I have to be honest with y’all. When I am passionate about something, I can get...feisty. And by feisty, I mean nasty. I can get all sassafrass and am prone to rants instead of constructive educational talks. When I began this, I started ranting about all the things Sustainable Gift Wrapping was NOT. And there were a lot of snarky capital letters. But I didn’t set out on this Mother Lovin' journey to rant about all the things being done wrong, but to educate and suggest and learn about all the practices we can be doing to better love our Mother.
So here’s why sustainably gift wrapping is so wonderful:
It makes use of what you have.
It’s another level of personal.
It keeps about 25 million tons of garbage out of landfills each year.*
*according to this Stanford University article.
*Also according to that article, if every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
I’m not going to fill this blog with articles and statistics. I trust you to do a quick Google search if you’re reading this. Instead, I’m going to break down what I consider to be Mother-Lovin’ gift wrapping and hope you find some part of it helpful. Bookmark this blog for later and come back to it when you need a reference or refresh on how to sustainably give gifts.
Treat gift wrap like a cat--how many lives can you give it?
If I get a gift from my rad friend who shopped at say, my favorite boutique which I know bags products in cute brown paper bags, I can keep that brown paper bag and use it when I give a gift to my sister this Christmas. And then if she saves that brown paper bag and gives it to her neighbor with some delicious holiday treats, who then brings their office White Elephant gift in that bag, and then the coworker who stole that cute brown paper bag from the boss in a bold but respected move in the sacred game of White Elephant, only to realize it was ripped on the way home from the cut-throat office “we’re so chill here” holiday game, that simple brown paper bag has been given six lives and has been saved from a depressing trip to the landfill six times. And let’s say that even though it has a rip, this triumphant office worker has decided that this trophy--er, bag, is still functional as a bag and takes it to said office with her lunch in it, we’re up to seven lives!
At this point, it’s plausible this bag may be starting to show wear and tear (that holiday party really took its toll). Instead of tossing it when it has finally lost its functionality as a bag, she could cut it up to use as flat gift wrap, gift tags, scrap paper, cards, etc. Or she could recycle it if paper is recycled in her area. Recycling is great, but recycling after giving something 2+ lives is even better.
About writing on the gift wrap.
Gosh I love it so much. It’s so cute and personal and can make something that’s nearly trash look like ART. But, is it sustainable and does it defeat the purpose of giving things new life?
I find it helpful to ask yourself two important questions.
Can this be reused again?
If so, what can I do to make it so it can be reused again?
That doesn’t mean no embellishing your packaging with writing or illustrations! Just widen your range a bit and instead of writing “From: Caylie To: Harper” write “Merry Christmas!” or “Yay! A gift!” or “This isn’t a bike in case you couldn’t tell.” Snowflakes and hearts and stars and weird 90s doodles also give your reused wrap a fresh look without pigeon-holing in the giftee on how they can reuse it.
About garnishes and gift tags.
The thing that literally ties it all together. Save those pieces of string, ribbon, and twine and utilize them here! Keep it simple with just a knot (try to make it something that they can untie with minimal effort so as to not have to cut it!) or spruce it up with garnishes and gift tags.
There’s a STUNNING trend going around of garnishing gifts with dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks and pine branches and I am HERE FOR IT. As long as these are leftovers you have and you didn’t go out and buy one orange to dry just for gifts. Instead, try using the extra slices and cinnamon sticks from the wassail you made or the natural house freshener. Dried orange slices make a beautiful natural garland, when you’re drying for that, set some aside for gifts, too. Single use is dead.
I don’t know about where you live, but my yard and walking route is practically a game of pick-up-sticks. I think adding some twigs (pine or otherwise) to your wrapping job is so lovely, but let’s not cut off live branches for the look, yeh?
Gift tags are useful. I’m in full agreement with you that differentiating between gifts is necessary to avoid awkward mix-ups. How you want to tag is up to you and ripe with opportunity to get creative! If you are confident you have a great memory and can remember that oranges mean Emily and cinnamon means Robert and twigs mean Charlie, I support you and I envy your memory. If you are like me and have legitimately wrapped a present, put it under the tree the day before, and then not only forgotten that you wrapped that oddly shaped gift, but couldn’t say what that gift actually is for the life of you, then let me gently suggest clear labels.
Growing up, we always used the folded-in-half scraps of the wrapping paper to identify the giver and giftee. I think that’s marvelous and easily adapted to the re-usable game. If you’ve cut up an Aldi bag, snip off another section and make it into a tag. If you think that Aldi bag won’t be used again, write directly on the package! The front part of cards, the cardboard insert from your last Target purchase, old maps, comic strips, kids’ drawings can all be repurposed into charming gift tags.
I have a friend who uses old photos as gift tags and that’s ADORABLE. I have another friend who doesn’t wrap the box the gift was shipped in, just writes and draws all over it! Most recently, I used an empty Reganno pasta box with a well-placed snowman drawn over the logo. (As a side note, these are all things I’ve repurposed into sticker protection when I mail my stickers to customers.)
How bad is tape? The sad truth is it’s pretty rough. Tape is made sticky by polymers and most polymers are made from fossil fuels, which are a limited and non-renewable resource. If you have to use tape, use it sparingly, and/or use eco-friendly tape that has a paper front and water-based adhesive (Washi Tape is a great example of this!) This year, I’m going to try out this folding technique. I have high hopes. We’ll see if my origami has gotten better since gradeschool.
This brings us to this super fun way of wrapping that I was sort of doing before I heard about it and by sort of doing, I mean VERY POORLY doing now that I know what it can be. Furoshiki is a term that has come to mean folding fabric in artful ways to wrap gifts or packages or carry bread home from your local market. The term furoshiki actually refers to the fabric itself, but by no means do you need to go buy the specialty fabric in order to do this sustainable gift wrap technique.
Here are some common household items that you probably already have that can be employed as your cloth wrap: Handkerchiefs and bandanas, tablecloths (cut up or whole for REALLY big gifts), cloth napkins, tea towels, bedsheets/thin blankets, scarves, large fabric scraps from old sewing projects.
Square pieces of fabric work best, but it’s not a requirement. Tea towels are great for this because the towel has a dual purpose of wrapping the gift AND being a part of the gift.
I found some diagrams on the internet to assist you in your furoshiki this holiday, but feel free to get creative and adjust accordingly!
About tissue paper.
I know it’s thin and rips easily, but I promise you you can reuse that. I haven’t bought tissue paper in years because I’ve just been saving what I receive, folding it to store it nicely in a box, and then using it to wrap gifts and package orders.
What do you do with all the wrappings when you’ve opened it? The goal here is to not throw things away as much as you can. I recommend getting a box or bin and designating it as your gift wrap supply. When you receive gifts, resist the urge to RIP IT OPEN and instead open them gently and purposefully and save as much as you can, fold the wrapping paper and tissue paper and gift bags along their creases and store them kindly away so you’re ready when the next gift wrapping need comes up.
To not make yourself go crazy, keep this as tidy as you possibly can. I have a small container in which I keep all the extra ribbons and strings so they’re not just willy-nilly in the bin and I can access them quickly and effortlessly.
*Side note on keeping a bin of reusable materials: If you find yourself hoarding wrapping paper and bags and your one bin has turned into an overwhelming festive amalgam, reduce. Bring it back to a manageable status and offer the extra boxes and bubble wrap and packing paper to local shops who are up to their eyeballs in shipping out orders. They’ll appreciate that they don’t have to buy bubble wrap, trust me.
If no one will take it, see if you can recycle it locally or get a group together and go in on a TerraCycle box.
Those twigs and oranges and cinnamon sticks and leaves don’t have to be thrown in the garage either. Save the cinnamon sticks and any sturdy twigs if you want to use them next year or at your holiday festivities the next weekend. Repurpose the dried oranges into cute ornaments or a festive garland that smells amazing.
If you’re not in favor of any of the above, toss the twigs/leaves, cinnamon sticks, and oranges into your compost pile or under some of your bushes where they can decompose naturally. Be courteous, don’t throw them on the side of the road or in your neighbor’s tree line as oranges and sticks littered around can look a mess.
Look, not everyone will appreciate simply that you wrapped a gift sustainably regardless of appearance. And that’s fine! Part of giving gifts is knowing who you're giving it to anyway, so if you know that one of your friends really appreciates when gifts are beautifully wrapped, take care in choosing the reused paper that doesn’t have visible tears or strange markings. Reused does not mean trashy.
Some simple upgrades to take wrapped gifts to the next level include wrapping it with twine and a cute gift tag, fun string that’s colorful or sparkly, lettering and drawing on the package, or a kraft paper belly band to give dimension.
About holiday party etiquette.
I think you are the coolest for wrapping your gift sustainably and I and your Mother thank you for that. However, there’s nothing like souring the festive and sustainable experience like telling everyone else who didn’t wrap their gift in repurposed materials that they’re doing it wrong and they should be ashamed at their wastefulness. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF YOUR MOTHER DON’T DO THIS. If someone asks, be excited and tell them about why you chose to make the change! Tell your story, but don’t crap on theirs.
Wrapping your gifts this holiday (and beyond!) is mother-lovin’ wonderful. Use what you have! Make it personal and get creative. Feel proud about keeping a little bit of the 25 million tons of garbage out of landfills this year. It starts small!
Share your sustainably wrapped gifts with me on the social medias (IG + Facebook: @Cayligraphy) and use #MotherLovinChristmas (if you’d like) to share!