‘Tis the Season of Regifting

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To regift or not to regift: Actually, that’s not the question. The question is: How can I get away with regifting something without getting busted as a regifter, and without coming off like a schmuck or a jerk for giving a present that I didn’t want and may seem totally inappropriate and/or thoughtless?

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with regifting. To do otherwise would be wasteful. But while regifting can work out for both the recipient and the giver passing it along, two wrongs don’t make a right. The original giver—somebody had to buy the original product, right?—didn’t deliver something you felt worthy of hanging onto, and now you may very well be doing the same thing to someone else.

A Consumer Reports survey says that 36% of people are planning on regifting this year. That’s up from 31% a year ago. Why the increase? Maybe the economy. Maybe regifting is just becoming more acceptable. Maybe the economy is giving us the excuse to feel like regifting is more acceptable. Whatever the reason, folks are more likely to regift. If you’re going to do it, do it right—because doing it wrong is arguably worse than giving nothing at all.

Regiftable’s Regifting 101 has some basics:

Never regift handmade or one-of-a-kind items. Signed books and monogrammed items are off-limits. Do you have to be told not to regift free promotional items? Some gifts that are good candidates for regifting include good (unopened!) bottles of wine, new household items and inexpensive jewelry.

To repeat: Unopened wine bottle: good. Half-chugged bottle of MD 20/20: bad. (Unless you know the recipient really well, that is.) Also, the Budweiser Mr. Holiday Gift Re-Gifter Guy ad was meant in jest. The office guys who regift and are met with looks that say, “How can I politely throw this back into the trash can where it came from?” are not Real Men of Genius.

Here’s some more Regifting 101:

Don’t just give a gift to give a gift. Be sure that the recipient will appreciate the item. Remember, if you feel that an item is undesirable, the recipient probably will too. If you are regifting simply because you ran out of time, gift cards are simple to obtain and always well received.

Actually, if you follow those rules to a tee, regifting is nearly as difficult as plain old regular giving. (It also defeats one of the main purposes of regifting, which is not spending money.) Perhaps regifting is even harder—because when you’re shopping for a gift, you have entire store’s worth of stuff to choose from. You just don’t get that kind of selection when it comes to looking over random stuff in your closet to regift.

An MSN Money story covers the etiquette of regifting in 12 rules. Among them are: No hand-me-downs, no partially used gift cards, no items from companies no longer in business. Apparently it is OK, however, to regift something you’ve used; you just need to strategically cover up the fact that it’s been “previously loved”:

Do have the courtesy to clean your regifts. I once got a rice cooker . . . with a couple of kernels of rice still clinging to it. Some hand-me-downs can be passed off as regifts if the packaging is intact, like the wine glasses you’ve belatedly decided to share with a loved one. Just wash the lipstick off the rim, ‘kay?

There is also a long list of regift no-nos, even if they are brand-spanking new:

Certain items are a total, dead, instant giveaway that you not only are regifting, but you’re too lame to put any effort into it: candles, soap, random books, mysterious CDs (unless your brother wants the hip-hop version of “Man of La Mancha”), obscure software, cheesy jewelry, scarves (do we not all own a scarf?), fruitcake, pens, cologne, boxed sets of extinct bath products (Jean Nate? No, no, no), videos or DVDs obviously acquired on a street corner, socks and any appliances or electronic gear the giftee would be puzzled to receive because they probably just got rid of it (including hot-air popcorn poppers and anything with a cassette deck in it).

This advice defeats another purpose of regifting, which is getting rid of crap you want to get rid of.

Finally, we’ve got Gifting Resources’ Regifting Q&A, which includes this sound, sensible tip:

What the most important rule when it comes to re-gifting?

Other than not hurting the feelings of the original gift giver, the most important thing is to be sure that the re-gift is suitable for the new recipient. Are you merely burdening someone with an unwanted item, or presenting someone with something they are likely to enjoy?

Maybe, just maybe then, it actually is the thought that counts.