Christmas is the time of giving and receiving presents en masse. Some of them, although thoughtfully chosen, might not be the perfect fit. Can you recycle those? This is not an idle question if you are a broke student trying to live economically.
There used to be a time when you risked earning a reputation of a cheapskate if caught regifting. However, now the practice is seen in an increasingly positive light since it reduces waste and overproduction, much like thrift shopping and upcycling. Lisa Gaché, an etiquette expert and certified instructor, agrees: “Why toss something that may wind up in a landfill when that same item may be cherished by someone who will truly appreciate it?”
However, there are still guidelines to follow if you want to avoid hurt feelings and embarrassment.
Always Regift Thoughtfully
The first rule of regifting – you must match the gift and the recipient perfectly. If your only goal is to declutter your closet and save money, I won’t judge you. But unless you put some thought into it, don’t be surprised if the result is underwhelming. Much like with the gift you shop for, you should put your recipient’s tastes, style, and wishes first. For example, if you are regifting a brand-new clothing item, make sure it fits their wardrobe and is in their size. The best test is to ask yourself, “Would I buy this thing to give this person?” If you are positive they would love to have it under their tree – go ahead. A tip: if it’s a notepad, a sketchbook, or even a stack of beautifully shaped colorful post-its, papers writers will love it. Speaking from experience as an avid collector of stationary. Even if we use keyboards, our hearts belong to paper – forever.
Make Sure It’s in Perfect Condition
This should probably go without saying, but the item in question should be in mint condition – never used, with the original packaging and tags intact. If you have opened that coffee-maker, used it a few times, and decided it doesn’t fit your kitchen all that well, you can’t just wash it, stick it back into the box, and tie it with a bow. You can, of course, give this item to someone, but don’t frame it as a present. The best way is to offer them a choice. Say, “I’ve got this coffee-maker that doesn’t really go with my kitchen, but I believe it will look great in yours.” In this case, you give them an opportunity to decline and come clean about the gift’s origin. However, there’s still a caveat, which brings us to the next point.
Never Regift within the Same Social Circle
What if the person who initially gave you this thing visits the re-giftee’s house and sees it? Wow, that will probably burn. As a responsible re-giver, your task is to make sure that situation will never happen in this version of the universe. Okay, wild things happen, and there can never be a 100-percent guarantee, especially with social media documenting every aspect of our lives. But you do your best. Jodi R.R. Smith, an etiquette pro and a founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, gives a simple rule of thumb: “The more unusual the item, the more distance should be put between the giver and re-giftee.” So if the situation described above happens, you can probably get away with a non-customized plain coffee-maker or anything that looks equally generic and unsuspicious. However, you might have less luck with that ornate glass picture frame from Italy.
Keep Track of Who Gave You What
If you are anything like me, you probably have a special box at the bottom of your closet where you stash all the regiftable stocking stuffers: fragrant soaps, candles, snow globes, glittering tree toppers – you know the stuff. Over the years, you may forget who gave you what – and it’s a big no-no if you plan to recycle those presents. You don’t want your auntie Tess to take that ballerina decoration out of the box and recognize the thing they gave you two years ago, now would you? That’s why it’s a good idea to stick a post-it with the name and the date when you put the unwanted gift away.
Check the Expiration Date
Some products have an unlimited shelf life, while others are meant to be consumed and cannot wait until another Christmas rolls in. Untouched premium body lotions, gift baskets, and unopened gourmet chocolate boxes are okay to regift. However, you must do it while they are still fresh. Maybe if you received them for Christmas, give them for New Year, Easter, or as a birthday gift to some Aquarius or Pisces in your life. Stuff like vases, appliances, and accessories can wait longer, but not forever. Things go out of style and become obsolete so fast! Think smartphone. Are you sure this model will still be able to excite two years from now?
Get Rid of All the Name Tags
That sounds kinda obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how often people overlook this step. The problem is, it isn’t always a big flashy “To: From:” card on a piece of red ribbon hanging outside. Sometimes these cards are tucked discreetly inside the box. Sometimes, it’s an engraving at the bottom of the item. Sometimes, it’s a signed book or a pocket inside with a note. Your task as a thoughtful re-giver is to make sure there aren’t any signs to be found that this item wasn’t initially meant for a person you are redirecting it to. If you can remove those signs, do so. If you can’t, well, tough. Re-giving it isn’t a good idea then.
Wrap it Anew
Presentation isn’t always personalized, and the original wrapping could just as well work for this new recipient. But really… First of all, it’s probably not in its best shape, even if you were extra careful unwrapping your present. Second, put some effort into this regift. You are already saving time, money, and effort with it. Make the present look and feel like it’s meant for this person. Maybe they are keen on butterflies – put a butterfly instead of a bow on top of it. Maybe their favorite color is purple – go and get that purple wrap. Or they are environmentally conscious and are into vintage – wrap the gift in old newspaper and tie it with a piece of baker’s twine or jute string.
Be Honest About It
There is no need to announce that you are regifting, but if you screw up, just own it. If you have forgotten to remove that gift tag or accidentally regifted something back, don’t lie, or you will dig yourself even deeper. Of course, it might be a bit embarrassing at first. Yet, there is no shame in giving someone something meant for you, but which you know they will cherish and love. Also, you might want to be upfront about the whole thing with close friends and family. For example, if your sister asks where you bought the book she was hunting for, just fess up. Say, “Full disclosure: it’s a regift. But the moment I saw it, I thought of you, and I knew you would love it!”
Accept with Grace
Okay, now let’s suppose you are on the receiving end of a regift, and you recognized it immediately. First of all, grant the giver the benefit of the doubt. It’s perfectly possible they went and bought the same thing for you because they liked it so much and thought you’d like it too! Even if it’s a regift, they must have been sure you’d love it or get more use of it than them. Assume their best intentions for giving you this present, smile, and thank them.
What You Should Never Regift
There are things that cannot be given to anyone else without someone’s feelings getting hurt. You should never regift:
- - Handmade items. The original giver created this for you specifically. They’ve poured their time, creativity, and part of their soul into this thing. If you cannot use it, just keep it as a token of their love.
- - Personalized gifts. Signed books, monogrammed bathrobes, plates with a picture of your pet on them – you get the idea. Anything that gives you away as the original recipient is for keeps. If you know you will never use this, just donate.
- - Family heirlooms. Several of the above rules cover this case, but I will spell it out. This item is irreplaceable, one of a kind – just hold on to it. And if your friend loves vintage, just look in the thrift shops or try to find something similar online. Yet never-ever regift an heirloom.
- - Swag bag items. Freebies and gift bags from your company or promotional materials can be of great value and well-designed. Still, they are not appropriate as a regift. First of all, they are conspicuously free. Second – they are too impersonal.
- - Baked food. That counts as handmade, but who will ever know once the cookies are eaten? Well, imagine your delighted regiftee asks for a recipe. If you don’t need all those calories, just share the goods with your family or colleagues and be upfront about the origins.