What to do with those unwanted Christmas gifts

Bad giftThe Christmas gifts have been unwrapped and all of the good stuff has been played with. And alone under a pile of wrapping paper sits the hideous sweater from a sweet aunt who doesn't know any better.

What to do with the unwanted Christmas gifts you received? If you get a gift you'll never use, is it really a gift?
There are many options -- returning it to the store, selling it, giving to charity and regifting -- among others that I'll detail below.

But my favorite has to be a gift shop in Slovenia that opened in December where gifts from Christmas, a birthday, anniversary or any other occasion can be exchanged for something you want.

"People get and give too many presents nowadays so we believe there is a need for a shop where you can exchange gifts, so that every present gets an owner who will find good use for it," Masa Cvetko, one of the store's owners, told Reuters.

Each present is put in a box, wrapped and put under a Christmas tree while its photo is put on the wall for people to choose from. No money is exchanged and no price is set on the presents, so any gift can be exchanged for another.

Some of the presents recently photographed for potential traders to grab included knitted napkins, plush toys, key chains, vases, glasses, perfumes, candles, socks, bags, hats, watches and a CD tower, according to the Reuters story.

Here are some other ways to get rid of that beer-can hat your cousin got you:

Swap party
The store in Slovenia sounds like a swap party, which parents of young children sometimes have in their homes to exchange baby toys and clothes. Other types of swap parties are also popular after Christmas among friends, where people bring as many gifts as they want to and take away an equal amount.

Also called a "White Elephant Gift Exchange" or "Yankee Swap," swap parties can be more for entertainment than gain, with humorous gifts popular. And be sure not to bring a Christmas gift from someone at the party.

Return it to the store
This is the best option because it's easy and you can exchange it for something you want. The problem is that stores have different return policies at Christmas, and return policies for anything bought online can be trickier.

Many stores, however, continue the Christmas spirit and are lenient on returns after Christmas. Just don't push it by waiting until February to return the screwdriver set you'll never use.

If you're hoping for money for the exchange, it's unlikely unless you have the original receipt. A gift receipt without the price on it will help, but will likely get you an even exchange or store credit to use later. I've found that books are difficult to exchange because you can't figure out where they were bought, although sometimes I've run into a nice store clerk who will let me exchange a new book I already have for another book of the same price.

Sell it
Craigslist, eBay and other sites make it easy to sell new or used stuff, although last year, eBay was so busy with regifted items for sale immediately after Christmas that you might want to wait until January to put your stuff up. Consignment stores can work if you're selling quality items such as nice clothes.

If you don't have an eBay account, you'll have to set one up with a credit or debit card account to be a seller, and you'll also need a PayPal account. Be sure to post a photo of what you're selling and be honest about its condition. And while you're on eBay, maybe buy a regifter T-shirt to give or wear next holiday season. Hopefully you won't find it at the next swap party you go to.

Donate it
Food banks and other charities get most of their donations during the Christmas holiday, but they could always use more. Goodwill, the Salvation Army, Red Cross and many other organizations would be glad to get your unwanted Christmas gifts. Be sure to get a receipt so you can write it off on your taxes as a charitable donation.

There are also groups such as the Freecycle Network, which help people give and get stuff near their homes.

This is an intriguing option. Make sure the gift isn't damaged, and rewrap it and give it to some other poor soul to deal with. Just don't tell anyone you're regifting and be sure not to give it back to the person who gave it to you for Christmas.

It's basically passing on your problem to someone else. Gift receivers don't value gifts as highly as the people who give them, causing what economist Joel Waldfogel calls the deadweight loss, or the difference between a giver's price and the recipient's evaluation.

Waldfogel calculates the average deadweight loss of a gift at 18%, meaning that for every $1 spent on a gift, 18 cents is lost in "utility." If I never wear the tie my wife gives me, then the deadweight loss is 100%.

So if you're regifting a gift that will never be used, it's like not giving a gift at all. The thought doesn't count, after all.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at www.AaronCrowe.net
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