The Rules of Regifting

by Melissa Kirsch
Originally Published: 

As the holidays return, so does the timeless tradition of regifting, a practice whose omnipresence is exceeded only by the variety of opinions that people have on its acceptability, both etiquett-ically and ethically. In the spirit of holiday cheer, let’s take a look at the delightful art of getting rid of crap you don’t want.

Regifting, like ironically wearing a Santa hat to the company party, is a delicate enterprise. Done properly, everyone walks away feeling full to the brim with holiday cheer. Executed poorly, you risk hurt feelings, humiliation, and evil eyes exchanged over the figgy pudding. With a few pointers and some common sense, we can enjoy the money- and time-saving benefits of the practice.

Know Your Audience

The best recipients of regifts are people with whom you’re not very close. Family and dear friends deserve original, thoughtful gifts. If you don’t have time to do it now, those who love you will understand—just explain you’ve been busy, you wanted to get them something special, and send the gift as soon as you can.

Professional regifters know to only regift to people who aren’t likely to find out—or if they do find out, aren’t likely to care too much. The Gift Police—those on your list who are looking for brand names, tags and gift receipts—can spy a repurposed desk set a mile off. Conversely, your coworker who will be touched that you even thought of her will adore that bottle of port you got as a hostess present.

Make It New

Once you decide to regift an item, it goes from “regift” to “gift” and should be treated as such.

Rule One: The item should be in its original packaging, unopened, with any trace of its former incarnation vanished (don’t forget that personal note someone slipped inside a book, or the photo of your niece your grandma put in the box—dead giveaways).

Rule Two: Wrap it in the same paper you’re using for all your other gifts, with the same care and adornment, and a fresh card.

Rule Three: The item should also be current—if the recipient takes those crystal candlesticks back to the store and finds out that they haven’t sold them since the Carter administration, your cover is blown.

Keep Impeccable Records

Who gave it to you, to whom did you regift it, and when? This is easy and necessary to ensure you don’t give something back to the person who originally gave it to you.

The safest people to regift to are those who live far away and aren’t likely to interact with the original giver, and people outside the circle of trust (business associates, coworkers you don’t know well, et. al.).

How to Spot a Regift

Remember the old saw: “There are only two fruitcakes in the world—we just keep receiving and regifting them over and over.” I happen to be the one person in the world who likes fruitcake, so let’s revise:

I spoke with the corporate gift manager of a super-fancy-pants department store and she told me the most commonly regifted items she traffics in are:

a) Scarves and other accessories

b) Picture frames

c) Vases

d) Anything that doesn’t come in a size. (Clothes are uncommon regifts simply because size and taste are so particular to the recipient.)

Other common regifts: wine, liquor and those big gift baskets full of “fancy” novelties like maple-glazed almonds, quince preserves and decorative bottles of olive oil or vinegar with herbs suspended in them.

Regifts typically bear the hallmarks of anonymity and irrelevance to the personality of the giver. If it’s not an old saying, it should be: “The Gift That Was Regifted Was Most Likely a Regift Itself.”

When to Reconsider Regifting

When giving gifts to people whom we care about, let’s not forget the spirit of gift-giving: it makes the giver and recipient feel special, it strengthens a bond, it makes us feel important and festive. So even if you’re tempted to regift that paper shredder your boss gave you because you know your sister doesn’t have one, consider buying a gift for her anyway and giving her the shredder honestly after the holidays.

The process of picking out, buying, wrapping and presenting a gift is an important one. It’s not just the thought that counts, it’s the effort and the time, and sometimes the money spent. With people you love, these things matter more, both to you and your loved ones, than practicality.

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