Regarding gifts, some say it’s the thought that counts, but they usually don’t say that unless they’re referencing a terrible gift. Regardless, whether it’s the thought or the gift that matters few would say it’s the wrapping that’s most important. Sure you might comment on the lovely wrapping when you first see a gift , but will you be talking months from now about the beautiful wrapping paper? No. You’re going to be talking about how great the gift was or how it was a very nice thought. So why spend the extra money and add more trash to the planet to wrap things up in shiny paper and decadent gift bags?
Below are four ways to avoid conventional wrapping paper. All promote recycling. Many will save you money. None require arts and craft skills. (Sure you could use paint or stamps to make things fancier, but you don’t need to unless you are especially motivated.)
1. Detour something on its way to the recycle bin
Newspaper: This is the classic wrapping paper alternative. A page with a large festive picture can provide some holiday color, but I like the simplicity of small black and white type.
Magazine pages: Magazine pages can give you the glossy look that many miss when they abandon traditional wrapping paper. The pages work individually for small gifts, or you can tape multiple pages to a large box. To avoid a chaotic look choose pages from the same photo spread, or find a single holiday ad repeated in multiple magazines.
Inside-out boxes: Andy Warhol fans may appreciate a repurposed box as a pop masterpiece, but most of use would feel odd putting what appears to be a grocery box under the tree. Similarly, we don’t want to be perceived as lazy by giving something in an unwrapped shipping box. However, if you cut down one seam you can deconstruct a box and rebuild it inside out. The inside of the most boxes is a simple brown or white, which creates a simple and elegant gift container.
Store shopping bags: Particularly around this season many stores help by making switching out their normal bags for more festive patterns, but many stores have attractive bags even if they don’t follow the holiday theme. If you don’t want to give a hint to a gift’s contents you can use a bag from a different store. Trader Joe’s bags are a classic. Of course, be careful what bag you repurpose. Don't tease your wife by using last year’s Tiffany’s bag for ANYTHING other than something from Tiffany’s. Trust me.
Other translucent containers: A friend told me she’s been collecting her baby formula canisters to use for packaging holiday cookies. Once she peels off the label they are plain silver. You may not buy a lot of baby formula, but perhaps there is something else that you empty and throw away that could work? Just be sure you can clean out whatever was in it, and don’t use things that previously contained poisons (like cleaning agents) particularly for children’s gifts.
If the above look too recycled for you on their own you can dress them up with raffia, pine twigs, or ribbon (reused if possible).
2. Make the wrapping part of the gift.
Rather than using a wrap that will just be thrown away, you can wrap one gift inside another and bind the package with ribbon. Examples of gifts that can double as wrapping:
- Reusable lunch/shopping bags
- Dish towels (good for a kitchen related gift)
- Tshirts (requires some folding skills)
3. Buy reusable wrapping
It will require some money up front, but if you insist on beautiful gift wrap you can purchase fabric gift bags and decorative boxes to reuse. Use these to wrap gifts then store them with your decorations for next year. Although it will be too late for this year, gift bags and boxes can usually be picked up at a discount during after-Christmas sales.
4. Don't wrap your gifts
The easiest way to avoid the waste of gift wrap is not to wrap at all. Of course, part of the purpose of wrapping gifts is to make the present a surprise and to provide some suspense to the gift exchange process. Agree with your friends or family to have a yBwW gift exchange (Why Bother with Wrapping). Bring your gifts in whatever will hide them: a pillowcase, a backpack, a piece of luggage, a boot. Everyone agrees not to bother with pretty, so there's no expectation of nice wrapping. It can actually be fun to try to find your present amidst a hodge-podge of items, and there's no waste.