Dear Umbra,

Due to my procrastinating nature, I once again find myself in the position of having to wrap what seems like hundreds of gifts in wasteful wrapping paper, only to have it torn apart and thrown away the very next day. I’m a proponent of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” philosophy, but during the holidays, wrapping my gifts in the Sunday comics doesn’t say “mindful conservationist” so much as it says “I’m too lazy and cheap to use store-bought wrapping paper.” Do you have any suggestions on what I can use to show my holiday spirit without using a small forest worth of candy-cane-print wrapping?

Johnny M.
Euclid, Ohio

Dearest Johnny M.,

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A revisitation of this topic in time to save procrastinators like us is apt, I believe.

‘Tis a gift to be simple.

Photo: iStockphoto

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In a previous look at recycled wrapping paper, I breezed over creative ways to cover presents. Today I will give a few very specific instructions on scrounging/creating wrapping paper from stuff around the house. Remember, the prophylactic step is to create a repository for all the wrapping paper you receive. Open gifts, shove the paper into a box, a bag, the closet, or the basement. Look to the future.

Newspapers and magazines are probably the simplest, best paper already lying around the house. The trick of making decent wrapping out of newspaper or magazines is in the choice of photo or section. I learned this from an actual Artist who wraps his gifts this way, I promise. A newspaper will yield interesting photos, or advertisements, perhaps even germane text, that will look slick and nice on presents if the following conditions are met: the attractive part of the photo is centered on the top of the gift in plain view, the paper is carefully wrapped (see below), there is a separate gift tag, and bonus points for some ribbon-type of finish. An example would be a photo of a nice mountain pass from the travel section, with the top of the mountains and the sky centered atop the gift. I think this looks clever — not cheap, and not lazy.

If the paper you have at home is mainly paper bags or once-used office paper, either you can carefully wrap this plain stuff about a present and top it off with an attractive garnish (again, see below) or, if you have time, you can first decorate the plain paper. Who knows what you already have that could be used? Maybe you can draw well, and make little personal illustrations on each packet. Maybe you have a glitter collection, or pile of stickers — even file-folder stickers can be made into something interesting. Maybe you can collage snippets from magazines into clever sayings or images related to the recipient or enclosed gift (requires glue or tape, and scissors).

Perhaps you have the supplies to do very basic printmaking. For example, if you have paint, a knife, and a potato, cut the potato in half to get a flat surface. Carve a simple image from the flat surface so that the extraneous potato bits are stripped away from whatever festive design you want to portray — a tree, a star, a circle — like a sculpture birthed from rock, spread some paint onto a yogurt lid, dip the potato into the paint and stamp the potato stamp all over the plain paper.

Now for the “(see below)” part: Found paper, or crafty paper, will work best if the gift is well wrapped. To me, and I think to most of us, it is not the paper itself so much as the crisp folds and ribbon that give me the little shock of excitement before gift unveiling. Here are a few basic instructions, but they don’t mention what I have noticed as key to the project: Wrap the gift as tightly as possible, and crease every fold, not just the ends. Run two fingers along and make all edges look sharp and purposeful. Then, add the garnish. It could be a ribbon, or a string, or twine, or a series of stickers, or whatever, but because you are using found paper, you need some type of garnish to make the package jump. Otherwise you run the risk of the package looking like a pile of lunchmeats. Which is what I’m trying to save you from.

Leave enough time to wrap with care. Good luck, and happy New Year.


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