The Lewis Wrapping Method:  Part 1
by Jeff Lewis

Warning: Gift means poison in German.

Beautifully wrapped presents with expensive paper, perfectly folded corners, no hint of tape and a geometrically complex bow leave a strong first impression.  Such artfully wrapped presents either show that you labored lovingly over the package or purchased your gift at a store with a gift wrapper who takes the job seriously.

Either way, the recipient will be more likely to give the present the benefit of the doubt than if you slather the present in tape and use flimsy candy-cane themed paper from the bargain bin.  If you regift, you may want to cultivate the notion that a sales clerk wrapped the present—if you are a person of dubious character, that is.  (But then aren’t all regifters?  No?  How about the ones who regift singing trout or gilt plastic lamps?  Yes, always.)  However, if your gift is thoughtful, you’ll probably want to show that you put effort into its wrapping, as well.  Unfortunately, you need nimble fingers and a reputation for fastidiousness or the recipient will place your beautifully-wrapped present firmly in the Store Wrapped category.  With this in mind, the Lewis Family developed an effective wrapping regimen for showing Christmas love without having to worry whether the packages look a little rough around the edges.  Here is the Lewis Wrapping Method:

Step 1:  Begin to Gather Wrapping Media a Year in Advance

As soon as your relatives open their presents, you should appraise the boxes, gift bags and wrapping paper—if you have any finicky relatives that can play out the entire “Oh this paper is sooo nice, I can’t bear to tear it” routine without giving up partway through, make sure to grab the boxes that their gifts came in; they will be nice boxes, I assure you.  Also, bows can be reused easily—just apply a little two-sided tape to the underside.  Pay close attention to the children’s toys.  If your niece gets a Ken doll, ask her if you can have the box.  It’ll make a nice receptacle for the man purse that you’ll give your uncle next Christmas, plus you’ll keep your niece from becoming one of those worrisome kids who keep their toys in the box, so they can sell them to pay for college.

During the ensuing year, save up other interesting items to enhance your wrapping, such as:

Boxes That Hold Household Items—Don’t rely solely on gift boxes.  Cereal boxes, for instance, are invaluable for last-minute wrapping, as long as you don’t mind if your cereal sits on your shelf virtually naked for a little while after Christmas (if that’s a problem, you may consider asking for the box back—they’ll understand).  Plus, cereal boxes come in convenient sizes:  Grape Nuts for children’s clothes, Cheerios for dresses and men’s sweaters and Costco-sized Froot Loops for slacks/sweater combos (place the belt in a Quaker Oatmeal box!).  Boxes for computer equipment are outstanding because they often include their own cushioning system and come in novel shapes.  Light bulb boxes make snug sock containers; it’s much more fun to receive dress socks when you have to coax them out of those corrugated inserts.

Paper Towel Rolls—You’ll likely want to make your package look like a tennis racket or choo-choo train (more on this later).  To do so, you’ll need several paper towel rolls for the handles, smoke stacks, wheels, etc.  Since you can’t remove rolls at the last minute as easily as cereal boxes, you should plan ahead and start collecting them in July (a bit later if you wash your hands frequently).   Wrapping paper rolls are even more valuable because they withstand more torque than paper towel rolls, and therefore can act as load-bearing beams if you try to create multi-level packages.  Avoid toilet paper rolls.

Plastic Containers—Empty Gladware, yoghurt and sour cream containers have intriguing wrapping possibilities because they don’t tip off the package’s contents, they stack well under the tree and are water resistant.  My niece Emily—an extraordinary young woman—once turned a six-ounce yoghurt container, a toothpick and unpopped popcorn into a fabulous receptacle for her hand-made wine charms.

Note:  If you’re wrapping water-absorbent presents, make sure the inside of the container is dry before sealing the lid or your present may mold.  You don’t want your grandma to have to lie about how much she likes her moldy scarf:  “Oh, it’s darling anyway.  If you shake it out, you can hardly tell!”

Gift Bags—If a store gives you a bag with plastic handles, or even faux rope handles, consider transforming it into a gift bag by gluing or stapling things to the sides.  Festive adornments include leaves, old data CDs or a collage of Will Ferrell and Orlando Bloom.

Easter Seals—If you’ve ever donated to an organization that unscrupulously sold your address to other charitable groups, you likely receive a lot of sample Christmas cards and stickers each September.  These are a goldmine!  I’ve relied on Easter Seals, the Nature Conservancy, the Reeve Family and a host of other organizations for their timeless renditions of wreaths, winter landscapes and hand-holding peaceniks, which I tape to the sides of tired-looking packages.

National Geographic—The magazine’s photography trumps any image you’ll find on wrapping paper.  This year, I leaned heavily on a fascinating article that delved into the deep-sea mating rituals of squid.  The pictures really “pop” when juxtaposed with candy-cane wrapping paper.

Birthday Cards—If you don’t subscribe to National Geographic and never get junk mail from charities, use old birthday cards.  They’re always festive and if you write “Jesus” under the “Happy Birthday,” they’re instantly Christmas classics.  I’m not sure if the theory behind this technique works as well for Chanukah; it’s hard to judge the response to “Happy Birthday, Miracle Oil.”

Bubble Wrap—If you shop over the internet or mail order, save the protective packaging, unless it’s Styrofoam peanuts—thank goodness these are on their way out, because I’m still finding ground up bits of peanuts in our garage after an unfortunate incident back in ’02.  Obviously, protective packaging is handy for breakable gifts, but if you have extra, consider protecting robes or pajamas, as well.  It’ll perplex the recipient, who will handle the sleepwear very gingerly.

Non-Traditional Wrapping Media—In the past, when I’ve run out of bows or ribbons, I’ve improvised with bow- or ribbon-like objects, such as spare telephone cords—a nice bow substitute—and bungee cords.  Gel toothpaste looks very pretty on a package, although you should wait to apply it until the last minute—it doesn’t travel well—and make sure to include a napkin with the present.  Also, if you have a young child, you surely know the benefits and drawbacks of glitter glue. 
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but do not—as a close relative of mine is wont to do—wrap items in your own shirts or blankets.  You look lazy, not clever.

Step 2:  Buy Lots of the Tissue Paper

Tissue paper hides a myriad of sins.  It’s particularly handy if you get sick of the Lewis Wrapping Method and decide to wrap everything in gift bags.

Step 3:  Create a Spreadsheet

Track all of your presents in a spreadsheet with the following columns (You’ll understand the necessity of creating a spreadsheet when you get to Step 4):

Recipient—It’s never a bad idea to make sure you know the names of all the people on your Christmas list.  Who knows, maybe you didn’t realize that you have two Susanne’s on your list (this is particularly important if you are a regifter).

Love Factor (optional)—If you express your love for each recipient with a number value, you can use this Love Factor index to tabulate how much to spend on each, both in dollars and hours spent wrapping the gifts.

Dollars—This will help you figure out if you’ve spent an appropriate amount on each recipient.

Time—If you have seven presents for an individual but only plan to budget one hour for wrapping these gifts, you’ll need to know this so you can scrounge up five gift bags.

Package Contents—Helps you track which gifts are breakable.

Appearance—If you follow Step 4 religiously, this is a very important data field.  If you take the Lewis Wrapping Method seriously, you WILL forget the contents or recipient of at least one package, particularly if you have poor penmanship when you write the To & From info on the name tag, or use generic tape instead of 3M to affix it.

Step 4:  Augment Your Core Gifts

Q:  What’s more fun than opening a Lewis Wrapped gift?

A:  Opening seven!

Unless you’re a tycoon, this means accumulating free and heavily reduced items throughout the year. This is vitally important if you stuff stockings, because children are very disappointed with Santa if he doesn’t stick at least a dozen items in their fake socks.  They don’t care what’s in them because they know all the big-ticket items are in boxes, so fill them with anything.  The Lewis Parents always made sure to include free calendar magnets from Hattori Vision Optometry and an alternate calendar from the local Anglo-friendly Chinese restaurant, China Gourmet.  One person’s junk is another’s Yuletide Tradition.  Stuffed among these calendars and the obligatory candy canes were an assortment of complimentary after-dinner mints, airplane peanut packages and squishy stress reduction balls from the chiropractor.  Apples, oranges and onions—a coal substitute—rounded out the bill of fare.

To augment the wrapped gifts, don’t pass up on “going out of business” sales—everyone loves a New Age candle!—but be wary of giving heavily-reduced items to sarcastic individuals.  As a cautionary tale, I should mention the occasion when my parents gave my youngest brother a size XXXL t-shirt, emblazoned with an airbrushed Bald Eagle, defiantly exclaiming in cursive script, “I’m Back!”  My brother didn’t thank them or even stop to reflect on the tough times that the resurgent raptor had experienced at the hands of Dow Chemical.  Instead, he spent the next two days following my dad around the house, pointing at the eagle on the shirt and squawking, “I’m Back!” in his best eagle-screech voice.  (I, on the other hand, am a model son.  I loved my rubber Pippi Longstockings figurine and let my parents know it).

Further augment the gifts by wrapping items the recipient already owns.  If your sister-in-law already knows that she is getting a gift card, the least you can do is surprise her by wrapping it with her own blouse and colander.  Avoid wrapping more intimate items.  Don’t neglect to wrap fruits and vegetables—they’re not only for stockings—but be sure not to lose track of the package and, obviously, don’t bruise the fruit before wrapping it.  Mold is just as unpleasant on fruit as it is on scarves.

To be continued...

Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2004