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Best Investments in Sustainability

by Maria Dee

We don’t wrap Christmas presents. To tell you that this started as an earth-friendly initiative would be a lie. During the Christmas season of  2010, I had a 9-year old, a 4-year old, and an 11-month old. My husband and I had a Christmas Eve routine that worked with two kids:  we would stay awake after the kids would go to bed, and while they slept, we would assemble toys and wrap presents. We usually had some drinks and dessert, listening to Christmas music or watching the “A Christmas Story” marathon. At some point we’d split up to wrap each other’s gifts, and then we’d finish the night admiring the mountain of presents under the tree.

And then our 3rd child came, and I knew that was all over.  I had never been so tired in my entire life. Wouldn’t the kids be just as happy to receive presents if they were UNwrapped? Those kids never slept past 6AM, and with the excitement of Christmas they’d wake up at 5. I was so tired that my eyeballs throbbed, and I just wanted to throw those toys into a sack and get myself to bed.

Lightbulb. Grab-bag, the Christmas edition!! So I’m sorry, Mother Earth. This was totally about me and catching some Zzzzzz.

These cute bags can be purchased on Etsy by clicking on the pic.

But it does turn out to be a win for Mother Earth.

Would you believe that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we create 25% more garbage, equalling about 25 million tons of waste? Only a fastidious few of gift recipients will open the packages delicately without tearing it, with the intention of reusing it for another gift. Paper gift bags and tissue are only marginally more likely to be saved and used another time. Cloth sacks are reusable, year after year. And isn’t that the image that many of us have of Santa, a sack thrown over his shoulder as he heads down the chimney, the sacks of toys piled up in his reindeer-drawn sleigh?

In 2010, I spent $50 on 5 large cloth sacks. I have not bought Christmas wrapping paper since then. Some friends, inspired by the idea, made their own out of fabric or pillow cases, and then gave me some, too! When I am unsure about getting a gift sack back, like at a Secret Santa or for teacher gifts, I reach under my bed for the remaining rolls of Christmas wrap that are, yes, 7 years old.

Christmas morning in my house is just as festive as it ever has been. We tag the presents with the kids’ names, and the kids take turns reaching into the bags and giving the gift to its recipient. Each year, though, I am stunned at the amount of trash still created—factory packaging is full of plastic and cardboard, and both the recycling and trash bins are piled high. But the trash would be 25% higher without that effort.


Maria Dee lives in Boston with her husband and three children. She’s an accidental environmentalist, a result of focusing on every day ways to reduce waste without sacrificing convenience, too much money, and her sense of humor. She also pretends she can sing, take photos, and make a difference in Boston politics.





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2 thoughts to “Wrappin’ It Up

  • Liz @ spades, spatulas, and spoons

    Great idea! I have passed it along to my crafter friend and ordered some bags. As we downsize I am so happy to change the ways we do things as well. Much more mindful. I am also aware of all that Christmas morning trash that fills the can.

  • Laura Parker Roerden

    That’s great, Liz! Thank you for spreading the word. I think the sacks look so beautiful under the tree–I have to buy some too. I wish I could make them myself, but I just don’t sew!


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