Wrap Wars: A New Hope

For a little while now I’ve had a note to myself to write a post on gift wrap clutter. Now I see that Erin has written an exhaustive entry with every solution imaginable. As these things tend to do, it sparked quite a bit of debate in the comments section.

So, being the resident insane minimalist, I thought I’d share a passage about wrapping paper from our good friend Peter Walsh’s book, It’s All Too Much,

There is a simple and elegant way to manage the wrapping of gifts. Remember this principle: More is not necessarily better! Purchase a roll of good quality brown paper and high quality ribbons of three colors–black, red, and white. Wrap all your gifts in this simple brown paper and decorate with any selection of the ribbons. Brown paper too dull for you? Use the same approach selecting your “signature” color.

Now, keep in mind this is advice from a guy clearly on the anti-wrapping side. “I am at a loss to understand when wrapping paper became such a national obsession,” he writes. For those of you who really love wrapping paper, brown paper won’t do. But it’s great for those of us who are always looking for the shortest distance between two points.

42 Comments for “Wrap Wars: A New Hope”

  1. posted by Robin Weiss on

    I love wrapping paper and think presentation is important. But I also have seven children. You can imagine the number of birthday parties that they go to, their own birthdays and Chanukah (8 X 7=56)… So it’s a lot of wrapping. It takes time, energy, space, it’s wasteful, etc. But I have two suggestions:

    1) Is a company we found several years ago: http://wrapsacks.com/ Their products are fairly inexpensive and really, really reusable. This makes it easy to wrap presents (no more hours spent doing this). At the end of Chanukah we take the biggest bag and stuff all the little bags inside, so clean up and storage is simple.

    2) For kids parties where I don’t want to get rid of my wrap sacks for good, I take a paper grocery bag and pull out my rubber stamps. We decorate the plain side and then wrap the paper. It’s pretty, recycled AND the kids helped make it.

  2. posted by Melissa A. on

    But brown wrapping paper can be decorated! You can use markers or paint to pretty it up. Or even use a potato stamp.

  3. posted by CM on

    I think heavy white paper looks nicer, and was also going to suggest stamps. If it’s a family gift (let’s say for Grandma) the kids can decorate it with crayons or markers.

  4. posted by Joyful Abode on

    That’s what I do… Except I have a shoebox full of satin ribbons of many different colors and widths, not just a few colors.

    But it works fantastically and every package is so beautiful.

  5. posted by Mrs. Micah on

    Mr. Micah loves silver wrapping paper. So we just have a roll of that. And I suppose we’ll buy more silver if we run out. It’s appropriate for most occasions and shinier than brown.

    While at college, I used old newspapers for giving things to my friends. It never made sense to have paper around. And they were all fine with it.

  6. posted by jb on

    i took a technical drawing class at school and ended up with a lot of full-scale drawings of chairs and tables and such. It wasn’t exactly portfolio level work so i re-used the paper to wrap gifts that christmas.

    I think that drawing on the paper before you wrap the present is probably easier on the kids and on the present (especially if it’s something fragile). Also, it ends up looking more like wrapping paper and less like you colored a box.

  7. posted by joker the lurcher on

    i wrap things in brown paper then stamp celtic designs in gold ink all over them – looks very posh!

  8. posted by karen on

    when i was a kid, we didn’t have much money and for every gift-getting occasion we had to *carefully* unwrap the gift and save the wrapping paper for reuse. 30+ years later when it came time to clean out & sell the family home, i found a stack of that saved giftwrap. (don’t worry, crappy sentiment aside, it was thrown out.) we also wrapped many a christmas gift in the sunday funnies. these days, i buy wrapping paper for formal gifts or when kids are the receivers of gifts. for everything else, i use what’s handy. might be brown paper (typically from a grocery bag i have tucked away, not from a roll of brown paper)either stamped or collaged (with cut-outs from glossy magazines), might be a poster that came with an album (yes, i still have vinyl), or whatever is handy.

  9. posted by Jennifer Lavender on

    I prefer white wrapping paper, if I buy wrapping paper at all, and usually settle for the cheapest roll I can find and then use it until it is gone.

    I have also used paper bags plain side out, old newspapers, and plastic grocery bags for gifts.

    My mom once purchased a roll of painters masking paper with about 10 times the paper of a regular roll of wrapping paper for less than half the cost. We had green presents for everything for 2 or 3 years.

    We’d also occasionally get our hands on blank newsprint paper when my dad was working in a print shop.

    There are definitely lots of things you can do to wrap a gift without having to store wrapping paper. My favorite is to skip the paper all together and wrap kitchen items in a dish towel, a little girls gift in a ribbon she can use for her hair, or a baby gift in a blanket. Why not make the wrapping just as useful as the gift itself?

  10. posted by auntiemichal on

    Tiffany made a trademark of their blue wrappings, so why couldn’t anyone else? LOL One could even order a very large roll of paper, a large spool of ribbon, and be set for years. Here’s one vendor (no affiliation) offering 100-, 417-, and 833-foot rolls. http://www.papermart.com/templ.....DCOLOR.htm

  11. posted by lucille on

    I bought a large roll of really nice gloss black wrapping paper. It works great for a bunch of different looks. I had a huge roll of pink of the same kind of paper. I kept a small box of wired and curly ribbon in a few basic colors (red, pink, purple, gold, silver) those colors worked best with the two paper options. I have done the same with tissue paper and the gift bags. Keeping them in those basic colors.

    I do really like the idea of coming up with a trademark paper color for all the gifts you give out. How posh.

  12. posted by lana on

    Thanks for the link, auntiemichal. As an artistic-type, I’ve always been partial to hand-decorating plain white paper. I just wish they sold smaller sizes. I’d rather pay a bit more and *not* have to deal with storing that huge roll.

  13. posted by Sherri on

    One generic wrapping paper makes gift-wrapping so much easier. My mother always chose specific paper for birthday, baby showers, etc. Inevitably you are out of the one you need when you need it. I have two kinds of wrapping paper: Christmas and generic light blue. Obviously Christmas gifts hit all at the same time, so it’s easy to go through that stock. The light blue works for everything else. Works for boys as is, works for girls with a simple bow. Birthdays, baby showers, wedding gifts, just because gifts… you name it, I use light blue paper for it. No thought required.

  14. posted by Lee2706 on

    I’ve been using old road maps and tourist maps as wrapping paper. I do like the simple wrap idea, though. Makes it easy to store and organize.

  15. posted by Brian on

    We eschew paper completely. We shop the local fabric stores on sale days for super-cheap cotton-print fabric. A few minutes at the sewing machine produce a simple, flat bag. Want a nicer bag? Add a little ric-rac, some ball fringe, or what have you. Insert gift, tie it off with a nice ribbon, and there you are. We’ve done enough of these over the years that we now routinely get gifts given to us in bags we made years ago.

    Cheap, TOTALLY reusable, and recyclable as rags when they wear out. Plus, you can make them in a variety of sizes to fit particular gifts.

  16. posted by portia on

    My family uses end-rolls of newsprint. We decorate them all with markers, and usually pick a few themes for the year at Christmas. It’s completely wonderful.

  17. posted by Leigh Ann on

    I don’t keep many wrapping supplies around. When I buy a gift for someone, I also buy a gift bag, tissue paper (might have a small stock of this at home), and a ribbon. It’s a little more expensive this way, but I’ve found stores that sell gift bags for a reasonable price. Plus, it can be re-used.

    I do keep some of the gift bags we’ve received to re-use. So, I just have one gift bag containing some used gift bags, tissue paper, and maybe some ribbon to re-use. I do the same thing at Christmas, and I store those bags with the Christmas decorations. When we shop for the kids, I buy just enough paper for this Christmas and wrap some of the items.

  18. posted by allen on

    I’m the cheap-flint i guess: I put the gift into a brown-paper grocery bag, fold over the top, staple it, and write their name with a magic marker. It’s become my signature, and it’s SO cheap! ;)

    Around here, at least, one of the grocery stores has their bags printed with suitable holiday prints, so i guess those don’t look AS bad.

  19. posted by Arlene on

    One roll of “gold” paper, bought at after-Christmas sales and a handful of ribbon choices. That’s it!

    I fought “gift wrap clutter” for years before, as Peter Walsh suggests, I realized that all the paper and associated gadgets was taking up far too much space for a 15-second thrill on birthdays and Christmas.

    No one has complained or (truth to tell) even noticed, especially if the gift itself really works. And if the gift isn’t a hit, no paper and bows can save it anyway.

  20. posted by J. Lynne on

    I have to echo that white paper is better and suggest you add green ribbon to the list.

  21. posted by Ornery's Wife on

    I haven’t bought wrapping paper for years. It just seems to keep coming off the rolls and never runs out! I don’t remember the last time I bought it, but I seem to always have just what I need in a drawer. I love these ideas, though, so if I ever give enough gifts to use all this up, I think I’ll adopt some!

  22. posted by Lauren on

    I have started wrapping baby gifts in baby blankets that my daughter has outgrown. They look nice and don’t create garbage. I’m trying to come up with a similar idea for Christmas this year.

  23. posted by Andamom on

    We buy various colors of paper at IKEA along with curling ribbon. With tons of friends having babies, birthday parties, the holidays, and random other gifts, the paper does get used. And, I’ve used the paper for other things as well — the reverse side is white and I used it to create pin the object on various things for parties (ex. lips on the supermodel), craft projects like drawing an outline of my daughter that she could decorate, etc. Personally, I find the color canvas very inspiring and fun… Best of all, the IKEA paper is relatively inexpensive.

  24. posted by Lucy on

    Ok people. It is not that hard! Go to http://www.whimsypress.com for literally every possible need you may have. From the hipster to the girly-girl to the coolest kid wrap imaginable, it is all there. And has anyone ever heard of the Container Store??? They have great solutions for wrap storage that works in every size home, closet and garage.

    Going all “craft paper” and “grocery bags” is just lazy and shows that you have no imagination. Just get some whimsical ideas from whimsypress and be done. My gifts are always the hit of every party.

  25. posted by allen on

    I’m not lazy, and I don’t have a lack of imagination: What i have are a lack of resources(both space & monetary), or a desire to spend part of the money i have allocated for their gift on wrappings.

    The SOLE purpose of wrapping paper should be to keep the gift a surprise. If the recipient is as pleased about the wrapping paper as the gift, then the gift is not all that good.

  26. posted by The Green Cat on

    I used to travel a lot for business so I have a lot of road maps. I have been using them for a few years as wrapping paper. My friends and family always comment on how pretty and unusual this is. I also save wrapping paper and tissue paper from gifts and purchases and reuse them. I agree with allen on this–it’s not a lack of imagination. It actually takes some imagination to reuse what you have on hand and make an attractive gift wrapping.

  27. posted by Pat on

    I’ve lived overseas for 20+ years. I go back around twice a year but still miss trends building up – then am surprised when I eventually notice. I think it was 3 years ago I first noticed huge plastic bins and other boxes for storing gift wrap. Huh? Who needs that much?

    I live in Tokyo and Japanese give a LOT of gifts all year round.* They also have very (very!) small homes. Consequently almost no one wraps their own gifts – the stores do it as a matter of course right at the check out counter. If they want something more personal, gift wrap is sold only in very small quantities (which makes it relatively expensive). Then again, stuff here is over-packaged from the get-go and frequently even daily use items look rather gift-y.

    *About types of gifts: kids’ BD parties are rare and Xmas is just another imported holiday for a bit of fun, not the maniacal frenzy of a Stateside Xmas. Entire books have been written about the meaning of Japanese gifts – many of which are a way of fulfilling an obligation – and not heartfelt little wonders. Those exist of course, it’s just that a lot of the gift-giving going on is of a more ritualistic nature.

  28. posted by Kate on

    Many years ago I picked silver paper for my christmas wrappings, everyone knows it’s me, it looks smart and tidy and a little different.

    Also a solid colour paper stands out against all the multi-coloured wrapped pressents in a pile :-)

    Yes for the fabric bags thing – I did that a year or so ago, while fabric with a black swirly design and a red ribon to tie is up. Bags can then be used to hold undies when you go on holiday (or is that just me?).

    One family member wrapped everything in the Finatial Times with red ribbons, looked really good – the FT is a distictive tan colour rather than regular newspaper colour.

    I gave up gift tags years ago, they get lost – write their name and your name on the wrapping paper directly, one less thing – the tag – and more practical :-)

  29. posted by JSM on

    I’ve been using tissue paper of various colors for years along with one roll of curling ribbon with four colors (gold, green, red and white). The tissue paper is easily folded and stored with my other paper in a bin. I can get many different looks by crumpling the paper or taping a band of a different color across the middle of the wrapped package. I also like to change up the ribbon placement and ties (some curly, poofy and multi-colored; others squared off with one simple knot). And with every gift I give, I always include a well thought out note on simple stationary. That, to me, means more than the gift or wrapping (especially in this age of email).

  30. posted by freecia on

    This year I think I’ll go with cloth and put a copy of the furoshiki diagrams right at the bottom http://www.env.go.jp/en/focus/attach/060403-5.html

  31. posted by kelli on

    In the SF bay area you can get really cool outdated maps at the Menlo Park USGS. They just give these huge sheets of paper away!

    We also use a roll of paper from IKEA on our IKEA easel. The paper gets fed through the easel and held with a huge binder clip. When the kids are finished coloring both sides, I can use it for wrapping paper.

    Another fun place? Thai Silks in Los Altos — they sell silk scarves which are 36×36 inches for about $5 and they are beautiful (there are many sizes & colors). You can wrap kid or adult gifts in these and they can become part of the gift or reusable gift wrap. Kids can play dress up with them, too!

    I also like reusable shopping bags — IKEA has some holiday themed bags which would be great for large gifts which are about $2 each. Beautiful reusable shopping bags can be purchased at http://www.reusablebags.com/ for under $10, or you can sew your own if you’re crafty.

  32. posted by Sky on

    I’ve been putting gifts in the cloth grocery bags. It may cost a little more than typical gift wrap but hopefully the recipient will reuse it and cut back on plastic bags when shopping.

  33. posted by Whyfly on

    We got the furoshiki route at my place, using handkerchefs. Some people keep them, and some give them back so we can use them again.

    We also have fabric that is intended to be made into bags, but that hasn’t happened yet. :)

  34. posted by Rue on

    If you’re talented with ribbon, buy one set of pretty paper and jazz it up with ribbon! It’s a lot easier to store a bunch of ribbon than a bunch of paper.

    However! If you (like me) think that wrapping gifts and making them gorgeous is at least half the fun of gift-giving, buy all the paper you want! There are plenty of gift wrap holders available now. Gift wrap only becomes clutter if you don’t use it and you don’t make a place for it.

  35. posted by Christina on

    I’m trying to minimize single-use anything in my life, and wrapping paper would fall in that category.

    I use and reuse gift bags with colored tissue paper (which can then also be reused), gift boxes which then become part of the gift and/or get reused, and I make wrapping paper out of used packing paper.

    I bought some dishes at Crate & Barrel this year, and I know that all the packing paper they used to cushion my purchases will be getting fully crinkled (so it looks textured rather than “used”), flattened, perhaps decorated with drawings or stamps (if I have time) and then used to wrap stuff.

    I have a variety of ribbon that I have simply saved from various gifts/flowers I’ve been given. (Collect a whole bunch of used ribbon in a container, and then iron the wrinkles out of a bunch all at once. It’s quick and easy.)

  36. posted by Sheila on

    I love Peter Walsh’s idea of a signature wrapping paper and tried to pass it on to my clutterer relative. But in my relative’s case, the urge to buy every possible color and pattern trumphs the idea of being simple and elegant. (And that’s why the US has a negative savings rate.) At least I managed to convince my relative to return the huge plastic wrap tub for which said relative had no space. What’s the use of a huge container if you have to put it in the attic? Wrapping paper needs to be close at hand, which is why a couple of rolls stuffed in a coat closet and some ribbon and flat paper in a dining room drawer work fine for me.

    I used the Sunday comics sections for kids’ gifts for many years. Another trick is to add stickers to the plain paper repurposed from some prior use. Young kids always seem to have leftover stickers around.

    Truth is, I enjoy the art of wrapping presents and making them look special. Considering how modest the gifts themselves often are, making a nice presentation is added value, and depending on the receiver (most guys and children don’t care), is recognized as added love. It also makes a little look like a lot under the Christmas tree. But as a family, we have moved away from gift giving. This year I doubt if we will give presents at all. No one has any money.

  37. posted by janice on

    crate & barrel tissue paper is fantastic! it looks great with a colored ribbon – snowy! i’m always on the lookout for plain paper for wrap. different colored & size ribbons on a bunch of different gifts looks great. also, if that’s still too plain, sometimes i wrap one strip of a colored or pattered paper around the gift & then a ribbon (maps, decorative art paper, usually sells in 20″ x 30″ sheets or, salvaged gift wrap – a strip of reused wrap less obvious than a whole sheet.) For the record, my gift wrapping always gets rave reviews. :)

  38. posted by Give LDS Gifts on

    I love this idea! I was just thinking about how great ribbons are for giftwrap. I think I will declutter to just the white paper I currently have and just use my ribbons from now on. Thanks for the great blog!

  39. posted by Camilla on

    I stopped using ribbons, bows, and tags years ago. They are just more clutter to store, and to have to try to coordinate with the gift wrap. I write right on the gift wrap with a felt pen the to and from info. And as soon as I use up the odds and ends of paper I currently have, I am going to go with just one solid color that works for everything. Now to decide what color, and where to buy it… :)

  40. posted by Courtney on

    I’m loving the signature wrap idea! I did this for my wedding attendants gifts several years ago. My colors were ivory and periwinkle. I found some inexpensive periwinkle paper at the Party Store and used ivory curling ribbons and bows. It looked totally fantastic. Several of my girlfriends have now copied this idea.

    However, I do agree with some other posters. There are two friends of mine who are really into beautiful wrapping and bows. I always try to do something extra special for them. But for the others, I say, bring on the signature wrap!

  41. posted by Eadie on

    “Brown paper packages tied up with string
    These are a few of my favourite things”

  42. posted by Elaine on

    Just a quick word of caution. Many, many, um, MANY magazines and home-crafting sites that I’ve seen have promoted the idea of wrapping gifts with pages from the color comics. Cute, whimsical, inexpensive, yes, but there is a certain kind of person out there who finds this idea anything but. They find it tacky, tasteless and cheap. I know this because a co-worker from years ago described her bridal shower, in which one friend presented a gift wrapped this way. I don’t remember whether she liked the gift or not, but she (and her mother) sure didn’t like the paper and pondered whether or not to even invite the friend to the wedding. So, the moral here is twofold: Know your audience — are they materialistic snobs like my former co-worker? If so, they may take offense at a homespun idea for giftwrapping. Second, don’t assume that because you saw an idea in a magazine or on a website, that everyone will agree that it’s a great idea.

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