Cash In The Trash

Around this time a couple of years ago I was sitting around a restaurant table at a corporate Christmas luncheon with my coworkers, hosted by our bosses. At the conclusion on our meal we received our holiday bonuses in sealed envelopes designed to keep us from peeking, counting our cash, or reacting in the presence of the bosses (and each other). This is also when we offered our gifts to the bosses. Their gifts were things, not cards or money, and they were artfully positioned among the table decorations as part of the centerpiece. Woodland theme. Outdoor elements mixed with crystal and candles. You’ve seen it done, I’m sure.

One of the bosses eyeballed the gifts nestled among the live holly and pine cones and mused aloud, “Wow, someone really went all out on the wrapping paper.” The other bosses laughed. They were being sarcastic. There was no wrapping paper. Instead of store-bought paper I had used brown craft paper and some tartan plaid fabric to tie them up with twigs, pine, and dried berries. I thought they looked rustic and charming but the bosses were obviously making fun of them.

With my bonus cash safely tucked into my pocket I responded, “Well, someone really thinks wrapping paper is stupid.” No one laughed.

Luckily that particular boss’s gift was expensive bourbon so all was forgotten after the second round. I don’t work there anymore but being publicly mocked did not deter me. I hate buying the pretty garbage we call wrapping paper. I haven’t bought it in years. One of my favorite rituals for holidays is the chance to creativity recycle things most people throw away. Every year I look forward to playing with scraps, bits, and leftovers to create tiny revolutions of resourcefulness, even when the recipients of my gifts make fun of me.

Environmental Wellness on an individual scale is very much a practice of doing what you can when you can. At any given time of the year there are better choices to be made but at this particular time my focus turns to gift packaging. When buying a roll of holiday wrapping paper, no one thinks to herself I am buying a roll of garbage. But that’s what we are doing; buying something designed to be thrown away almost immediately after a gift is opened. Festive rolls of holiday-themed garbage; we intentionally buy garbage, rolls and rolls of it. And we consider it a tradition, which is just a magic word for we have to.

We might as well wad up the cash and throw it in the garbage. No matter how pretty, the money spent on wrapping paper, tissue, and/or bags is spent to produce garbage. I’ve seen brand-new unsullied gift bags wadded up for the trash can immediately after removing the gift. Those gift bags are even more expensive than paper and the sturdy paper-plastic hybrid types can be used multiple times. Are the few seconds the recipient gazes in appreciation at the pretty garbage paper enveloping his or her gift really worth it when within the next few seconds it all gets stuffed in the trash? I’ve decided no, it’s not worth it.

Recycled silver snowflake tissue, white paper from a delivery box, fluffy yarn from an online retailer who likes to add pretty extras to purchases.

For years now I’ve been wrapping gifts in plain paper saved from box deliveries. You know that brown or beige paper wadded inside the box to cushion the contents? I use that. I re-use that. Plain craft paper, wrinkled, ragged, oddly sized and jaggedly torn. That’s what I use. And I reuse the bags whenever I receive them, along with any viable ribbon, twine, cord, raffia, or other additional beautification bought specifically to be sent to the landfill. I’m not only cognizant of my money spent but yours as well. I’d rather you not wad up your money and throw it away for a fleeting few seconds of paper delight.

Brown paper once wrapped around a book received in the mail. Shiny snowflake trim from a gift bag that finally outlived it’s usefulness.

Despite my reputation I still receive gifts wrapped in store-bought paper, just like everyone else. Do I save it if I manage to remove it without tearing it? No, because I rarely manage not to tear it, but I do shred it in my shredder and re-use it as cushioning for gifts I mail in boxes. I also reuse every cardboard box and cushioned mailing envelope I can. I recycle what I can’t reuse. At last year’s Dirty Santa gift exchange with the in-laws, I shamelessly arrived with my gift tucked inside an orange and blue gift bag emblazoned with Happy Father’s Day on it. The price of those bags is often printed right on the bottom, y’all. That bag cost the original giver $6.99.

But wait, there’s more! I also cut up old greeting cards to make gift tags instead of buying them. Sometimes those cards cost up to ten bucks, depending on how fancy and whether or not they came from Hallmark. I get the craftiest kick out of making beautiful tags with them via scissors and a hole punch. And every year I do all of this I get better at it. Every year it gets more fun, to the point that I now look forward to how creative I can be with scraps of things I saved all year in an old reusable shopping bag.

Part of the Christmas card from the boss who made fun of me. Jute string from another long-forgotten package. White paper from a box of soy candles.

It’s fun. It’s adult play. Yes, it’s all rooted in being environmentally conscious but also in being financially conscious as well. And socially conscious. If you gave me five dollars I would keep it. I would not throw it into the trash right in front of you. If you spend five dollars on gift wrap and give it to me, I’m expected to throw it into the trash. We don’t have to do this, beloveds. We can do better. Be brave with me. The more you do it the better you’ll get at it, and soon you’ll be proud you do it.

This is grass-roots 101, isn’t it? Holiday challenges are en vogue right now. You could start with this one and use the challenge part as an excuse until you build more confidence. Or if you’re not ready yet, keep track of how much money you spend on gift wrap, tissue, and bags this year and then throw that amount of money into the trash. See how that feels. Employ your elf on a shelf to watch for cash in the trash. And then do better, one at a time, whenever you can, until one day it’s as natural as throwing away money once felt. And since it will cost you nothing, there’s nothing to lose.

— Mercy

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