CHICAGO - Add this to your list of holiday rituals: After trimming the tree and fighting the crowds for door-buster deals, there's the annual hunt through a closet for last year's gift wrap and ribbon.
Replacing your misplaced paper, boxes, tape, tissue, ribbon, bows and tags can be expensive if you buy everything. But presenting a beautifully wrapped present doesn't need to cost a lot. Or take a lot of time. Or even require extra crafting prowess.
"There are lots of cool ways to enhance the gift without needing to buy tons and tons of supplies that you pack away and forget you have," said MaryElise Cervelli, a gift wrap expert at Milwaukee's Broadway Paper.
Here are five easy ideas for wrapping an elegant gift and keeping your time and wallet intact.
1. PAPER: Instead of having different wrapping paper for babies, weddings, holidays and birthdays, opt for a roll of sturdy basic brown or white paper from your local art or office supply shop. There's enough on most rolls to last years, even for a prolific gift-giver. The paper can be decorated any number of ways and made seasonally appropriate with ribbons. Another option is plain white dish towels or cloth napkins with or without decorations (yours or premade).
"There are so many things that are waiting around your house that can be used," said Jaimee Zanzinger, an executive editor at RealSimple.com. "It's so easy for everyone to just go to the store and spend a lot of money on wrapping and decorations, but you don't really need to spend the money."
Don't overlook paper grocery bags or lunch bags as sources of free wrapping paper, said Holly Becker, who runs the blog Decor8.
"Cut the seams, iron it on a low-heat setting and wrap your present with it, tying it with some pretty ribbon and a little gift tag," she said. She's even used lined notebook paper for small gifts.
2. RIBBON: Instead of a stick-on bow and plastic ribbon, substitute household basics like twine, baker's string or yarn, Cervelli said. Other things to try include hair ribbons, lace trim, other bric-a-brac, even an old skinny tie or a scarf.
For a fancier look, check out sales at craft or fabric stores and buy grosgrain ribbon by the yard or by the spool.
Cervelli's even cut wrapping paper and flipped it over, using the underside as a ribbon alternative. You could do the same with inexpensive fabric. For a child's gift, try a jump rope.
"This needs to be fun and it has to be an expression of your personality and you should enjoy it," she said. "A gift should be a gift before you get inside to see what the actual gift is. And the wrap is part of that."
3. DECORATE: If plain paper isn't your thing, jazz it up. Becker recommends using rubber stamps to add flair to a package. Or make your own stamps out of potatoes or sponges. Tie on bits of nature - a holly sprig or fresh pine needles this time of year, dried or fresh flowers in summer.
If you have kids, put them to work finger painting or stamping the paper; even impressions from their own rubber stamps will look festive with the right colour ink. Or, reuse some of their old paintings and drawings. Kids love to see their handiwork under the tree.
4. CUT AND TAPE: Zanzinger tries to repurpose old items when she's wrapping gifts and recommends snagging pages from old calendars (circle an important date, a birthday or Christmas, to give it a theme). Old maps or magazines also work great, as do newspapers (pick the comics for colour, or choose a section based on the gift or the recipient's interests).
Those options don't sing to you? Open your dictionary and turn to a favourite word - say, "merry." Photocopy the text and enlarge it onto whatever size paper you need.
5. GIFT TAGS: Collect the Christmas cards you've received (or buy a box at a discount shop) and bust out the scissors. Cut off the backs and discard, then cut the fronts into inch-wide strips. Fold the strips in half and you have a tag. Another option is to steal a playing card from an old deck or a board game that's already missing pieces.