Last Minute Wrapping Paper: 5 Options

I've been known to wrap presents literally five minutes before the family has planned to open them — and that means there's no time for a last minute run to the store for a roll of wrapping paper. If you're in the same boat (or you just want to wrap presents with something you already have), don't worry about buying wrapping paper — you've got a couple of wrapping paper alternatives at home.

1. Drawings

If you've been wondering what to do with the drawings your children produce after you've run out of room on the fridge, consider re-purposing them for packaging. They'll be appreciated far more than what some factory produced. If you've got a box a little bigger than a standard piece of paper will cover, you may need to commission something a little bigger from your young artist. While butcher paper might be ideal, paper bags from the grocery store can work out just as well. Cut the bags apart and turn them inside out — if you're worried about getting colors to show up, this is an opportunity to break out the glue, glitter, macaroni and other craft stuff your kids enjoy.

2. The Funny Pages

I've been known to hoard the Sunday comics in the weeks leading up to the holidays. They're just as brightly colored as any other wrapping paper, and they're already on hand. And I don't get the feeling that I'm buying pretty papers just for the privilege of tearing them off of a package.

3. Fabric Bags

My grandmother used to sew small draw string bags in the time it would take me to wrap a present. These bags were always festive, and I've been known to reuse them in my gift giving. It's as simple as cutting a rectangle of fabric about twice as long as the gift you want to wrap, preferably in holiday colors, doing a bit of sewing and running yarn through for the strings. There's a great pattern on Yarn Envy if you need a little more detail.

4. Tape, Tin Foil and More

While I'm pretty sure the box I got entirely wrapped in duct tape was a last minute emergency measure, it did have a cute little bow on top made from colored electric tape. That elevated the wrapping job from emergency measure to cute conversation piece. The same goes for the gifts I've seen wrapped in tin foil and construction paper: if you take a moment to personalize the gift, the recipient is more likely to think you're being cute than you were in a rush. 

5. Skip the Wrapping Paper Entirely

The best gift I remember getting as a kid wasn't even wrapped — my dad got me this kitchen set that he just draped a quilt over. I didn't even care: I was playing with my little kitchen the moment the blanket came off. I think it's perfectly okay to do a minimal wrapping job for some presents, especially if you're working with little kids or oversized gifts.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

I'll bet you'll have several people thanking their lucky stars they read this piece. It's really cool you've given people a way to not have to stand in line for wrapping paper today. Merry Christmas!

Guest's picture

Don't forget the ever popular brown paper bag. Jazz it up with a red bow and pretty little gift card and no one will care that you didn't buy special paper just to throw away after a single use.

Guest's picture

I have sometimes saved nice boxes (e.g. shoe boxes) and painted them with craft acrylics for wrapping--and to scratch a craft itch. This is also something kids could do if you have some appropriate paints and a little lead time to let things dry. Cover anything you don't want to show and let dry. Then it is easy to go back over with dots, drips, curlicues, wreaths, flowers, etc.

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Debbie M

I jazz up my brown-paper wrappings with weeds from the yard--ahem--freshly picked flowers and greenery. (Using this method, you HAVE to wait until the last minute.) I admit that I also use real ribbon from a fabric store (bought ahead of time), but you can use twine or string or even a rubber band to help hold the plants in place. I also admit that I profit greatly, especially at this time of year, from having planted a rosemary bush.

Guest's picture

I bought the green bags, that they can reuse for shopping, and put them in there. And when I saw someone else also got the idea, and did it too, that was great. There are the kinds that you can fold down, and that has a snap, like a little purse, that you can carry with you in anything.

Guest's picture

I spent a dollar each to buy reusuable shopping bags for my family (the coolest thing is that they feature our favorite college football team) and piled the presents in. A little tissue paper and I was good to go. And the bags continue to have a life after Christmas.

Guest's picture

You can also tear out pretty or arty ads from old magazines and use them as wrapping paper. Full-page photos from old National Geographics are especially colorful and make your wrapped gift look like a work of art.

Guest's picture

My wife is in hospitality and she receives free wrapping paper that looks like fabrics (so that she specs them). She uses this every year... A few other ways to save during the holidays:

Then come right back to!!!

Guest's picture

When I was growing up, Santa didn't wrap presents. On Christmas Eve we unwrapped the presents from family. Then on Christmas morning we ran to see our presents piled under the tree, sans wrapping. My parents started doing this when we were tiny, so we didn't question that Santa's gifts were unwrapped--that's just the way it was. Starting this tradition could save households with young kids half their gift wrap.

Another tradition is the 'dummy present'. When the gift is large or bulky, we put a tiny prewrapped gift box under the tree. Inside is a note that says to go look in the hall closet, under your sister's bed, etc. The large, unwrapped gift is waiting in the hiding place. You can re-use the gift box jewelry or gift cards come in for this one.

To expand on your grandmother's idea, you can make extra-large fabric 'Santa sacks', one for each person. All their gifts go in one giant bag, reused each year. They can be reopened over and over.

I've also had good luck with reusing Mylar balloons. I used some gold star-shaped ones to wrap books. Just cut off the seal around three point of the star, put in the book, and gather up the cut points, tie with a ribbon. I used a champagne bottle-shaped one, cut into sheets, to wrap a larger box. You can pull leftover strips of the Mylar really carefully through scissors just like curly ribbon, and use the leftovers to make a bow.
(Old VCR tapes can be taken apart for the ribbon inside them--it curls like curly ribbon, too.)

I got this idea from a geography textbook my college wouldn't buy back--use pretty pages from an old or damaged book. I use maps for graduations or milestone birthdays (particularly apt if you're giving a copy of Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go), sheet music for CDs. You can use poetry or plain text for anything, and it can be dressed up with paint or drawings.

For bigger gifts, use old roadmaps, navigation charts, or the maps that come in National Geographic. My local thrift store sells the latter for a nickel, so you can stock up for those last-minute gifts. You can get maps of the places you are staying on vacation to wrap your souvenirs in.

Lastly, I keep plain wrapping paper on hand. Kraft paper can be rustic, classy, modern, or cute depending on the bows or decorations. One roll of red and one of blue has gotten me through birthdays, anniversaries, and the holidays. As to weddings, I'm still reusing the giftbags I got at my wedding three years ago. :)

Guest's picture

I love making my own custom wrapping paper! It makes all my presents better, from the outside in!

Guest's picture

One of my favorite ways to wrap is a white paper bag. Fold the top over to close, hole punch two holes midway down the fold and slide in a candy cane. Done!