How to Regift With Panache

I was recently interviewed for The Early Show on the subject 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.

1. What are the most popular types of gifts for regifting? 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 former corporate gift manager of a super-fancy-pants department store who told me the most common regift items she trafficked in were:

  • scarves and other accessories
  • picture frames
  • vases
  • 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.

    In short, the less personal the item, the more likely it is to be regifted. And nothing says "I had no idea to what to get you" like a (regifted) box of imported waffle cookies.

    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."

    2. What is the proper etiquette for regifting something? Do you re-wrap it? Put on a new card?

    Melissa's Top Three Rules of Classy Regifting 1. Know Your Audience: The best recipients of regifts are people to 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 co-worker who will be touched that you even thought of her will adore that bottle of port you got as a hostess present.

    2. Make It New: Once you decide to regift an item, it goes from "regift" to "gift" and should be treated as such.

  • 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).
  • Wrap it in the same paper you're using for all your other gifts, with the same care, adornment, and a fresh card.
  • 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, you're caught.
  • 3. 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.

    3. If someone gives you a gift and you decide to re-gift it. Who is it safe to regift it to? Remember tips 1 & 3 above: Know Your Audience and Keep Impeccable Records. 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, co-workers you don't know well, et. al.).

    NB: 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.

    4. Do you tell the person that you are regifting something to them?

    Absolutely never ever. Remember: Make It New. Saying "This is a regift!" is like saying "You don't matter to me!"

    5. What if the person you regift to wants to exchange the gift and asks for a receipt or where you bought it?

    Have your story ready beforehand if you think you might be interrogated. A store name or "I got it when we were on vacation" should suffice.

    Saying you don't have a receipt is no crime. Never underestimate the foolproof "I got it online." There are so many websites offering different bargains that you can't be faulted for not remembering where the gift came from.

    Don't stress too much over this. Since you know your audience, you're hopefully not regifting to a member of the Gift Police. You can always say "I'll return it for you, what would you like instead?" and go out and buy a new gift next week.

    If the situation gets uncomfortable, take heart: Asking for a receipt is tacky and rude, and you should pat yourself on the back for not having spent a dime on this boor to begin with.

    Some closing thoughts on regifting:

  • Regifting, when done right, should be a guilt-free, uplifting enterprise. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
  • Never confuse the Goodwill pile with the Regift Pile: Old clothes aren't gifts, they're hand-me-downs.
  • Regifting No-Nos: Anything handmade, personalized, one-of-a-kind or partially used.
  • Just because you don't want/need/like it doesn't make it a good regift. Gift giving sends a message about both the giver and the recipient. If you receive something ugly or cheap, do you really want to regive it?