Is Regifting Wrong? Not If You Do It Right

Gift-giving is expensive. The average American is expected to spend about $630 on gifts this season—the bulk of a $1,000-plus total holiday budget. To add insult to injury, a lot of times people don’t even like the gifts we spend our hard-earned money to get them.

According to one 2017 survey, more than half of Americans receive at least one unwanted gift each holiday, a fact that does not make me any more thrilled to buy my great aunt’s Hanukkah present.

Thankfully, there’s a happy medium between spending loads of cash on gifts and being a total Scrooge: regifting. Yes, I mean taking a gift originally given to you and giving it to someone else—while pretending you bought it specifically for them. (Or, at least, not mentioning you didn’t.)

Isn’t that rude, you ask? Short answer: no. Long answer: Honestly, not unless you’re thoughtless about it and get caught. If you successfully recycle gifts your loved ones genuinely enjoy, you’re creating net-positive happiness in the world. You are happy you didn’t spend money, the recipient is happy with a nice gift and the original giver is happy thinking you actually enjoyed those pewter coasters. Win-win-win.

Here’s how to do it right.

Step 0: Collect potential regift-worthy gifts in one place.

While not absolutely necessary for successful regifting, in order to effectively and systematically regift over time, you need to keep track of all lame (to you!) gifts received.

I keep a big cardboard box in my closet and immediately toss potential regifts inside. That includes anything gift-worthy I have but don’t care to keep, like free swag from conventions or promotional giveaways and never-used items I bought but didn’t return. Make sure to put a Post-It on top with info on who or where you got it from.

Step 1: Be thoughtful and purposeful.

Being a good regifter requires the same skills as being a good gift-giver in general. Listen to your loved ones to know what they like and don’t like, and make sure your regifts are in line. For less-intimate acquaintances, only consider gifts that match their aesthetics and personalities. Aim to create joy.

Part of being thoughtful means properly wrapping the regift. (Plus, you never know if the original gifter wrote a note that’s lost in the original wrapping.) Again, style and thought matter more than cost, so if you’re trying to avoid spending money on wrapping paper, get creative. I save the Comics sections of newspapers to wrap my own gifts, so the outside is fun to read. Adding a personal note also helps.

Step 2: Commit wholeheartedly.

Express trepidation or guilt as you present the regift, and you’ll set off alarm bells. Your enthusiasm and interest in the gift-giving process are almost as crucial as picking the right present. By explaining the rationale behind the gift, you lend credibility and a healthy sheen of conviction to your gift. And you make it easier for your recipient to enjoy what you’ve presented.

Step 3: Know when not to regift.

Regifting should not create enemies, nor should it be about passing an unpleasant gift to someone else. Essentially, it works as an option to employ occasionally, and shouldn’t be a go-to maneuver.

So, regifting anything personalized is an obvious no-go. You cannot pass off something with your initials engraved into it as a piece of exotic brand decoration. Anything that’s blatantly a gift you were given is also dubious. If you’re an avid collector of Pac-Man memorabilia, giving someone else (who isn’t into video games or coffee) a Pac-Man mug will trigger red flags.

Regifting in a tight-knit group of friends and family is another dangerous game. It’s better to save regifting for friends in different social circles, distant relatives and coworkers.

However you decide to regift, keep these tenets in mind: Play it safe. Be selective. Be prepared and organized. Above all, be generous. If you brighten someone’s day with a well-chosen, well-wrapped, well-delivered regift, it’s still thoughtful. Plus, you can feel good knowing that someone is enjoying the gift (even if it’s not you).

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