How to Wrap a Present Perfectly, Precisely, Properly

Illustration by Tara Jacoby

Wrapping a present in paper is a bit of a Goldilocks proposition: Too little paper and you can’t cover the entire box. Too much paper and you’ll end up looking like you cloth-diapered the gift. If you mess up the folds and the taping, it’s almost like you didn’t care. But if you get it juuuuuust right, well, then you’re golden. Here’s how to get it just right, every single time.

For starters, nobody needs math around the holidays, and though you can get precise if you want, you can still guesstimate this whole thing with a fair bit of accuracy. So c’mon, let’s get this show on the road.

First you cut.

1. Start by unrolling the wrapping paper on a flat surface, sort of eyeballing the amount that looks right for the size box in need of wrapping.

2. Then, put the box down on the paper, leaving a 1-inch allowance. Now you know how much paper, plus a little extra for folding and taping down, you’ll need to cover the bottom of the box.

3. Next, flip the box on its side across the paper. Now you know how much paper you’ll need to cover one side of the box.

4. Now, flip the box again onto its top. That’s how much paper you’ll need to cover the top of the box.

5. Bet you know what comes last! Flip the box onto its last side, leaving a 1-inch allowance. Now you you know exactly how much paper you need to wrap the entire present, so go ahead and make your first cut. Once that’s done, you can

6. Then, once it’s cut, gently bring the paper up over the sides and top, leaving a 2-inch overhang (eyeball some extra if you think you’ll need more cover). Now you’ve got your height, and you can trim the piece of paper, saving scraps for smaller presents or to be turned into a makeshift gift tag.

Now, to wrap the damn thing.

1. Lay the wrapping paper on a flat surface, and put the box top-side down on the paper. Check to make sure you’ve removed the price tag!

2. Bring both sides of the wrapping paper up over the box. Secure the paper to the bottom of the box with scotch tape.

3. Take the top edge of the paper and fold it down over the side of the box; secure it with tape, making sure it’s folded tightly against the box.

4. Bring the remaining edge up over the two flaps and secure it with tape. Repeat on the other side of the box.

5. Now, there will be two flaps on either side of the fold you just made; bring those in to the center of the box’s side and tape them down, making sure they’re folded tightly against the box.

6. Gussy the present up with ribbon and a gift tag and present it with pride to its lucky recipient!

Nerd out with the numbers, the exact numbers.
If you want to nail the right amount of wrapping paper every time, a bit of math is required. Just a bit, though! First, assuming you’re wrapping a box, you’ll need three figures: width, height and depth. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s say that you’re wrapping a box that’s 12 inches wide, 3 inches high and 4 inches deep.

The first calculation to do involves determining how much paper is needed to account for the width — the width of the paper should equal the width of the box, plus twice the height of the box. So, in our scenario, you’ll need a piece of paper that’s 18 inches long (12 inches plus twice the 3-inch height, or 12+6).

The second calculation determines the height the wrapping paper needs to be — for this one, you’ll do some quick math involving the the height and depth of the box. Start by adding two times the height (3″ x 2 = 6″) to two times the depth (4″ x 2 = 8″), plus 2″ to account for the overlap in paper needed to fully cover the box. Our theoretical box requires a piece of wrapping paper that’s 16 inches high.

To review the math, to wrap a 12″ x 3″ x 4″ box you’ll need an 18″ x 16″ piece of wrapping paper.

Jolie Kerr is an advice columnist and author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. She is the host of the podcast “Ask a Clean Person.”

Jolie Kerr