In defense of wrapping paper

Part of my giftwrap stash


As a non-exuberant, non-religious, non-sociable sort of person, I don’t really do holidays. As always, not doing anything is agreeably low impact.  I cringe at the thought of chopping down a perfectly good tree just to prop it up in my house for a month, and I don’t need the symbolism of a fake tree, so I don’t have a Christmas tree. I can’t be bothered to decorate, so I don’t have lights, ornaments, statues, or vaguely sinister inflatable Santas. I don’t like my relatives, so I don’t travel to see them.  I hate malls, so presents tend to be locally handmade (ideal) and selectively given.

But then there’s my not-s0-secret giftwrap obsession. I love paper, always have. I grew up buried in books, went through prolonged origami and stationery phases, and still rhapsodize over the buttery softness of cotton fibre laid paper. Even knowing the environmental impact, I look forward to the new crop of giftwrap every year. I’m picky and rarely get more than two rolls a year, but over the years, I’ve accumulated more than my fair share of vintage-y penguins, elegant deer, woodland animals, swirly motifs, and wintry botanical prints.

Rhonda at Good Green Witch ranted about the wastefulness of wrapping paper earlier this week.  She’s absolutely right that wrapping paper is a stupid expenditure of resources. My rational side won’t attempt to deny it. But getting that roll or two every December makes me happy — I really love good design, and being able to afford and make use of good design is even better. And wrapping presents makes me happy. My old origami habits kick in, and soon I’m making elaborate pleat folds around the top of a cylinder, pinching crisp mitred corners, tucking, angling, valley-folding — until I have a small pile of tidy, even artsy, wrapped parcels. It’s surprisingly meditative and calming.

It’s not a green habit, but I’ve tried to make it less…brown. Large pieces of wrapping paper get saved and reused the following year. Everything is either 100% recyclable or recycled. And as I’ve said, I don’t buy a lot of presents, so I don’t go through very much of it.

I noticed I was getting a little defensive while reading Rhonda’s post. I don’t have many cherished holiday traditions and have done away with all the ones that I didn’t enjoy. Wrapping paper is one of the ones I’m not ready to let go of yet. Maybe never. Should I feel guilty about it?

I often come to the conclusion that being green shouldn’t be some form of self-flagellation. I didn’t sacrifice anything when I gave up the tree, the ham, or the lights — they were things I didn’t need or want in my life. But maybe they’re important to you, and you’ve made a conscious decision to keep just the holiday traditions that really matter to you. Fine. Everything we do has an impact. It’s my goal to choose wisely — just the stuff that genuinely makes me happy — and accept that other people will choose differently.

Happy winter holiday of choice.

This is what I’ve been busy with:

I’m going to be selling at my first pottery show this Friday and Saturday at the Sunnyvale Community Center. If you’re in the San Jose Bay Area, please come by and check it out!


21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by anelie64 on 12/07/2011 at 20:22

    I think it’s great that you artfully and with full joy wrap the presents you give. It’s good that you try to do what you can to lean green with it. I like that you find joy in something that I find tedious. I will take pleasure this season wrapping my presents, knowing that you are finding joy in the same task. Thank you.


    • Hi Anelie,

      Thank you for your vote of confidence. 🙂 I’d happily wrap your presents for you if you were in town! As I said, I don’t buy very many, so I don’t actually get to do much wrapping. I’ve always liked somewhat repetitive, hands-on tasks. I spent most of a month chipping at wallpaper once. My brain seems to be freer to go off and do whatever when my hands are busy.


  2. I have only wrapped gifts for the past 20 years or so with color pages from the L.A. Times. Nevertheless, I cherish those gifts from loved ones that are offered with thoughtfully selected wrap… and I always either reuse or recycle it. That you carefully deliberate over this issue is what counts.


    • Hello Donn,

      I like the idea of wrapping with newspaper, but the cheap ink gets all over my hands, and the newsprint tears easily and doesn’t hold crisp folds as well, and it smells funny. Instead, newspaper gets folded into kitty litter bags for Brie! I think that a life filled with consciously made, thoughtful decisions is almost inevitably going to be less wasteful. I hope we can get there as a species, but that may be hopelessly idealistic.


  3. What a wonderful post. We ALL have our ‘thing’ that we don’t want to let go of, and as you point out, our green choices should be joyful ones, not ones of deprivation. To receive a beautifully wrapped gift gives the recipient so much pleasure. I HAVE given up wrapping paper, but there are other things I won’t let go of – disposable razor blades, my car come to mind. But as we all have our passions that are pieces of a jigsaw, we come together to form a beautiful, complete picture and it’s this we should focus on – let’s celebrate what we DO do. Have a great holiday season 🙂


    • Hello Mrs Green,

      I love how you said it — “green choices should be joyful ones, not ones of deprivation.” Sometimes I think the green movement needs to be re-branded. It seems to be alternately about ‘buying green’ and grim-faced sacrifice, and I don’t think either will get us where we need to be. I have a car, too, that I’m not quite ready to get rid of. I work from home now, so I don’t need my car everyday. I may not choose to replace it when it finally dies. Since it’s a 14 year old American car, that may be sooner than later!

      Happy winter to you and your family, too.


  4. Please don’t feel guilty about two rolls of recycled gift wrap per year. I think staying home and not setting foot on a plane over the holidays more than makes up for it. As a lover of all things paper, I can totally relate, though gift wrap isn’t something I really care for. I like gift bags and tissue paper instead, plus I will never switch from books to an e-reader, and I can’t have enough stationery, and I enjoy making paper crafts. And you know, I think that’s okay!


    • Hi Andrea,

      Yeah…I don’t feel guilty. I just wonder if I should, since it’s one of my more frivolous non-green things. I can’t take too much credit for not flying over the holidays. There’s no one I want to see who isn’t coming to California, and to be honest, I really don’t enjoy traveling, especially over the holidays.

      I’m with you on the undying love for paper. I’ve been looking into e-readers for my dad, and the more I see of them, the more I think that someone will have to take wrench my old fashioned paper books out of my cold, dead hands. Also: my stationery stash is completely ridiculous. Good to know I’m not the only one!


  5. Posted by seitei on 12/08/2011 at 10:23

    another great post!

    just to answer yr question:
    yes, feel guilty!


    • Hey you,

      I won’t wrap your present in that case. :-p


    • There is not one shred of physical evidence that jesus existed. “Jesus Christ Super Fraud” is more like it. Christianity is dying a slow and painful death. Hopefully it do87e&#n21s;t take the rest of humanity with it.


  6. I can totally relate to this post, on SOOOO many levels. I’m a sucker for wrapping paper too… only I fear I’m not quite as green about it as you are. Truth is, I’ve got about 20 rolls stashed away in the basement, and since I give a grand total of about 3 presents per year, it could take me a lifetime to use it up! I also HATE family holiday gatherings… it just drives me NUTS. I totally refuse to travel… just in general, but especially for this sort of thing. I generally do my best to be “busy” during the holiday season so I can avoid as much of the obligatory holiday let’s all pretend that we’re all one big happy family BS.

    But mostly, the whole self-righteous environmentalism thing is one of my biggest pet peeves. I cannot tell you the number of times I have come across someone (online or otherwise) berating other people for one environmental transgression or another. It always makes me want to start “throwing stones” just to see how much of their own proverbial house is constructed of glass. It sort of reminds me of water politics here in Colorado. I remember there was a campaign a few years back to try to get everybody to use xyz percentage less water than they had the previous year. My thought was… hmmm… so the people who have already been conserving get punished while those who basically let the sprinkler system run every day just have to notch it back a tad.

    Anyhow, I fear if I continue much longer my comment could explode into a rant of epic proportions, so I’ll stop now.

    Go forth, and enjoy your wrapping paper! And have a very happy ChristmaSolstiChanukKwanza!


    p.s. That bowl is AMAZING! Wish I lived in California so I could come see your show!


    • Hi EcoCatLady,

      Yet another way in which we are eerily similar! I might have about ten rolls of gift wrap if I include the stuff I left at my parents’ house when I moved out a few years ago. I think my mom is probably relieved that she’ll never have to buy any more, and she finds my taste unobjectionable, so it works. Our family holiday stuff is limited to immediate family, so it never becomes too bad. Still, I have to say that I slithered out of attending my sister’s big wedding in Virginia. I didn’t come up with an excuse. I just didn’t go. I know, I’m a social troglodyte.

      I think self-righteousness in ANY movement is a problem in that it’s a huge turn off to people who might otherwise be receptive or sympathetic. One of the recent mini Twitter wars was about the term childfree. Apparently some parents were using it (initially without realizing it had another meaning) when they’d dropped kids off for the day or had some other pockets of time without their kids. Some childfree people got really upset over this usage and started chewing out the parents. It was ugly, and I think the childfree movement got branded in more than a few people’s heads as being one of militant, intolerant lunatics. Which is a shame, if the overarching goal of the childfree is to win general acceptance for their choice.

      I like your rants. Feel free to explode into one any time you want!


  7. Posted by Emily on 12/08/2011 at 15:36

    I LOVE the bowl! What amazing organic details you created.

    I appreciate that you are able to articulate why you choose to like and buy something, even though you recognize that may not be particularly eco-friendly. Just being aware of the waste surrounding wrapping paper and choosing to limit your use of it is commendable. The bigger problem of consumption comes from people who don’t even think at all. Most Americans are so obsessed with the consumerism stigma surrounding Christmas that they don’t stop and think about the impact of their thrown-away wrapping paper, their piles of plastic products, and their frantic trips to the mall.


    • Thanks, Emily! I didn’t really want to sell it at the sale, but I didn’t have enough stuff, so I priced it high and put it out there…we’ll see if it comes back to me.

      I agree that lack of consciousness about how we consume is a huge problem. We have these traditions which we mostly don’t think about in terms of environmental impact and even how much we actually enjoy them. Of course, I think it would help if the only wrapping paper available were made from recycled paper — no point in using virgin forests for something so disposable. I think it’s a classic case of a time in which better policy *and* more thoughtful individual actions would result in the greatest improvement.


  8. Jennifer,

    I’ve been thinking of you and wondering how you are. So glad to see “you” via this post. You bring a special elegance to life and it’s expressed in your love for paper and, consequently your choices of wrapping paper. Guilty doesn’t help anyone. I’m glad you do what you can for the environment joyfully and also enjoy your choices when it comes to wrapping paper. I do almost nothing for the holidays, but I do exchanges gifts with one sister. I’m not to holiday zero yet and not sure I am going there.

    So glad to see your art will be part of a pottery show. Take care and lots of love to you.


    • Hi Sandra,

      Thank you for your lovely words. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to be zero holiday or zero impact — pretty sure the latter isn’t even possible — but I keep trying to make the way I consume more conscious. One of my stumbling blocks is presents for my dad. I’m pretty sure I’ve never gotten him a present he was thrilled with, and whatever he wants he tends to buy for himself, yet I feel guilty not getting him anything, so I usually pick up something at the last minute. I hate giving presents out of guilt, but am unsure what my other options are. I wonder how to initiate a no-gift agreement — we don’t communicate that well as it is!


  9. Ha! I must confess that I too love wrapping paper. I love the look of coordinated packages with pretty ribbons and interesting gift tags. I have mostly given them up though for gift boxes and tins that get reused year after year. I used to do gift bags but I’m sick of those now – having had some of them for 20 years. But you are right, being green shouldn’t be a form of self-flagellation – that’s why I don’t give up the fudge! 🙂


    • Hello, Green Bean!

      It sounds like you’ve hit on a good compromise — mostly reusable things, a little of what you love. I hadn’t thought of using tins before, but they sound like a great alternative to disposable boxes. Now…how do you make sure all these things come back to you, or do you only use them within the family?


  10. You have reminded me what I loved about wrapping paper – the oragami challenges of odd shaped gifts and boxes, and the perfecting pleats and folds to make it look perfect. I actually did not realize that I enjoyed doing this until I read your post. I also now realize that this perfection in folding, is what I find calming in folding laundry… Anyway, I have given up wrapping paper now, although I did enjoy it, and still do think that gifts look better in carefully selected paper and ribbons than in reusable gift bags. For the most part – I made some cloth gift bags this year out of a previously used ladies skirt and they really rocked. 🙂


  11. I wrap the children’s christmas gifts in strong and fancy wrapping paper, but use ribbons instead of tape or glue. That way I can reuse all of it next season. They already learned not to tear the paper apart 😉 Since there is no such thing as digital wrapping paper, we don’t have much of an alternative, anyway.
    But did you know, that an average household in America will mail out 28 christmas cards made of brand-new, chemically treated paper in the next few weeks? This is something we can change very easily by switching to digital eCards. I give them out for free (, because I think, that trees have a more essential task, absorbing and storing CO2, than just sending our wishes. Their carbon footprint is near zero and they save a lot of time, too.


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