The 2010 Gift Wrapping Challenge

Myshca’s recent conglomerate of green gift wrapping ideas prompted me to share with you my own gift wrapping strategy – or rather, gift wrapping challenge.

You see, I abhor two things:

1) Spending money when I don’t need to

2) Consuming – and wasting - products and resources that I don’t need

Half of the paper consumed in the U.S. every year is used to wrap and decorate consumer products. This seems absolutely ludicrous to me. That is to say, we could save 50% of paper consumed in the U.S. each year simply by finding an alternative to wrapping and decorating gifts. By this rationale, why on earth wouldn’t we?

Last Christmas a friend of mine noticed that I had used some creative techniques to avoid wrapping any presents with wrapping paper or gift bags. She so appreciated the idea that we mutually challenged each other to wrap all presents throughout 2009 with not one piece of new wrapping paper, plastic wrap, or gift bags.

One year later, we both emerged victorious. Not only did we spend less money on gift wrapping materials, but in many cases the gift wrap actually formed part of the present itself.

Here are a few of the techniques that we used, as well as a few extras that complement Myshca’s list:

Second Hand Store Blitz

Besides ransacking our own homes for goods, we visited some local second hand stores for gift wrapping inspiration. Here are a few of the things we bought/recycled/wrapped with:

Purses & Bags

At less than $1 per purse, we got some pre-loved beach bags, toiletry bags, day packs, clutch purses, and other bags that could hold the present itself and become a part of the gift. We made no qualms about the bags being used…and gave our recipients permission to recycle it/give it away/wrap another gift with it if they didn’t like the idea of using it as a purse or bag themselves.


I remember looking for decent baskets one year and being appalled at the cost to buy them new. Go to the second hand store though, and you can get them for 20 cents to a dollar per basket. Great to fill with presents.

Basket Accessories

The only problem with filling a basket with presents is that it leaves little to the imagination unless you wrap the basket in plastic wrap – which contradicts the point. So how did we finish wrapping our basket-clad presents? A few ways:

Silk Scarves – Line the basket with a scarf and tie it up at the top with a few ornaments for flare. Scarves are dirt cheap at the second hand store, if you don’t already have one. Alternately you can use fabric scraps of any kind.

Extra Tinsel – A friend who moved house gave me a box of old Christmas decorations that were bound for the garbage. I used some of this extra tinsel to stuff the tops of baskets and bags so the recipient had something to unwrap, an element of surprise, and some fun with the tinsel.

Used Gift Bags

At 20 cents a piece for some used gift bags that didn’t look used, I saved a pile of money. Each gift bag was a minimum of $3 brand new.


I love to wrap presents in Christmas stockings. You can regularly find them at the second hand store for a pittance, and they add a festive flare to the gift without having to do anything more than stuff the stocking.

Aside from looking at the local second hand store for inspiration, here are a few other cheap and environmentally friendly tactics to help meet the gift wrap challenge:

Children’s Art

The best Christmas cracker I received this year was one hand-made by a friend and her three year old daughter. They took some of her artwork, wrapped it around a toilet paper tube, threw in a few knick-knacks, and tied off the ends.

You can also use your kiddie’s creations to wrap gifts of all manner and size.

Recycled Paper

And I’m not talking about the recycled gift wrap – or any type of recycled paper for that matter – that you buy in the store. Although it’s better, it still breaks the challenge rules. The recycled paper I am referring to are comic strips, butcher paper, old calendars, and old maps. Take a look around your home for anything that you don’t need or might throw away (or recycle) which could wrap a present. If the paper itself is a little blasé, then pretty it up with some color contrast, drawings, or writing.

Fabric Bags

If you are quick with a sewing machine or needle and thread, you can take a scrap of material (preferably old clothing that's still in decent nik), fold it in half, sew up the sides, and whamo – you have a fabric bag. If you are industrious enough to add a ribbon drawstring, it is surely a form of gift wrap that will be proudly re-used by the person you give it to.

Wallpaper Samples

As long as you’re not too picky about patterns for your gift wrap, your local paint and wallpaper supplier might be able to give you samples that have been discontinued. These are great for small to medium sized gifts, and you can combine complementing samples to wrap larger gifts.

Glass Jars and Plastic Containers

Instead of recycling those glass jars and bottles and plastic containers from the grocery store, wash them out and re-use them! The most elegant gift I made this year was an old clear champagne bottle filled with olive oil, hot peppers, and kaffir lime leaves. This flavored olive oil could have sold in stores for a small fortune given the beautiful bottle and unique ingredients – and it took me five minutes to make.

I also decorated old yogurt containers and filled them with baked goods for gifts. Fill an old glass jar with beads and watch the little crafty girl in your life go bananas.

Origami Paper Box

Although I didn’t try it, I found this technique for making small boxes out of paper, and I love it.


Although this has little to do with gift wrapping, it is another way to save a crazy amount of paper that gets consumed each year. Although some people are die-hard card collectors, most people throw them away within days of receiving the card, and the sentiment is all that remains.

The sentiment can be equally weighty with an e-card. It’s free, it doesn’t waste paper, and e-cards are interactive, creative, and fun.

By virtue of the gift wrapping challenge I shared with my friend for 2009, the word was spread, and two friends were so pleased with their creatively wrapped gifts that they have decided to take on the challenge too….and wrap all gifts in 2010 with wrapping paper alternatives. Down with buying new gift paper and gift bags!

Are you in for the challenge?

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Guest's picture

We used reusable shopping bags as gift bags for Christmas. Old Navy, for example, had some nice ones in Christmas colors with holiday phrases on them for $1 apiece. They're no more expensive than buying a paper gift bag at the dollar store, and the recipients can use them for their shopping throughout the year. Two birds with one stone: avoids spending money on paper that may be trashed, and provides for the recipient to avoid bringing home wasted paper shopping bags in the coming year!

Guest's picture

I am very impressed by your 2009 commitment and ability to carry it through! I write a blog about gift wrapping ( and found myself tending towards frugal ideas. But I've never made a long term commitment; I might have to think about challenging myself like that!

One of my favorite things I wrote about this past month is using greenery as a gift embellishment: 5 Minute Upgrade: "Green" Your Gift.

I'll have to check out the post by Myshca that you mention. Thanks for sharing!

Nora Dunn's picture

@Kim - Great idea with the reusable shopping bags! They're always handy....

@Charissa - I love your idea to green up your gifts. It is beautiful, and adds a nice "natural" touch - literally and figuratively!