Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Giving paper a second life

We have become such a throw-away society in the last hundred years. Gifts are wrapped in beautifully made paper, only to have that same beautiful wrap crumpled into a ball just minutes after receiving and tossed into the trash bin. Paper was once so valuable, every effort was made to reuse each piece as much as possible.


When I was a girl, my grandmother had a large straw bag (the kind from the '60s that said Acapulco on the side, often used as a beach bag), kept in a closet in the hall of her house. Inside this bag were ribbons, bows and used wrapping paper, carefully folded up, to preserve it till the next use. My grandmother's reuse of gift wrap was something of a novelty to me. In our house, my mom always bought new paper, for every occasion. My grandmother reused her wrap for two reasons, I believe. One, she was an artist. I think she couldn't stand to crumple up a beautiful piece of paper. Two, she was living on a small income. Saving money on the wrap meant she had more money for the gift. I completely identify with both of these reasons for reusing wrap. I, too, don't like to junk a beautiful piece of paper. It feels almost like art to me. And also, I like to spare as much money as possible for the actual gift. So whenever I come across pretty paper, I set it aside to use as wrap.

Do you scavenge paper for gift wrap, homemade cards and craft projects? It isn't just gift wrap, but I come across some wonderful paper in the form of shopping bags and store tissue, to which I give a second life.  In the last month, I was able to reuse tissue from four different shops, (one tissue plain pink, another pink with hearts, and the other, plain purple), a tan and ivory muted print shopping bag, and now a piece of heavyweight paper in a nice black and white print. A couple of the vintage shops I like have the best papers and bags.

I cut the good side off the tan and ivory shopping bag to use as gift wrap for my nephews birthday. And reused some of the pink tissue for my niece's birthday and a good friend's birthday. The purple tissue will also be used for a birthday gift. And with the black and white, heavy-weight paper, I have a number of possibilities swirling in my mind. I could use it to make a couple of cards or possibly cover a small cardboard box, used as a desk/dresser organizer.

For readers of old Tightwad Gazette newsletters, you may recall a drawing of a tightwad iron setting. It had the standard wool, linen, cotton, and of course, giftwrap. Do you iron giftwrap? Just before I reuse a sheet of tissue or other gift wrap, I give it a quick once over with the iron, on a cool setting. It really can make a slightly rumpled piece look new. One caution with ironing paper, do not iron over tape or glittery decor on the wrap. And if the creases in the paper remain noticeable, remember that smaller sections of the paper can still be reused. And strips of the gift wrap can be curled to make bows, in the same way that curling ribbon is curled.

My grandmother's bag of wrapping supplies was a treasure in itself for a small child. I loved digging through the papers and bows. She often let me create art projects with these supplies. I never questioned why she saved her gift wrap and bows. I just thought it was a grandmother sort of thing.


21 comments:

  1. We also save gift wrap and bags. We have used the same gift bags in our immediate families for years. At Christmas, we try to use one with the right name tag on it. I don't iron used gift wrap however, because basically, I don't iron anything. We do use old maps and comics for gift wrap also.

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    1. When I was little I always thought getting presents wrapped in sunday comic sections of the newspaper was awesome because then you get to read comics

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    2. live and learn, we do the same thing with our gift bags. I have some for each of us and just fold them up and save for the next year. I love the look of old maps for gift wrap.

      Mallory, I always thought that was fun, too!

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  2. Cool! I didn't know you could iron that stuff!!

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    1. Also, my mom does this super awesome thing at Christmas with wrapping: she keeps Christmas cards from that and previous years, then cuts the front off of the pretty ones and puts them on the presents. It makes them look soo pretty. :)

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    2. Yep, you can iron gift wrap. For shiny paper, iron from the back side. I like what your mom does. And it gives a second life to the cards. I turn old cards into gift tags, to put the to/from info on.

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  3. This is where economy and environmental issues intersect. By wasting fewer resources (ie. paper), a person can save some money. It isn't just using trees for the manufacture of paper that concerns me, but it's the chemicals and pollutants used in paper manufacture that should concern all of us.
    I reuse as much of my paper products as I can. It's something I can do where keeping a clean environment is concerned.

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    1. Hi Sandy,
      I think a lot of frugal folks would agree that they are frugal not just with their money, but with resources as well. For me, I don't like waste, so reusing something fulfills my desire to waste less, and in the process, I save some money. And I'm glad that using less paper overall will benefit our planet.

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  4. I hate wrapping gifts, so as frequently as I can, I use gift bags. They are perfect for "re-gifting". :) I reuse tissue paper till it starts looking too scroungy to reuse. But ... I must admit ... I almost never reuse gift wrap. Probably because I hate wrapping gifts in the first place. I always reuse bows, and my sister does Mallory's idea of using gift cards as tags.

    I think that many of the early "green" people were simply thrifty. My husband laughs because we are now "cool" for recycling, re-using, and composting. My thoughts have always been "that's wasteful" rather than "that's not green" but I think it basically boils down to the same thing.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      I know, it is funny, isn't it? That because we don't want to be wasteful (like having just one small bin of trash a month instead of every week), we're tagged as "green" and therefore "in".

      When my mom and grandmother were younger, they were labeled "thrifty", which sort of implied being economical with money.

      Today, a person may be labeled "frugal", which many interpret to mean being thoughtful with one's resources. And I think many would define environmental awareness in the same way. You're right, the two are for the most part the same.

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  5. I eliminated buying cards years ago when my boys were little. I wanted more money to spend on presents when money was tight. It was a tradition to send holiday cards out to everyone, so I was the black sheep by not having the "manners" to send cards. :-)

    Last year, I finally took the time to stop using wrapping paper. Because of the inks and such most are not able to be recycled, plenty are flimsy and not able to be reused. It wasn't about the money as so many can be purchased inexpensively, it was about trying to reach zero waste. I pulled out a bag of fabric and fabric scraps that I had, many were given to me, and made my own reusable bags. I added cross stitch patterns to some. Surprisingly, people started asking if they could keep their bags to use themselves, (I offered to make them bags so I wouldn't be short) and everyone remarked that my presents looked much prettier wrapped in the fabric than in paper.

    What paper that does come into my house is used till there is no other use for it. Having grand children I can come up with plenty of activities that use paper.

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    1. Hi Lois,
      It used to be that you were seen as being impolite or not having basic courtesy to send Christmas cards. I remember sitting at the dining room table for most of a Saturday afternoon, helping my mom address hundreds of cards. And I just know that many of these cards would wind up in someone's waste bin, minutes after opening. And that's why I just don't send Christmas cards, with just a few exceptions.

      Fortunately, e-cards are more and more acceptable, and fewer people do send out cards the traditional way these days. If someone does send me a card, I prefer the ones with family photos. Those I hang on to forever.

      I have made reusable bags for our family's Christmas gifts, and reusable fabric wrap with ribbon attached for gifting to others. But I only gift these fabric wraps if I know someone will reuse them. I also like the idea of wrapping a gift in another gift. Like a dish towel around a cookbook, or a scarf around a wallet, or a decorative box for holding jewelry or paperclips, with a giftcard inside. Then the wrap has a purpose.

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  6. I definitely save tissue paper; wrapping paper not so much but eventually I might. And thanks for the ironing tip I never thought to do that !!!

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    1. Hi Gillian,
      Yeah, most wrapping paper can be ironed (and tissue paper, too). Just use the lowest setting, and iron from the back side of the paper. Cut off any tape first.

      Thanks for reading!

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  7. My grandmother and my exdh's grandmother saved all the ribbons and wrap too. I do what I can, but confess that I don't always save all the paper I can. I did buy some on clearance after Christmas last year, so at least I am not paying full price on it this year. :)

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    1. Hi Belinda,
      Saving gift wrap does seem like a throwback to another time. Perhaps women back then saved things like wrapping paper because they'd struggled financially through the depression and realized how valuable every last thing was.They no sooner "waste" a sheet of perfectly good wrap than they'd waste food.

      And I'm glad you found some wrap on clearance last year. I do buy some gift wrap, especially when it's for gifts that I'm sending away. I can't always luck into finding just the right paper for free. So I try to find that on clearance as well.

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  8. I always re-use all gift wrap and nice paper, where possible. I also turn old Christmas cards into gift tags too. Rather than buying patterned paper I tend to buy plain tissue paper or brown paper for gift wrapping and enhance it with a nice gift tag or ribbon.

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    1. Hi Sarah,
      I really like the idea of buying plain papers and changing it up with the ribbons and bows. I've seen some very nice brown wrappings with natural material tags, like birch bark tags, that looked amazing.

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  9. Hi! I just saw this on MSM... I'm guessing you already saw it but it was so pretty I thought I'd pass it along just in case! http://moneysavingmom.com/2012/09/turn-your-newspaper-into-cute-gift-sacks.html

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    1. Those are really cute, Mallory! I like the one with the lace doilies.
      I've made gift bags out of magazine pages and gift wrap that have come out cute, too. It's pretty simple, just find a box that you can "wrap" all but sealing up one end. Slide the box out and you have a gift bag.

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