Unexpected But Cute Ways To Wrap Your Holiday Presents This Year

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The holiday shopping season is underway! Gatherings this year may be a bit more scaled-down than in pre-pandemic days, but gifts will certainly be exchanged. And wrapped, of course. As author Joy Hendry states in "Wrapping Culture," "Wrapping is a chance to mark the occasion in an appropriate way, to introduce a festive air, a sense of ritual. It is simply the proper way to present a gift." Furthermore, a 1992 study by Daniel Howard on gift wrapping published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology supported the argument that "gift wrapping, through repeated pairing with joyous events in people's lives, has utility in cuing a happy mood."

So let the wrapping begin! But wait — because as much as we love festivity, tradition, and good moods, we also care about climate change and the health of this planet we call home. And all too often, as holiday revelers are parting and celebrating, their host is filling a large trash bag with wrapping paper, which will end up in a landfill shortly thereafter. According to a recent Stanford University study, Americans throw away a million more tons of garbage each week during the holiday season than at other times during the year.

What's the answer? Can we wrap our gifts in beautiful ways while not contributing to the global waste crisis? Yes! Absolutely. Check out the options we've found and let's make this holiday season joyous, peaceful, and more environmentally friendly than ever.

Cloth, not paper

Wrapping paper that's really just paper can usually be recycled. Unfortunately, some gift wrap sold these days contains plastics, glitter, metal, and certain dyes that render it non-recyclable. It's important to know that tossing non-recyclable gift wrap in your recycling bin can cause huge problems down the line if it clogs machines at recycling centers. If you own wrapping paper and want to know if it's recyclable or not, an easy way to tell is the "scrunch test." In other words, paper that stays balled up after scrunching can go in your recycling bin. Paper that reverts to an "unscrunched" form must be thrown out in the trash (via Popular Mechanics).

Rather than trying to determine if used wrapping paper can be recycled or not, what if we took the word "paper" completely out of the equation and wrapped gifts in cloth? The Japanese art of furoshiki involves the practice of wrapping gifts and other items in beautiful cloth (via Invaluable).

Even better, it's super easy. Especially with reusable fabric gift wrap like this from Whimsy and Row. These beautiful square wrappings, available in four colors and patterns for $22 each, are made from recycled silk and can be used year after year. While purchasing enough fabric wraps for all your gifts may feel like an investment — but when you think about it, that's exactly what it is: an investment in the future.

Artsy fabric options

We're sold on the idea of sustainable holiday wrapping, and before we move on to options other than fabric, we wanted to show you these small reusable fabric wraps offered by a super cool company called Brightly. Brightly understands that nothing's going to stop climate change overnight and that none of us are perfect. But if we all do what we can, together, we can make a real difference. The company sells items like upcycled tote bags made of old water containers from Ghana and also produces a short weekly podcast called Good Together, which provides helpful little tips on living more sustainably each day.

These gift wraps (about 20" x20") are perfect for smaller presents and are incredibly easy to use. The gift wraps are made of organic cotton, and their cute green print is suitable for any time of year. Priced at $15 each, they allow you to decide if you want to keep the bags for yourself for future use or pass them on to your giftees as a way of introducing them to wrapping with fabric, too. It's kind of a gift-within-a-gift, if you think about it!

100% dissolvable wrapping paper

We wouldn't believe it if we hadn't seen it, but we did, and it's true. This product from Waterleaf Paper Company may be the solution for people passionate about creating zero waste while still wrapping gifts in beautiful paper. This is some of the prettiest, most aesthetically pleasing wrapping paper we've come across, made from plant fibers for strength and durability and printed with water-based inks. It's also available in 78 patterns created by female artists from various countries. The prints celebrate winter, Christmas, Hanukkah, love, and nature.

And by "nature," we mean two things: Some printed patterns feature cute woodland animals frolicking in the forest, and even more amazingly, the paper is fully dissolvable in water after use. See what we mean? Cool right? The only downside is that Waterleaf's paper is significantly more expensive than traditional gift wrap ($27 for a 36" x 40" sheet), so depending on your budget, you may want to use it for your most special gifts and try other sustainable options for others.

Mini glass jars for small gifts

Another way to prevent waste is to wrap gifts in containers the recipient can keep and reuse for various purposes. And for people who tend to give small items like jewelry, hair clips, and cosmetics as holiday presents, these Encheng 7oz glass containers, sometimes known as yogurt or pudding jars, are perfect! They also work very well for gifts of homemade jam, spices, candy, nuts, and just about anything else you can think of. Have a side business making homemade skin care or cosmetics? These glass jars are the perfect — and small business-friendly price point option. Of course, the jars are clear, but you can keep the contents secret by "wrapping" them in a handwritten, recyclable note or card. Another option is painting the jars.

Made of glass, which is 100% recyclable, and BPA-free plastic lids, the containers can store hundreds of things long after the holidays are over. They're dishwasher-safe, and their price on Amazon ($19.99 for 20 jars at the time of this report) is hard to beat.

Towels and scarves

Artifact Uprising is known for producing beautiful gift items like framed prints and calendars featuring special photographs. If you're considering gifting such things this holiday season, you may want to check out Artifact Uprising, especially since the company is committed to using recycled and reclaimed paper products when possible.

What struck us, though, as we browsed their pages, were the company's suggestions for DIY gift wrapping. By now, you know we're passionate about using fabric rather than paper, but Artifact Uprising takes that idea one step further by pointing out how you can do that without even purchasing fabric wraps. Instead, why not wrap your gifts in dishtowels? Or bath towels? Or new or vintage scarves? Think about it. Towels and scarves are fabric, and who can't use an extra towel or scarf? And everyone wins because the recipient gets two presents and no wrapping paper ends up in landfills. The possibilities are endless!

A plastic soda bottle becomes an adorable gift box

Single use-plastic food and drink containers present a huge problem for the planet. Our landfills and oceans are full of them, they're not biodegradable, and only 9% of the 9.2 billion tons of plastic produced on earth has been recycled correctly (per Supply Chain Solutions Center). Considering those numbers, we need industries that profit from single-use plastics to make dramatic and innovative changes (per The Street). But that doesn't mean we as individuals can't do small things to help.

For years, crafters have been discovering fun ways to decorate and upcycle plastic containers that would otherwise end up in the trash. You'll find thousands on YouTube and Pinterest if you're looking for ideas. As you can see, the crafter in this YouTube video has turned a standard soda bottle into a cute little gift box filled with nuts, candy, or just about anything else! The only tools necessary are a pair of sharp scissors, a Sharpie or other marker, an elastic band, a hole punch, and some string or ribbon. The crafter in the video decorates the finished container with pom poms made from yarn, but that's not necessary. You could also make a little card or gift tag and tie it to the top or add something meaningful for you and your giftee. Get creative, have fun, and keep a bottle out of the ocean!

Package your gifts in beautiful painted Mason jars

Here's another gift-within-a-gift idea because a painted Mason jar as a gift box can be used for years as a vase or a pencil holder ... the possibilities are endless. According to Modpodgerocksblog, this is a terrific project for novice crafters. It's also very inexpensive, and guess what? You can paint any glass jar you may have in your home; no need for it to be Mason brand. A pickle jar, a jar that once contained roasted peppers or olives; the only requirement is that it be glass and clean. You'll also need a small piece of sandpaper, a standard soft paintbrush, and paint.

Cleanliness is super important. You'll need to clean the jar with rubbing alcohol and let the alcohol dry before painting. There are many types of paint from which to choose, but after reading the info on Modpodgerocksblog, chalk paint sounds best because it requires no priming. The brand recommended is Folk Art Home Décor Chalk Paint, available at lots of places, including Michael's, where it costs $9.99 for an 8oz container and comes in 25 different colors.

The tutorial on the site is great. You can use more than one color — painting one layer, letting it dry, then painting another — or do multiple layers of the same color. Then use a piece of sandpaper to gently distress when dry. Use a sealer if you choose.

New gift pouches from old gift bags

We've been discussing ways to avoid using traditional commercial gift wrap, and we hope you're inspired. But what about wrapping supplies you already own? If you're like us, you've got a stash of cute gift bags in a drawer or closet that don't necessarily feel appropriate for holiday use. Like the one a friend used for your 30th birthday present. Or some beautiful ones from your wedding. You can't bring yourself to throw them away because you plan to reuse them some time, but you also don't know anyone turning 30 or getting married anytime soon. So the bags sit there, gathering dust. Well, break 'em out and cut 'em up because Brittni from the Paper & Stitch blog has some great ideas about breathing new life into them.

No real instructions are needed — as you'll see on the blog, this process is where you create the pouches necessary for the gifts you plan to give. A sewing machine — or glue gun — is necessary, and a little crafting experience will go a long way. But if you enjoy the tradition of putting on music and wrapping gifts during the holiday season, you might enjoy upcycling your old gift bags too!

Cute small gift boxes from toilet paper rolls

Feeling crafty now? Want to wrap all your gifts in homemade boxes and bags? Excellent! But this is where we caution you to be a little careful. Because remember: Craft supply stores are retail establishments too. Some people get into crafting to save money and escape consumerism, only to find themselves so enticed by the wares at craft supply stores that they buy far more stuff than they'll ever actually use (per Postconsumers).

That's why we love the idea of creating small gift boxes from toilet paper rolls so much. Toilet paper rolls are one of those items found in almost every modern home these days, so chances are it won't take you too long to collect a few. This YouTube video posted by Mariska Nell of Design by Mariska shows how simply you can make a small box for small gifts. If you watch the entire video, Mariska offers suggestions for decorating your creation. Still, the great thing about it is that you can decorate with whatever you already have in your home. Have fun!

Save money and time: Wrap gifts in old clothing scraps

By now, it's clear: We really like wrapping in cloth as an alternative to paper. We've recommended places to purchase beautiful, reusable gift wrappings and shared suggestions on wrapping in towels and scarves. But all those ideas take a little planning since they require shopping. And yes, they save money in the long run — not to mention helping the environment — but add additional costs to your holiday budget, and not everyone has extra cash this year. Also, with our busy schedules, some of us barely have time to shop for gifts, let alone new types of wrappings. 

Do you have some beloved pajamas now that are too ripped to wear? An old flannel shirt with the elbows worn through? In other words, any used, clean clothing that may not be suitable for donating? Why not turn it into gift wrap (viaYouTube)? After watching the video, we think you'll agree that wrapping in pieces of old clothes is easier than using commercial gift wrap. A few safety pins are helpful, but you can use twine, ribbon, yarn, fabric scraps, or whatever else you have to keep the gift from popping open. And for a bit of garnish, try adding a twig or leaf (per Momtastic). And don't forget: Fabric wrappings are reusable, but please add them to your textile donation bag when you're done with them.

Hidden treasures: Brown paper grocery bags

Remember in "The Sound of Music" when superstar actress Julie Andrews sings to the kids she's been hired to care for about brown paper packages tied with string? What is it about that line that evokes something wonderful, and why are those packages some of her favorite things? We think we understand after some consideration.

Perhaps it's because they sound so modest. Not shiny, not glitzy — just sweet, somehow pure, and old-fashioned. And in these unpredictable times when things often feel a bit unstable and off-kilter, it's comforting to imagine simpler times before plastics, and other synthetics, existed. A far simpler time when the widely used brown postal paper was pretty much all people had for wrapping gifts.

Oddly enough, brown postal paper is one of the most recyclable types of paper available today, as is the paper used to make plain old grocery bags. Now we're not suggesting that you stop bringing your reusable bags to the store with you, but everyone forgets sometimes and ends up with a few extra brown paper bags on hand as a result. Next time you do, hang onto that brown paper bag and add it to your holiday wrapping supplies. You may be surprised at how festive it looks, turned inside out and wrapped around a special gift with a bit of twine or yarn (per Grateful).