with storage bins that are too small. It pays to measure before you leave. Gross' advice: Toss out some older Christmas decorations rather than store them another year. "Some people want to hold on because they think they may need the things at some time in future," Gross said. "If you have space for it, then it may not be an issue for you. But if you can't pull your car into the garage, it may be something you want to consider."

Philpot agrees, somewhat.

He waits until he pulls out 72 storage bins the following Christmas to decide what to cull. The sun can bleach the colored lights he uses on the house, turning them clear. So every year he picks out the ones that have lost their luster and donates or gives them away to people wanting the traditional white lights look. Weather damage is one reason to get outdoor lights down as quickly as possible, Philpot said. He doesn't advocate trying to do it all in one weekend. The important thing is just to get started.

Gross agrees. Focus on finishing one part of the house at a time and eventually it all will be done, she said. "For a lot of people the process (of packing up everything) becomes extremely overwhelming because they're focusing on this huge task," she said. "If they were taking it one task at a time, it's a lot easier to get motivated." For extra motivation, Philpot reminds himself, decorating for Valentine's Day, St Patrick's and Easter are just around the corner...

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