Updated on 08.01.14

Dealing with Holiday Leftovers

Trent Hamm

If your family holidays are anything like mine, you’re left with piles of remnants: torn-up wrapping paper, empty boxes, and extra food litter the house.

It might be tempting to throw it all away, but there’s a lot of value in those leftover items. Here are some of the things I’ve done with leftover Christmas items.

Wrapping Paper
1. I shred it and use it as packing material when I ship things or when I give gifts in the future.

2. I shred it and mix those shreds with paraffin to make some fantastic firestarters. The easiest way to do it is to take an old egg carton, put a few shreds of wrapping paper in each slot, and pour some heated paraffin on top. Then, tear the egg carton into individual egg-shaped slots (with the egg carton still attached to the paraffin) and you have yourself a dozen fantastic firestarters. This is a great use for camping.

3. I take large pieces of untorn used paper and turn them into a collage, which I then use for future gifts. A collage pattern on a gift looks really distinctive and interesting.

4. I take pieces of untorn used paper and cut shapes out of them, which I then attach to brown paper for future gift wrappings.

5. I take pieces of untorn paper and use it to teach my children basic origami, like a fortune teller or a dove or a jumping frog.

6. I shred it and use it for paper maiche projects. For example, we made a paper maiche Great Saiyaman helmet for our oldest son that he wears all the time (and which provided a centerpiece of his Halloween costume this year).

7. I take small pieces of it and use it to cut out snowflakes. Often, I’ll just fold them up so that they’re ready to cut, then store those folded pieces until next November for the following year’s Christmas decorations.

Empty Boxes
8. I reuse cardboard boxes over and over and over again. I just break them down so that they store flat in our garage, then use them whenever I have the need.

9. I convert leftover cardboard boxes into a dollhouse for my daughter. This gives her full ability to decorate the thing as she sees fit.

10. I cut cardboard boxes into strips and save them for campfire starters. This is particularly good for boxes that have been mangled enough that they’re not good for other uses.

11. I cut the cardboard into rectangles and use it for backing on framed photographs. Some frames come with the cardboard, but for those who do not, cardboard can be essential in preventing photos from slipping.

12. I convert larger boxes into “pet houses.” This can be a perfect way to enclose a dog’s sleeping area or give a cat a place to hide and play. Again, you can decorate them to your heart’s content.

13. I cut cardboard into tiny pieces and use it for garden mulch. It does a great job of minimizing weeds and then slowly decomposing into the soil.

14. I cut cardboard boxes into flats and use them for organizing smaller items in my closet, like CDs and DVDs. This makes it easy to see the exact contents without the items spilling everywhere. Just trim the box down to the height of the items you want to store.

15. If you still have leftover paper and cardboard, get creative with the reuse. I’d contact a daycare center or orphanage or even an elementary school in your area and see if they have any need for it, for craft projects and the like. Contact an animal shelter and see if they have any need for it as liners or bedding material. These options are far better than simply recycling them in your recycling bin.

Leftover Food
16. I just freeze as many of the basic ingredients as I can. Items like leftover turkey meat, leftover vegetables, and so on are perfect components for soups and stews and casseroles when you pull them out of the freezer.

17. I convert them into alternative dishes in the next few days. Leftover ham, for example, might become a ham-and-bean soup. Leftover sweet potatoes might become sweet potato pancakes.

18. I package it up and give it to holiday party guests to take home with them as something of a final gift. I’ll get a bunch of inexpensive containers that I don’t need back and allow them to have a meal at home.

19. I’ll prepare meals for shut-ins that I know and take the food to them. Several years ago, we lived near an elderly shut-in that we often took meals to and it was a very rewarding experience.

20. I use leftover vegetables and vegetable scraps to make vegetable stock and leftover meats and meat scraps to make meat stock. All you do is put the materials you want to make stock out of into a crock pot, fill it with water until there’s about three or four inches above the top of the food, then turn it on low and let it sit all day. Strain the liquid and save it – it’s a great starter for all kinds of dishes.

Don’t let holiday waste fill up your bins. Put that stuff to better use and save yourself a few dimes, too.

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  1. lurker carl says:

    In my family, gift boxes and bags are saved, reused and repaired until they practically fall apart. The debris is burned in the stove over the course of a week or so. An alternative for dealing too much leftover food is to prepare quantities proportional to the number of guests.

    Merry Christmas, one and all!

  2. Alice says:

    My family reuses everything possible. Large pieces of wrapping paper is re wrapped around the core and saved until next year. Boxes are used for shipping or gardening.

    At Thanksgiving I make enough dressing for Christmas at the same time. I put half in the freezer and cook the other half. After the turkey is carved, I put half in the freezer for Christmas dinner. Then all I have to do is thaw out the turkey and cook the dressing and it’s a ready made meal. We only need to prepare the side dishes. We have no waste and the food is fresh.

  3. SwingCheese says:

    As I write this, our family cat is joyously using one of our Christmas boxes as a hidey hole. Merry Christmas to all :)

  4. SMS says:

    Most cardboard gets recycled. The paper is trash as it is the cheapo recycled stuff that is so cheesy it barely works the first time.. The leftovers— teens in the house and we take them for work. No waste.

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