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Still Throwing Away Gift Wrap? Here’s How to Reuse It Instead.

Single-use wrappings? Never heard of 'em.

December  3, 2020
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Many people save used gift supplies, but my mom is really dedicated to this practice. She has an entire closet devoted to recycled gift bags and accessories, and if we’re being honest, she probably still has a Barney and Friends bag in there. Kind of a tough one to reuse, I know.

Becoming an excessive reuser is generational, says Amanda Walker, DIY and lifestyle blogger behind Dwell Aware. Like me, she got the trait from her mom, and now at parties when people bring out the big black trash bag to throw away gift supplies, she always offers to take it all home.

It’s not a bad thing, either. As consumers—especially around the holidays—we can get pretty wasteful. However, there are many simple ways to make a big impact on how much we're consuming and throwing out at this time—saving gift supplies included. From ribbon and twine to wrapping paper and boxes, here are Walker’s simple tips to reuse gift supplies...just in time for gifting season.


Start Your Collection

1. Never Throw Away Bags or Bows

Make this your golden rule. If it’s in semi-decent condition, try keeping every gift bag or bow you receive. The gift that keeps on giving are those bags that you can tuck away neatly in storage until the next holiday arrives. As for bows, Walker says to simply re-tape them onto gifts.

2. Look Out for Jewelry and Shoe Boxes

Jewelry boxes, canisters, and shoe boxes are so easy to reuse. “If I have space I try to hold on to all of those types of items, especially if they're cute,” Walker says. “The holiday comes around, and you always have the need for those.” Especially when kids start making small handmade gifts for grandma: you’ll always have a box just right for the purpose. And if you don’t think a Nike shoe box is the best gift holder (you’re probably right), use leftover gift wrap to stylishly cover it up.

3. Keep a Space Dedicated to Gift Supplies

When space is at a premium, it could be tricky to hang on to these items. Fortunately, most supplies are small or thin enough to organize into one space. “Have a bin for each type of item,” Walker says. For example, she has a craft bin devoted to housing strings and ribbons. The best way to store extra gift bags and tissue paper is by folding them flat into shallow storage bins without lids. You can even stack them on top of each other to help flatten out items—not to mention you’re saving extra space by foregoing a top. You might not have space for an entire closet dedicated to gift supplies, but you can still tuck gift wrap away neatly in its own storage section.


Keep Wrapping Simple

4. Go Wrap-Free with Ribbons

Since she has young kids, Walker doesn’t go the traditional route when it comes to wrapping their gifts. “When your recipients are young, there’s often no need for wrapping paper just because it's really wasteful,” she says. However, even though she goes wrapping-free, she still makes her packaging pretty. Keeping boxes that were shipped to the house, she simply ties a whimsical ribbon (reused from past gifts) to create a minimalist look. If you must use new wrapping paper, she suggests using brown craft paper. It’s easier to reuse than a Santa print, and you can personalize it.

5. Make Your Own Gift Tags

Some of the gift tags retailers offer are difficult to resist, but trust me, whipping up your own makes any present more special. Walker suggests cutting shapes out of wrapping paper and gift bags—a simple way to reduce single-use waste.


When You’re Done Wrapping...

6. Create Ornaments with Shredded Paper

Got excited and ripped open a present too fast? Don’t fuss! You can still save the wrapping paper. In fact, it’s probably better now it’s got some wear and tear. Walker recommends shredding old wrapping paper to make decorations. “I've seen people take empty glass or plastic balls and fill it with strips of different paper,” she says. Tie it with recycled ribbon and voilà, you’ve made an ornament.

7. Upcycle Tissue Paper and Twine

If you have little ones at home, turn your old supplies into decorating activities. “Use tissue paper to make a garland or a pinwheel or different types of bows to put on the wall to decorate,” Walker says. This is the perfect opportunity to make those tassel garland banners that are currently trending. Cut tissue paper into a fringe and simply connect each tassel with twine.

How do you cut down on gift-wrapping waste during the holiday season? Tell us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Antonia is a lifestyle, food, and entertainment writer.

26 Comments

Helene January 3, 2021
I recycle ribbons, decorations used as bows, and make my gift tags out of Christmas cards that I've received. I do use brown or white kraft paper as wrapping paper for any occasion. I then add a wide strip of colored wrapping paper as band & curl skinny straps of wrapping paper (stapled in center) as a bow.
 
Catherine I. December 26, 2020
Big calendars with pictures. I wrapped presents in Currier & Ives calendars for years, until we changed insurance companies and no longer got them.
 
Medora V. December 26, 2020
I have a friend who hasn't bought gift wrap in decades. Presents show up wrapped in scarves or cloth napkins, both of which can be endlessly used for the same purpose. Scarves, in particular, are always available in quantity from thrift shops.

Since grocery stores are currently not permitting shoppers to use their own shopping bags, we always request paper. A little snipping and a little stamping turns this brown paper into unique gift wrap.
 
Sarah December 25, 2020
One year we made a whole bunch of cotton gift bags with twine drawstrings. We are still using them years later. Also use the hundreds of drawings and paintings from my kids (not the special ones) to make wrapping, cards, gift name labels.) And of course, a paper shopping bag cut and turned inside out, just like we used for textbooks.
 
LAB27 December 25, 2020
Use a paper shredder to shred crumpled wrapping paper and use it for packing goods.
 
Rochelle W. December 24, 2020
My middle sister and I tested I think the limits of recycling gift tags. For 6 years we kept re-using each other’s gift tags. Example: when I got my gifts from her one year, I kept them and the following year when I sent her gifts, I re-used those same tags, crossed my name out and put hers in the tags. The following year when I got gifts from her, she sent back those tags - with her name again crossed out and mine again put in. We did this until we literally ran out of room on the tags. I thought briefly of getting some of that ‘white out’ but then discarded the idea.
 
Merritt K. December 24, 2020
You can fit a whole bunch of folded wrapping paper in a tall paper shopping bag with handles- the kind you’d get at a department store. I have one that has saved used wrapping paper, a couple of rolls of craft paper, a smaller gift bag with ribbons and another with folded used tissue paper all in it. I’ve been wrapping out of and putting back into it for at least ten years and though I have lots of storage space I’ve never needed more than this one bag. Highly recommend!
 
Merritt K. December 24, 2020
And gift bags- there are gift bags in there too!
 
Author Comment
Antonia D. December 27, 2020
Simple and resourceful, for sure!
 
Rebecca December 24, 2020
This year I used tablecloths, flour sack towels, grocery and produce bags. They look great with my saved up ribbons from past celebrations.
 
C.A. F. December 24, 2020
I repurpose gift wrap by using it to line drawers and shelves.
 
mmartin December 24, 2020
I keep an envelope with the name of each family member, and even recycle gift tags. Gift boxes are my favorite - they stack inside one another and bows, ribbons and gift tags go into the last one! Together with recycled gift bags, I wrap for a family of 12 from what I keep in two plastic bins - not even a closet!
 
Susanna December 24, 2020
All of these are good suggestions, but if I tried them myself, I most likely would end up with a “Nailed It!” effect.
 
Suzy December 24, 2020
When decluttering 100’s of pictures, I sorted and saved cute baby pictures and use them as “gift” identification tags, shares memories and recycle old pictures at same time.
 
Author Comment
Antonia D. December 27, 2020
This is such a thoughtful way to use tags! I would love to use this sweet idea :)
 
abbyarnold December 24, 2020
I cut up Christmas cards and use them for gift tags and gift decorations next year.
 
Celeste L. December 24, 2020
me too! And also, gift card holders they have at stores.
 
Mar December 24, 2020
I’ve been doing the first 5 for years, much to my husband’s chagrin in our overstuffed apartment. I also save pretty shopping or sentimental bags, as Paul McCartney recently admitted. If your family knew depression-era thriftiness, saving these things is a habit.
However, this year i decided enough is enough - I am purging and giving the usable things to others.
 
Author Comment
Antonia D. December 27, 2020
Also great to recycle items/give them to others :)
 
Marianne December 24, 2020
Love this post! Since 2020 has been the year of deliveries more than ever, we wrapped all our gifts with the brown craft paper that companies use to pack the boxes with. Tied it with leftover ribbons from years past, and voila!
 
Mar December 24, 2020
You can also use pretty tape instead of ribbon.
 
Marianne December 25, 2020
Thank you! I just found some old washi tape lying around. Will put it to good use! Happy holidays! :)
 
Author Comment
Antonia D. December 27, 2020
That’s the best!
 
Julia December 7, 2020
Does your mom really have an old Barney gift bag? Would be delighted to buy it from her :)
 
Frances M. December 3, 2020
curious to learn more about the whisk wrapping paper in the post title image! Is it for sale on the site?
 
Arati M. December 3, 2020
Here ya go, Frances :)
https://food52.com/shop/products/3724-double-sided-food-themed-gift-wrap