That’s a Wrap: Some Alternatives to Traditional Gift-Wrapping

Looking for a greener Christmas? Re-think your gift wrap. According to Stanford University:

  • If every U.S. family wrapped three gifts in repurposed materials, the gift wrap saved would cover 45,000 football fields.
  • If every family reused two feet of holiday ribbon per year, the ribbon saved could tie a bow around Earth.

Feeling like a planet-despoiling bastard yet? Don't beat yourself up too badly. I use some holiday paper myself. But I obtain/use it in very specific ways:

  • Buying during post-holiday clearance sales — they're practically giving the stuff away
  • Re-using wrap when possible
  • Using non-traditional wrap
  • Getting paper and gift bags in non-traditional ways

You can frame the “to wrap or not to wrap” question in three ways: frugal or eco-friendly, or both.

A lot of people are seriously concerned about the amount of paper we produce and quickly discard. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day see an extra 25 million tons of garbage in the United States. How much of that waste is Pokemon wrapping paper, holographic gift bags, and curly ribbon that will still be curly (and recognizably ribbon) after 50 years in a landfill?

That bothers me. But like companies that use environmental mitigation to offset the effects of development, I'm as eco-friendly as I can be while still indulging in a certain amount of despoilation. All year long I recycle, cook from scratch, buy clothes from thrift stores, walk or take the bus, and do other things to limit my impact on the Earth.

But I also take a lot of plane trips, which apparently have a major environmental impact. I choose to eat meat. I don't purchase strictly organic foods or green goods. And every few years I buy holiday gift wrap.

Why only every few years? Because I make it last, that's why. That's where the frugal part comes in.

Go paperless
The first and most obvious alternative: Don't wrap at all. If you've got friends/family/a partner who also feel that gift wrap is an eco-disaster, agree to put the presents out completely nekkid.

Yes, it spoils the excitement of wondering what you got for Christmas. The knowledge that you've kept a bunch of wrapping paper out of the landfill will have to substitute for that holiday frisson.

Or try temporary camouflage: Burrito-up gift items in bath towels or sheets. House smaller presents in old sour-cream containers and larger ones in pillowcases, or in cardboard boxes you got free from local stores. Rubber-band them shut if you can, to save on strapping tape, or tie them closed with the shoelaces you've taken from worn-out shoes.

(You do take them out, don't you? And cut the buttons off shirts you've worn to shreds, before you cut them up to use for cleaning rags? If not, hand me your Frugal Hacker badge right now. You can have it back once you've earned it.)

Tip: Liquor stores discard tons of boxes, especially during the holidays, which drive us to entertain or to drink (or both). If you're required to separate the recyclables, plan to flatten those booze boxes one or two per week for a while. Otherwise your neighbors will discuss an intervention.

You can also repurpose a cigar or shoe box. Erin Huffstetler opens the side seam of cereal boxes, turns them inside-out and re-tapes them to house shirts and other gifts. “Let your kids stamp or paint on designs,” says Huffstetler, who writes the Frugal Living Guide for About.com.

I think that's clever. But if an empty Rice Krispies box just isn't festive enough, how about a tin? I end up with these every year because they're sent to me full of homemade treats. I also find them at rummage sales for practically nothing and, occasionally, in the “free” boxes at yard sales. If you don't want your gift sliding around you can wedge it in place with crumpled-up newspaper.

Bag it
Decorative gift sacks are increasingly popular. My theory is that a lot of people are as bad as I am at wrapping packages but are too classy to give lumpy presents. (My gifts look positively glandular.) Gift bags would seem to be the perfect solution. But unless they have handles that can be tied shut, you need to add tissue paper to cover up the presents.

Fiendishly clever of the gift-wrap companies, isn't it, selling an easy-to-use item that requires a corollary purchase?

A close relative of mine uses gift bags made of super-strong paper, versus the flimsier, single-use varieties. Since she gives only to people she's known a long time, they've accepted that it's one of her idiosyncrasies to ask for the bags back. Pick the right gift sack (and the right recipients) and you won't have to buy wrapping supplies for years.

If you've got a sewing machine, you could make simple cloth bags to cover the goods. (Hand-stitching is possible, obviously, but more time-consuming.) Look for fabric remnants at thrift shops. You might even luck into a holiday-themed pattern; how often do people plan to make gifts but wind up donating that holly-printed flannel? Watch for old sheets or Christmas-y dish towels, too. But not Christmas guest towels, because it's a known fact that these should never be used.

The bags don't have to include a drawstring or Velcro unless you want to show off. Just tie it closed with a piece of ribbon, string, or raffia.

Tip: Did you buy rolls of ribbon at that post-holiday clearance sale? Cut a single long piece into 1/8th-inch-wide slivers. Each will hold bags closed just as well as a wide ribbon would. The ends may even become curly, and you can pretend that you did it that way on purpose.

Or how about putting gifts in reusable shopping bags? It's possible to ask for these bags back, too, unless you want to make them part of your gifts. You're looking for environmental mitigation, remember? Encouraging others to eschew plastic bags counts.

More than one way to wrap
I haven't bought clearance holiday wrap for at least two years yet my supply is still pretty ample. In part that's because whenever possible I save the paper from gifts I receive and use it the following year to wrap items of similar size. If there are marks where tape or ribbon was removed, I cut down the paper to fit smaller items.

I've heard of people using a warm iron on the opposite side of gift wrap, to make it nicer for reuse. Since I barely iron my clothing, I'm unlikely to press paper. If you do this, please don't cause any house fires.

(Speaking of which: Don't throw commercial gift papers into a fireplace or wood stove. They burn so fast and so hot that they could create a flash fire. Besides, the inks could contain metallic materials and heavy-metal compounds, according to Consumer Reports.)

You don't necessarily need to buy paper designed specifically for presents. Some other possibilities:

  • Newspaper end rolls. If there's a newspaper or printing company in your area, ask if you can buy an almost-finished roll. These still contain a ton of paper that can be used as-is or customized any way you want. Rubber-stamp it. Flick a loaded paintbrush at it. Let your kids draw holiday pictures on it. Or do the messy-but-fun activity of dipping their li'l hands into water-based acrylic paint and making hand prints on the paper. (And if your recipient is a “CSI” fan? Have them leave only their fingerprints.)
  • Secondhand finds. Sometimes I find gift wrap at thrift stores or yard sales. But I've also seen rolls of butcher paper or brown at thrift shops; these can be decorated as noted above.
  • Grocery bags. Cut open paper ones and use the non-logo sides for wrapping. Let your kids decorate them with bright paint.
  • The Sunday funnies. These make great gift wrap year-round. Don't subscribe? Harvest them at coffeehouses on Mondays. Tip: Discarded wrapping paper of any type can be crumpled up for use as packing material.
  • Old maps. Doctors Without Borders sends me several huge maps of the world every year. Maps also end up in the free box at yard sales, and may be given free of charge at visitors' centers.
  • Periodicals. Small gifts can be wrapped in pages from magazines, calendars, catalogs or even comic books. You may luck into these in the “free” bin at yard sales.
  • Foreign-language newspapers. Weeklies written in Chinese, Korean and Spanish can be found in my neighborhood. The interesting typefaces could be a hit with someone who knows or is trying to learn those languages.
  • Dumpster paper. A whole lot of gift-wrap items will be tossed after Dec. 25. I've pulled gift bags, colorful tissue, ribbons, and large pieces of wrapping paper out of the recycle bin. Note: You don't necessarily have to get down and dirty. I'm more of a dumpster wader than a dumpster diver, myself. A few years ago I found a large, still-shrink-wrapped roll of Christmas paper outside the dumpster. Still slowly making my way through it because of its design — not everyone appreciates the delicacy of Batman holiday wrap.

Frugal and/or reusable finishing touches

  • Raffia
  • Strips of tulle
  • Fabric “ribbons” cut with pinking shears
  • Shoelaces (come on, everybody needs an extra pair — and some are really cool-looking)
  • Strings of beads
  • Hemp twine

Which brings me to a fairly obvious point: These solutions might not work for everyone. Your fastidious Great-Aunt Mildred might not care for a repurposed grocery bag tied with wild grapevine you gleaned from the woods behind your house.

In fact, I wouldn't do offbeat wrapping for anyone I didn't know well. For example, your new sweetheart's parents may look at gifts hidden inside old cottage-cheese containers and think not “eco-warrior” but rather “illegitimus frugalis.”

As always, do what works for you. But no matter how you wrap or don't wrap your presents, the same rule applies: Every time someone opens a present early, Santa Claus kills a puppy.

Happy holidays.

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Diedra B
Diedra B
9 years ago

du du du du du du du du
du du du du du du du du
Batmaaaan!

CincyCat
CincyCat
9 years ago
Reply to  Diedra B

I had to laugh when I read that, too.

My husband would totally love it if I gave him a present with Batman wrapping. (My youngest daughter probably would, too…)

🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

My great-nephews are going to love it this Christmas. They’re all about the superheros.

Hannah
Hannah
9 years ago

When I saw the headline of the post, I was worried, because I love wrapping the gifts I’m giving and I wouldn’t want to give it up for a more utilitarian approach. But there are some great suggestions here for wrapping gifts nicely without having to buy new materials every year. I think I’ll try wrapping the top and bottom of shoe boxes with some of my favorite wrapping papers, so they can be reused every year instead of just once. And I will definitely look for reusable ribbon instead of buying more dollar store curling ribbon every year.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

Only two years without buying wrapping paper?! I was just looking at my stash of paper (some of which was given to me when my mom moved down here 20 years ago — they used to make that paper to high quality!)…and thinking that this year I might go and buy some after the holiday. I think it’s been at least 8 years, maybe 10! My ILs love to laugh at us for saving bows from year to year. However, they repurpose to such an extent that I’ve gotten cuts from the staples used to close their version of “gift… Read more »

Pamela
Pamela
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

My frugal genes go way back. I used up the last of my old wrapping paper last year.

Didn’t know where it came from until I recognized it in a family picture in which I wore footie pajamas.

I won’t do the math now but I’ll give you a hint about how long it’s been used and reused–I’m currently in my 40s. 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Do you mean to say that you don’t wear footie pajamas any more? :-0

babysteps
babysteps
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

We just moved (after 15 years), and when I was sorting & packing I donated the vast majority of our wrapping paper because I realized that I hadn’t used much at all – some of it came with my spouse to our marriage 18+ years ago!

I do wrap presents, and had used some of the wrapping paper…but there was still so much. I do have a roll of brown craft paper, fun to tie with re-usable ribbons or draw on with red & green markers.

soledad
soledad
9 years ago

Nicely written and entertaining article! I love wrapping up gifts.

Aya
Aya
9 years ago

I found IKEA to have cheap not-holiday specific wrapping papers.

Jana @ Everything Finance
Jana @ Everything Finance
9 years ago

I repurpose the tissue paper that typically comes inside gift bags/gift boxes and use that for wrapping paper. Not only is it free, sometimes the tissue paper is way prettier!

sluggo
sluggo
9 years ago

My Dad always used the Sunday Comics. People loved it!

Anne
Anne
9 years ago
Reply to  sluggo

Who buys the paper anymore? 😉

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Plenty of people. Stop being tedious.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Apparently it’s that kind of day. I get it. I’ll put my cranky pants on!

Stacy
Stacy
9 years ago

Timely article! I needed to wrap some gifts for kids, but I didn’t want to get the Christmas paper down from the attic. I used the plain side of a grocery bag, I cut an apple and painted the cut side with red paint, then white paint and stamped it on the bag. I did the same with green paint, then white paint. (You could use just red or green but the white gives it a pinkish/greenish mottled effect.) I painted a few seeds and stems with brown. Then I tied with kitchen twine. It was cute for a friend’s… Read more »

LMN
LMN
9 years ago

A lot of good ideas in here BUT… putting presents in old sour cream containers? SERIOUSLY? Because nothing says “Christmas” like looking under a Christmas tree and seeing what looks like my recycling bin after a few weeks, or a trash heap… Thanks for the laugh…

Amy
Amy
9 years ago
Reply to  LMN

That’s funny, because as I read this article, I could clearly see which of my family members would laugh in scorn at this, and which of them would be pleased because it was A) Frugal, B) Eco-friendly), or C) Both.

You have to know your audience, just like anything else.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Amy

Yep. Don’t waste your creativity (or your Batman paper) on someone who won’t appreciate it.

Annelise
Annelise
9 years ago
Reply to  LMN

I agree with this. Yes, there’s no need to be wasteful, and giftwrap can be reused or recycled, but other than that, I can’t see any reason for Christmas to be “green”. For one special day a year, let’s not worry about that kind of thing, or be made to feel guilty about it. I think this is a slippery slope where more and more enjoyable things are branded “wasteful” and forcibly scaled down until they aren’t special anymore.

Sarabeth
Sarabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

For people who are interested in the eco-friendly suggestions, it’s not about being shamed into doing something. It’s about trying to live out our values year-round, and trying to create meaningful celebrations (that bring joy to ourselves and those around us) without acting against our values. This goes double for those of us for whom Christmas is a meaningful religious celebration.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sarabeth

Yes, that.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Sarabeth

The shaming i get is all from family members who want us to set aside our values for theirs at the holidays.

Me, I don’t see why Christmas has to be ruined by all the church stuff, but I don’t go on all the thousands of “keep Christ in Christmas” articles and complain.

Marie-Josée
Marie-Josée
9 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Annelise, Either we choose to make changes such as those suggested in this article, or we will be forced to make much more difficult and drastic modifications to our lifestyle in the near feature. There is no replacement for this planet. We can’t hop onto a spaceship and go populate and contaminate another planet due to our wasteful and contemptuous behavior. We are at a cusp with respect to the strain we are imposing on our planet’s ecosystems. If we don’t choose to reduce the poisons we pump into the air, earth and waterways in a significant manner, our current,… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

That’s why I finished up with “do what works for you.” I am neither the Environmental Police nor the Frugality Police — instead, I merely put ideas out there for you to consider.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  LMN

It was just a suggestion, intended ONLY for people who take eco-friendliness to a new and sometimes startling level.
Look, there are people in the world who will eat only items that have fallen or will fall from a plant, i.e., can be harvested without killing the plant. Thus I think that some people really would get off on putting items in containers that can then be recycled (cardboard, plastic) or re-used (tins, fabric bags, baskets).
Glad that I provided the laugh. That’s why they pay me the big bucks, after all.

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog
9 years ago

I love the old maps idea – I guess I should start scouring Goodwill for some of those material!

We tend go the “traditional” route – often times coworkers would sell their kids’ Christmas wrapping paper, and I or a relative will usually buy a (beautiful but overpriced) roll, and that will last us through the entire Christmas and beyond.

I find that if I buy festive neutral colors (bright red, a rich gold, royal blue, etc.), I can use those papers all through the year, not just for Christmas.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

Maps are a particularly nice touch for someone who likes to travel.
Oh, and another thing I forgot: Sheet music, for gifts to musicians or folks who appreciate the arts. You’d be amazed what shows up in the free box or at rummage sales for a song, as it were… 😉

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

How about I buy wrapping paper that comes from recycled materials, and then recylce the paper I get rather than throwing it away after I’ve unwrapped my presents?

I know it’s not perfect, but it beats wrapping my presents in an old towel or sour creme container.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

How about you do whatever you want to do, as suggested at the end of the article?
No one said you have to be “perfect.” These are tips, not mandates.

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Sorry Donna – I honestly didn’t mean to get your ire here, the question wasn’t rhetorical, I was honestly asking those who are eco minded if that was an alternative they would back up.

Sometimes we intend to do something environmentally friendly that turns out actually doesn’t help or worse, is more impacting on the environment than the traditional method.

I think the prior poster who ridiculed the sour cream container got your back up. I wasn’t intending such.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
8 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

That’s absolutely true. Some “green” stuff is marginal at best.
Truth? I’ve never wrapped a gift in a plastic container. I was just suggesting it as an option along with boxes et al. Some people don’t even want to use a single piece of paper, recycled content or not.
Do what works, as J.D. would say. I’m loving the idea of the one big sack with each kid’s name on it. Easy AND green.

Anne
Anne
9 years ago

I plan to use my kid’s drawings. Fun and he’s producing them anyway.

But really how many gifts do you buy? I can’t remember when I last bought wrapping paper. Also, most places I buy from wrap the gift for free.

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

My brothers-in-law, when they give gifts, are notorious for using newspaper for wrapping. We have enjoyed reciprocating with them. It’s actually a lot easier to wrap with newspaper for some reason. I think we will go that route for most gifts this season, as all of my in-laws would appreciate it. My MIL repurposes cards received in prior years as gift tags. Considering how many people simply toss them in the trash (I’m guilty of that one), I think this is a great idea and they’re always unique. As for me, I use a strip of the wrapping paper folder… Read more »

MJ
MJ
9 years ago
Reply to  Amy

Great idea about re-purposing cards…My Mom and I were just talking about the collections of cards we’ve saved over the years. Call me sentimental but I have a hard time throwing away cards especially those from my parents,husband and son. This sounds like a perfect way to enjoy them again. Thanks!

Procrastamom
Procrastamom
9 years ago
Reply to  MJ

I cut shapes out of last year’s cards with pinking shears (or other different shaped scissors), punch a hole in them and put a piece of ribbon through. They make beautiful, original tags for gifts. It’s not my idea though…my Mom’s been doing it since at least the 70’s.
🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Procrastamom

If the inside of the front of the card isn’t written on, sometimes I cut them off and send them the next year as postcards. When the picture isn’t necessarily Christmas-y (e.g., a picture of a polar bear cub in the snow or a winter landscape) it can be sent just as a “thinking of you” greeting vs. a holiday card. Postcards are fun to receive — and if you’re feeling guilty that you haven’t been in touch with someone because you’re so pressed for time, it’s a way to write a couple of paragraphs (or sentences) and let the… Read more »

Laura+in+Cancun
Laura+in+Cancun
9 years ago

I’m very guilty of using massive amounts of ribbon to make pretty bows 🙁

My sister, however, always does the best job of wrapping. She’s used painted newspaper, lace and fabric scraps to create some pretty awesome wrapping jobs.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago

Yeah my sister is a wizard at wrapping presents, and often volunteers at places to wrap at Christmas. Part of the enjoyment of getting a present from her is in the presentation. She often uses imaginiative packaging or recycling in the gift. For example she will get tins, baskets, and other containers at thrift stores to be part of the gift, use some aspect of the gift as wrapping (scarf, bag pretty fabric), has made collages from images from magazines, also takes kraft paper and uses repurposed twine or ribbon, and also makes homemade or inexpensive ornaments, or wrapped candy… Read more »

Liz
Liz
9 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

Where does your sister volunteer? I love wrapping presents, but don’t give as many gifts as I’d like to wrap, and volunteering would be a sweet outlet for me. 🙂

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Liz

Last places have been at the big box bookstore (you know the one) and at malls, in which the money donated for wrapping is given to charities.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

I once interviewed an artist who loved to wrap gifts in interesting ways. My favorite “topper” was his use of short lengths of fishing line decorated with sequins and beads. He used 20, 40 or 50-pound monofilament, which would spring up from the packages. “”When I tie them on, they kind of bounce. I like active packaging,” he told me.
Creative people make feel, well, not very creative. But it’s sure fun to talk with them.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yeah just some people have the knack. One time when my sister was visiting I complained how I wanted a little fence or divider where this one flower bed was. So she went to a nearby vacant lot and stripped and bent green bamboo to make an overlapping half circles fence around the bed. Cool and zen looking.

Tanya@TheInspiredBudget
9 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

I like wrapping presents too, because to me, a beautifully wrapped present is part of the gift itself. I am a big fan of gift bags because they’re reusable, and I also enjoy using things like real ribbon and tulle, which can also be reused, and are beautiful. You can also creatively “recycle” – I once took an earring to which I had lost the mate, tucked in the center of a silk flower I had around the house, and turned it into a garnish for a birthday present.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
9 years ago

My mother bought two huge rolls of wrapping paper when I was little. By huge, I mean more than 8 inches across. One works for birthdays and Christmas, the other for baby showers. The joke in my family is you always know which gift is from Aunt C, because it’s always the same paper! They’re finally running out after 20 years!

RazzBari
RazzBari
9 years ago

Our library just got a book on furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping) – I’m looking forward to using up some holiday fabric/scarves this year!

Some patterns for wrapping are:

http://www.env.go.jp/en/focus/attach/060403-5.html

spiralingsnails
spiralingsnails
9 years ago
Reply to  RazzBari

Cool! Now I just need to get some scarves… from Goodwill, of course 😉

Sarabeth
Sarabeth
9 years ago
Reply to  RazzBari

This is our tradition within my family – I wear lots of scarves as accessories, so we just use those (they all slowly disappear from my drawers in the month leading up to Christmas). Festive, cheap (since I already own them) and reusable – triple win!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sarabeth

I like it! I’m going to start doing this myself — even though I rarely dress up any more, I have probably six or seven scarves left from my previous life.

Jennifer+B
Jennifer+B
9 years ago

Wow, all that talk about low cost/eco friendly/reusable wrapping of presents and no mention of furoshiki! A furoshiki is a cloth wrapping that originated in Japan. It’s just a simple square piece of fabric that is wrappped and folded around an object “Origami-style”. The fabric can then be re-used over and over again once the item is unwrapped. You can buy them all over Japan, from asian gift stores here in the US or make your own from pretty fabric. I could totally see a christmas where all of the presents were wrapped with pretty furoshiki under the tree, though… Read more »

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer+B

I was just about to say this! I used fabric to wrap presents for my friends who sew (a quilting fat quarter is a great size for this). Friends who don’t sew will sometimes get their presents wrapped in a silky scarf, plain t-shirt, tea-towel or cotton tote. I also use real ribbons, because they can be used over and over- especially the unwired variety. I think brown packing paper, the kind you use for parcels, can look very rustic and sweet under a tree when tied with a red or gingham ribbon. It is usually made from post-consumer paper,… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I should have included fabric wrappings along with mentions of fabric bags, sheets, towels and pillowcases.
Of course, I don’t have to: You all are doing it for me. Thank you kindly.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Mmmm…cold cut combo-scented socks for Christmas….

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

The best thing is Subway paper is slightly transparent, so to guarantee opacity you have to eat two sandwiches for each present 😉

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

the problem would be my dog would be misled into thinking there were delicious sandwich packages under the tree (what – for me!) and rip them open in his search for tasty treats.

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl
9 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer+B

I do something similar…I cut up old clothes (fancy fabric works great!) and make reusable gift bags. Just a simple rectangle with a neatly hemmed top. I tie the top with a cloth ribbon for a quick and easy closure.

It’s eco-friendly to the nth degree (even the material is repurposed) and if you can manage to scrounge up nice fabric (think old formalwear), the presents really do look lovely under the tree!

Holly
Holly
9 years ago

My family has used re-usable gift bags for the last 15 years.

One of the most fun parts of any holiday party is the one gift given in a bag with several years’ worth of “To/From” tags, which gets passed around until someone recognizes the bag and gives it to the newest recipient.

Cathy
Cathy
9 years ago

“It’s a known fact” that Christmas guest towels should never be used! I love it!

Several years ago I bought some strong decorated boxes from Costco. They all match and nestle together. We use them every year within the immediate family. After Christmas they all go back in storage with all the decorations to be re-used next year.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Cathy

You misunderstand me: NO guest towels should ever be used. I shudder to think what Santa Claus might kill if this rule were ever broken.

kb4dragon
kb4dragon
9 years ago

Great ideas! My mom is very handy with a sewing machine, so about ten years ago she started making simple Christmas fabric gift bags. When I moved out and got my own sewing machine it was one of the first projects I did by myself! We re-use the bags every year, and It’s fun to see a favorite bag with your name on it under the tree 🙂 We both still have to make a few bags each year because we give them to friends or relatives. I make at least one to give at the company Christmas party –… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  kb4dragon

I’d make those bags with Batman fabric, just to tick everybody off (especially the Superman groupies)…..

Jenny
Jenny
9 years ago
Reply to  kb4dragon

I asked one of my friends who is dynamite with a sewing machine to make me some gift bags as my Christmas gift last year. She shopped for the material after Halloween when the fancy fabrics were 75% off. We have bags that look like dragon scales, pale blue velvet with glitter snowflakes, holographic space-type designs, bandanna print, etc. all in various sizes. We’ve already had fun passing them back and forth for birthdays this year and I’m looking forward to seeing them at Christmas. It was one of my favorite gifts in years, and she ‘fessed up that the… Read more »

Frances
Frances
9 years ago
Reply to  Jenny

This is kind of what happens in my circle with paper gift bags, which are pretty sturdy. No one ever writes on the bag itself so you can just cut off the gift tag and re-use the bag. Several of the birthday and Christmas ones have been around for years.

No need to ask for them back; everyone saves them, so just wait your turn. And when the pile gets too big, our local WIN shop is happy to take them to resell.

Karen
Karen
9 years ago

Good tips here. I think half our basement growing up was full of old wrapping paper so I learned that habit early…There’s a fantastic huge bow my mother got on her 50th birthday that is still making the rounds (17 years later). Friends who know me well will often unwrap a gift from me and hand the ribbon or paper right back. I also work in an office that gets a lot of holiday gift boxes from clients and consultants….been saving those boxes and ribbons for a while now so don’t overlook that source! Another good way to wrap smaller… Read more »

Procrastamom
Procrastamom
9 years ago
Reply to  Karen

I reuse the gift baskets that our office receives. We always get at least 10 through the season and people are happy to let me take them off their hands. They’re perfect for giving your neighbours and friends gifts of baking.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Procrastamom

And since there’s no reason to make home-baked goodies wait until Dec. 25 to be enjoyed, you don’t even have to cover them up with tissue paper.
My recommendation is to keep a fairly loose hold on the basket, lest you receive handle burn as it is ripped from your grasp. People loves them some Christmas cookies, indeed they do.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Karen

Catalogs were mentioned in the piece, along with magazine, calendar and comic-book pages. Naturally, I’m holding out for Batman comics.

Carol
Carol
9 years ago

Buy one solid color: gold, silver, red or green. Use and reuse throughout the year.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Carol

Myself, I think Batman is an all-occasion motif. Wish more people felt that way — there’s a LOT of paper on this roll….

Lynda
Lynda
9 years ago

Sometimes, reusing gift bags is the way to go; wonder if anyone has a family tradition of reusing the same bags in the same way a joke present or greeting card gets rotated among family members?

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Lynda

Yes. We reuse those bags til they fall apart.

My frugal mom’s second husband is a grasshopper, not an ant. The first year he was at Christmas, he got the gift bags out of the attic, filled them, then TAPED THEM SHUT so they couldn’t be opened without ripping. And of course every recipient over 3 noticed he RUINED THE BAGS.

Poor man had no idea what he did wrong. Or what he was getting into, I think.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

I wonder how many puppies’ lives that little stunt cost???

Kim
Kim
9 years ago
Reply to  Lynda

My friends and I have made a bit of a competition out of this. We’ve used the same bags for years (six now) and it’s been going on so long that people who lose or forget their old bags have to pitch in to buy the booze for the holiday party!

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

Donna, I loved this article! Batman wrapping paper – where do you put all this stuff? We don’t tend to do a lot of gifts – it’s hard to buy for people who pretty buy anything they need under $20 – and if they don’t need – don’t want it. But last year we went to my cousin’s house and all of her gifts under the tree matched. She had two kinds of coordinating paper with matching ribbons – it WAS ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. the first time I ever wanted something like that – although my eco friendly, frugal heart wrenches… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago
Reply to  Bella

tinfoil over white or craft paper looks very fancy, especially if you have a craft hole puncher that makes little stars. And tinfoil’s recyclable.

It’s expensive if you don’t have it, but for some reason my mom buys me a roll of tinfoil almost every time she visits, so I usually have 3 or 4 rolls.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

I’ve seen people stretch lengths of tulle over packages wrapped in plain paper: very pretty, and reusable. (Especially if you want to make a ballerina costume for your miniature pinscher at Halloween.)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Thanks. And the trouble with the Batman paper is that it’s one of those giant rolls, i.e., too tall to be stored with the rest of the paper in a plastic tub I bought (at a yard sale) for that very purpose. It has to stay all by itself in a corner of the closet. But Batman always was a loner. As for gifts for the people who don’t need/want anything, I recommend either a donation in their names to a local food bank or something from Heifer International (heifer.org). Who’d want an executive putting green when he could get… Read more »

Sandra J
Sandra J
9 years ago

I had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud when I read the last line of your post – Donna you have a WARPED mind! (love it!)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Sandra J

Wait’ll you hear me sing a song my friend wrote, “Rudolph the Roasted Reindeer.” I’ve made small children cry with that song.
Adults, too, but that’s probably because I don’t sing very well.

Lynda
Lynda
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

There was the year that a certain Swedish store traumatised children with the choice of meat in their cafe… Cries of “Mummy, they’ve killed Rudolph!” rent the air.

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
9 years ago

I recycle gift bags after any holiday, birthday, etc., as well as tissue paper. The torn tissue paper is reused as stuffing for around items being mailed out and the other is used in gifts.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  lostAnnfound

That reminds me of another tip I forgot to include: The saved holiday wrap might be usable for birthday presents if you use it inside-out, and let your kids decorate the inside (blank) side.
This might not work for someone who didn’t know you very well, though. It might also be a deal-killer for some relationships.

Cat
Cat
9 years ago

I’d glad you addressed the tissue paper issue! I love gift bags, and do try to reuse the tissue paper, since I hate creating waste. The key is to avoid tape cause it just makes things messy..

schmei
schmei
9 years ago

The Trader Joe’s out our way has such cute holiday-themed paper grocery sacks that I’m planning to wrap some of my gifts in them, logo side out! I think more stores are starting to use bags with snowflakes and stuff on them, so it almost looks like schmancy wrapping paper. (Or maybe I’m the only one who’s fooled…)

Jenzer
Jenzer
9 years ago

At our house, gift bags get re-used for delivering Girl Scout cookie orders later in the year. 🙂

Donna, I’m surprised your recommendation for re-using plastic containers didn’t come with your warning not to go dumpster-diving for them! 😉

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Jenzer

Jenzer is referring to a piece I wrote about why you shouldn’t take certain things out of the dumpster. For those who missed that post, here’s the link:
http://www.donnafreedman.com/2011/08/01/never-dumpster-dive-for-plastic-containers-warning-immature-language/
(And yeah: There really IS immature language in it. Consider yourself warned.)

Jo@simplybeingmum
9 years ago

Hey Donna I always love your posts! I’ve started doing the following… Collect shoeboxes, then use recycled gift wrap from gifts you’ve had. Rip into shreds and glue on box in a mosaic pattern, then glue over to seal. It looks great, and makes the box very durable. All recycled (apart from the glue!) I’ve just done this for Operation Christmas Child. We do it as an activity with the kids. It takes a few days to complete, as it’s best to let sections dry before doing the next. Very theraputic also – I’ve been doing 20 minutes at night… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

You creative types rock! Thanks for sharing this idea. I may link to it in a different piece I’m writing for my personal website, a grab-bag of ideas whose tentative headline is “Occupy Black Friday.”

Jo@simplybeingmum
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Hi Donna! Thanks for the FB comment – please do link (if suitable)- I’m actually posting on my blog at the moment about my simple christmas traditions and the post will include a photo and explanation of the box. I plan on doing one for each member of my family this year to hold their simple gifts.

CincyCat
CincyCat
9 years ago

Another way that we save on wrapping gifts is with the dozens of birthday parties that my kids get invited to during the course of a school year. (There are 30+ kids in their classes – you do the math…) We just tell our girls that they can buy whatever fits into their budget – AND – fits inside whatever gift bag I happened to grab from my stash on the way out the door. With some parents, it’s become somewhat of a standing joke to see if we can spot the same gift bags that were used at the… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  CincyCat

Niiice. That must tax their creativity/budgeting muscles.
(“Mom, will that size bag hold water and a goldfish?”)

Crystal Stemberger
Crystal Stemberger
9 years ago

Our family and friends and I seem to exchange and re-use the same 15 or so gift bags for everything, lol. Tissue paper too…

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago

I’ve heard of people exchanging the same card back and forth for years. It’s kind of like the theory that there’s really only one fruitcake in the world — it just keeps getting regifted over and over and over.

Meredith
Meredith
9 years ago

Growing up, my aunt and uncle would give presents wrapped in butcher paper with colored hemp string tying it up and decorated with calligraphy–either holiday-related or our name.

I always thought it was the nicest and fanciest wrapping under the tree! The times when you can combine eco/frugal with beautiful are always the best in my mind.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Meredith

I’m no calligrapher, but can be motivated to be a heck of a potato-printer. Ho, ho, etc.

Matt, Tao of Unfear
Matt, Tao of Unfear
9 years ago

We’ve always re-purposed food boxes and such for containing gifts. The joke has always been “Sweet! I got Cap’n Crunch for Christmas!” and then I look of disappointment as we opened the cereal box to find it devoid of cereal.

Of course, I keep trying to push the “don’t buy me gifts” thing, but it still hasn’t rubbed off. Maybe I’ll figure out something to make this year, since I’m unemployed. I’m definitely not thinking about buying gifts in my current financial state of limbo.

Insomniac Lab Rat
Insomniac Lab Rat
9 years ago

I’m glad someone else had the “oh wait, it’s not really food?” experience! I never felt too disappointed about it, but one year when my cousin was about 3, she was SO EXCITED to pull off the paper to find a box of oyster crackers.
She didn’t calm down until someone brought her real oyster crackers from the kitchen!

We did use paper when we were younger, and/or reused bags, but as the kids grew older we mostly switched to fabric, newspaper, or reusable bags. But we definitely always use cereal boxes and such to box things up!

thefrugallery
thefrugallery
9 years ago

After the holidays I check the fabric stores for clearance holiday prints. You can either make these into home made bags or you can leave them in large squares and put the item in the middle, pull the edges up, and close it with a ribbon. It is a creative and economical way to wrap gifts because the fabric or bags can be reused dozens of times!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  thefrugallery

+1.

Susan+D.
Susan+D.
9 years ago

My mother (a.k.a. Santa Claus) made gift bags for each of us kids out of red bath towels, sewed on our names in big white letters, and finished with cord drawstrings. Then all our parents had to do was put our gifts in the bags–no further wrapping required!. It was great–it always looked as though Santa had left a bag for each of us. They were used for years. I still have mine.

(This was back around 1960; Mama was thinking “easy,” not “green,” but it works either way!)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Susan+D.

What a great idea! Your mom sure was clever. I love the visual of waking up to a BAG full of gifts, even if some of the presents were socks and underwear.

KM
KM
9 years ago

Wow, I was frugal & I didn’t know it! One Christmas I had forgotten to buy wrapping paper. So I took out the packing paper from my recent move (big sheets of unprinted newsprint paper) and had my kids paint stuff on the sheets with red & green watercolor paint. Ta-da! Cool wrapping paper!

And seriously, who puts their scraps from unwrapping Christmas presents into a landfill? We burn ours in the fireplace.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  KM

That Consumer Reports link mentions there could be heavy metals in the inks used in printing. To be on the safe side, you might want to re-think the burning.

Tina
Tina
9 years ago

about 6 years ago I bought those paper gift boxes and we reuse them every year. I tell my kids not to rip into the boxes and they have lasted so no wrapping paper for us.
Another way to recycle old Christmas cards is to cut off the front picture,take a glue stick and apply a translucent glitter on them and frame them. Great gift ideas.

Krishna
Krishna
9 years ago

This is such a great post. I was just browsing the web the other night to look for gift wrapping paper. It’s the first Christmas my boyfriend and I spend together so I wanted to make it really special.

But I have so many brown bags from lunches bought while I’m at work that I can easily re-purpose into gift wrapping paper.

The bet part is, I can decorate each gift any way I want!

Thanks for sharing! Sometimes you just get swept into the holiday cheer and forget what really matters. Saving the planet.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Krishna

And puppies. Don’t forget saving the puppies!

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

Santa doesn’t kill puppies! He DOESN’T!!!

I’m gonna go to my bedroom and cry now.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Yeah, but I bet Batman does.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

You’re right– it’s the elves that do the dirty work. Santa just eats the dogs that Mrs. Claus cooks.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Santa woks his dogs. (ba-dum-CHING!)
And just because you asked for it with that crack about elves, here’s a holiday riddle:
Q. What’s another name for Santa’s helpers?
A. Subordinate clauses.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Noooooooooo!

Stacey
Stacey
9 years ago

I looked through most of the comments and didn’t see this idea mentioned, so hopefully I’m not repeating something that someone already said! For holiday wrapping “paper” I go to thrift stores and buy big vintage scarves for $1 or $2 each, and just wrap them around each present and tie in a bow. That way I’m buying something that has already been used (and yes, I wash them before I use them to wrap presents!) and is inexpensive. Then the women in my family have a pretty scarf they can wear, or they can give it back to me… Read more »

Priswell
Priswell
9 years ago
Dallas saver
Dallas saver
9 years ago

wow. this group takes all the fun out of everything. I love to wrap beautiful gifts for people and love to create a beautiful setting of gifts under the tree. I put my best effort into the angel tree at church. But I guess that’s wasteful so I will henceforth use old catalogs. Perhaps I will top it with a piece of fair trade chocolate and make a note that I just made a gesture on their behalf to end child slavery. Or maybe don’t buy them gifts at all – maybe the poor family’s kids don’t really need those… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas saver

Santa Claus doesn’t like sarcasm, either.

Dallas+saver
Dallas+saver
9 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

If someone is giving a gift, it should be out of generosity and thoughtfulness. The idea that someone would give a gift in a used food container or kitty litter bag (for goodness sake) does not strike me as generous or thoughtful. Does no one remember being a child and having your eyes light up with the bounty under the tree? Don’t get me wrong- I am still carting along spools of ribbon that I bought 12 years ago and I abhor the whole black Friday pressure to buy, buy, buy… but whatever I give will be beautifully wrapped. My… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas+saver

I hope you realize I’m using an extreme example to illustrate a point, but I’m sure that once upon a time it was also wonderful to wake up in the morning and behold your slaves working in your mines and plantations, making you a fortune. What joy!

Things change. Mores change. Just saying.

Barb
Barb
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas+saver

Well, as somone whose life has run to extremes in terms of finances, my kids are happy to receive gifts, they dont look particulrly at how they are wrapped, and said wrapping dissapears in five second. They have recived items decorated in almost anything you can think of-and were thrilled to get hte gift. I have even sent breadcrum trails (figuratively) to make my kids go and find larger gifts.

partgypsy
partgypsy
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas+saver

I totally agree that part of the enjoyment of a present IS in it’s presentation. And if you have “peekers” (who try to peek, peel or otherwise try to look before Christmas) some of these wrapping techniques won’t work. But there are so many suggestions here I think you can find both less resource-heavy AND beautiful ways to wrap gifts. No cottage cheese containers required.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas+saver

Again: I would not do some of these suggestions for people I don’t know. I would put nice paper on gifts to be donated; even if some of that paper were being recycled from previous years, it would not LOOK that way.
It’s a moot point for me, since the holiday-gift programs to which I donate specify that gifts be unwrapped.

MJM
MJM
9 years ago
Reply to  Dallas saver

@dallas saver: Save the children your sarcasm and give them the free trade chocolate instead! I am utterly amazed by the great suggestions I have read in this comment section. On another note, many of us are very happy to provide gifts for the less fortunate children in our communities. Let’s not forget that although these gifts surely do bring joy and comfort to those children, it does not in away remove the terrible shame and all the hardship associated with poverty. Let’s buy less bows, ribbons, paper and other embellishments and invest our money into programs that will provide… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago
Reply to  MJM
Jenny
Jenny
9 years ago

Another option would be to make a tote bag out of bird food, cat food, ect bags http://librariesrock.shutterfly.com/pictures/11 (I don’t sew but I made this at a green gift fair over the weekend. I’ll try to list out the instructions.) turn the bag inside out and make sure the top and bottom edges are even. using a sewing machine sew along the bottom. Several inches in make a kitty corner line (this is so the bag will stand up once your turn it right side out. Turn the bag right side out then fold down the top twice. Sew around.… Read more »

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
9 years ago

My theory, wrap with whatever is available. If the person complains, well that’s one less gift to wrap next year!

imelda
imelda
9 years ago

Donna, I’m a fan of A Gift-Wrapped Life, (http://agiftwrappedlife.blogspot.com/) a blog and company all about creating beautiful wrapping for your gifts.

I would love to see a challenge between the two of you to create something on par with her usual stuff, using only frugal and eco-friendly tactics!!

stellamarina
stellamarina
9 years ago

Living in the tropics, I have used large soft tropical leaves to wrap gifts in. I can use ribbon or some natural sort of cordage to tie it with and then tuck a hibiscus flower in for the bow or some other contrasting foliage.

Mary H
Mary H
9 years ago
Reply to  stellamarina

This sounds beautiful!

George
George
9 years ago

We use ex hotel napkins and pillowcases for as many as we can!
I run a business that recycles ex hotel linen so it is completely free and we can still sell them at the end.
I’m afraid we don’t trade in the US because it just be silly shipping stuff you can get there.
Ask your local commercial laundry if they will do what we do though.
George from NewlifeLinen

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

If there was a law on the books that everything made for the purposes of packaging or mailing must be recycled, then and only then will the problem go away. It is stupid to allow a company to package something in material xyz that lands up in the garbage (or along the side of the road) when for a few cents more it can be recycled or reused. Creates more jobs and saves money and resources in the long run.

Mary H
Mary H
9 years ago

Donna – Thanks for a very entertaining article. You’ve stirred up some funny and interesting comments, too.

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