How to wrap a present

Cranking the Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, sipping hot cocoa and wrapping gifts is a favorite holiday pastime for many of us. But traditional gift wrapping (paper, bows and bags, oh my!) can be incredibly wasteful.

There are so many ways to beautifully wrap a gift by using found, recycled or all-natural and compostable materials that Santa would surely approve of. Here are some ideas for materials you can most likely find around your house, or purchase at a craft store.

For wrapping:

For tying:

  • Twine
  • Hemp
  • Leather cord
  • Strips of scrap fabric
  • Metal wire

For embellishment:

  • Real plants
  • Vintage jewelry
  • Palo Santo sticks
  • A card written on recycled paper or cardboard

Idea #1: recycled paper + twine + plants + Palo Santo + paper tape

To wrap up a set of Gneiss Spice refillable spice containers, we used recycle paper for the wrapping, paper tape to seal it (you can get paper tape here), black and white twine wrapped around the gift multiple times to create a “grid” look, and finished it off with a bundle of seasonal plants and a stick of Palo Santo. We wrapped the Palo Santo first in some leather cord for an extra pop of red.

Idea #2: men’s shirt + leather cord + vintage earrings + plants

To wrap up this wooden amplifier (you stick your phone in the top and it acts as a speaker!), we cut up an old striped men’s button down, wrapped the speaker up with the fabric like a giant piece of candy, secured the ends by wrapping them with leather cord, and then added a little sparkle by clipping some vintage earrings onto the cord. We finished it off with two small sprigs of pine for a natural touch. 

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Hit Up That Low-Brow Antique Shop

For eco-friendly gift wrap materials, try vintage/antique shop!

You know that fusty “antique” (read: junk) shop that every town has a few of? This place is great for affordable and sustainable gift wrap ideas. You just have to have an eye for what will translate into a chic present accessory. When you’re there, look for:

  • Ornaments
  • Scarves
  • Tea or kitchen towels
  • Decorative brooches
  • Vintage cards
  • Old maps
  • Jars and cookie tins

I swung by Junk in Williamsburg, and had a ball digging through jewelry, ornaments, scarves, and linens until I got together a tidy passel of wrapping items. The most expensive thing was this beautiful map tea towel, at $10, which I’m sure my recipient will continue to use. The glass icicles were $0.25 apiece, the jingles bells were $3 – I cut them off the cheap rope they were on to class them up. Everything else was $2 or under, and all of it can be reused for another present, or hung on the tree. The vintage cards were especially useful as retro-chic tags, and the maps are both the perfect weight for wrapping. Plus, you can pick out a map that has special significance. I got a map of Nevada so I could wrap my fella’s small present with Black Rock Desert, Burning Man’s location, on the front.

Eco-friendly giftwrap idea: Vintage tea towel and post card from antique shop with twine

Eco-friendly gift wrap idea: Get an old map of some place significant to the recipient. This map of Nevada has Black Rock Desert from Burning Man on the top!

Eco-friendly gift wrap ideas: buy vintage scarfs and ornaments to dress up your giftsA scarf and ornament dress up plain white paper

Reuse Some Materials

Eco-friendly gift wrap idea: turn a chip bag inside out!

I actually love to indulge in potato chips every once in a while, but I feel bad about it. Not because of the health, but because their packaging is never recyclable. However, you can reuse their packaging, because it’s silver on the inside – perfect for gift wrap.

Eco-friendly gift wrap idea: use an old newspaper, or buy a foreign language newspaper for more flair

Newspaper is another great material that is frequently recommended for wrapping. I actually only get the New York Times digitally now, but I stopped into a Chinese convenience store in Chinatown and bought a Chinese-language newspaper for a cool $0.50. (Newspapers are printed that morning in the same city, making them more affordable and sustainable than typical wrapping paper!) The result looks worldly, is neutral in content, and a step up from an American newspaper.

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I also scrounged up an old sweater I was getting rid of. I think if you tie it correctly, it can look chic, if a bit lumpy. But I sort of dread the moment when my recipient looks at the stained sweater and is like, “Uh, I don’t have to keep this right?” It seems a bit awkward. So I skipped that, but it’s available to you if you can make it work.

Steal Some Christmas Tree Sprigs

Eco-friendly gift wrap idea: cut sprigs of your Christmas tree or wreath, or ask the tree seller if you can have some branches that fell off

NYC has New York State-grown Christmas trees being sold every five blocks. I stopped at one by my apartment and asked the guy if I could have some small branches that had fallen off. He looked at me like a weirdo, but said it was fine.

Eco-friendly gift wrap ideas

I added a vintage bird ornament to class it upI added a vintage bird ornament to class it upEggnog decorated with twine and pine tree sprigsHomemade ggnog decorated with twine and pine tree sprigs. (Eggnog recipe here.)

Support a Local, Sustainable, Ethical Maker

Eco-friendly gift wrap tips: support a local paper artist, like Frances LabEco-friendly gift wrap tips: support a local paper artist, like Frances Lab

This is from Brooklyn stationary artist Museum Lab (formerly Frances Lab). (You should stop by Y&A’s holiday market if you’re in town; it’s dope.) The icicles are from the antique store, and the washi tape I had on hand. Or you can go on Etsy and looking for wrapping paper made in your area.

Besides wrapping paper, you can also buy an ethically made scarf or organic tea towel for an elegant and useful paper alternative. See my Shopping Guide for online suggestions for where to get one, or try an NYC market or store – I’ve listed ones for you here.

Buy Reusable Wrapping Bags

Eco-friendly gift wrap tip: buy a reusable gift bag! Eco-friendly gift wrap tip: buy a reusable gift bag!

This is by far the easiest option for wrapping presents. Just shove your item inside, tie it, and voila! A beautiful present. The sustainable part is that it will get used over and over for probably years before it finally falls apart. I got a three-pack from Bag-All‘s store in Manhattan. Lilywrap is another business that sells stretchy, reusable gift bags. You can also get some pretty cloth reusable organic gift wrap that you tie closed. The tag and bell pictured are both from the antique shop.

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Swing by the Florist

Eco-friendly gift wrap tip: stop by the florist for biodegradable and elegant packing material

I didn’t get any, but you can put the finishing touch on dozens of gifts by getting a spray of holiday berries from the florist. Also pick up some natural and bio-degradable packing material while you’re there, so you don’t have to resort to packing peanuts or bubble wrap.

Get Some Eco-Friendly Basics From the Art Store

Eco-friendly gift wrap tip: buy postal paper a.k.a. Kraft paper for wrapping presents

You’ll need neutrals among all this chaos of vintage, newsprint, scarves, and leftover ribbon. I suggest getting plain white paper or brown Kraft a.k.a. postal paper from the craft or office supply store. The benefit of using plain paper is that it doesn’t need to be taped to stay put on the package, just tied with ribbon. (The glossy paper has a tendency to slip so requires tape.) You could also get some white chalk and black charcoal to label the presents with, some brown or white twine, or simple white or red cloth ribbon to round it out.

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