Gorgeous gifts without all the clutter

To keep wrapping paper from overwhelming our closet, I tend to buy a single roll of matte silver paper to use on all our gifts. Silver is nice because it works well for holidays, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and thinking-of-you presents. Plain brown butcher paper can work great, too, as an all-purpose gift wrap.

If you go the minimalist route with your wrapping paper, you might want to spruce up your gift with ribbons or bows. I like to keep things simple, so I typically just reuse nice ribbons that were attached to gifts other folks gave to me. A steam iron quickly gets out the wrinkles, and no one else is the wiser (well, at least they weren’t before I wrote about it).

The website NotMartha recently linked to a Martha Stewart project that is right up my simple-wrapping alley.

Simply using construction paper and a razor blade, this plain brown package is transformed into a beautiful gift. Easy, multifunctional materials, and whimsical — a great idea without all the clutter. Learn how to make a similar pop-up personalized bow with Martha’s step-by-step illustrated instructions.

55 Comments for “Gorgeous gifts without all the clutter”

  1. posted by Dan on

    My wife often buys cheap reusable fabric bags for giving gifts. Depending on where you get them they’re normally the same price as or cheaper than single purpose gift bags, but they have the benefit of looking more expensive and being useful for more than just gifts. The discount section at Target normally has some for $1-$2 that are brightly colored and don’t have a store logo. Put the gift in and stuff the top with tissue paper, and maybe finish it off with a bow.

  2. posted by Meg on

    My husband and I decided to get rid of all our wrapping paper about a year ago. It had gotten a bit overwhelming and we always dreaded wrapping gifts anyhow. Plus, we’ve been trying to cut down on one-time-use stuff in an effort to be greener.

    Nowadays we don’t give gifts often, so it’s not an issue. We’ve been doing gift-free Christmases for the past few years and it’s been wonderful. Without having to shop in the holiday rush we’ve had so much more time to just spend with people, which they seem to appreciate. We can bring some food to share or something, but it’s not high pressure like a gift and then they don’t have the pressure of trying to find great gifts for a couple of minimalists.

    When we do give gifts, we try to be creative. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stuffing things nicely in a bag and we do keep gift bags that can be reused. But we’ve also wrapped baby shower gifts in receiving blankets and painted a quite large box with flowers.

  3. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    I’m yet another fan of reusable gift bags. In fact, I blogged about it last night! These are more expensive than the ones Dan mentioned, but they’re delightful:

  4. posted by Sandman on

    Reusable gift bags? Bah! That just means I have to store them too. Sure it’s more environmentally friendly, but this is Unclutterer, not LiveGreen. Sure you can do both sometimes and it’s worth doing when you can.

    Anyway, experience gifts increase in happiness value over time and stuff gifts decrease. So give an experience (tickets to a play, a nice dinner, a days outing somewhere, etc) and that way you don’t have to worry about wrapping it.

  5. posted by Dee on

    Erin, where do you get your silver wrapping paper? I have looked all over, unsuccessfully!

  6. posted by Jon on

    For presents for other kids’ birthday parties, we wrap gifts in plain white butcher paper and let our kids decorate with whatever theme they want.

  7. posted by Joanne on

    One year back in the ’70s when I was a student, I decided to go cheap and creative on my Christmas wrap for my family’s gifts. I wrapped the gifts in the newspaper classified ads pages, because the fine print gave it a nice black and white graphic quality, and drew over it simplified holly sprigs using green and red markers. My family actually thought I purchased wrapping paper.

  8. posted by Nancy on

    @Jon: We do the same thing, but use the inside of brown paper grocery bags. My kids love using markers and ink stamps to decorate the outside!

  9. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Dee — My local Hallmark store and Ikea both usually have it.

  10. posted by Camellia Tree on

    This was discussed in the forum awhile back- there were many great suggestions for all-purpose gift wrap, including colors such as lime green, blue, or white, in addition to suggestions for where to buy big rolls of paper.


  11. posted by Dee on

    Thanks, Erin!

  12. posted by priest's wife on

    I love the idea of one kind of wrapping paper- I am actually not buying bags anymore- just more to store….

  13. posted by winterjulie on

    I don’t know about the US, but over here in the UK buying a virtual gift where the money goes to charity is very popular. You might buy a goat from Oxfam and you get a card for the person the gift is for, and someone in a developing nation gets a real goat to help them out of poverty. It’s what to give people who already have everything they need (and more).

  14. posted by Jen on

    I made a scarf for a friend a while back and just folded it up and wrapped a length of fabric ribbon around it. It actually looked really cool, the ribbon is reuseable, and it’s easy to store.

  15. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    Years and years ago, Real Simple had a piece on not only choosing one signature solid color of gift wrap, but also using a single signature color of grosgrain ribbon. The packages look so elegant, and people tend to re-use the ribbon more so than the cheap stuff–and you don’t have to iron it!

    I buy the ribbon at my local fabric store–it’s cheap, because a simple bow uses less ribbon than an elaborate one like you do with the “gift wrapping” ribbon.

  16. posted by LoriBeth on

    I usually make my own fabric gift bags, which backfired on me last Christmas when my daughter took her one “girl” present and a small gift for her teacher in one of our Christmas-themed bags. The teacher gave them back to my daughter to take home, not realizing that the bag was part of the gift. I worried that she had sent them back because she didn’t want them/couldn’t use them, but I talked to her after school started back and she said that she thought they were too pretty to be given away! I ended up giving her several and told her to ‘pass them on’.

  17. posted by nigel on

    Excellent suggestion!.
    Re-cycle and be green. You can save even more and support your local community by looking to arts & crafts studios. They are not at all expansive and often produce unique and original work – pottery, glass, wooden bowls etc. Keep your $ at home.

  18. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I especially like Sandman’s suggestion for experience gifts — I’d much rather spend a dinner hour with good friends than be given yet another candle or picture frame that will end up in a yard sale.

    I do like the idea of a signature wrapping style – one colour of paper and ribbon. Would cut down on what I have to store.

  19. posted by TanyaZ on

    It’s all cute and nice… just get some construction paper (where?), razor blade (where?), and more color paper, and ribbons to coordinate, of course. Well, I smell a 20 minute drive to a specialty crafts store, buying a bunch of stuff I won’t need probably ever that will end up clutterring my shelves, and then going on razor blade cutting spree your figers (and sanity) will hardly appreciate. Total, 2 hours of pain in behind for a nicely wrapped gift. Cute – maybe. Simple – NO! Totally not worth it.

    Wrapping is overrated, unless it is done by a professional in a store. I will pick up a gift bag on my next trip to a grocery store.

  20. posted by TanyaZ on

    Forgot to mention – it is one thing to throw away a plain store bought paper gift bag, and quite another something creative your loved one spent hours creating out of specialty supplies. Anyone smells sentimental clutter?

    I just think this fancy wrap is a bad idea all around.

  21. posted by tmichelle on

    I’m with you TanyaZ! Simple gift bag, no guilt to re-use or recycle and a fraction of the time. If I even tried something like this, I’d spend a lot of time and mine wouldn’t even come out as nice (and I’m crafty too!)

  22. posted by Kel on

    This is pretty neat! I could see trying this for a special occasion or something like that.

  23. posted by Kelley O on

    My mom always used the white butcher paper and bright colored ribbons. Classy, and fun, and easy.

  24. posted by Jeannine B. on

    I purchase plain, brown gift bags in various sizes from Michaels or Hobby Lobby (whichever happens to have them on sale). I have a stash of tissue paper in every color under the sun! Before we add the gift and the tissue paper to the bag, we draw a sentiment on the bag, with markers coordinated to the tissue paper (i.e. Happy Birthday). We even skip the card and just add the “to:” & from:” with the markers as well. Saves us a bunch of money on wrapping and cards – plus, I don’t have to store a lot of supplies!

  25. posted by Another Deb on

    The pop-up Happy Birthday bow is way too fiddly for me and I scrapbook! That means I already have (way too much) cardstock, the adhesives, Exacto knife, fancy rulers and Special Self-Healing Cutting Mat. And still… waaaay too fiddly.

  26. posted by Sky on

    The Dollar Store has white gift bags usually 2 for $1.00. Some ribbon ties around the handles and you’re set….very inexpensive.

  27. posted by footix_ on

    Wrapping all your gifts in a newspaper is a very green, graphical way of wrapping gifts !

  28. posted by nj progressive on

    When my husband and I were first married back in the mid 1980s, we had an odd assortment of wrapping paper for gifts to our parents and siblings for holidays and birthdays. The worst of it was all the fiddly bits leftover – scraps of a floral that we had used for presents to our mothers was all we had when it was time to wrap something to one of our fathers, and bits and pieces of Christmas papers that couldn’t be used for anything else. We didn’t have the space to keep it all, and we certainly didn’t have the money to have a big selection of wrapping materials at our disposal.

    So we made a decision to only buy gold and silver wrapping paper. Looks great for all occasions. We’ve been able to get stripes (matte and shiny) and a wonderful embossed paisley to go with the plain shiny paper (which we usually buy at a party store now that we no longer have small stationery stores in our town). Over the years we’ve been good at buying paper in the after-Christmas sales, when it’s marked down in price (that’s when we go to the museum shop and buy our Christmas cards, too). I’ve managed to find some great small gift bags in a gold and silver print. And Nordstrom department store has great silver boxes, with thin gold edges. No wrapping paper needed!

    We buy some gold and silver cord for the small packages, and I keep a selection of colors of curling ribbons, mostly white, ivory, and both matte and shiny gold and silver, plus a few bright colors that I know family members like. I bought two large spools of burgundy and hunter green curling ribbon for Christmas gifts. A few special presents over the years have had grosgrain or double-faced satin ribbon. Those ribbons are saved and reused, again and again. I’ve added some gold notary seals to small loops of ribbon for another touch.

  29. posted by mark on

    Newspaper works well… Readily available too…

  30. posted by Eline on

    Agree with the newspaper fans. I always use old papers/magazines from the bin: readily available and great for the environment.

    If you flip through them for a few seconds, you will stumble upon some photo’s or articles that suit the occasion or the persnality of the receiver very well.

    If you add a used ribbon/piece of cloth/shoe lace/any other creative waste and write down the name in a fancy color, the gift will look extraordinary. When I gift wrap this way, people never fail to compliment my on the nice wrapping 🙂

  31. posted by Erin Doland on

    For those suggesting using newspaper and magazines, I think this is fine for birthdays and kids’ gifts. However, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with it for wedding gifts. Since modern American etiquette suggests that you buy a gift of equal or greater value than the bride and groom are spending on you, and many weddings have dinners that cost $100-$200 for an individual meal, I would feel weird wrapping a $150 gift in newsprint. That is why I like the silver paper — it works for all occasions.

  32. posted by Rebecca on

    I have a clear tub in the basement where I store gift wrap. I keep ribbons, gift bags, bows and neat paper scraps or tissue from other gifts, and reuse it. I also generally buy only brown paper gift bags for myself (Target sells these in packs), because, like the brown butcher paper, they are suitable for nearly all occasions and shapes and sizes (or assortments) of gifts. I have a few rolls of Christmas paper, which I don’t think I will buy again because it’s always too long for the tub and so specific in design.

  33. posted by tmichelle on

    Wow Erin, you get invited to some fancy weddings. Quite honestly, my own wedding was the fanciest I’ve ever been too (my circle still remembers it 12 years later). I think we spent about $30/per person.

  34. posted by Susan in FL on

    Skip the gift wrap. It is still totally and socially correct, preferred even, to mail a check or a gift card to the address on the wedding invitation before the wedding. Viola – no gift wrap necessary.

  35. posted by Erin Doland on

    @tmichelle — I don’t attend too many fancy weddings. I think you would be surprised by how expensive weddings are now. Once you figure out the price the bride and groom paid for your invitation, the ceremony program, open bar, appetizers, plated meal, wedding favor, the wait staff to attend to guests, and slice of cake … even “small” weddings are expensive when you look at them as a price per guest. In the DC area, I don’t know a single friend who has negotiated a per guest price below $100 in the last five years for a plated dinner.

  36. posted by Jen on

    Erin, I agree that having a wedding for $30 a person these days is not realistic for most people. My wedding was 9 years ago (albeit in NYC which is among the most expensive places to do it) and we were hard pressed to come up with something less than $125 a person, before adding in stuff like flowers, invitations, etc. For a couple attending a nice wedding of a close friend/family, i think $200 for a gift is typically the least we’d spend.

  37. posted by Melanie on

    I don’t like using newspaper simply because the ink comes off on the recipient’s hands and then dirties the gift. Yuck!

    It is sad to think of weddings being a tit-for-tat exchange where you have to figure out how much the couple is spending to have you as a guest so that you make sure to buy a gift equal or greater to that amount. Sad indeed.

  38. posted by Meg on


    That all depends on the couple having the wedding. My own wedding wasn’t exactly ages ago and I certainly didn’t spend even close to that. I should hope that I’ve never been to a wedding that cost that much. If I have, they overpaid.

    But I think the whole notion of “covering your plate” is ridiculous. So we are to spend more on gifts for those who can afford and want to spend more on expensive weddings? That’s nonsense! By that logic I should spend more on a distant cousin’s wedding present than I should on close family because the former can afford a big wedding and the latter will probably choose to have something humbler. And I should worry about being invited to some spendthrifts’ weddings! If they’re disappointed with my gift then they should learn the meaning of a gift.

    And how are we to find out what everyone is spending anyhow? Call the mother of the bride a few weeks before and ask? I should find any discussion of prices beyond tacky.

  39. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Meg — If I were in charge of modern American etiquette, I would definitely change the practice. However, I am not.

    If I didn’t want to follow the tradition, I would simply not attend a wedding. Choosing to attend a wedding in the US, though, means that the couple is expecting you to buy a gift for them that matches the plate (unless they personally tell you otherwise). Based on the invitation, you can usually get a good idea of how much money the host will be spending on you. In DC, the average breakdown might be something like open bar = $25, plated dinner = $100, dessert only = $25, buffet = $65, hors d’oeuvres = $25, etc. You don’t need to ask anyone what the price is.

    Additionally, it is always acceptable to spend more than the plate. So, you should feel comfortable spending at least the same on your closest family members as you do your distant cousin.

    In situations like weddings that are routed in tradition and focused solely on the couple, you agree to follow their rules. You can buck the system when/if you choose to get married.

  40. posted by Rebecca on

    I have read every book Judith ever wrote as Miss Manners, plus several versions of Emily Post (1921, 1945, a 1980s version, and an updated 1990s) as well as several other experts like Leticia Baldridge and Amy Vanderbilt. I also have read some of their source material. Also have worked for US Embassies and had to be familiar with protocol. In all those contexts, I have never encountered the “cover your plate” idea. In fact, I usually see things like “give a gift, but it should be within your means, if you are invited to a wedding” and “the closeness of your relationship to the couple, and your individual means, rather than the lavishness of the celebration, should determine your gift.” Where does this “tradition” come from that you speak of? What is its history? What is its provenance?

  41. posted by Claire on

    I reuse all the brown paper that comes into our lives through mail and store packaging. I use and reuse scraps of ribbon for bows, and write any messages I have directly onto the brown paper with calligraphic pens. The calligraphy really dresses things up. I also save the pretty cards I receive, so if a tag is required, I can cut out an apt image for the occasion, punch a hole in it to tie it to the ribbon, and write on the back—also in calligraphy. I love the look of a pile of “brown paper packages” under the Christmas tree. The only detriment is storing it, but everything I’ve needed for years fits into a brown paper shopping bag that’s maybe 1′ x 3′.

  42. posted by JustGail on

    another place to check for gold and silver paper is in the outdoor decorations at Christmas. I’ve seen rolls intended for making the front door look like a giant present. It’s also a bit heavier than normal wrapping paper, if I recall correctly.

    I’d love to go with just a roll of brown and a roll of white paper and then decorate (or not) as the occasion calls, but others in the house don’t agree.

  43. posted by Meg on


    “If I didn’t want to follow the tradition, I would simply not attend a wedding. Choosing to attend a wedding in the US, though, means that the couple is expecting you to buy a gift for them that matches the plate (unless they personally tell you otherwise).”

    That’s sad that this so-called “tradition” — which is certainly not “tradition” where I am in the U.S. — would possibly stop someone from attending a wedding. I certainly did not expect people to cover their plate when I got married and I’ve never heard it from any of my family or friends in the area. Here we talk about giving gifts that come from the heart, not expecting anything, and appreciating what you do get. But then if I thought someone was being so mercantile with their wedding of all things then that friendship probably wouldn’t last very long. Weddings should be about sharing your love, after all, not worrying about if you’re going to recoup the costs of the reception.

  44. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Rebecca — Oh, Emily Post and colleagues would never ever put such thing in writing! I’m saying that most couples have this expectation based on societal norms. It is what is expected and assumed is etiquette, unless expressed differently by the couple. Even then, if parents are footing the wedding bill, it’s best to follow the standard behavior.

    @Meg — I agree with your description of what weddings should be … but that is not what most weddings ARE. I didn’t expect guests to even give us gifts — especially guests from out of town — but people did anyway and I felt horribly guilty about it. It is what it is.

  45. posted by Erin Doland on

    Everyone, I should also mention that I am having one of the worst days of my life and am probably doing a truly crappy job at putting into words my actual meaning. Just found out my son is deathly allergic to peanuts. I’ve never been more worried about my little man as I am right now. Still processing the news. I know it’s not the end of the world … it’s just wholly unexpected.

  46. posted by tmichelle on

    So sorry!!! My 20 month old is very allergic to peanuts and some other nuts. We had a terrible scare last week. I sincerely hope your day drastically improves.

  47. posted by Kat on

    Oh Erin, how scary! I too hope your day gets much better. For what it’s worth, I understand what you mean about the wedding gifts. It’s certainly not anything anyone would say out loud, but it is the expectation (at least in my area.)

  48. posted by Eric Myers on

    Love that boy. I have to get one for my next birthday celebration. I think that extra personalized touch makes all the difference. Thanks!

  49. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    @ Erin, I’m so sorry about your little guy, I hope you can find some peace of mind, and hope that he’s ok!

    About the wedding ‘tradition’, there’s a lot of people that don’t have the ‘cover the plate’ belief or practice. Most posts related to the wedding gift topic reflect thta. If you’ve got the bucks, (or the credit, but that’s another isue) to throw a multi-thousand dollar wedding, then you may be part of a sub-culture that has that standard.

    Hope your day improves, and that your son is okay.


    But many, many folks get married simply, have the reception at home or rent a local civic organization’s hall, and the expectation is not to give a dollar gift that outdoes the outlay, so to speak.

    Living in a major urban area has something to do with that practice, I’d bet.

  50. posted by Lee on

    Although we still have a few rolls and packages of printed paper, we now rely on our jumbo roll (about 5″ in diameter when purchased) of shiny yellow wraping paper. My husband still enjoys picking out papers for Christmas, but I could live with a big roll of plaid, red, or silver, that could be used at other times.

    I save gift bags, but often can make my own. I loosely wrap a rectangular box and leave it open at one end. After removing the box, I turn the end paper under for the top of the bag, punch 2 or 4 holes where the paper is double, and run ribbon, twine, etc. through the holes for the handles.

    For big items, we give the person clues to follow until he ends up in front of the gift, which usually has a bow and a card. Kids especially love the “hunt”.

  51. posted by Jay on

    Sometimes for smaller gifts for our kids (ages 3 and 6), we hide unwrapped gifts around the house. The kids have fun looking for and finding the gifts.

  52. posted by Tabbycat on

    I haven’t given out gifts to anyone by my boyfriend and my grandmother since I started college. but even before then I stopped with the wrapping paper. Me and my boyfriend either put the gift in a bag we already have or wrap a towel around it for each other. for anyone else he buys a gift for its free newpaper or one of those free ad papers. Everyone else gets a gift bag or just a bag I have lying around. Kids don’t care how their gifts are wrapped. For wedding I just give gift cards for places they registered, or I give cash. The amount i give is whatever I can afford, not based on how much they spent on the wedding or per plate. I have been to one really fancy wedding but my bf took care of the gift b/c it was his friends wedding, and they had a thing online where you could contribute to the honey moon. The other weddings I’ve been to were cheaper buffet style or salad and sandwiches.

  53. posted by Charissa - The Gifted Blog on

    Lovely. I saw this and notmartha’s version and was very inspired. I wasn’t thinking about how they apply to Unclutterer, though! I write a blog about gift wrapping and Unclutterer definitely motivated me to wrap creative gifts with my one trusty roll of kraft paper when we lived in our first (small) apartment as a married couple. I’ve expanded to more supplies now but I love trying to use what I have on hand to make something special to give. Thanks for your influence!

  54. posted by ecuadoriana on

    I’ve gone simple in the gift wrap department for years and years. I like to reuse any packing material that I have as gift wrap. One year everyone got gifts (b-day, weddings, house warmings, thank you’s, etc. I don’t do christmas) wrapped in green bubble wrap! Another year everyone got gifts wrapped in the glossy circulars that come in as junk mail (less messy and more colorful than newsprint, although sunday comics pages are great).

    I’ve used aluminum foil, fabric scraps, my daughters endless scribble drawings, old college text book pages (!!!), and the endless supply of padded or regular mailing envelopes (that I always hate to throw out because I know that I could use them someday), large aluminum cans (washed out well of course) have made humorous gift packages…

    The imagination is endless when it comes to getting rid of my paper (and plastic, scraps, etc.) clutter and turning it into gift packaging. I haven’t bought a roll of gift wrap in almost 30 years! And of course many gift wrap packages are decorated with the remnants of gift wrap, bows, ribbons, etc. that I’ve received. The oddest thing I did: One time I had a huge bag of packing peanuts (which of course I hate anyway). I wrapped gifts in colorful magazine and junk mail flyers, covered the paper with a layer of clear craft glue, then rolled the whole thing in my bag of packing peanuts. The packages looked like they were wrapped in marshmallows and were a hilarious hit with all the recipients who thought I was so darned clever, when in fact I am so darned frugal (read: cheap!).

    About 15 years ago a friend gave me, as a joke, what I consider the height of tacky: A winter themed sweater complete with bells, bows, danggly ribbons, applique reindeer, santas, wreaths, etc. So, later I used the sweater to wrap a gift to a mutual friend who kept the sweater and used it to wrap a gift to another mutual friend! This 100% polyester (will last forever!) sweater has been making the rounds ever since. It is always a surprise and a mystery as to who will be the next victim (I mean recipient!).

  55. posted by GiftExpressions on

    This is such a cute idea! I have about six or seven rolls of wrapping paper usually at one time, and then bags of gift bags, bows, and stray pieces of wrapping paper. It does get cluttered. I hadn’t thought of your solution, but it’s a good one. Thanks!

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