Not a Box

My name is Betsy Silverman and my background is in hospitality and in design. During this phase of my life, I am mommy to Max, a 3 1/2 year old boy who loves to pretend. I'm trying to parent in a way that encourages imagination, environmental consciousness, and creativity. My plan is to look around and try to see with Max's fresh eyes and open heart. My goal is to try to see possibility instead of preconceptions and labels. Then, I hope to take things that we would normally cast aside, and imagine it's possibilities. I hope you will find some of my ideas interesting and hope that they will inspire some ideas of your own. Thanks for reading!

Traditionalists Want to Wrap with Paper

Each one of these gifts was wrapped using materials rescued from my trash and recycling bins.

“not from” over a Tiffany logo

paper bags and newspaper

DuPont Tyvek paper


tissue paper

kids’ artwork


fabric bags

unusual containers

orange box

I can think of few things more wasteful than gift-wrapping. But oh, how fun a beautifully wrapped gift is! Let’s face it, part of the charm of gift giving is wrapping--a stylish, colorful wrap-job adds to the festivity of any occasion. But you don't have to buy wasteful and expensive wrapping paper to do it. Save both money and the environment by using materials you have around the house. Doesn’t that make your present an even more thoughtful gift?

I can understand that some of you may be traditionalists and feel the conflict: “I want to do the environmentally correct thing and not use wasteful wrapping paper but I want to give a beautiful gift that looks as though it were wrapped in wrapping paper.” To you I say two things:
One, at least forgo the box. One of the most beautifully presented gifts I ever received was a Waterford vase filled with flowers. My tasteful friend dispensed with the box entirely!

Two, if you must buy wrapping paper, at least buy wrapping paper made from recycled paper or from renewable materials (banana tree bark or bamboo). EPA has found that recycled paper materials result in 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than making paper from new materials. Recycled products tend to be more expensive than the new fancy paper you have become accustomed to, but they are a lot less expensive in terms of environmental impact.

Better than paper made from recycled paper is used paper BEFORE it is recycled! Yes, look in your recycling bin. If you just bought the gift, there may be a department store shopping bag near the top. Generally those bags are made of strong and often beautifully colored paper. Why not reuse the bag you carried the gift home in by cutting it up for gift-wrap?!

For that matter, instead of putting your newspaper or brown paper bags directly into the recycling bin, use it to wrap your gifts. For a minimalist look, you can use the paper “as is”. Or use the paper as a canvas for your creativity. You can print the paper with stamps or augment it with crayons or markers. You could cut out bold figures from magazine ads and paste them on. You could also enlist your child to help with decorating the box with paint or crayons or with some direct mail stickers! Or, simply by add evergreen sprigs, pinecones, seashells, buttons, etc.

Your recycling bin provides some surprises too. When turned inside out, the mailing envelopes that The United States Postal Office so thoughtfully provides make wonderful wrapping paper! The envelopes are made of Tyvek paper, which is as malleable as fabric but stiff like paper, white and waterproof! In short, it is the perfect wrapping material and a wonderful canvas for your creativity.

Invade your “map” drawer. Surely there are some old maps and brochures left from a trip taken long ago. These make wonderful wrapping paper and the bonus is that you have cleaned out a drawer at the same time!

Or, you could learn from my mother-in-law whose depression values stand her in good stead today. She saves tissue paper, which I must say, is brilliant; because tissue paper is wrinkly by nature and survives both enthusiastic gift openers and long-term storage better than anything. And, it is easy to work with; it hides errors and encourages invention.

My mother in law also saves the fancy wrapping paper from last year’s gifts and reuses it! She uses the old paper as it was, no changes. This is harder to do because it means that she must hope that the paper was never badly battered or that her new recipient will not notice the paper’s flaws. That’s a lot to hope for but it works for her.

My son is a prolific artist and I proudly display his art throughout our home. But when old work is rotated out, I often use his creation to wrap a present (especially if we are giving the gift to one of his friends)

Gift Wrapping – Fabric
For those of you willing to true new things, try wrapping your gifts in remnants of fabric. Cast-off dress shirts (too worn to donate) provide excellent material. Cut a piece of cloth just as you would cut wrapping paper, and proceed to wrap by folding and taping. If I may offer some creative input: don’t limit yourself to cutting fabric from the back of the shirt, buttons add an interesting flourish!

What I am saying here is not a new idea! In fact, I have borrowed heavily from ancient history. Furoshiki is Japanese traditional gift-wrap. Given a modern twist, it is a genius way to recycle and reduce waste! Historically the Japanese families had their own fabric (Furoshiki) with which they wrapped their gifts. After the fabric wrapped gift was received, the Furoshiki was returned. The technique is enjoying a renaissance in its homeland as an environmentally friendly substitute for plastic shopping bags, backpacks and paper gift-wrapping. Last year, in fact, the Japanese environment minister commissioned a special pattern as a way to promote waste reduction. It makes sense. Wrapping a gift in fabric not only encourages reuse — depending on size, the recipient can use the wrap as a scarf or pocket square or pass it along as another gift wrap — but the technique also saves other wrapping essentials such as ribbons and tape. Better still, it's quick, easy and much more forgiving than wrapping with paper.

Gift Bags and Misc. Containers
For those of you who never liked using wrapping paper to begin with, those fancy paper gift bags are a fair solution. Let’s face it, EVERYONE reuses them! But, honestly, when you buy them new, they are quite expensive and I always have to buy more than I need because I can’t decide what size to buy! Plus, I buy tissue paper every time because I never have the right color tissue paper in the house.

My suggestion is painfully obvious, buy a canvas reusable shopping bag and use it to wrap the gift! If you want to get a bit crafty, make a fun gift bag out of a recycled shirts’ sleeve or pant leg. To do this, you simply turn the shirts’ sleeve or pant leg inside out, and use some narrow string to tightly tie the cut end closed. Then flip the fabric right side out, slip in your gift into the tube you’ve created and use a contrasting fabric to tie the gift closed.

Along the same lines, you can pick up a bunch of used baskets from my mother’s basement, or visit your local Goodwill or thrift store. Put the gifts in the baskets and presto! Nothing to chuck. Everyone can use a basket or two in their lives. If the basket “needs to be wrapped”, dry cleaner bags are wonderful for this purpose!

Gift Box
For those of you who must put a gift into a box, I recommend saving old boxes, especially wooden ones. The resources to make them have already been used and the clean box exists. Re-using it is an environmentally responsible thing to do. If the box proudly displays the name of the wrong store, cleverly write “not from” over that name. Trust me, you’ll get a chuckle!

If you don’t have a box, find a dry food box in whatever the size you need. Open the top and bottom, then find the side seam and open that too. Rub the seams so that they want to fold the opposite way from the way they were. Reassemble the box inside out. Then fasten the seams with double stick tape. The inside of most food boxes looks like brown craft paper and is a perfect blank canvas for your message, artwork or bow.

Don’t forget to look for unusual containers.

Gift tags and cards
Look at the pictures above; I have used everything from old paint chip samples to scratched cds as cards and tags for the gifts. If you look around and think outside the box, I am sure that you will find inspiration for your own creative reuse cards too! Don’t forget to save the front page of greeting cards you receive and make gift tags from them. Cut the cards into rectangles, circles or whatever shapes you wish. If there is writing on the back, cut up the cards and save the parts with blank spots for gift tags. Or create your own gift tag using some sturdy paper scraps or light cardboard. (cereal boxes work beautifully here). Glue a photo, make a collage, or draw a picture with felt tipped markers, then write the recipients’ name. No matter what you make the tag from, punch a small hole in one end and use any piece of string or ribbon to attach it to your gift.

Bows and Final Touches
If the bow already exists in your home, whether you bought it new or are planning to reuse one from a gift, use it. Never waste what you already have. Just don’t buy more! Remember that small changes can have a big impact: if each family in this country reused just 2 feet of ribbon a year, 38,000 miles worth would be saved. That said, you probably don’t have very many old bows and, hopefully, will soon choose to invent your own. Improvisation is the name of the game here.

In this article, I’ve used some pretty fun bits to make “bows”. Everything from strips of fabric to dry cleaner bags to the mesh your onions come in can be tied into a bow. Try crunching a tissue or dryer sheet as a “butterfly” or flower. I’ve used seed packets, broken bicycle streamers, buttons, mesh from Asian pears, seashells, bottle caps and broken strands of Mardi Gras beads to decorate my packages!

Always try to use old boxes, they are always around and we all know how easy it is to just toss them into the recycling bin. Instead save them and use for shipping. If your old boxes have logos on them, the USPS will not accept them. Don’t let that deter you! You can always wrap the box in your brown bags from the grocery store.

Use your shredded paper from junk mail and catalogs to protect the contents of your gift packages when you mail them. It would also be fun to send your gift packed in actual peanuts instead of Styrofoam peanuts!

See how easy it is to Rehash your trash!


















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