I just spent $25 on a birthday gift for a friend. Fair enough. But then I forked out another $12 on the card and wrapping paper. Extreme guilt was gnawing at my innards as I handed the cash over, for surely I would be struck down by a bus for such an extravagant purchase.

As a wee tacker, I didn’t realise there was such a thing as brand new wrapping paper. I thought it came with little tears and stray chunks of sticky tape built into it. For I was born in a family of recyclers.

In our household, presents had to be unwrapped very carefully, as every scrap of paper was immediately snatched from your grasp and whisked away to be saved and re-used for years to come. The minute the mitt touched the gift, The Mothership would bellow, “OPENITSLOWLY! SLOOOOOWWWLY!”

This made Pass-The-Parcel a very long and tedious affair.

Mum also kept every single greeting card we ever received. Not because she was a sentimental women. She tore the handwritten back off and only kept the pretty picture. Why? Because the third week of January was Book Covering Week. Until I was old enough to buy Dolly magazines to cut up and collage, I was stuck with brown paper and tacky ye olde cards on my school books.



Social Studies:  LOOK WHO’S SEVEN NOW!

One side of our family was particularly big and had a policy of giving Christmas gifts to each and every bloody gummy granny and baby. This meant the first week of school holidays was Wrapping Week. The big box of christmas paper came down from the cupboard above the microwave, and Mum shuffled through her collection, sorting them into various piles. There was a certain hierarchy of recycled paper. You knew you were loved if yours was shiny. But you were the plankton of the family if you had a gaudy snowman print with chunks missing.

Still, we didn’t want them thinking we were cheap. Oh no. So we put the iron on the lowest setting and ironed the paper nice and flat, then picked off the crumbly old sticky tape while it was still warm.

On Christmas Day, the ladies of the family would perch in their beanbags, sending their grubby kids around the room to deal out the pressies. You could see their eagle eyes sizing up which gifts had the best paper, which ones had bonus ribbons or those godawful rosette things. As soon as the dinner was eaten and the blokes were snoring on the verandah, they would pounce, scratching amongst the ruins, fighting to the death for the best bits to take home and then bring right back the following year.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for January 2022.

38 thoughts on “Wrapture

  1. Wow, your family is worse than mine!! *LOL* But, you have such great stories to pass on to your own children someday ;-). My question is, are you going to be a recycle freak too? Hehe

  2. Sounds like my grandmother. I was over there yesterday getting a bunch of things for preschool craft, and she was quite possessive about it all.

    Eventually I came away with washed mango seeds, pill packet blister things, toilet rolls, sanded down corn cobs, pine cones, onion bags and the cream, gold milk bottle tops circa 1994.

    (I bet MB has some pretty vivid memories of my grandmother’s house.)

  3. Book covering! I remember that. Oh, how I used to envy the kids that were allowed to have Con-Tact on their books. I was stuck with brown paper and glossy, glossy plastic. Not even any Christmas Cheer to make my Year 1 days bright and merry. But then, with a teacher like Miss Pearce, that probably wasn’t possible, anyway.

    And just re: teen gals’ mags – the most depressing thing isn’t the dumb-arsed questions. It’s the amount of dumb-arsed questions of even more serious tone that go unanswered. Seriously.

  4. God, that is a truly great story. The ironing part–amazing. I am racked with guilt for my lack of thrift.

  5. Lol…that Contact stuff was great when you were bored in class….I used to spend hours trying to flatten the air bubbles out of it with my thumb nail…I used to do the shoddiest covering job possible, so I’d have lots of bubbles to work with.

    Love the mental picture of a flock of seagull family members squabbling over wrapping paper like it was a hot chip.

    Mine simply have a chronic inability to match the paper to the holiday…
    I get ‘Happy Birthday’ paper at Christmas, and “It’s a Boy!” for my birthday…..
    go figure!

  6. I had no idea there was so much economics, social pecking order, creativity, handiwork and overall balancing of intersocial skills and measures involved in the process of wrapping your gift. My Deity! I will never be able to wrap unconcerned again. Your fault!

  7. what you mean, charles?

    great comments, folks 🙂

    i just want to know if anyone else’s family did this, coz people seem surprised so far. surely we were’t the only ones?

  8. Oh yeah we got gift wrapping as school book covers (eg after my sister was born every book was pink with pictures of babies splattered accross it) but my mother was too useless to keep wrapping paper from year to year.

  9. TJ’s seagull metaphore brought me right back to when we (not you and I, but my family and I) were sitting out the back of the Sydney Opera House (I’ve only just worked out which end is which – it’s sailing into Sydney!), eating those delicious chips from the chipshop there, and seagulls literally sqwabbled over the chips we’d give them. nostalgicAhhh…/nostalgic Anyway, I distinctly remember that one of them was a particularly greedy, selfish bully, and we kept trying to give chips to those who were lower down the pecking order, to compensate.

    As for the book covering, we sometimes had to do that, too. It never really bothered me, though, and I was even happy to use manilla brown parcel paper. (Actually, I preferred the plain stuff, ’cause I didn’t see why we had to cover them in the first place, and plain wrapping seemed to nicely achieve nothing, nicely making a quietly defiant point.) As for air bubbles under that contact stuff, that was just like an extension of playing with zits. But it did irk me a little that I never got it perfect. However, piercing them with the point of a compass generally did the trick. (No puss came out, though.)

    The thing about carefully unwrapping presents for the sake of the paper is something I can personally identify with, to a degree, though for me it was never as severe as in your story. My father (from rural NSW, interestingly enough) was a particularly ‘principled’ advocate of wrapping paper re-use, if I remember correctly. And he exuded his usual negativeness about it, too, which rather put a dampener on the whole gift-unwrapping thing. (Later on, though, he seemed to switch to the principle that wrapping paper should always be new, but again he managed to make it somehow political.) My mother, who grew up with wartime rationing, was also in favour of reuse, but without the negativeness, and didn’t mind too much if the unwrapping wasn’t too careful. (Similarly, she’s always said that old toys in good condition, and still with their original packaging, are sad, ’cause it means that children didn’t get to fully play with them (she expects fully-played-with toys to be in somewhat delapidated states).) Instead, she somehow managed to put a positive spin on the wrapping paper reuse thing, just in how she spoke of how it would be a nice thing to use that nice paper when wrapping a future present for someone else (the tone of voice is vitally important for this). But wrapping paper’s never been a big thing in our family in later years, and these days carrier bags often suffice – it’s what’s inside that counts! 😀

    Finally, bastard baby made me laugh – it inspired a mental image of a baby with an evil, menacing grin! }:-D

    Ahhh, a wonderful blog entry there, Miss Shauny 🙂 (Hope your mouth’s feeling better, and your head’s feeling a lot less swollen 🙂 )

  10. My mother is a demon ribbon saver. Yes, she irons it. She’s always giving me bits that are just a little too small to use comfortably. When I fail miserably she takes it away from me and proceeds to do a much nicer job. (She had a part-time job in high school wrapping packages at the local department store.) Strangely, she does not pay nearly as much attention to the wrapping paper… bu my father does. It’s not so much that he wants to reuse it, it’s just the challenge of getting it off in one piece.

    Maybe you should retitle your site to Survivors of Crazy Families Anonymous?

  11. Row’s grandmother! Dear me! The sweetest lady ever, I’d think, and so bursting-at-the-seams happy to have an insatiably curious American to edumacate on the wonders of making bamboo curtains and fences using twine that one makes by oneself! I love people like that, man. Fun to be around.

    As for the wrapping paper, Blake’s family does that too. He refuses to tear wrapping paper, but only because he doesn’t know how to properly wrap presents, so he takes old wrapping paper and puts it around presents he gives to people. Not because he’s cheap, but because he’s no good at the wrapping process from scratch. Hehehehe.

  12. Hey Shauny, my Mom’s the same way. Always saving Xmas wrapping paper and using it again. But in my family we write who the gift is to/from right on the wrapping so twice-used paper can sometimes be confusing. And my in-laws save the front of old Xmas cards and use them for to/from cards which is both cool and ingenious I think. I’ve adopted that one. We’ve had some paper that has been used 3 or 4 times for Xmas gifts (frugal Yankees that we are).

  13. My mom used to do that too (still?). But when came the time to reuse, she couldn’t get herself to do it with the “nice” paper. She wanted to keep it to do home crafts (like covering a box). Of course, she never got around to the crafts…

    LOVE your writing. Thanks so much for sharing your talent with use.

  14. Well, I grew up in a house where wrapping paper was always new and disposable. Now that I live in Seattle with a bunch of hippie-types, saving the paper is a much more common occurance.

    The other day I had to wrap a gift and so I went out in the garage to find the wrapping paper and came across this amazing crepey holographic paper with little shiny interlocking squares. It was the coolest paper I have ever seen. For the first time in possibly years I enjoyed wrapping a present.

    Where is my point? On top of my head.

  15. Our family has always been thrifty and saved all sorts of things like wrapping paper and the good sides of cards etc. Makes good sense. I think.
    A couple of years ago my mother got tired of the terrible looking wrapping paper, though, and she went out after Christmas to a fabric store that had piles of sale priced Christmas fabrics. She bought a bunch, and sewed up hems on different sized pieces, and also made some bags of different sizes. Now we use the fabric at Christmas. The tape comes right off, you don’t have to iron out the wrinkles (permanent press ma dears) and it folds nicely into the wrapping paper box. My ma’s brilliant! (and thrifty!)

  16. Shouldn’t you have tried to match the card to the school book? e.g., “Look who’s Seven Now” should have been maths, and Hour of Need obviously Social Studies.

  17. Oh, that’s right! My grandmother used to reuse wrapping paper, but these days she wraps things up in pillowcases and teatowels and library bags instead. Tied up with that home made string, if need be.

    I had my schoolbooks covered with this pink patterned wax paper. I think it even came straight off the roll. *gasp*

  18. We used to hang on to used wrapping paper for years. At 26 I still have pangs about buying the new stuff. And enjoyable guilt about tearing it when it is given to me.

  19. Great tag line Daniel.

    Here in Tacoma when we lose our point we just say “love Slack” But I’m liking yours quite a bit as well. (I’m often in need of a good tag line.)

  20. I hated covering my books in school. I could never get it to look right, and then when I’d get to school the teacher would unwrap it, rewrap it in a grocery bag, pat me on my head, and send me on my way.

    We never really save wrapping paper, but we treat gift bags like the holy grail.

    People are posting spam links in your comments now? What’s the world coming to!

  21. My mother collects wrapping paper too. Although these days she knows not to bother asking us to unwrap carefully… she knows we want to tear into the present so we can get at what’s inside!! But she does have a rather extensive collection of ribbons, bows, paper and cards that she likes to reuse.

    I am sure if I sifted through the lot I could find some really funky 70’s wrapping paper 😛

  22. Ah yes, wrapping school books. I’d totally forgotten about that. Used to use the brown paper bags from grocery shopping. Some grocery chains even printed directions on the back of the bags for how to cut them, dotted lines and all, knowing that they’d be flayed ‘n folded by scores of schoolkiddies. I always had to ask permission before grabbing a bag for a book cover- Mom found they were the perfect size for the trash can in the kitchen so she set them aside for that.

    My family didn’t recycle wrapping paper, but we do keep all kinds of plastic containers (including the trays from microwave dinners), plastic and paper grocery bags, and glass mayo jars. Guess every family’s got its own packrat tendencies…

  23. Oh no! Oh no! I’m struck down with vivid memories of my father saying things like, ‘Don’t just rip the paper off! They went to the time and trouble to wrap it nicely, so don’t just tear it off as if it doesn’t matter…’ Help!

    It wasn’t him who advocated paper re-use after all (and so didn’t later switch position to that of new paper only). It was just, oh… and in comparison, my mother’s pro-reuse stuff was happy and positive in comparison 😛 I feel damaged. Just slightly, but still damaged. I have a sense of warpedness.


  24. pussycat, i think we’re related!

    actually i’m embarrassed to admit that the collage habit became firmly ingrained through these practices. i still collage – i cut adjectives and nouns from magazine headlines, mix it all up, and write nightmare bogus poetry (apologies to Beck). with the leftovers i create word collages along themes of color or meaning. (i do a mean RED LOVE word collage.)

  25. i feel normal now too – brown paper and magazine pictures or greeting card pictures on my school books. although my mum always used ones without words at least. but cling wrap-type plastic on the outside until they discovered contact!!!!!

    This made Pass-The-Parcel a very long and tedious affair.

    you recycled newspaper too? *g* or were we declasse for using newspaper on PtP?

  26. I thought you were in Australia, not Scotland

    *g* shauny’ll fit right in when she gets to Scotland, hey charles!

  27. Wait./..50 comments. What’s this all about. Does it count if you commented before?

    The whole–not wanting to be cheap thing is also a bummer. ‘Cause otherwise you can use the Sunday comics and that’s cool. But then everyone knows you are cheap.

  28. heh…i remember cutting out the book labels from my mum’s mags (ww, no idea, women’s day…one of them, if not all of them cashing in on back to school mania), and ever so carefully pasting them onto the brown paper covered book (bread delivered in brown paper tied with string. box of paper, container of string in little bundles…), then clear contacting the lot.
    then there were the girls in high school who had to have their books/folders covered with the latest spunkrat, be it aha, nik kershaw, bros, et al. i remember one year deciding to go for full nerddom and covering a folder with my fave pictures from gardening magazines. this is a scary visit back to school…

  29. see, more people should be following the shauny-way, and be thrifty like that. we don’t need all that wrapping paper. thrifty rocks the house. although i do remember very unkindly laughing at a girl in year ten who made her subject dividers out of special k boxes. i was a nasty git.

    we always saved paper, but i never remember re-using it. i don’t know what we did with it, actually.

    i do, however, remember, flattening out all my easter egg wrappings and creating a special disco floor (ala saturday night fever) for my dollshouse.

    i covered my school books with those school labels of fluffy kittens and/or fluffy duran duran hairdos from mum’s woman’s day each january.

    excellent post as always, shauners. x

  30. Hell, I save wrapping paper and all sorts myself! If I’ve got it why should I pay for it?

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