Of Paper and Plastic: Some Inventive (and Lazy) Ways to Present Gifts
The holiday season is upon us, which means gift-giving season is upon us. Everyone loves gifts, right? Of course we do. There is something special about this time of year simply because so many people are exchanging gifts. Of course everyone loves opening gifts, but there’s also something gratifying about picking something out carefully and then having another person love and appreciate it when they see it. But there’s one part of giving gifts that always feels like a chore, and that’s figuring out how to present them.
In time, we've found ways to make the holiday gifting process easier. The former spectre of doom for holiday gift-givers—the time-consuming shopping and traffic—got way easier to manage because, well, Amazon.com. It’s great: you get an idea for what to get someone, you buy it online, you avoid all of the nightmarish holiday traffic, and the gift shows up at your door hidden in an anonymous box. You could do all of your holiday shopping in a brisk hour.
But no matter how you get the gifts, you still have to wrap them before you give them. It’s almost never suave to hand over your gift bare. So this week, we're going to run down the simple and fun ways you can wrap (or not wrap) your gifts this holiday season.
First, Why We Wrap Gifts
In two words: presentation matters. Presentation is the difference between "tasty grub" and a Michelin star. Presentation is the difference between a successful, funded startup pitch—or walking home. Presentation is the difference between no-name’s novel and New York Times bestseller—because, let's face it, we do judge books by their covers.
In the case of a gift, the presentation is the wrapping. It’s the effort we expend, as the gift-giver, to officially mark the item as a gift, to allow the recipient the suspense of opening it, and then to have the item revealed to them freshly, at their own pace. So, when it comes to giving gifts, the presentation is the difference between a fun, genuine gesture of affection and “I bought this thing you might like.”
So wrapping is a step we can’t really skip. It requires a personal touch. But if you wanted to consider some twists on wrapping gifts—or some clever evasions of wrapping—read along.
Wrapping gifts is like braiding hair or tying a Windsor knot; it’s just a good skill to have, whether for yourself or someone else. That’s why classic gift-wrapping gets first mention here. There are plenty of gift-wrapping guides online, such as here. People have already made diagrams and YouTube videos and stuff; we'll let them explain for us.
What we'll add to the discussion is this: don't be shy about using alternate materials, and don't be shy about adding garnish to your own taste. The latter point mostly explains itself: once you've got the "base" wrapped gift, what you do afterwards is entirely up to you. If you can tie bows, get a reel of ribbon and go crazy. If you find some stick-on bows or ornaments you like, use (and re-use) those consistently. Whatever your style, wrap your gifts that way; if you're going to the effort to do it well, there's no etiquette on how to do it correctly.
On the former point, about alternate materials—you can try everything from parcel paper to leftover fabrics to drawstring bags (though the latter starts to spill over into our next method of wrapping). "Alternate materials" is usually the product of household scrapping with a sharp pair of scissors, so take inventory (start with pillowcases and junk T-shirts) and get inventive.
One of our favorite wrapping-paper alternatives is newspaper. (Some people might think this cheap, in an Uncle-George sort of way, but that's just because Uncle George wrapped up crappy gifts with the Obituaries.) Newspaper has an excellent texture for unwrapping gifts, and creative use of a newspaper's layout and photos can result in some beautiful, funny, or timely gift wraps. And each wrap is sure to look different from the last. (To wit, we're releasing one original newspaper gift-wrap photo each day in December on Instagram, at least until Christmas.)
Pros: This is the classic way to do it, and you get classy points for wrapping a gift well. Well-wrapped gifts are concealed completely, and the recipient can have the satisfying experience of tearing it open like the bear we all wish we could be.
Cons: Can be extremely difficult to wrap larger or oddly-shaped objects, and bad wrapping jobs can give away the gift in some cases. The most physically tedious way to prepare most gifts. Consistently time-consuming; becomes soul-crushing if you have to wrap more than three items in a row.
Gift Bags and Tissue Paper
Another classic choice. Some might call this the choice of the lazy, but give the gift bags their due: they serve the purposes of presentation quite well in many cases.
We probably don’t need to explain how this option is managed. You get a bag; you put your junk in the bag (along with some tissue paper to conceal it); you have someone open the bag.
Pros: A respectable lazy person’s choice—dignified-looking but low-effort. Bags also accommodate oddly-shaped or hard-to-wrap gifts better, and they’re better for giving multiple small gifts at the same time (since well-fluffed tissue paper can hide many things). Bags can be reused.
Cons: Doesn’t do well for heavier gifts or anything with an uneven weight distribution. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting the bag back to reuse it (and you shouldn’t expect it).
The Treasure Hunt
Probably everyone has given a gift this way at some point: instead of wrapping it, you place it somewhere out of sight, then have the recipient “find” the gift by following a series of clues. Sometimes this is the last resort of the supremely lazy; sometimes it’s necessary if the gift is otherwise impossible to wrap; sometimes it’s just the gift-giver's creative liberty.
If you’re going to do this well, there are a few rules. First, try to save it for gifts worth the suspense, and not for the $5 DVD. Second, invest some effort in the clues, but not on making them harder; take the recipient to more oddly-specific places with the clues, or find ways to put the recipient in funny (but not uncomfortable) places. Third and finally, make the reveal as climactic as possible; the goal is to create the same moment of pure surprise as tearing open paper, as opposed to the “oh, there’s the thing, is that my thing?” if you just have the item sitting there at the end.
Pros: Saves you having to wrap the gift. Can be more fun in certain company. Allows you to present the gift "prepped" and in its element, rather than cold in the box. Allows you to present any smaller, related gifts along the path of clues to the ultimate gift.
Cons: You still have to invest effort to make it fun and interesting. Potentially a lot of effort, if you're the type to get carried away. Can only justify it for select gifts.
In writing, Chekhov’s gun is a literary device where an important item is visible all throughout the first act, but not used until the second act. So Chekhov’s gift would be a sort of Usual Suspects way to give a gift: you show up with the item completely unwrapped, plainly visible, and you eventually surprise the recipient by telling them it’s theirs.
This doesn’t work for many gifts, as many typical gifts wouldn’t naturally "blend in" with you at the occasion the gifts are being exchanged. This also doesn’t work without a decoy gift to present as “actually theirs” (though, all you really need for the decoy is an envelope). But, in some cases, this tactic can work surprisingly well—such as, for instance, when the gift is a duplicate of something you already have that the other person also wants. If you can find a sensible way for “yours” to be there, all you have to do is bring a decoy gift with a message in it, then hand over the real gift when the moment comes.
Pros: Saves you having to wrap the gift. Allows you to have some harmless psychological fun in the process of giving the gift. Can be an even greater surprise and joy if played correctly.
Cons: Relatively few use cases. Easy to screw up.
Pay Other People to Wrap Gifts for You
We’re not judging you at all. For some people, this is totally worth the money, and for many of those same people, the gifts wind up being wrapped better this way anyway (again, not judging). Regardless, because gift-wrap service is a legitimate option sometimes, we'll take a moment to acknowledge it properly.
We imagine lots of people will flock to Amazon.com for their holiday shopping. On Amazon, you can pay between $4 and $6 to have them gift-wrap an item with paper, ribbon, and a custom message. One Redditor’s report about his low-quality wrap job from Amazon was reported by a handful of outlets, but the other posters on Reddit made Amazon's gift wrapping sound like a quality service overall.
Numerous other online retailers offer gift-wrapping options as well. While these might be attractive options, you have to consider—based on your own circumstances—whether it’s worth the money and, specifically, whether it’s worth the risk that your packages might arrive later or with a subpar wrapping job.
If all else fails, maybe talk to your friend Mary. She's enterprising; you'll pay her a per-gift rate; maybe she can make some good pocket money this holiday season. Everyone wins.
Failing that, no one said bath towels and duct tape made for an elegant wrapping job—but they do conceal that toaster oven fully, don't they?
Last week on Ampersand, the Code&Quill blog, we enumerated our company's blessings and thanks in commemoration of Thanksgiving, so take a look here if you missed it. If you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter at the foot of the page.
One shameless postscript—we describe wrapping more than three items in a row as "soul-crushing." Yet we're willing to wrap 30+ Origin notebooks for this month's Instagram feature. That's because the Origin's box is, like, super-easy to wrap. It's a workable size, it's rigid, and it holds shape well. It's convenient that those Origins also happen to make great gifts, especially our remaining Limited Editions. OK, we're done now.