Every December, my parents lug out a department store’s worth of holiday paraphernalia. They’ve got everything from 18 Santa Claus figurines (and counting) to a talking snowman specifically for the bathroom (yes, that’s a thing).
But my parents aren’t alone. There’s no denying that people across the country love holiday décor. But decking the halls (and the yard and the rooftop) can put strain on even the best of relationships. And if the stress isn’t enough to derail your jolly spirit, remember that certain decorations also come with potential safety hazards. In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 15,000 emergency room visits occurred while people were holiday decorating in 2012 — and that number continues to rise each year.
So before you bust out the boughs of holly and the ibuprofen, check out this ultimate guide to decorating safely without losing your mind.
5 tips for safe holiday decorating
Whether you’re hanging twinkly lights, placing the star atop your tree, or cozying up with loved ones by the fire, these decorating tips can help you avoid safety hazards so your holidays stay merry and bright.
1. Put up Christmas tree decorations safely
As a festive focal point, the Christmas tree’s an annual pain point for many homes. To this day, my dad takes great pride in lighting and assembling our faux evergreen. And without fail, he swears, sweats, and stresses at a level that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud. Don’t be my dad. Here are a few tips to stay safe and calm:
- Don’t reach on your tiptoes to affix that golden star. Use a step stool or ladder to avoid pulling a muscle or losing balance.
- Hang ornaments resembling toys on higher branches so grabby children (or pets) don’t mistake them for treats.
- Keep your cool: Sometimes a 10-minute break sipping hot cocoa while admiring that fierce Santa Claus collection can help maintain inner calm.
2. Handle string lights properly
From the large old-school bulbs in primary colors to the ever-popular minilights lining windows and roofs, string lights are a holiday staple. But damaged or broken lights could result in electrical shocks or even spark fires. Follow these steps for proper repair and handling:
- Though they vary by manufacturer, some lights contain lead in the cords and bulb sockets, which could be toxic. Always wash your hands after touching light strands and read labels closely before purchasing new ones.
- Plug them in first. It’s easier to look for missing or broken bulbs before they’re on display.
- Examine the strand to make sure the cord coating’s intact and avoid stapling through the cord itself.
How to fix light strands
Nothing leads to holiday meltdown quicker than a faulty light strand. Here are a few tips for keeping your calm in the face of a flickering strand of Christmas lights:
- According to Popular Mechanics, start by determining if it’s one faulty bulb or something more complicated. If only one bulb’s out, try replacing it. If it’s several bulbs, you can use a variety of light bulb tester tools to find the culprit.
- Depending on the electrical wiring, sometimes swapping out one bulb will illuminate a whole section that was out.
- If multiple bulbs are duds, it could be a busted filament or shunt. In that case, you’ll need basic electrician tools.
- Keep your cool: Non-LED strands are actually made to last only a few seasons. Keep your sanity by knowing when to move on. Many companies around the country offer light strand recycling. If there’s none in your area, HolidayLEDs.com offers mail-in processing.
3. Practice fireplace safety
A crackling, wood-burning fire can set a cozy holiday ambiance whether you have chestnuts roasting or not. With tons of statistics on fireplace accidents, extra precaution’s needed. Monitor these potential safety hazards:
- Make sure your chimney flue’s open before starting a fire. An easy hack? Point a flashlight up the chimneystack. If the light reflects, your flue’s still closed.
- Creosote, a film of leftover fuel, can get stuck along the chimneystack and ignite fires. If it’s been awhile, hire a professional chimney sweep to clean and survey your stack.
- Glass doors can reach 500°F, even after flames are extinguished. Using a fire screen can help prevent children and pets from getting too close.
- Keep your cool: Hastiness plus flames can equal disaster. Depending on your hearth, leave enough time before guests arrive to concentrate on building a fire.
If, like me, you don’t have a fireplace, play a rolling video of a crackling fire (and light a firewood-scented candle for the full effect). Cozy night accomplished.
4. Avoid outdoor ladder accidents
Whether it’s plastic reindeer or icicle lights, some decorations require roof access. One misstep can land you in the emergency room. In the spirit of outdoing your neighbors safely, avoid slips and injuries with these ladder tips:
- Check that the ladder meets your load-bearing and height needs.
- Place it on a flat, steady area, one foot away from the wall for every 4 feet in the ladder.
- Wear adequate footwear.
- Keep your cool: Remember the holidays aren’t about besting your neighbors’ displays. There’s always that house with the musically synchronized light show, after all. In other words, don’t break any bones (literally) trying to one-up your neighbors.
5. Organize storage for next year
My former landlady left her building’s icicle lights up year-round. While that’s one option, you probably want to store it all until next year. Streamline the storage process (and save yourself a headache next Christmas) with these pointers:
- Keep string lights untangled. Wind them into a circle shape and seal each strand in a plastic ziplock bag, labeled to indicate placement. For example, “front windows,” or “staircase railing.”
- There are plenty of storage options for standard-shaped decorations like wreaths or round ornaments. For specialty items, keep the original packaging/boxes if you can. This adequately protects all pieces and labeling’s not needed.
- Group products together in categories like “indoor” versus “outdoor,” or even specified by room.
- As a general rule, clear, stackable, tightly sealed containers are key.
- Keep your cool: There’s no rush after it’s all over! Leave enough time to properly package items. Investing the time now can save you stress next year.
If your mom’s cussing out the little plastic snowmen while securing them in the lawn (been there), she probably just needs a hug. After (and during) all the decorating hubbub, remember to relax and enjoy time with those near and dear to you.