I start this holiday-decorating season with an almost-clean slate. Not much dust, and very little mildew. (I'll explain later.)

Last year, I ruthlessly purged the Christmas bins. You know, those see-through plastic, hinged-lid thingies that seem to reproduce like bunnies in the basement, except there's so much stuff inside you can't actually see through them, and there are so many of them you've long since forgotten what you were storing where, let alone why.

The Great Purge of 2011 took place mostly because a very wet summer, capped by Hurricane Irene, had led to some damp-ish cardboard boxes of holiday cheer - some of which, I'm embarrassed to say, had white fluffy beards rivaling Santa's before we cleared them out and gave the basement walls several new coats of water-sealant paint.

With the boxes beyond salvation, I either had to toss or transfer what was inside. There was only so much room in the plastic bins, and I vowed I would not buy a single new container for this stuff. (OK, I did buy one.) And thus began the trashing.

Items disposed of:

One artificial Christmas tree, circa 1965, retrieved from my parents' garage and revived 2007 to 2009. (Hey, it was a recession.) R.I.P, ye olde Tannenbaum.

Yards and yards of weary silver tinsel garland, circa mid-1980s.

Assorted ceramic figures (Mr. and Mrs. Claus, Frosty), part of long-ago Boscov's giveaways.

Some Christmas stockings personalized with my first name (at least one of them misspelled) that had been sent to me with PR kits when I was Home & Design editor. No one else in the office wanted or needed them, obviously.

Lines of colored twinkle lights, their cords knotted beyond redemption.

A heap of paper and plastic bags used at some point to cushion fragile items, plus a tangle of bent ornament hooks, and a couple dozen balding fabric-covered ornaments (also mid-1980s vintage).

Much of this I had been keeping because I am, deep in my soul, a frugal person (though I do my part for America's consumer economy in other ways, I promise you). But mostly I kept it because my husband was not a Christmas person, and it seemed silly to add to what I had acquired before we met.

Reuse and recycle became my inadvertent mantra for 14 yuletides. Enough already.

Soon, I'll be unpacking last December's big buy, a 6-foot pre-lit Martha Stewart tree from Home Depot, and hanging some 2011-vintage glass orbs from its boughs. No doubt, I'll buy a few more between now and Dec. 25.

But also suspended from those branches will be a few dozen precious pieces the mildew didn't dare destroy for me, not in my parents' garage, not in my damp basement.

And at the top will be the angel I bought with my little boy two decades ago at a shop somewhere up near Williamsport. Her wings are a little shabby, but whose aren't?

I may have a cleaner holiday slate, but I haven't lost my holiday memory.

Contact real estate editor Joanne McLaughlin at 215-854-4177 or jmclaughlin@phillynews.com.