When the holidays end, the process of removing vestiges of Christmas begins. Ornaments must be packed away, nativity sets dismantled, wreaths taken down and holiday music turned off.
It is also a time to get ready for the year ahead. Here is a suggested checklist of media-related activities you can try this year, all for free.
When all else fails, read the instructions. A study of Britons for Geek Squad determined that Brits spend an average of four hours and 12 minutes on Christmas unpacking, setting up and mastering gadgets (www. geeksquad.co.uk/helpatxmas).
CNET technology contributor Katie Linendoll makes stress-reducing suggestions on CBS's "The Early Show" (tinyurl.com/gadgethelp). These include looking online for helps from the manufacturer, and instructions and videos found through a search at LifeHacker.com and YouTube.com.
Help is not limited to gizmos. Did you know that you can change the automatic door locks in a Chevrolet Impala by adjusting the radio? I found that out in the instructions.
Gather instructions for your new presents along with items you constantly use -- vehicles, microwaves, DVRs -- and spend an hour or so reading through them.
If you've lost those manuals, you might find them at SafeManuals.com or UsersManualGuide.com. Find game instruction helps at About.com (tinyurl.com/find-gamerules). You may be inspired to clean out the instruction drawer and save PDF copies of all those documents on your computer.
Speaking of the computer -- now is also a great time to tweak it. An earlier column (tinyurl.com/computercleaning) suggested some basic steps to reduce computer clutter, errors and viruses. CCleaner (piriform.com) can help clean your computer, along with CCleaner Enhancer to add other program support (thewebatom.net/programs/ccleaner- enhancer). Other utilities to try are Glary Utilities (glarysoft.com) and EasyDuplicateFinder.com.
If you entertained holiday guests and they installed games or other programs on your computer, it's time to use the free Revo Uninstaller (revouninstaller.com, Downloads tab) to remove un-wanted programs and tracers. IObit Uninstaller (iobit.com) is similar, also offering to remove unwanted browser toolbars.
And you really, really need to back up your hard drive regularly. Really. Methods vary depending upon your system - Windows 7 or Vista (Start>Control Panel>System and Maintenance>Backup and Restore), Windows XP (Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Backup) or Mac (Time Machine or support.apple.com/kb/ht1553). A free utility that can also help is GFI Backup Home Edition (gfi.com/backup-hm).
Wading through the bills? January is a good time to think about where your cash goes: insurance, credit cards, communications and fees (tinyurl.com/10monthlybudgettips). You can often save money by calling a utility provider or using its website (for example, ameren.com/sites/aue/UEfficiency). Compare rate plans for phone, television, insurance and other services at MyRatePlan.com and BillShrink.com.
Budgeting tools are available at DaveRamsey.com/category/tools, including a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and a budget in 60 seconds through Gazelle Budget Lite. Other tips, "5 ways to lower your monthly budget" (hubpages.com/hub/5-Ways-To-Lower-Your-Budget) and dozens of money-saving ideas and products can be found at Kiplinger (tinyurl.com/KiplingerSaveMoney).
Even if you shy away from making New Year's resolutions, there is a host of simple actions requiring only a few minutes to help you save money, compute better and know how to use items around the house.
Ken Satterfield is Word& Way's marketing and advertising coordinator.