'Twas the month before Christmas, in front of the house, a Long Islander adorned his lawn with snowmen, soldiers and a mouse.

From Mickey to Minnie, some Minions and the Grinch — this Long Islander is dedicated, so setting up is a cinch.

But what happens after Christmas, when it’s time to pack up the cheer? Decorations in boxes, wrapped in plastic, up in the attic until next year?

For these festive Long Islanders, that’s how every December goes... 

Storage can be tricky on Long Island — whether homeowners are dealing with a more compact property size in Nassau County, or battling moisture on the South Shore. And people rarely house cars in their garages anymore due to their storage needs, experts say. So when it comes to finding a place for holiday decorations and maintaining them for years to come, how do these homeowners make it work? 

... They shared with us some tips, tricks and all of their storage woes.

He’s Mister Hundred and One

Kevin Connolly and children Lulu, Clarabel and Beckett stand by...

Kevin Connolly and children Lulu, Clarabel and Beckett stand by their 30-foot Heat Miser. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Kevin Connolly is the proud owner of a 30-foot-tall inflatable Heat Miser. For the Garden City native, finding the right way to pay homage to "The Year Without a Santa Claus" character took some time.

"I probably spent a good part of 10 years searching for the Heat Miser," said Connolly, 52.

He found one that was 4 feet tall — not big enough. He found an 8-foot inflatable that he could get custom-made, but it was too pricey.

Then, he found what has become the centerpiece of his lawn every December.

"Five years ago, I did my fruitless search on the internet, but there was one eBay listing that looked kind of like what I was looking for," said Connolly, who runs a pool business. "I clicked it, and there it was. It was my eureka moment."

He bought the inflatable from a seller who lived in New Jersey. Some of the supporting characters of Connolly’s display include the Abominable Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, both made of plywood. There are also rows of string lights, and multicolored lollipops lining the perimeter of the yard.

Connolly has introduced these sentimental characters to his kids, ages 11, 9 and 6. One of his sons even helps him set up the front lawn every year.

"I’m a big fan of the Rankin/Bass Christmas cartoons," Connolly said. "Growing up, that was a big part of my childhood, which is why my theme outside, other than Yoda, is focused on the Rankin/Bass cartoons."

There is limited space in Connolly's one-car garage. He had to install a plywood shelf to create additional storage there. So he uses a 10-by-10-foot shed in his backyard exclusively for holiday decorations.

The garage's main purpose is to house large items, like ski equipment, and his children's belongings.

"I don't want to put their bicycles in the back shed," Connolly explained. "The kids would have to go all the way into the backyard. They just want to open up the garage, get on their bicycles and get going. Same with their roller skates and scooters. The garage has become their launching pad."

His father built the shed decades ago, and Connolly built another one (which is 4 by 8 feet) for miscellaneous items.

"I keep the snowblower in the shed, but I've been eyeing that thing and thinking, 'It might be time for you to go, or find a new spot,' " he said. "Because when something goes in, something's gotta come out."

So at the end of the holiday season, the Heat Miser will retreat to the shed, joining Valentine’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving décor.

"If you organize stuff correctly, use stacking boxes and are willing to invest in some of that, you can maximize a small shed," Connolly said.

For example, he uses large reusable IKEA bags instead of plastic bins to store the electronic lollipops, because they are made of plastic and wired together. As for Heat Miser, he settles into an 80-gallon woven fabric bag.

"He fits right up to the top," he said. "You just purge out all of the air and wrap it up meticulously, bottom to top. Then I put him in the corner, keep him raised and pray that mice don’t see a need to chew into it."

Connolly has never had an issue with mice getting into the shed, but has seen raccoons and cats in his backyard. Something else he stores on the property: Christmas trees. Connolly runs Papa Jim’s Christmas Trees, founded to honor his father, who died in 2013. The donation-based effort provides local families in need with Christmas trees and trimmings.

"To have a garage is some type of luxury ... When you see a house [for sale] with a garage, everyone wants to jump right on it."

— JaDaya Banks, real estate agent with Coldwell Banker

Credit: JaDaya Banks

JaDaya Banks, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker (based in its Farmingdale office) said that many Nassau County residents deal with not having a garage.

"To have a garage is some type of luxury," she said. "Not everybody has a garage, and when you see a house [for sale] with a garage, everyone wants to jump right on it."

For decoration storage, Banks has seen Long Islanders utilizing closets, space underneath their beds and spare rooms that once belonged to children who have moved out. She's even encountered homeowners keeping an ottoman right by their Christmas tree, for quick ornament storage when the holidays are over.

But when those spaces aren't optimal, metal, 10-by-10-foot sheds at Home Depot are for sale from $500 to $600, while slightly smaller resin sheds can range between roughly $1,200 and $1,800.

In her experience, it’s rare to see a garage actually being used to store a vehicle on Long Island. "Especially in the Nassau area," Banks said. "Because everything starts to become more compact, so it’s used more for storage."

Tara Fox is a broker with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, working out of the Greenvale office. Her main area for selling and listing is the North Shore of Nassau County, where property sizes can range from "half an acre to 11 acres," she said.

Even on a large lot, lack of storage is a deal-breaker for many clients, Fox said.

"Closets and storage are key factors for people looking for homes, people thinking of renovating a home they're going to purchase, or when they're buying land and working with architects," she said. "They want closets and pantries."

But organization is key, Fox added: "It's not even the space; it's what you do with the space."

Decluttering for Christmas

Joshua Wacks, with wife Amanda and daughters Madison and Kameryn, builds a light-up...

Joshua Wacks, with wife Amanda and daughters Madison and Kameryn, builds a light-up bridge through his holiday setup. Credit: Newsday/Debbie Egan-Chin

My wife and kids are Catholic and I’m Jewish, so I do this for them.

— Joshua Wacks, of Wantagh

More than one-third of American garages are so disorganized that it’s no longer possible to park a vehicle inside, according to a survey conducted by Stanley Black & Decker's Craftsman brand.

To help in situations like this, Denise Sinclair founded GoClutterless in 2015. Based in Valley Stream, the business offers decluttering, organization and clean-out services.

Sinclair said that when people move from an apartment or small home into a larger setting, storage issues can sometimes become exacerbated — especially because of holiday decorations.

"Having a bigger home and not being intentional about your garage, basement and attic, it tends to become one big junk drawer," she said. "It’s a common problem."

Sinclair's business gets lots of last-minute calls around this time of year, when Long Islanders are starting to have company over for the holidays and need help to tidy up quickly. Sinclair's advice is to declutter your space before starting to organize it.

For holiday decorations, "when they're in clear containers, it’s easier to identify what you have in them," Sinclair said. "Or some people use red and green. Just make sure they are labeled so you can easily find what you stored away."

"Having a bigger home and not being intentional about your garage, basement and attic, it tends to become one big junk drawer."

— Denise Sinclair, founder of GoClutterless

Credit: Denise Sinclair

As for breakable items, such as ornaments or heirlooms, bubble wrap is essential to its longevity, and items should be properly stored if they’re going to live in the basement for most of the year, Sinclair said.

"On the South Shore, vacuum sealing is important," she added. "Mold is a big thing and could ruin a lot of holiday decorations. You’ll need to protect them from that moisture."

Joshua Wacks, of Wantagh, has about 40 festive pieces on his lawn, mostly statues with twinkling lights inside. A display featuring penguins gliding down an icy slide, rows of candy canes and smiling snowmen all make appearances.

Wacks, head custodian of a local school district, mostly keeps his decorations in a 10-by-10-foot shed at the corner of his backyard, with one notable exception.

Joshua Wacks said he sets up the holiday display for his wife and children, who celebrate Christmas. Credit: Newsday/Debbie Egan-Chin

"I keep a 7-foot nutcracker in the basement," said Wacks, 38. "I kind of behead him and put him in the basement to fit."

Wacks bought the plastic shed specifically to store Christmas decorations. He starts decorating the week before Thanksgiving, and usually takes it all down in February. Wacks stores the string lights in labeled plastic bins, and breaks down the statues and returns them to their original boxes.

The main attraction at his house is a light-up tunnel — the family invites neighbors to walk through it, take photos and write down a holiday wish to hang from its ornaments.

Wacks’ daughters, ages 11 and 19, get into the spirit every year, excitedly announcing when a friendly face is approaching their driveway to get a closer look at their display.

"My wife and kids are Catholic and I’m Jewish, so I do this for them," he said.

The reason for the season

Joanne and Jon-Michael Santonastaso stand with children Vincent and Olivia...

Joanne and Jon-Michael Santonastaso stand with children Vincent and Olivia on their elaborately decorated front lawn. Credit: Howard Simmons

Where do you store all this stuff? It’s the No. 1 question from everyone I talk to. But you find a spot, and you make it work.

— Jon-Michael Santonastaso

Jon-Michael Santonastaso, or as his loved ones call him, Santo Claus, displays more than 300 decorations on his front lawn in Massapequa. He collects vintage blow mold statues — one of his oldest is a Raggedy Ann that dates to 1966.

"I’ll drive all over the Island to get stuff, if I get the right deal," said Santonastaso, 43. Alongside a group of Long Islanders with similar collections, he uses Facebook marketplace, eBay and local antique stores.

"People with larger collections and larger items pay for storage space," said Santonastaso, a utility worker.

Sinclair has also met Long Islanders who rent storage units specifically to keep their holiday decorations, "but it's not common," she said. "I've also met people who use a storage space as an extension of their home."

The monthly fee may hinder the use of a storage unit, even for those who might need it. To buy a space at Public Storage, the cost ranges from $134 to $479 per month for a climate-controlled unit, while Cube Smart offers $150 to $180 per month, for a 10-by-15-foot space.

Jon-Michael Santonostaso's holiday display takes 10 days to construct. Credit: Howard Simmons

Santonastaso knows some fellow local collectors who struggle with space, and resort to wrapping their decorations in garbage bags and storing them on their deck.

"Personally, I store everything on site at my house," he said. He keeps 10 of the statues in his attic, with about 200 in his crawl space, which runs the length of the house. "I’ll put the smaller pieces there, and in the shed and garage, I’ll store the larger pieces. For the really rare ones, I bring them up to the attic, since it’s air-conditioned and heat-controlled, just to keep the plastic from getting flimsy."

To save room, Santonastaso shrink-wraps his outdoor furniture, which frees up space in the shed and garage. He often has to juggle the placements of his snowblower and bicycles from those two locations, depending on any new blow molds he acquires over the course of the year.

"My house is very limited on garage space, since it's a one-car garage," he added.

It takes about 10 days for Santonastaso to bring his Winter Wonderland to life — and just taking the decorations out is a big part of that process. His kids, ages 3 and 6, serve as the helpful elves of Santo Claus during the setup.

"I make sure the bulbs are all working," he said. "They do get loose sometimes from moving them in and out of the crawl space. I also have to go through them and make sure nothing’s cracked."

Because many of the blow molds are already decades old, all Santonastaso can do is store them in a cool, dry place, low to the ground so that nothing topples over, and wrap them in clear plastic. Some damage is inevitable.

"The vintage stuff does deteriorate after a while," he said. "You can do repairs on these things — there are plenty of videos online, but they won’t light the same way. So to make them last, you have to be very careful with them, especially when putting them away."

But he does it all for his kids, and his community.

"A lot of people, the first thing they ask is, ‘Where do you store all this stuff?' ’’ Santonastaso said with a laugh. "It’s the No. 1 question from everyone I talk to. But you find a spot, and you make it work."

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