Vivian Underhill

Some people — like my sister — are good at Christmas.

She has her presents ready weeks early and enjoys organizing them around the tree according to color, size or other attributes depending on the day.

Then on the other side of the spectrum are those of us who are — well, less talented.

I’m usually just skidding in to Christmas Eve with all my presents in hand, and wrapping or organizing them is definitely last on my list. They usually end up in paper grocery bags or hidden under a blanket, and my lack of aesthetics gets made fun of all morning.

So finally, once and for all, I would like to say a few words in defense of unwrapped or badly wrapped presents.

Here’s the thing: If I’m going to buy someone a present, then I want to spend what I can on the present itself, not on the presentation thereof. I usually only have a certain amount of money to use in the first place, usually (sigh) smaller than I’d like — so am I really going to spend a precious $5 on glossy wrapping paper? Um, no. Same with the little To/From cards and ribbons.

What about those cute little bows that sparkle under the tree? Well, they are beautiful — but still, usually, no. Even the tape needed to hold all that wrapping together seems like a waste to me.

With a little Internet searching, I found that the gift-wrap industry (yeah, it’s a whole industry) accounts for $2.6 billion in sales annually, a staggering amount for a useless product.

Instead, I use almost anything I can find. I root through my recycling and wrap with old school papers; Lab #9 and Quiz #4 have never been more useful. I use old food bags, from bulk M&Ms or dried fruit, because they’re not transparent and conveniently already have a Ziplock seal on them.

I have been known to bundle presents in towels, or shirts, because the sleeves tie nicely to keep things together. Try using your evening’s outfit as wrappings, and get more and more fabulously accessorized with each unwrapped present.

If these sound a little too ugly, a good compromise is using the comics from the newspaper — the Mutts comic in Saturday’s Daily Camera ran a joke about that very thing.

Like many parts of living frugally, gift wrap reuse or non-use also has an environmental component.

Wrapping paper is responsible for 4 million tons of waste every year in the U.S. alone, which means that we’re using the energy to manufacture that much as well. As a “green” consciousness begins to seep into commercial America, more environmentally friendly options have begun popping up; on the market now options include recycled, organic, or bamboo paper.

I even found compostable paper with seeds inside so you can plant it outside once spring comes. It’s remarkably ingenious, but I propose going one step further: just don’t use it.

I will admit that my presents end up being the awkward red-headed stepchildren of the bunch, the ugly ducklings amongst all their gleaming siblings. But I like to think that at least I’m setting my presents up for success, because anything coming out of wrapping like that has got to look great in comparison — right?

And if nothing else, my outlandish creations are always good for a laugh.

If in dire need, I just raise an eyebrow, flare my nostrils, and in my best condescending hipster voice, coldly assert that it’s grunge art nouveau, duh…

Vivian Underhill’s Boulder Frugalista runs every Tuesday in the Colorado Daily.

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