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How to re-gift Christmas presents without causing offence

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Moya Crockett
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We associate re-gifting with rubbish presents – but it is possible to do it with style and sensitivity.  

Despite having been a part of our cultural lexicon since at least 1995, when the phrase was used in an episode of Seinfeld, re-gifting remains a touchy subject. The practice of passing on unwanted presents to other people is often associated with insultingly impersonal hand-me-downs – the kind of boringly crap gifts that say nothing about the receiver or their relationship with the giver, beyond the fact that the latter couldn’t be bothered to make any effort. (Think dusty toiletry gift sets, questionable bottles of booze, or books on a subject you’ve never expressed any interest in.) At worst, it’s seen as something lazy, cheap and borderline offensive.

My colleague Megan, for example, balks at the idea of sourcing Christmas presents from things she’s previously been given. “The art of present-buying is to know someone so well that you can buy them something they never knew they needed, but that screams their personality and they know you chose with love,” she says.

“If you didn’t want something, chances are neither will they and it will end up in the bin – so it’s all a bit of a waste of time. But it would also worry me that my friend might think I don’t care as deeply about them or our friendship as they do.”

Megan isn’t alone in her resistance to re-gifting: according to a recent survey by Protect Your Bubble, 60% of Brits say they have never passed a Christmas present onto someone else. However, that doesn’t mean that we’re all endlessly delighted with what we find under the tree. Research published just after Christmas 2016 showed that Brits open around 115 million unwanted presents each year, worth a jaw-dropping £2.2m in total, while more than 30% of us saying we feel “little or no attachment” to certain gifts within days of Christmas. That’s an awful lot of presents that could be given loving new homes, rather than ending up as irritating clutter or environmentally devastating landfill.

All this means that it’s time to reframe the way we think about re-gifting. Done right, it can be just as thoughtful as buying presents fresh off the shelves, with the added bonus of being thrifty and green-spirited.

Read on for our tips on how to re-gift sensitively and productively – no awkwardness or unwanted presents required. 

Some things that should never be re-gifted.

DO only pass on things you think people will actually want

The fact that you don’t want something doesn’t mean that no one else will. However, the key is to only re-gift items you think will be genuinely appreciated. Don’t give someone something just because you want to get rid of it (so no wrapping up that crappy DVD your father-in-law bought you last year and trying to palm it off on your brother).

Rather than identifying things you don’t want and trying to figure out who to foist them on, ask yourself: ‘What have I been given that X would love?’ Did you get a book in the office Secret Santa that doesn’t interest you, but your nephew might love? Re-gift it (remembering to scribble an inscription in the front). Have you yet to use the food processor your parents bought you two Christmases ago? Give it to your foodiest friend. This isn’t cheap or thoughtless; it’s sharing things you think will make people happy.

If you’ve been given something and you honestly can’t think of anyone close to you who might like it, then it’s time to make a trip to the charity shop. Don’t bin unwanted gifts unless you want some seriously bad eco-karma.  

DO put time into wrapping your gift properly

One of the things that puts people off re-gifting is the worry that people will think they haven’t made an effort (my editor, for example, never passes on the freebies she gets sent in the office, for fear of people interpreting her generosity as laziness).

Refute any suspicions of thoughtlessness by beautifully wrapping your re-gifted item. If you’re not a naturally crafty person, Pinterest can provide endless inspiration for wrapping paper and ribbon combinations. 

DON’T limit what you can re-gift

If you’re going to gift something second-hand, there’s no reason why it has to be something you’ve previously been given yourself. You can also pass on things you bought for yourself and no longer want or need.

“Some of the best presents I’ve ever been given once belonged to someone else,” says my friend Alice, 27. “I have a big jumper that used to be my best friend’s, and my dad gave me one of his old cameras. They’re some of my most treasured possessions.”

Have a rifle through your own wardrobe/bookshelves/kitchen for something you think your friend or family member will like. For extra sentimental value, wrap it up nicely with a note letting them know exactly why you’re bestowing this particular belonging on them. 

DO be honest about it if it’s obvious it’s not new, but DON’T feel embarrassed about it 

If you’re re-gifting a good present that doesn’t look used, you’re not obliged to spill the beans. But attempting to portray something that’s clearly been around the houses as brand new is a sure-fire way to look cheap and disingenuous.

Be upfront, and explain the rationale behind the present to the person you’re giving it to. That way, you’ll look thoughtful, rather than thoughtless. 

DO avoid certain items at all costs

Do not re-gift any of the following: underwear, food products that are out of date or opened, used beauty products, or anything that should obviously be part of a gift set but isn’t.

DON’T re-gift to the person who originally gave you the present

This shouldn’t really need stating, but we’ll say it anyway: this is rude, thoughtless and guaranteed to cause offence. Avoid at all costs.

In the same vein, don’t tell someone that you’re planning on re-gifting something they gave you. Ever. Thank your Auntie Muriel profusely for the gift-wrapped toilet brush and move swiftly on.

Happy holidays!

Images: iStock

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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