Reusable Gift Wrapping

Growing up, my family always reused gift bags until they looked too worn or fell apart.  I think it was part frugal, and part “why throw away something perfectly good and useful?”  I have carried that into my adult life, and tend to avoid wrapping paper due to the single-use aspect.  A couple years ago, I decided to up my game and make longer-lasting reusable gift packaging.  

reusable fabric gift bag and chalk tag

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

Reusable Gifts Bags

I decided to tackle Christmas wrapping first.  I found a large Christmas tablecloth at a thrift store (Savers – my favorite thrift store in my area) for $5.  I picked up some ribbon on clearance from Michael’s and Christmastree Shops.  I was ready to go!

Sewing designs for reusable gift bags

tow reusable fabric gift bags
different string designs make the finished product look more of less frilly

I first used a draw-string backpack for inspiration on how to design my gift bag.  After making a couple, I realized I would improve my design by using used a draw-string jewelry bag for inspiration, instead.  The difference is that the backpack has just one pocket running around the top of the opening, through which the string or ribbon is run.  The jewelry bags have two pockets, one over the other, with the ribbon running through the bottom one.  This allows the top “pocket” to fold and ruffle and look more pretty and gift-y!  

tops of two different drawstring reusable bags
the bag at the top has the double pocket style, and the bag at the bottom has the single drawstring pocket style

Simple designs

I’ve made some very simple reusable gift bags that were just a rectangle of fabric, folded in half and sewed, leaving one side open.  Rather than having an integrated draw-string, I’ve just tied a ribbon around the top.  This shape bag works well for more fat, envelope-shaped gifts, but doesn’t work as well for thicker rectangular or round gifts.

reusable fabric gift bag and tag

Cylindrical fabric reusable gift bag

My favorite style reusable gift bag has a more cylinder shape.  I have found this to be most versatile, since it can incorporate a wide range of gift shapes.  Even rectangular boxes fit well.  To make these, I cut out a circle of fabric (I trace a bowl or plate, I couldn’t draw a circle to save my life! But really, the shape doesn’t matter.  Ovals work fine.)  I then cut a rectangle of fabric with one length the same as the circumference of the circle. 

cylindrical fabric reusable gift bag

What About No-Sew Designs?

I have sewed all of my reusable gift bags, because I’ve been sewing since I was a kid and I find basic sewing to be easy enough.  The no-sew alternative that I thought of was fabric gluing instead of sewing.  Theoretically any design could be made this way, and as long as the glue was allowed to dry thoroughly, it should hold up pretty well.  

I personally would try to flat/rectangle designs first, as they do not require holding up more complex shapes.  It’s just folding fabric, gluing, and letting dry.  

There’s also an even simpler reusable gift bag option that uses no sewing, no glue, just fabric and ribbon or string to tie.  Just cut out a somewhat square or circle-type shape (pinking shears are advisable as they will prevent fraying, but are not essential).  Place the gift in the middle, gather up the fabric, and tie the fabric above the gift. Just like wrapping a gift basket!

gift wrapped by bundling fabric and tying with a ribbon, like a gift basket

For a more smooth, finished look more similar to using paper to wrap gifts, the Japanese furoshiki cloth wrapping style looks great!  I have not spent much time playing around with this wrapping style, so I will point you over to this Wellness Mama post for some great instructions.

Cost to Make Fabric Reusable Gift Bags

My large tablecloth provided enough fabric for me to make about 10 reusable gift bags of varying sizes.  Considering the best prices I have found for paper gift bags is $0.50-$1.00, I think I did pretty well for myself!  I did put in more time than purchasing gift bags, but I enjoyed it, and I enjoy knowing that these will last for years and are keeping waste out of landfills. 

Reusable Gift Tags

I also decided to make some reusable gift tags.  I was inspired by these little flat wood pieces with festive designs on one side.  I found them on clearance at Michael’s for $0.10 right after Christmas a couple years ago.

wood piece with snowflake design

I drilled a small hole in the top for a string to use for attaching to gifts.  Then I mixed up some chalk paint using black acrylic paint and some dry spackle in a ratio of about 10 parts paint to 1 part spackle and painted it on the back of the wood pieces.  I painted 3 layers, allowing to fully dry between coats.  Then I tied a little cotton string through the hole.  I use chalk to label the tags, then use the drawstring bag ribbons to attach the tag to the gift wrap. 

Note: I used spackle that I have had for ages, and I cannot find that type anymore.  From my research, it seems unsanded grout also works pretty much the same.  Also, both acrylic and latex paints work. 

gift tag with DIY chalkboard backing

This year, I have been able to wrap all of my gifts in these reusable gift bags or other gift boxes or reusable bags that I have acquired over the years.  I plan to make more bags in different fabrics, and more tags, to make sure I always have enough!  I found another $5 tablecloth at Savers and am just waiting until I have some time to transform that fabric into more reusable gift bags.

christmas tree with gifts wrapped in fabric reusable gift bags with reusable chalk tags

My Zero Waste Kit

It seems like “zero waste kits” are all the rage in the zero waste world right now.  While this is not a zero waste blog and I don’t consider myself to be zero waste, this is something I strive for and I do try my best to avoid waste generation as much as possible.  To help me as a I strive towards that goal, I built myself a “zero waste kit” that I carry in my purse.  

Disclaimer:  This post contains affiliate links.  See my Disclosure Policy for more information.

zero waste kit with reusable water bottle, mason jar, silicone straw, travel utensil set, cloth napkin, and carry bag

I have this zero waste kit with me at work, when I go out to restaurants, when I go to my friends’ places, when I go to cookouts.  It is super handy – I am never without a drinking vessel, utensils, or a napkin!  

What is in this zero waste kit? 

My kit has:

  • a reusable metal water bottle (this is my #1 item – I never go anywhere without it);
  • a travel utensil it with a spoon, fork, knife, and chopsticks in a little carry case;
  • a 2 cup wide mouth mason jar;
  • a cloth napkin; and
  • a silicone reusable straw

I also have a small cotton draw string pouch to contain the smaller items (straw, napkin, utensils) so I don’t lose them!

packaged zero waste kit with reusable water bottle, mason jar, and carry bag with napkin, utensils, and straw

One key thing with zero waste that a lot of people overlook is to use what you have.  If you go out and buy a bunch of new things, this is contributing to waste (manufacturing processes use a lot of electricity and water and may generate other waste).  My zero waste kit was made of mostly things I already owned. 

How do I use all these things in my zero waste kit?

Reusable water bottle – To me, this is the most critical thing in a zero waste kit.  I  use my reusable water bottle as my primary drinking vessel when I am not at home.  I fill it at home, at public water fountains, from the tap at a friend’s house.  By carrying my on water bottle, I both always have water when I want a drink, and I can avoid single use drinking vessels.  At cookouts and parties, I just refill my bottle instead of taking a single use water bottle or cup.  I drink a lot of water, and always use my water bottle.  This reusable water bottle has definitely paid for itself many times over!

Bamboo utensils – I have used my travel utensils for eating a packed meal while travelling, for eating grocery store prepared foods (also usually when travelling since I cook most of my meals), and for eating at cookouts so I can avoid single use plastic utensils.  I usually keep several sets of metal spoons/forks/knives in my desk at work, but if I forgot to bring these back after taking home to wash, I have the travel bamboo ones available to me.  I love that I am able to refuse single use plastic utensils and still enjoy the convenience of using utensils!  

bamboofork, knife, spoon, & chopsticks with carry case

2 cup wide mouth mason jar – First off, I love mason jars.  I use them as my primary food storage container.  These wide mouth ones are great because they’re wide enough to eat directly from the jar, they’re refrigerator-, freezer-, microwave-, oven- and dishwasher-safe.  And the glass is designed to withstand high pressure from canning, so they’re really durable!  I have dropped from the top shelf of my freezer (5 feet at least) and the glass always (yes, numerous drops) survives!

Why do I carry a mason jar around?  Mason jars are great for leftovers!  When I eat out, I often take some food home.  I can avoid extra single use packaging when I pack my food in my own mason jar!  Plus, it’s ready to go from my purse to the fridge to the microwave or oven for reheating.  Mason jars are also good for cookouts, when friends and family inevitably cook too much and try to get guests to take some home.  Rather than taking a zip lock baggie full of leftovers, I can fill my mason jar and again, it’s in a single use portion that can go in the fridge or freezer and easily be reheated in the microwave or oven.

2 cup mason jar

Cloth napkin – Cloth napkins are handy to have around.  I use it any time I need a napkin, such as when I grab a meal out while travelling, or am having a snack on the go.  It can double as a hanky if I need a tissue when I am out.  I use it to dry my hands to avoid using paper towels or the air dryer in public restrooms (paper towels are single use and not easily recycled or composted, and air dryers spread germs).  I really started doing this more after spending some time in South Korea – it is so common there that most public restrooms have neither paper towels or air dryers.  I also use my cloth napkin as a mini placemat, or to keep a piece of fruit clean if I want to tuck it in my purse for later.   My cloth napkin is really versatile and frequently allows me to avoid single use products when I am away from home.

Silicone reusable straw – I don’t usually drink with a straw, but if I ever want to, I want to make sure it’s one I am reusing!  Typically I am drinking straight from my reusable water bottle.  If I am in a restaurant and get a large amount of ice which makes sipping from the glass difficult, I pop in my reusable straw.  It’s also great for smoothies, which I prefer to drink through a straw.  If I decide to indulge in a milk shake, my reusable straw is a great way to cut out a piece of waste.  I choose a silicone straw (rather than bamboo, stainless steel, or glass) as my reusable straw in my zero waste kit because it is light and flexible.  Since I have seen the question come up a lot, I’ll share with you soon my evaluation of different types of reusable straws.  

You mentioned not buying new things for your zero waste kit.  Where did you get all of these items?

Reusable water bottleThis one I splurged and bought.  Years ago I used plastic reusable water bottles.  I eventually decided that I did not want to consume food or beverages out of plastic if at all possible, so I saved the couple plastic water bottles I had for other uses (storing my orchid water with orchid food mixed in, and storing vinegar-water solution for soaking fresh produce).  I bought an inexpensive stainless steel water bottle at Marshalls, which ended up rusting in a couple years.  That bottle was recycled, then I did extensive research to find a water bottle that I really liked.  I selected the Mira water bottle because it contains no plastic components, and most critically (for me) was that no plastic contacts the water.  Just stainless steel inside the bottle, stainless steel inside the lid, and the silicone seal on the lid.  

Bamboo utensils – I could have just used some utensils from my set at home.  And in the beginning, I did just that.  I wrapped a fork and spoon (I don’t often need a knife) in my cloth napkin and carried that around.  Then several years ago, my mom got this travel bamboo utensil kit as a free gift with a subscription to the Audubon Society and she didn’t plan to use it, so I took it for my zero waste kit.  However, I just found what I think is the same item on Amazon, for those of you who really want it.

2 cup mason jar – I have been using mason jars for years for canning and as my primary food storage containers.  I have these on hand at home, and just grabbed one from my stash to go in my zero waste kit.  Any container with a seal could be part of a zero waste kit.  Depending on preferences, one could use a pyrex jar, tupperware, zip lock bag, leftover takeout food container, or something else already owned.

Cloth napkin – A cloth napkin in a zero wast kit could be any reusable, washable piece of cloth.  A bandanna, a handkerchief, a cloth napkin from an at-home collection of napkins, a washcloth, a paperless paper towel, a fabric scrap.  I made this cloth napkin from a heavily discounted remnant that I found.  It almost perfectly matched a beautiful Japanese table cloth that had been gifted to me, so I picked up this fabric to make cloth napkins for my dinner table.  I loved the pattern so I decided to include one of the napkins in my zero waste kit.

Silicone Straw – This is another item that I bought new, though I did not specifically buy it for my zero waste kit.  My mom likes drinking from her reusable stainless steel water bottle with a straw.  She would typically reuse a “single use” straw from Dunkin Donuts until it developed cracks and started leaking.  The annoyance with these straws was that it either was tall enough to extend out of the bottle, but when the cover went on it would bend the straw and it would crack quickly, or the straw would be cut short enough that the cover would close, but then she’d have to fish around in the bottle for the straw which was a pain (and could introduce bacteria from her hands into the water).  So when I saw reusable silicone straws on Amazon, I really wanted to buy my mom one for her water bottle.  I decided to buy a multi-pack so I could try a small straw (0.24″ diameter) for myself for things like water or iced tea, and a slightly larger straw (0.32″) for my smoothies.  As for the other straws in the multi pack: the two largest (0.47″) seemed way too large for anything, but I have two friends who love bubble tea and agreed that these straws look perfect for that, so I gave those two away.  The 0.39″ diameter straws still seem too large, but I am hoping to find a good, reusable use for those soon!

Carry bag – I found the little cotton drawstring bag in my closet.  I think it came from a gift I received in the past.  An alternative would be to use a reusable bag – then you would have that for shopping, too!  I do actually always have a reusable bad with me.  A couple are stashed in my car, and another couple in my purse (they fold up super small!)  I use one of these reusable bags to carry all of my zero waste kit if I am not taking my purse with me. 

cloth napkin, bamboo utensil travel kit, silicone straw, mason jar, reusable water bottle

Cost for a zero waste kit

Cost for a zero waste kit varies greatly and really is whatever you want it to be!  It could be “free” if you already own the items you want to put in a kit.  It could be a few dollars if the items not already owned are purchased at a thrift store.  Many people have multiple reusable water bottles, so you could ask friends if they have extra (water bottles or anything you want in your kit).  Buying or acquiring second hand is great for the environment because it cuts out the manufacturing waste/energy expense of the used but new-to-you item.  Alternately, you could purchase everything new (because you want to – that is perfectly ok! Or because you just don’t have a lot of possessions – in which case I am envious of your minimalism!).  I estimate ta zero waste kit could cost $30-$50 if items were purchased new (price greatly depends on the specific items purchased; I know water bottles vary very a lot in price).


Do you have a zero waste kit, or an item or two that you often carry around that allows you to reduce waste?  Share with us in the comments below!