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Regifting: Huge Faux Pas, or Savvy Saving Strategy? Here’s How to do it Right

As the holidays approach, it’s time to make a plan for dealing with the inevitable bad gift. Is it rude to regift, or are you just plain stuck with an unwanted present?

According to an American Express survey, 76% of Americans think regifting is totally ok - as long as you’re savvy about how you do it.

From kitchenware to kid’s toys, people pass along all sorts of gifts to their coworkers, friends, and siblings to cut down on returns - and save on holiday expenses.

Read on for our best tips on how to regift without hurting your loved one’s feelings, what to do with ugly presents, and when you can sell or donate items that just don’t work:

Rule #1: Hang on to the Handmade

If you think you can regift all those itchy sweaters from your Great Aunt Irma, you’ve got another think coming.

When it comes to passing on handmade items, the rules of etiquette are clear - you can’t.

“Do not regift any family heirlooms, anything homemade, or anything really unique,” Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert, told TIME. “No matter how much you hate it, you should respect the effort, thought, and meaning behind that gift.”

So, what do you do with a handmade gift you just can’t bring yourself to love?

According to protocol expert William Hanson, your best bet is probably just to learn how to deal.

“If it's handmade or homemade then never regift it,” Hanson explained to the BBC. “It's either put up with it or put it in the [garbage].”


Rule #2: Look Outside Your Close Circles

“Nine times out of ten, regifting will come back to bite you in the butt,” Lizzie Post, author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, told TIME. “It doesn’t have a lot of good spirit to it.”

That’s because some of the biggest problems with regifting happen when the original recipient passes along a present that their friend or family member recognizes.

Talk about a potentially awkward conversation! Not to mention word could easily get back to the original gift-giver, hurting their feelings.

So - how do you ensure regifting won’t result in being banned from next year’s Christmas party?

Before passing along a present that’s not to your taste, make sure you’re giving the gift to a recipient who will (ideally) never cross paths with the original gift-giver.

Did your cousin in Toledo inexplicably mail you a singing fish? Then you might as well give it to your co-worker Kevin at the office Christmas party - he lives for that stuff.

The further removed your new recipient is from your close circle of friends and family, the easier it is to regift in good conscience.

Rule #3: Donate the Truly Ugly

It happens. Sometimes presents from well-meaning friends, family members, and acquaintances are just exceptionally ugly.

If you received a present that you think is hideous, then good taste dictates that you simply can’t pass it off on someone else.

“If you know you’ll never use that old bottle of cologne, canned ham, stale fruitcake, or itchy sweater, give the item to charity or recycle it in the wastebasket,” suggests Jacqueline Whitmore at Huffington Post.

The idea here is that any gift - even regifted items! - should be a present you think the recipient really wants.

If the item in question is so ugly or ridiculous that you can’t imagine anyone wanting it, then it’s best to donate it to charity or trash it.

On the other hand, if your family or your coworkers host a yearly White Elephant gift exchange, the ugly gift could be a truly perfect gag.

As with all regifting rules, make sure putting the present in a White Elephant exchange won’t hurt the original recipient’s feelings, or make your coworkers regret inviting you to the party.

Rule #4: Regift in Original Condition

Sure, regifting can save you dough around the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean you can start picking up any old item from your living room - or basement - and passing it off as a thoughtful present, as in this next example.

“My future sister-in-law mailed me a small handbag as a gift,” an anonymous Real Simple reader wrote. “It had obviously been used (it was filled with dust and cat hair!). I don't want to hurt her feelings, but I would like her to realize that she needs to be more careful about regifting items.”

This reader’s future sister-in-law committed a serious regifting faux pas.

Even if she thought the handbag’s new recipient might love it to pieces, passing along gently used items should never occur over the holidays or take the place of an actual present.

If you have a new item - in its original packaging and with all the instructions - that you or your family won’t use, regift it in good faith.

All other gently used or unwanted items should be presented as a surprise or an offering. Let your friends or family decide for themselves if they’d like your hand-me-downs.

Rule #5: Triple Check Before You Wrap

Is there a gift receipt attached? A note from a loved one or colleague? A Christmas card from your neighbor tucked in the tissue paper?

Whatever you do, make sure you take the time to inspect the gift for signs that it was once intended for you.

“If you do decide to re-gift an item, because for instance you received a duplicate gift and you know someone who would love it, make sure it’s in its original packaging and is not personalized in any way,” recommends etiquette expert Caroline Hallemann at Town & Country. Any lingering signs of the original gift-giver will undercut your good intentions with the new recipient.

They may not tell you of their hurt feelings, but it could impact your relationship in the future - and that’s not exactly a recipe for warm holiday cheer.

Rule #6: Give It to a Good Home

The best presents feel personal.

Just because you don’t need an item, or it’s not to your personal taste, doesn’t mean you won’t know someone who would cherish the gift instead.

Try to keep this rule in mind when you’re regifting, suggests etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore.

"Maybe it's not quite right for you, but you know your best friend will love it. That's acceptable," Whitmore told CNN Money.

Columnist Jacqueline Curtis considered the same rule when passing along an unwanted glass picture frame from her wedding presents.

“It was beautiful, but it wasn’t us, and didn’t match anything else in our new apartment,” explained Curtis at MoneyCrashers. “A few months later, I regifted the frame to my husband’s grandmother, and 12 years later it is still proudly displayed in her curio cabinet – she loves it and is none the wiser.”

Because the glass picture frame was both valuable and matched the new recipient’s taste, Curtis was totally within bounds to regift.

Some etiquette experts also suggest being honest with new recipients about the gift’s origins - but this decision depends more on your comfort level, as well as the value of the gift itself.

Rule #7: Use the Charity Box

What to do with any items you desperately don’t want but feel too impersonal to pass along - or too ugly?

According to Grace Bonney, founder of the lifestyle site Design*Sponge, you should consider donating them.

“If you wouldn’t want the gift you received...don’t pawn it off on someone else,” Bonney writes, describing the feeling of receiving a random gift that didn’t match any of her interests. “Donate it if possible.”

Don’t worry about feeling like a Scrooge if you donate an unwanted item, suggests business consultant Kassandra Dasent. You could actually wind up helping someone in need.

“The payoff may not be immediate or even financially rewarding, but knowing that your donation can help someone truly in need is an instant ‘feel good’ result,” explains Dasent at U.S. News & World Report.

Plus, you can claim the donation on your taxes!

Here’s a helpful list of charitable organizations that regularly take donations of new or gently used items.

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