21st Century Gift Wrapping

If anything is the poster child for superfluous waste, it is wrapping paper. It is made to be ripped off and thrown away. When I was a kid, I remember my mom keeping a big trash bag handy on Christmas morning so we could toss all the discarded paper directly into the bag. Easy cleanup!

But times have changed and our traditions need to change too, including the ridiculous tradition of single-use wrapping paper. I have actually never bought wrapping paper in my almost two decades as a gift-wrapping adult and it’s never been an issue. Below you will find several suggestions to help you give up the habit…

21st Century Gift Wrapping Ideas

  1. Use newspaper to wrap your presents. For years, we stole a couple of Sunday Globes from my parents mid-December and wrapped everything in that. To dress them up a bit, we would tie elaborate bows with pretty leftover yarn.
  2. Use pretty napkins or dish towels to wrap your presents. This works well when you are wrapping presents for neighbors, co-workers, and others who will probably unwrap the gift separately from you. And, you are basically giving them two gifts, which is nice.
  3. Use the left-over brown paper wrapping from online purchases or paper bags from the store. Brown paper gives gifts a classic look, which is enhanced with white yarn. Jolly old Saint Nicolas uses brown paper wrapping for our children.
  4. Use salvaged wrapping paper from past holidays and birthdays. This is our current strategy for gifts outside our nuclear family. We save all the gift wrap from gifts we receive, store it, and reuse it. At first we were ridiculed a bit when caught flattening out used paper, but now everyone is onboard and others are catching on (which means our supply may run out at some point).
  5. Use salvaged gift bags. This is my favorite approach because gift bags are infinitely reusable. In our nuclear family, we hide presents in gift bags the morning of, “unwrap” the gifts, and then tuck the bags right back into our gift storage box. Super easy and everyone still gets the joy of “unwrapping” the gifts. Since we often have extra gift bags from years of saving them, I do reuse these outside our family too. Actually, the gift at the top is wrapped in a torn gift bag. I just cut off the bottom of the bag and it was easy to use just like wrapping paper.
  6. Give unwrapped gifts. Giving unwrapped gifts can also draw attention to your low waste choices, which can spark great conversations. I haven’t quite made it there yet (unless I am giving potted plants), but maybe someday this will be socially acceptable.
  7. Use children’s art. Do you have a ton of children’s artwork lying around? You could recycle it as gift wrap. We found that large paintings from kindergarten were particularly useful for this (don’t worry, we saved plenty of art to scrapbook!).
  8. Choose previously-loved plates and bowls for giving baked goods. Go to the second hand store and find beautiful or holiday-themed (or both, if you can!) plates to give with cookies this year. Not only is this much classier than paper plates or tins, but the plates can be used again and again (or returned to Goodwill to repeat the cycle).
  9. Use fabric gift bags. I received several of these cool new bags last year. You just slide the gift into the fabric bag, pull the drawstring, and you’re done. The bag can be reused again and again. If I had time, I would sew a whole bunch of these using scrap fabric.
I use this second-hand bin to store all our salvaged wrapping paper and gift bags. I use torn gift bags to sort them into occasions so it’s easy to find what I need when I’m wrapping in a hurry (which is always).

I hope this helps. If you still have gift wrap from previous holidays, don’t despair. Make a pledge now that you will never buy it again and more forward confidently knowing you are bucking a silly, outdated, and wasteful tradition.

– Hannah

Do you have any other ideas for zero-waste or low-waste gift wrapping?

4 thoughts on “21st Century Gift Wrapping

  1. Yes, I’m the mom who had a big bag for wrap/trash on Christmas morning. Now, thanks to Hannah and my raised consciousness, I have two bags: one for reusable bows/ribbons and paper (for rewrapping, starting the fire, recycling), and one for non-recyclable wrap (the shiny, metallic stuff) which I use to pack around things when I ship a box. I like to knit, so odds and ends of yarn are a great substitute for ribbon. Scatter those leftovers in the spring for birds to use in their nests. Since my family’s all-in, wrinkled wrap and crushed bows are just fine – not to mention all your other wonderful ideas for covering a gift!

    One of my favorite gifts to give is paper white bulbs in little thrift-shop-sourced bowls or glasses. Lovely, lively, sustainable.

    And for activism: I’m going to contact the non-profits that send wrapping paper as incentive/thank you for year-end giving. Especially groups, like World Wildlife Fund, whose nature-themed sheets are beautiful, but invite rethinking.


  2. I recently gave a gift in a used brown shopping bag and no tissue etc. and guess what? The kid didn’t care. She was more excited about the gift and homemade card. Wrapping is nice but the thought inside is more important!


    1. It’s funny how much time we spend making presents look pretty when most of us really don’t care. I know I’ve never written a thank you note that included the phrase: “Your gift was wrapped so beautifully”.


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