8 Secrets to Being a Great Regifter (Without Getting Caught)

How to Be a Great Regifter (Without Getting Caught)

By Donna Freedman

While a broke midlife college student, I was given a book about great movies of the 20th century. I knew instantly that I'd regift the tome to a close friend who'd reviewed movies for years, because I couldn't afford to buy her a birthday present. Later my pal gently pointed out something I'd missed: The original giver had inscribed it to me on one of the blank front pages.

Embarrassing? You bet. Now I use this anecdote as an object lesson to others who are thinking of regifting. Which apparently is an awful lot of people: 92 percent of those surveyed by the yard sale aggregator site Bookoo.com in late 2012 said that recycling gifts is A-OK, and almost that many are pretty sure they've received regifted items. Think it's tacky? Then don't do it. Worried you'll do it wrong, the way I did?

Done poorly, the practice can be downright insulting. Some of those surveyed reported receiving such "gifts" as 2-year-old fruitcake, monogrammed items (with someone else's initials), fingernail clippers, an outdated desk calendar, toys with broken pieces and a used toilet seat. Then why do it? Several reasons:
  • It's a budget booster. Having a couple of great (just not to you) things you can give means two gifts you won't have to buy.
  • It's eco-friendly. Instead of buying more stuff, you're giving things you can't use a chance to make someone else happy.
  • Regifting busts clutter. If a closet shelf is devoted to still-in-the-box, never-gonna-be-used stuff, get rid of it! (Especially since you may get more such things Dec. 25.)
These regifting guidelines can help you from crashing and burning on Christmas Day:

1. Does It Look New?

Original packaging is best, folks. Something that's been sitting unprotected on a shelf has likely picked up grime and may have faded where the sun hit it. If it's been in the basement, it might smell musty. If you have to blow dust off it? Pass.

2. Remove Incriminating Evidence

I should have razored that front-of-the-book inscription out of the movie tome before I gave it. Thing is, I never noticed it was there.

Don't make that mistake. Flip through books to see if your dad underlined a certain passage and wrote, "This sounds like you!" in the margin. Check to see that Mamaw didn't paint your name and "Christmas 2013" on the underside of that hand-decorated ceramic snowman. In other words, make sure there's nothing to indicate to the new recipient that this wasn't purchased just for him.

3. Track Who Gave What

I once read about a woman who gave a cookbook with a $100 bill tucked inside as a wedding gift. A couple of years later the happy couple regifted that cookbook to her for Christmas. How did she know? Because the $100 bill was still where she'd placed it. (See "flip through books," above.)

Stacy suggests labeling items you receive with the date and the giver's name, so you don't goof up. Post-it Notes are our friends. He also advises keeping a running list of regiftable items, to which you can refer when it's time to give a present. That's much easier than rummaging around in closets or dresser drawers, searching in vain for that journal or picture frame.

4. Don't Give Garbage

Your practical-joker brother gave you a T-shirt with an offensive joke on the front. If you'd never wear it, why would you inflict it on someone else?
Ditto items such as musical snow globes, self-published books of poetry or bath products with overly strong fragrances. Maybe a secondhand store would take such things. If not, don't feel guilty about throwing them away (although you could turn the crude T-shirt inside out and wear it when you're painting).

5. Handmade? Don't Rewrap It

Your great-aunt put in a lot of time crocheting that pink-and-purple afghan. You don't have to keep it, but you shouldn't give it to someone else. That is, unless that person thinks you know how to crochet. Before throwing such things away, however, see if a thrift store would accept them. Or try to keep in mind that it was made with love and that an extra afghan can come in handy on chilly winter evenings. Either that, or sell it to a hipster who's decorating his living room in neo-kitsch.

6. Gently Used? Nuh-uh

Don't wrap up something you've already worn, listened to, read or watched. A book you've read a dozen times probably looks a bit dog-eared and might even bear a coffee drip on Page 127. That cashmere scarf may look brand-new to you, but your sister might remember your having worn it last winter. And while some people love getting gift cards for the holidays, don't give a partially used one. Nothing says, "You're so special to me!" like being handed a Subway card with a $11.47 balance.

7. Sometimes a Used Gift Is Acceptable

Suppose you and your sis both collect vintage paperback crime thrillers with covers featuring dead bodies in bathtubs. (Yes, this is a thing.) Now suppose she's long coveted your British thriller with a dead horse in a bathtub. (Yep, that's real, too.) It's not a crime to give things like this, according to the Moolanomy blog: "If you know someone who's been coveting a piece of kitsch in your display case that you're tired of dusting, I see nothing wrong with giving someone a gift you know they really want," writes blogger A. Black.

8. Make Sure It's a Good Fit

If your teenage niece is a die-hard video gamer, giving her a scented candle is not the way to go. The relative for whom barbecue = life will likely not appreciate a book about vegan cooking. And so on. Imagine the tables being turned, i.e., that people who supposedly love you looked at Christmas as a chance to get rid of a bunch of unwanted items. Doesn't feel so good, does it?

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