8 Rules for Regifting Unwanted Gifts – Etiquette

I remember sitting with my new husband as we opened gifts that guests had thoughtfully given as wedding presents. Among the usual suspects of cookware, home decor, and the occasional check was a package that was extremely heavy. Upon opening it, I found an intricately designed, all-glass picture frame. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t us, and didn’t match anything else in our new apartment. 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.

While it can be sometimes snubbed, the art of regifting can actually work when it’s done tactfully, carefully, and with thought. I don’t recommend simply passing on an unwanted gift to the next victim, but if you really can’t use something and know someone who can, regifting is a great way to keep your home clutter-free while saving money on gift purchases. If you have a gift that you can’t use, perhaps giving it a new home makes the most sense, as long as you follow a few simple rules.

Simple Rules for Regifting

1. Never Regift Anything Meaningful or Handmade

If you know that someone took extra time to locate or make a gift for you, it’s really bad form to give it away. For example, if your sister worked hard to make a wall hanging for your home, she’d probably be upset if she knew that you gave it to someone else.

The same goes for meaningful gifts: If the giver makes comments about taking the time to choose the perfect gift or seems really excited to give you something, acknowledge that effort and keep it. No, you might not really need that first edition book, but you can appreciate the time and thought that went into finding and purchasing it.

2. Regift Outside Your Circle of Friends

Say your friend Angela gives you a piece of exercise equipment that you don’t want. You, in turn, hand it off to your mutual friend Mike. Imagine how Angela would feel if she were at Mike’s house and spotted the gift she gave you in the corner. In addition to being awkward, it can be downright hurtful to the original giver.

If you want to regift, make sure there’s no way the original giver could discover the regifting. That way, there aren’t any hurt feelings because the original gift-giver doesn’t know that the item has found a new home elsewhere.

3. Only Regift Brand-New Items

This should go without saying, but items should only be regifted if they are brand new and contained within the original packaging. If you’ve opened the package or have used an item, it’s best to keep it. Regifting used items, whatever the condition, is bad etiquette – and while you can still give them away, don’t frame it as a “gift.” Instead, for example, you can say, “Hey, I got this CD but I’m not really a fan. Do you want it?” By letting the recipient know that the item has been used and offering him or her the option to pass, you can still give the item away without looking thoughtless.

regifting present

4. Regift Thoughtfully

Don’t simply regift an item to get rid of it. Regift when you know it’s the ideal item for someone you love.

Say you get a new Crock-Pot. You already have one and don’t need it, but you remember that your mom’s Crock-Pot is cracked. Regifting makes sense, because the gift is something she wants and needs. The same Crock-Pot, even if it’s brand new and in the original packaging, might not make sense for your brother if he hates cooking.

5. Check for Signs of a Regift

Even if something is still new and in its original box, there could be a few telltale signs that an item has been regifted. And since feelings about receiving a regifted item can be complicated (someone might be offended that you didn’t purchase something new, even if they really like the gift), it’s important to remove all signs that you were the original recipient.

Check for the following:

  • Leftover wrapping paper
  • Tape
  • Signs that the box has been opened
  • An original card or tag from the giver
  • A name written on the packaging
  • Personalization, such as a book with an inscription
  • Promotional material, such as a logo on something you received for free

6. Don’t Wait for a Special Occasion

Regifts often seem like they’re more acceptable when it’s simply a spontaneous surprise. Regifting a vacuum as a wedding present can seem tacky, only because a marriage is a significant milestone in someone’s life, and should be celebrated accordingly with a thoughtful, helpful, and generous gift. Therefore, regifting goes over a little better when it’s simply spur-of-the-moment. If, somehow, the recipient finds out the item was regifted, it’s no big deal – it was a “just because” gift.

mother giving a gift

7. When in Doubt, Regift to Charity

Stuck with something you don’t love? Instead of trying to give it to a friend or family member, you can always “regift” to charity. Organizations such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity, and Toys for Tots all accept new items. And be sure to collect your donation receipt so you can receive a tax deduction for your charitable giving.

8. Never Regift Food

Regifting a bottle of wine is no big deal, but if someone gave you baked goods or treats, don’t regift them. The food could be spoiled, thanks to dust and moisture – think about that box of chocolates you didn’t eat on Valentine’s Day. If you received a gift of food you know you won’t consume, it’s best to just share it ASAP. Bringing cupcakes to work can make you the office hero, and they won’t sit on your kitchen counter and tempt you for days.

Final Word

Regifting can be a win-win situation for you, since you have something you can’t use and know someone who can. But in your bid to save money and get rid of unwanted clutter, don’t forget to consider the feelings of both the giver and the recipient. While regifting might not seem like a big deal to you, the original giver took the time and effort to carefully select a gift to give to you, and your recipient probably expects you to do the same.

If either the original giver or your recipient finds out that you’ve regifted, your best bet is simply to come clean. Don’t dig yourself into a hole by telling a lie. Instead, explain that you weren’t able to use the item, but you thought of someone who could and gave accordingly. By taking care to regift in the most polite and ethical way possible, you can avoid finding yourself in hot water.

Do you regift? What are your best tips?

  • mam

    Heather is obviously one of those weirdo vegetarians….What’s this world coming to? Eat what you want

    • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

      What if what I want to eat is vegetables? How is that any skin off your nose?

  • Olivia

    It really depends on who the recipient is. My sister gets restaurant gifts cards from points earned through work gasoline purchases. She passes them on to us for Christmas. We’ve enjoyed some nice family meals out because of her. One year she regifted a lovely box of imported chocolates (because she doesn’t eat sugar). Really special. Both my sisters don’t mind recieving thrift store or yard sale items. As long as they’re in good shape and something they’d really like anyway, they’re game. Other family members are more squeemish So we try to accomodate them. Since the budget is the same for each one, they just get less bang for the buck alloted.

    • Heather Levin

      Olivia- I love the idea of passing on “points rewards” as gifts. Thanks for that great tip!

  • http://stretchyourdollarwaukesha.wordpress.com/ Skirnir Hamilton

    I do regift. But I supplement it too, as I usually allot a certain amount per person and if regifting something, that I know they will like, helps me to give them more within my budget, I am all for it. Now, it has to look good, not be dusty, etc. And I have to be careful that if someone in my family gave it to me, then I have to give it to someone at church, or someone in my husband’s family, etc. (What bothers me, is if someone at church gives me something, then later I put it in the church rummage, which is where most of my stuff goes if I don’t really find a good use for it. So I try hard to remember who gave me what!)

    • Heather Levin

      Skirner- I like the idea of regifting as a supplement. I’ve never thought it about it that way before, but it’s a smart strategy. Thanks for reading, and for writing in!

  • Lori

    Rather than Regifting, which, could bruise a real friendship, if you regift to them, and they find out that you are too lazy to take the time to find a gift that you actually put some thought into…how bout establishing some boundaries about gifts between friends…or pass these unwanted gifts along to charity, as they tend to appreciate most everything they get.

    Also, if money is an issue, or you are that lazy or don’t care much about the person to pick them up a real gift, how bout just send cards to each other, or perhaps you should just apply the ” do unto others” rule. If. The gift you are giving is not something you would want if the situation were reversed….then don’t give that gift to another.

    Regifting for a special day like Holidays or a birthday, is tacky and shows people you are lazy, cheap or that you simply don’t car enough to give the very best.

    But, if you want to expose that side of yourself, regift away, and see these friends that you don’t care much about anyway…fall by the wayside. No one wants to feel like an afterthought…which is what an exposed regift conveys.

    • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

      I’m not sure why you think a re-gift can’t be something you “actually put some thought into.” If someone gives me a book I already have, but I know my sister would love it, wouldn’t it be thoughtful to pass it along to her?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.violet Lisa Violet

    Last Christmas we put a lot of thought into a gift. The recipient was so touched when she opened it, that she cried.

    This year she told us she gave it to her son.

    She’s getting nothing this year.

    If you regift? Don’t tell the person who gave it to you that you got rid of it.

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