Green Delights of
Junk Mail Gift Wrap

by Franke James

Does junk mail make you see red? If you have presents to wrap this holiday season seeing “red” could be a very good thing. By training your eye to spot the festive colors and holiday symbols that abound in junk mail, you may just discover an unlimited and free source of gift wrap.

We all hate junk mail but with a little creativity you can turn it (flyers, glossy newspaper inserts, and unsolicited mailings) into gorgeous and very green wrapping paper. Best of all your lucky recipients will be totally wowed. And you’ll have found a new way to persuasively, but gently, green your world.

As a warm up to the holiday fun, I’ll be sharing my five tips on using junk mail as gift wrap. For starters, I’ll teach you how to spot the holiday symbols.

example of advertisement useful for gift wrap

1. Spot the Holiday Symbols

Spotting the holiday symbols is a fun activity once you get the hang of it. Your whole family can join in (if you let them in on this little secret.) First off, let’s tip our hat to the skills of the advertising folks who design the dreaded junk mail. They are masters at evoking feelings. They know just the heartstrings to pull, and the buttons to push, to make us nostalgic for holiday celebrations.

stocking symbols wrap 2007 by franke james

So exploit the ad gurus’ talents to your advantage! Sort through your junk mail, or glossy newspaper inserts now. See if you can spot any Santa’s, snowmen, stockings, sleighs, mugs of hot chocolate, gingerbread men, evergreens — you get the idea! In our home, our junk-mail pile is full of holiday imagery just perfect for gift wrap. All of the gift-wrapped images featured here, and on the next four days, were made from actual junk mail our family received recently.

Tip 2: Look for striking visual images

Did you receive any beautiful or festive junk mail yesterday? At this time of year, it can be a welcome resource for free gift wrap. The world would be a better place without any junk mail, but until that day arrives, we might as well look for ways to reuse it to our advantage. Giving it one more life before it hits the recycling pile can be fun, frugal, and fabulous.

Yesterday’s tip was spotting the holiday symbols. Today, we’ll look for striking visual images. Once you start looking, you’ll see that there are lots of eye-popping images in junk mail and glossy inserts. The ad industry uses some of the most talented photographers and graphic designers money can buy (even better than the gift-wrap industry from what we can tell).

Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at the variety and sophistication of images you can reuse for gift wrap. The striking image of the woman with a row of red cardinals on her arm came from an ad for a home builder.

Coincidentally the tulip (see above) was from another home builder. (I guess they know the images that will catch my eye.) Flip through your junk mail and notice what is grabbing your attention. Think of the person who will be receiving the gift. Do they love fashion? Or the outdoors? Or music? Chances are, you’ll find images galore to suit every personality on your gift list.

To transform our “finds” into gift wrap, I placed the red cardinals ad on the top, and the tulip ad on the side of the box to be wrapped. That helped me visualize how they would fit. I was particularly delighted (small thrills, I know) that the shape of the tulip fit perfectly on the side panel. (You can see a photo of the finished wrapped box in the first post.)

But what do you do if your junk mail has a bold commercial message on it? Exploit it! For some presents and some recipients leaving the message in can give it a very funky look. In the case of the cardinals ad, however, I went for minimalism. I cut out the messages because I liked the simplicity of the woman against white. Another trick is to cover the message with ribbons (a subversive technique not sanctioned by ad types).

The bottom line on reusing junk mail is that you can do it in so many creative ways. Loosen up and you’ll discover your inner wrap star.

Tip 3: Go Wild with Ribbons

Will you ever see unwanted plastic credit cards in quite the same way again? With a little creativity, almost any piece of junk mail can be transformed into a wild ribbon that will add drama and panache to your packages. John Boak is the master wrap artist behind the crazy-credit-card-and-junk-mail gift wrap package above.

But whether you want to make a bold statement like his above, or just add a little 3D magic to your junk-mail gift wrapping, it’s easy to do. In this tip we’re going to look at making a fan shaped paper ribbon and a curled ribbon.

wrap 2007 by franke james

The fan-shape ribbon, featured above, was created in less than thirty seconds. You may even remember making one of these as a kid?! Just take an 8×10-inch sheet of junk mail and start folding it horizontally or vertically into a strip. (No tearing or cutting is required.) Once you have your sheet folded down into a single strip, grab it in the middle, and see how it fans out. You may want to use tape to hold a perfect fan shape. Attach with tape or glue.

To make the curled ribbon below, rip or cut it into strips, and then curl each strip with a straight edge, like a ruler or scissor edge.

stocking symbols wrap 2007 by franke james

Tip 4: Find free Gift Wrap for All Occasions

This is the fourth of five green tips where we look at ways to transform “useless” junk mail into stylish and free gift wrap.

This junk-mail wrap art is so much fun it may just have you pinching yourself in disbelief at the free treasures dropping in your mail box each day. The good news is that this fun can go on year round.

There’s no reason to stop wrapping gifts with junk mail when Christmas is over. In January, start looking for Valentine’s Day imagery and save your favorites to surprise your loved ones with your clever artistry.

Whatever holiday is just around the corner will be anticipated by the ad industry, and provide you with the raw materials to work your magic. Do you have a family or friend’s birthday coming up? Keep your eyes open for ads that reflect their unique interests, whether it’s the outdoors, fashion, sports, or music. There is an excellent chance you’ll find just the right imagery in your junk mail.

We were curious how wrap artist John Boak (featured yesterday for his crazy credit-card ribbon and also above gift on the right) got started with his imaginative wrapping, so we gave him a call. Boak said it’s a been a lifelong passion of his to make collage art from found objects, including wrapping gifts in ever-imaginative ways.

Take a spin around his site and you’ll see the many wonderful and wacky wraps he’s done. Many are easy enough that any non-crafty person can do them, but Boak also gets adventurous and has been known to pull out his power saw to reshape bottles into just the right sculptural container for his gift. (I found myself musing over whether the wrap is better than the gift itself. As a child I recall wrapping gifts in very elaborate and tricky guises to fool my sibling’s as to the contents.) If you want to learn more, Boak has written a book on Wrap Art (2007, Blurb).

Yes, apparently people all over the world are curious about this art form. Over 9,000 people checked out his site last month. That’s 9,000 people who are — whether they realize it or not — helping to make the world a little greener by reusing junk mail. Now that is a green gift!

Tip 5: Wow your friends!

example of advertisement useful for gift wrap

So if you’ve been following our Green Delights of Junk Mail Gift Wrap series you’ve learned to spot the Holiday Symbols. You’re on the look-out for visually striking images. You’ve unleashed your inner wrap artist and you’re going wild with ribbons. Most important, you’ve discovered that junk mail offers gift wrap for all occasions — totally free! Now what?

You’re ready to wow your friends (and PlanetGreen, too!) Send us digital photos of your most fabulous (or just plain fun) junk-mail-gift-wrap package. We’ll feature a selection of the best in a future post. (And if it looks so good we won’t believe it’s junk mail, please tell us what advertisement or flyer it came from!)

We’d love to hear your friend’s and family’s reactions to your stylish junk mail gift wrap.

Were they surprised as much by the thoughtful and clever wrapping as the gift itself?

Did you prompt a conversation about living green?

Did you inspire anyone else to be a little greener? Let us know!

Review our five tips and then send us a digital photo of your artistry by uploading it to Flickr and tagging it “planetgreenwrapping”:

1. Spot the Holiday Symbols
2. Look for visually striking images
3. Go Wild with Ribbons
4. Unlimited and Free Gift Wrap for All Occasions
5. Wow your friends (and PlanetGreen, too!)

Happy wrapping! Congratulations to everyone who is helping to make the world a little greener. (Don’t forget to tag it “planetgreenwrapping”.)

Difficulty level: Easy

The five green tips were written by Franke James in 2007, for PlanetGreen. Photos of junk mail gift wrap by Franke James; Ads featured in gift wrap were from unsolicited mailings or newspaper inserts.

Green Delights of Junk Mail Gift Wrap: copyright Franke James, MFA;

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