Regifting: A Simple How-To Guide

By Paul Michael on 29 August 2008 (Updated 25 November 2013) 16 comments

We’ve all been there. You open a present with giddy anticipation, ripping the gift wrap away like a 10 year old on a sugar high. And then, as you open the box and peek inside, your brain searches for a way to act really happy…because the gift you have received is just, well, awful. And when the dust settles and the event is over, it’s time to start thinking about regifting. But be careful…there are rules to follow. (See also: How to Deal With Unwanted Gifts)

Some people see a big stigma attached to regifting. Personally, I think it’s fine if you follow a few simple guidelines. You don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave you the gift, or the person who gets the regifted item. But look at the alternatives; you can just let the offending item rot in your basement or garage; you can give it to charity; or you can put it out with the trash. So if you know someone who would really like the gift that just didn’t do it for you, where’s the harm?

I’ve combined my own rules with some research I did online and at my local library (yes, there are books and news stories on this…I kid you not). Generally, there seem to be some major guidelines that regifters follow to ensure everyone is happy. Here’s what I have uncovered. (See also: How to Avoid Awkward Moments at White Elephant Parties)

1. Mum's the Word

It’s amazing how often people have made it quite clear that I was receiving a gift that was from their reject pile. Sure, they dressed it up nice enough, with language like “I just would never have used this cool gadget but I know how much you need one.” It still makes you feel like you’re getting crappy old hand-me-downs. Of course, if someone’s giving me a brand new, state-of-the-art laptop or cool pair of sunglasses, my hurt feelings fly out of the window. But if it’s a nasty crystal picture frame or a hideous painting, I’d rather not know you hated it as well. Ignorance is bliss.

2. Beware the Previously Regifted Gift

Sometimes you’ll receive a gift that doesn’t quite feel right. Your Spidey Sense will tingle and you’ll realize, perhaps after some investigation, that this gift has already been through the regifting process. Now you’ve got problems. The last thing you want is for the gift to end up back in the hands of the person who originally gave it; not only will you look embarrassed, so will the person who gave it to you. And we don’t want friendships strained. My best advice…if in doubt, regifting is out. (See also: Why Making Friends Is Good for You)

3. Keep Records

When you receive a gift that is destined to be a gift once again, label it as soon as you can with the name of the person who gave it to you, and when they gave it to you. This is a simple habit to get into, but an essential one for regifting. Log items in the same way you would to make thank you cards for wedding presents and baby shower gifts.

4. Keep Original Packaging

A dead giveaway for a regift are opened packaging or missing pieces. Even if you’ve never used it, a coffee machine or spanky new DVD player is less impressive when something's rattling around inside the box (because you couldn't put stuff back in just right). Generally, if the packaging has gone bye-bye, so has your chance of regifting the item.

5. Some Gifts Cannot Be Regifted

Beware of the following gifts you're considering regifting: books that have no tie to the person you’re giving it to; CDs or DVDs that are equally random, obscure or awful; clothing without the tags; shoes or sneakers (unless they’re spot on for both size AND style); useless appliances (come on, who really wants a “Clapper?”) If you feel a little uncomfortable or guilty about regifting any item, probably best not to do it. Of course, if you really don’t like the person you’re giving it to, but have to give a gift (like those Secret Santa deals) I’ll look the other way as you pass on a crappy DVD movie with a random autobiography taped to it.

6. Used Items Are Out

Sorry, but a sweater you’ve only worn a few times is not a regifter, even if you do have all the tags and the original gift box. Same goes for all other clothing, most appliances, anything in fact that you can get actual "mileage" out of. Gift cards are also included here. It doesn’t matter if you only used $5 of a $30 card, that’s just tacky.

7. Don't Wait Too Long

Time may be a great healer, but it doesn’t really do the regifter any favors. The older the brand new item becomes, the more obvious it becomes that this is a regift. If you can no longer find the product in the stores, if the packaging has been updated or if the company that made it went out of business ages ago, you’re stuck with that item. By all means try to sell it or give it to charity, but as a regift it stinks of “here’s an old thing I found in my basement, but hey, it’s never been used!”

8. There’s Always Craigslist or eBay.

The web has opened up a world of choices to regifters. Now, if an item does go beyond its ‘”regift date” or has been gently used, there’s the option of the free classified ads on Craigslist, or the wider reach of eBay. In some instances the item you have for sale could now be a collectors item and you could get back more money for it than it was originally worth. This is also a great way to attack the idea of regifting if you’re just against it in principle. Simply sell an unwanted gift to raise money for a brand new gift for that special someone in your life. You’re happy, they’re happy, and the person who originally gave you that gift…well, what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? (See also: Secrets of Successful Craigslist Sellers)

To sum up, regifting is a great way to pass on a gift if you’re watching your budget or want to see an unwanted gift go to someone who could genuinely use it. And as my mum and dad always told me, it’s the thought that counts anyway. As long as it’s done with someone else in mind, I don’t see the harm. Better to do that than throw it away or mindlessly chuck it in the spring-cleaning bag for Goodwill.

What other regifting rules would you add to this list?

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Guest's picture

Glad you covered this topic as well as included some guidelines. I've seen people do some pretty stupid stuff when regifting and if you plan to make a regifting idea work - you need to be smart about it or you certainly will risk hurt feelings.

I don't think there is anything wrong with a quality regift. I think of it as the person who orginally gave the gift actually gave me the gift to make others happy. It's important that people receiving the gifts should feel that there was at least some effort and thought behind the gift.

Keeping a supply of unused gifts, can really help save you money in a pinch - especially for people on a strict budget. It is however important to remember that people who don't have much cash shouldn't feel obligated to give away gifts they actually like just to give a gift. Living within your means is essentially to getting out of debt and on a solid financial track.

Good post!!

Guest's picture

Having been the recipient of too many obvious regifts, I just avoid that whole problem by not giving it as a gift but giving it away to anyone who might want it and letting them know it was a gift I can't use. Works for me! : )

Guest's picture
gt0163c

Another option for regifts, especially those that have been slightly used or are older is the White Elephant/Chinese gift exchange. If your original gift giver is sensitive, you might need to take care that they are not present at the party, but if it's something from Aunt Enid who lives out of state, you're probably golden.

Guest's picture
Guest

Along with keeping track of who gifted the items to you in the first place, try to regift outside of that group. If it came from mom, don't give it back to your sister, give it to a friend instead.
I'm not a firm believer in rule #1. If you're trying to avoid spending money on somebody by regifting, that's one thing. If you just want the item out of your house, there are other options. I have a few select friends who I offer things to, and often if they cannot use the items themselves, they have a friend or family member who can use it.

I'm also a huge fan of Freecycle for the things that I don't feel like trying to regift. It never ceases to amaze me what people will come and pick up - new, old, in between. There is a home out there for everything.

Guest's picture
Darlene

I got married recently and invited an old friend from high school. She sent her regrets but sent a set of really ugly, generic watches as a gift. It was obviously a regift because I know this person has good taste and would not pick these watches out. The outter box was very worn, too. I noticed she paid $7 for the postage and I thought that I would have preferred a $7 gift card than to have someone's crap unloaded on me.

Guest's picture

I have a friend who throws a re-gift party every new years. It works just like white elephant, but the idea is to bring an unwanted gift you got for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Guest's picture

I, for one, will gladly take a repackaged clapper for my birthday, thank you very much.

Guest's picture
Jude

The best way to avoid having to regift items is to accept no gifts in the first place.

Guest's picture
dave

Sorry folks. This is not frugal, it is not careful. It is just cheap and tacky. A gift is a special thing, and "reusing" a gift shows contempt for the person who gave to you and for the new recipient. By now we should all be to the point where we do not look for our heart's desire in a gift-wrapped box.
It is indeed the thought that counts, both that of the person who gave you the gift, and the person upon who you wish to pawn off unwanted goods.
Enjoy the fact that someone cared enough to give you a gift, and care enough to be thoughtful if you are giving a gift.

Guest's picture

In addition to eBay and Craigslist, there's Freecycle:

http://www.freecycle.org/

Paul Michael's picture

If your heart's desire is not inside that gift-wrapped box, why hold onto something you clearly don't want if you know someone else could get much better use out of it? Isn't it showing more contempt to just leave that gift rotting in your basement?

Guest's picture
dave

Please check you logic. Donating or giving away is not the same as trying to recycle a gift, which smells suspiciously like trying to fulfill an obligation with no effort.
When we are children, the delight of a gift is the utility of the item itself; we cannot get want we want otherwise. As adults, the charm of the gift is the consideration involved in obtaining the gift, and the thought that went into the process. Aunt Tilley spent a lot of time knitting those socks. That they don't fit or are of different colours is not the issue. When you see them in your drawer, you smile. This is why the gifts from our children so often delight us.
It is time to understand: the wonder of gifts is not in the receiving, it is in the thought and the search that sometimes, if we are lucky, amazes and fills with joy those whom we love.
"Gift" is sometimes used as a euphemism for advertising items handed out at trade shows and such. These are not gifts, and certainly should be regiven, as soon as possible, to nieces and nephews busily engaged in the business of adventure, for no specific holiday or event. Should they respond with some low utility item of questionable functionality and dubious finish from the week at camp, this is a gift and must be part of your estate.
You may wish to confirm with Miss Manners.

Guest's picture
Beckyanne

Another idea is to make gift baskets with unwanted items and donate to charity for a sale. Or I donate to the Elks lodge who takes the items to the local veterns home.

Guest's picture
Chris Lawson

...take your high-minded, fake morals elsewhere please. People like you are quite happy to tear down someone trying to offer a little harmless advice and you turn it into the destruction of family values! You must be really easy to please, and really boring to be around at parties. By the way, something tells me Miss Manners would hardly appreciate the contempt and snide remarks you have thrown at the author. Grow up, move along, stop reading blogs like this and go read a blog like 'pointless whiners.'

Guest's picture
Slinky

I don't have a problem with regifting (or slightly used gifting), but I don't normally practice it myself. I just don't have the room to store things I'm not using AND don't like. So gifts I don't like go right out the door (charity usually). Garbage in, garbage out.

For those who think this is insensitive and it's the thought that counts...it only counts if there actually was thought. My classic example of an inappropriate gift is a stuffed polar bear that farts when you squeeze it. Great gift for an 8 year old boy, not so much for a 20-something girl! (Exceptions may apply) On the other hand, I'd long been searching for a strawberry inspired trivet. A friend's mother had one in her attic. Needless to say, this was a great gift.

In the end, the only gift giving rule that counts is to consider the other person, not what's easiest for you.

Guest's picture
Dave

Mr. Lawson:

I am sorry if you are offended. Please review your comments. "...fake morals..."? This is a matter of taste, not morality. If you wish to regift, do as you see fit. Please be aware of how others view you, however. Ms. Manners has spoken out on the nature of gifts several times.
"...quite happy to tear down someone ..." You may wish to review my comments. I have not commented on anyone's nature, or whether they are boring at parties. My comments deal exclusively with the advice. I would, of course, never venture to say rude things about your sincerity, or you personally!
Should your opinion be different than mine, well, fine. It is still a free country, and you are most certainly entitled to your opinion about regifting. And, as a matter of fact, I do try to be high-minded!
I think Slinky's comments are much to the point: "...it [the thought] only counts if there actually was thought..." I agree entirely.

With respect...