Ask Unclutterer: Gift bag storage

Reader J submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We just purchased our first home and we are in the process of organizing everything. One thing that I have no idea how to handle is my large collection of gift bags, gift boxes, ribbons, bows, etc. I had them shoved into plastic bins at the bottom of our guest room closet at the old house, but the bags stick out everywhere, and items jump out of the boxes every time I try to retrieve something, and generally make the entire process of gift wrapping a pain. I need to get to these bags a few times a year for birthdays and holidays.

One of the more creative solutions I’ve seen is a dedicated filing cabinet drawer for storing wrapping supplies. Gift bags were kept upright, like file folders, and so were the flat gift boxes. Spools of ribbon were threaded through a bar that had been cut out of a hanging file folder, and were suspended across the drawer. Bows were stored in a few hanging file pockets, organized by type. Finally, magnetic strips had been attached to the backs of a pair of scissors and a tape dispenser, and these items were suspended from the side of the file drawer. Until the drawer was opened, I had no idea what was contained inside of it.

There are also storage totes made especially for gift bags and boxes. Once you move the bags and boxes into their new storage solution, it might be easier to contain the remaining bows and ribbons in the bins you already have.

You could also hang all the gift bags by their handles from an open ended pants hanger. The bags would take up some space in a closet, but this solution would again free up room in your current storage bins so you could better organize the other items.

Thank you, J, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Definitely check the comments for additional ideas from our readers. My hope is that one of us will be able to find you a perfect solution.

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34 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Gift bag storage”

  1. posted by Katie on

    I recently organized my mom’s collection of gift bags and bows, etc. An easy, and free, solution for gift bags is to choose a couple of the sturdiest bags and use them to hold the others. Really large bags are folded over. This also makes it easy to find the size they need. I made a separate “pile” for Christmas ones. They then are stored upright in a wardrobe that is used for storage in our house. Bows are kept in a large shoe box, also free. We don’t really use ribbons so I can’t be of much help there.

  2. posted by bytheway on

    I use a small, wide drawer in my entry way. (We had re-purposed an antique dresser as a side table there.) Works great, because often gift wrapping is a last-minute thing and the drawer is large enough to hold tissue paper and wide gift bags, but shallow enough that I can’t hoard gift wrap. Rolls of gift wrap and/or Christmas wrappings are in a separate location, since these are used much less frequently.

  3. posted by bytheway on

    And forgot to say that ribbons are stored in an old-timey tool box, the flat kind with the dowel on top. They line up perfectly on their side in the toolbox, one against the other, and tucked in with them are scissors, gift tags and pens.

  4. posted by Celeste on

    I’ve used a flat plastic storage box that I keep under a bed but I’m about to change my system.

    One thing I will be doing differently is to keep Christmas items separate from birthday/generic items. I only use white, red or green tissue paper inside wrapped Christmas gifts and find that red or green works fine with any Christmas gift bag. I stick with red, green, white and gold ribbon to match any Christmas paper. I’m going to have a little toolkit that has my tape, scissors, ribbon curler, pens and other items in it.

    I think a lot depends on where you’ll be doing your wrapping; do you have a designated room in the house where you work on that, or do you take the supplies to a large table and wrap them there? What I’m leaning towards for my storage is a spare dresser, so that bags and fancy bows stay nice, and, I’ve also got a drawer to keep smaller gifts in as I accumulate them (either on sale for future unspecified use, or as I knit small items, or as I find stocking stuffers). If I keep the top clear I can use that for a wrapping surface since the dresser I have in mind isn’t very tall. The only thing a drawer won’t store is paper on a roll, and I honestly think I’d still be fine with keeping the rolls in a plastic box. I have seen boxes that will allow you to stand the rolls on end, and you might also repurpose some other container for that as well if under-bed isn’t suitable.

  5. posted by Sarah on

    I have all of my rolls of wrapping paper standing on end in a box in my guest room closet, with small boxes and a couple of spools of ribbon in there as well. Gift bags and tissue paper are stored in a really large gift bag which hangs in the same closet.

  6. posted by Ana on

    I have a large wicker basket full of supplies in the guest room closet, but reading this I realize that its time to change the system; the basket tends to tip over & the guestroom is NOT where I actually do any wrapping! My mother always had the flat bin for boxes, tissue paper, and bags, and I think that will make a neater solution; I can tuck ribbons & bows in there, too and keep it in the basement near my large desk where I can use it. I don’t buy giftwrap rolls specifically because I do not want to store them.

  7. posted by Fairevergreen on

    If I had a storage closet of some kind, I would consider using the round hangers designed for belts for the bags. The ring rotates so that you can remove the selected item through the break designed into the ring. If the collection is very large, you could have rings dedicated to various sizes of bags.

  8. posted by s on

    I love the file cabinet solution that Erin described.

    But, I just have to ask. Maybe it’s better to use the gift bags, etc., before buying any more. I keep “good” gift bags and tissue paper from gifts I’ve been given and then use them for someone else’s gift. (I value bags that don’t have a theme, so they can be used for any occasion).

    As a kid, all gifts were wrapped in the paper from the Sunday color comics sections. Fun, recycling, and no worries about ripping the paper (if that’s how you are), since it gets recycled anyway.

    On the Forums, there’s a thread or two about gifts–how hard they are for some people to select and/or to receive. So, maybe giftwrapping is on the decline?

  9. posted by Laura on

    Gift bags used to be such a burden until one day I just decided…I do not have to keep and reuse all of the gift bags that are given to me. I recycle them with my junk mail recycling and am done with them. Even by doing that I very rarely have to buy gift bags when giving gifts because of the small stash I still accumulate.

    I won’t say it’s easy to get rid of the pretty bags, but after they are gone I usually forget about them and I’m not fighting with an overflowing storage space.

  10. posted by San on

    I have seen folks bundle up gift bags into groups of 20 (themes) and sell at yard sales.
    Seems like something a group of folks could get together and have a “Swap” too..

  11. posted by Susan in FL on

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I buy a greeting card appropriate to the occasion and enclose a check for a suitable amount made payable to the giftee. No box, no wrapping, no ribbon, no purchasing or storing of gift wrapping supplies required. Everyone seems pleased with their gift.

  12. posted by the other Tammy on

    I have a huge walk up attic, and we use one corner of it for a gift wrapping station. There is a big folding table set up to wrap on. An old CD rack holds boxes of bows, tags, scissors and tape. The curling ribbon hangs from nails in the attic rafters. An old dresser holds three different categories of gift bags (Christmas, birthday, and baby). One corner is used to stack up good packing boxes. An old plastic laundry hamper holds rolls of wrapping paper. It’s cold up there wrapping at Christmas time, but I don’t have to drag all that stuff downstairs, junk up my house, and then put it all away. I just leave it set up all year, and if a present needs wrapped, I go do it!

  13. posted by DawnF on

    I know this is probably ridiculous, but I think this gift wrap cart is really cool:

    I guess it would be best for people who really do enjoy wrapping gifts and who keep a stock of supplies on hand always – and who has some empty closet space to park it. It’s expensive, but it might be a great storage solution – plus it has a nice surface on top for wrapping.

  14. posted by China Naftzger on

    I use one over-sized drawer that is in the bottom of our armoire in the bedroom. The drawer is too big to open and use for often-needed items but it holds a roll of wrapping paper across its width. I chose 3 rolls that are plain and suit almost every purpose. A shoebox holds tape and scissors and gift tags. The rolls of ribbon are tethered on a dowel and it is the same width as the drawer. Not too many gift bags (just don’t seem to use them)

  15. posted by Keter on

    A few years back, when a coworker was doing an obligatory kid’s fundraising sale at work, I purchased a gift wrapping organizer designed to hang over an ordinary coat hanger. It is sort of like a customized vinyl shoe organizer. It holds rolls of wrap and tissue paper on one side and has pockets for ribbons, bows, tags, tape, and scissors on the other. I keep a few gift bags on hand – purchased on sale or to be re-gifted – and the handles of these are clipped together using a large binder clip, and the clip is slipped over the top of the hanger so the bags stay associated with the wrap organizer. The whole thing fits in the space of a heavy overcoat.

    To keep from accumulating odds and ends, I keep my wraps generic and in the same limited palette (blue, burgundy, white, silver, and gold) and I can mix or match to suit any occasion, and can easily replenish from closeout sales all year because they aren’t seasonal and it’s easy to remember what I already have.

  16. posted by LeeAnne on

    I have two flat plastic bins for gift-wrapping supplies under my bed: one for Christmas-themed stuff and one for birthday (and other) stuff. I try to avoid buying new gift bags, boxes, and tissue (though I do restock paper and ribbon on occasion). I store the reusable gift-wrap items my husband and I receive in the bins and then reuse them. It works well for us. Saves a lot of money!

  17. posted by Susann on

    I used to keep all my gift wrap, bags, ribbons, cards etc in flat roll-away bins that slid under my bed (one for Christmas, one for other). Then last summer, during a frenzy of decluttering, I collected every scrap and took it to thrift shop and that was that. Even got rid of the plastic bins! When I receive a wrapped gift (which I try to discourage, would rather people send donations to my fave charities for me instead) I recycle or donate the wrap/bag (and often the gift, too, heaven help me!) immediately. When I give a gift, it’s usually a donation; I send a card & note to that effect. If I do actually give a gift, I either create wrap from something on-hand or sew up a gift bag from my as-yet-undecluttered fabric stash. But my friends, family & I are all adults, so this works.

    For kids (& subsequent gift-giving/receiving): my neighbour hangs pretty gift bags on the wall in her spare bedroom, each of which is filled with bags, wrap, bows & ribbon & so on. Another has a big wicker hamper thingie in her living room (with a plant sitting on it) that holds all she needs.

    But really? I’m discovering that most of us don’t need most of what we have, we just keep it because we don’t realize it’s ok to get rid of it . . . if that makes sense. Works with other clutter we “tolerate” as well, from jobs to people. This site is helping me change that. Thanks Erin, and everyone else!

  18. posted by Caroline on

    Whatever you do, a small designated spot / box / hangy thing for closets works best. Scattering means buying more because you can’t find your stuff. I gave up most gift giving, which solved this issue nicely 😛

  19. posted by Plain Good Sense on

    I think one of the most important things to think about in a situation like this is not necessarily how to ORGANIZE your large collection of gift wrap, but rather how you can DOWNSIZE your collection. Does anyone really need this much wrapping paper/supplies?

    Realistically, sit down and make an estimate of how many gifts you give each year. For me, that number would be fairly low. Maybe 5-10 birthday gifts per year, a handful of wedding/baby gifts, and about 10-15 xmas gifts. Now go ahead and count how many gift bags and rolls of wrapping paper you have. Take into account that you always receive gift bags when someone gives you a gift, and often they can be re-used. This means that, for me, there is no reason to have more than 30 or so gift bags and a couple rolls of wrapping paper. This is more than enough.

    I have one tupperware tote that holds my gift bags and ribbon, and one trash can that holds my rolls of gift wrap. I haven’t bought any new in years, because we re-use all the gift bags we receive. I buy a couple rolls of xmas wrapping paper on clearance in January – but only need to do this once every 2-3 years. Having just one tote and one garbage can for storage prevents me from accumulating too much gift wrap that really isn’t necessary anyway (and therefore is clutter).

    I think that all too often, people looking for “organizing solutions” really just need to downsize their stuff. Keeping it all organized is so much easier when you keep things to a minimum.

  20. posted by nj progressive on

    Early in our marriage, my spouse and I decided to keep gift wrapping simple. Gold and silver wrapping paper was festive for birthdays and end-of-year holidays and occasional graduations and weddings. Lots of colored ribbons change the look, and can personalize holiday gift-giving. Keeping it organized was a great corrugated plastic tote (completed with a handle) that we keep stowed in the coat closet — out of the way, but easily accessible. The tote has space for the wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbons, tape, scissors, gift tags, stickers, even a glue stick.

    We take out the tote, and set up the dining room table as the gift wrapping station, and use the sideboard as the horizontal surface for holding unwrapped and wrapped gifts while we’re working. We even specialize — my spouse does the wrapping and I handle the ribbons (I worked in retail when I was in college and learned lots of tricks for spiffy bows). I also keep a roll of brown kraft paper in the tote for wrapping up boxes for shipping.

  21. posted by Jen on

    I think that the gift bag situation can get out of hand very easily. We always save the ones we get (and my son gets many, he’s 5 and gets a lot of birthday/holiday gifts) so that we can re-use them. I do try to use the gift bags as opposed to wrapping gifts when possible, but it’s not always feasible (i.e., the bags are always boy-themed and if I have a girl’s bday party…). So I would say that it’s probably ok to get rid of some (a lot?) of the bags. And I think a long, flat, under-bed box is probably a good soultion for this, as another commenter suggested. several bags can be stacked here, even a couple rolls of wrapping paper, some tissue paper, and then a smaller box with some ribbon and bows inside of the larger box would work. You could even store an extra pair of scissors, some tape, and a pen in there and be good to go every time you need to wrap something.

  22. posted by Katharine on

    I was lucky to build in a small “gift wrapping” room when we remodeled and we inherited a couple of architect’s blue print cabinets when we moved in our house. There are six large, flat drawers. I use them for large gift bags, tissue paper, labels/tape/scissors, rolls of wrapping paper, etc. I also have a open bin on top for the small and medium gift bags. They are stored vertically, so I can easily flip through and get what I want. I also have narrow shelves on the wall for storage of extra gifts and holiday items, as well as designated space under the stairs to store the Christmas tree and accessories.

    In our case, it was dead space anyway, due to a built-in sump pump and a weird concrete ledge (it’s in the basement) that were in the area, so I maximized the space and made a room that gives me easy storage and makes me happy : )

  23. posted by Kat on

    I use a lot of these supplies and it was a challege in my new house to set it up – but I’ve figured it out.

    I chose one large bag from each pile (baby, Christmas, birthday, generic, princess) to hold all of the bags of that type. They hang from toddler size hangers (around the hook) from a low rod in my spare closet. Tissue paper is also found in the right bag as well as the little bit of flat wrapping paper that I have.

    My ribbons are organized by color (!) in a clear-pocket shoe organizer with one top pocket designated to tape and a gift wrap cutter (this way no one in my house “borrows” my scissors since my little ones really can’t figure out how to use it anyway).

    I only use rolls for Christmas so these are standing in an umbrella crock in the corner of the closet.

    Now if I could just get back in the habit of buying real, well thought out gifts rather than resorting to gift cards. We tend to forget to use the ones we recieve so I suspect others do to…

  24. posted by Bibliovore on

    I eventually got this organizer, after looking into options:

    It hangs in a closet, taking up about as much room as a coat. It holds ~6 rolls of paper in those vertical side pockets, umpteen bows in the front pouf pockets — one pocket is slitted for ribbons, so you can thread rolls through it and simply reel out the length you need — and a moderate amount of bags and flat paper and cards in sleeves on the back (oversized bags loop over the top hanger). It also has specialized side pockets for scissors and tape. Further, it folds over into a carry-handled, stand-alone, portable wrapping station to go anywhere you want.

    The plastic is cheap (my tape holder tore), but as a wrapping solution this does everything I want in very little space and I’m quite happy with it.

  25. posted by Missy P on

    After our wedding we were drowning in gift bags. We have downsized over the years and I am pretty happy with the system we have now.

    For special occasion wrapping I have one roll of white, one roll of brown craft paper, some brown craft paper gift bags, and a box of pretty fabric ribbons. That’s it.

    Downstairs in our basement, stored with Christmas decorations, I have all of the Christmas specific gift wrap supplies (bags, boxes, bows, etc). Each year I will buy one roll of Christmas paper to mix in so things look nice under the tree. It’s simple, it works for us, and our gifts have a unique “signature”–people always pick them up and know they are from us!

  26. posted by James on

    We’ve found that a massive gift bag with a flat bottom has provided all the storage we’ve needed for gift bags of any size. Portable and compact and inexpensive.

  27. posted by Sue on

    We have a 4 drawer dresser in the guest room. The top drawer is stocked with items for guests–soaps, extra towels, sachets, some novels, sewing kit, etc.

    Next drawer is scissors, tape, tags, bows and ribbons–the rolls of ribbon are on a dowel rod in a shoe box. Next drawer is gift bags and tissue paper, then the wrapping paper is in the bottom drawer.

  28. posted by Linda PB on

    I adopted an idea I saw in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I use an over-the-door wire basket combo that is intended for pantries. I have it on the back of the door to my home office. Ribbons fit in one of the shelves. I used some plastic containers to hold gift cards and name tags in another shelf.

    I followed another suggestion in the article which was to select one or two colors and have all your paper, gift bags, ribbons, etc. in those colors. So I went through my substantial stash, narrowed it down to two colors and gave away or sold all the rest. The rolls of paper stand up in the bottom shelf of the pantry unit — and I use a very large rubber band to hold the rolls in place. I’ve tucked gift bags into this area too. Tissue paper is folded and hangs over the edge of one shelf. Scissors, tape and hole punches are in another plastic container on a shelf.

    It’s great to have everything together and accessible. I also like being able to scan everything at once and pick just the right item for a job.

  29. posted by Tabbycat on

    wow, I didn’t realize there was so many people who had problems storing things like gift bags and wrapping paper. I stopped buying gifts for most people a couple years ago when I moved and took a lower paying job. The few gifts I’ve gotten since then I didn’t save the bag for. usually I give them away or recycle it. I encourage people not to buy me gifts. If you have to many you can donate them to Goodwill if they are in good shape, I used to work at a Goodwill and we sold them all the time really cheap.

  30. posted by CM on

    I’ll often ask the giver if they would mind taking the bag back after I take out the present. Most people are happy to keep the bag and use it again.

  31. posted by JustGail on

    I’d love to get to the stage of having 2-3 rolls of paper covering all events. However, I’m thwarted by the DH. I can’t begin to count how many years we’ve gotten down to “only” 5-6 rolls of nicer Christmas paper, only to have him come home with a huge bundle of paper. For him, the wrapping has to match the occasion.

    Anyway, all the rolls are standing in a tall box, and all the gift bags are stuffed into another gift bag. Bows are in bags hung up. I have an old cardboard organizer that sits on the floor, and it worked great until…see above comment about sudden influx of paper. It has a compartements for rolls and folded paper and small bags, a dowel for ribbon rolls, a bin for bows. And a handle to carry to wherever wrapping is done, and a tray for tape and paper cutter.

    Yes, I think a clean-out and trip to the donation location is in order.

  32. posted by Lee on

    We downsized (through atrition) our giftwrap and purchased a jumbo roll of yellow wrapping paper that we use for everything except Christmas. My husband loves to buy Christmas paper, so that is his thing.

    I can make bags by wrapping one end of an appropriately sized box, sliding it off, turning down the other end, punching 2 sets of holes across from each other, and running ribbon through them for handles or to close them.

    For huge things, we use a trash bag and pretty bow and don’t worry about it..

    We bought several sets of assorted ribbon at IKEA and I keep these on ends in a shoe box with slits in the lid for the ends of the ribbon to be threaded through.

  33. posted by Btoblake on

    I have a set of shelves just for gift giving. By giving it enough space (floor to ceiling, almost as deep as the closet) instead of a little bookcase, I can keep it all together, and store gifts bought on sale. The top shelf has a gift wrap organizer with all the bags and ribbons and corner full of cloth gift bags.

    I switched over to buying cloth gift bags a year or so ago, and have been surprised by the results. My local import store sells gorgeous sari bags for $2 that often get the appreciation of a second gift. The dollar store has been carrying fancy looking velvet bags for years. A dozen cloth bags fit into less space than a bag of bows. While I still need paper or old gift bags for the largest gifts and Xmas, I’ve seen big felt bags at the craft stores I may try next.

  34. posted by A on

    I finally just dumped my entire box of bags, bows and wrapping paper scraps in the trash. I now have (1) solid colored roll of wrapping paper and (1) roll of white ribbon. It is so much simpler.

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