How to “Recycle” Presents

How to “Recycle” Presents—And Not Get Caught

The holiday shopping season semi-officially begins the Friday after Thanksgiving, but some of us have already started thinking about holiday gifts. It may seem early to some, but for others, early prep for Christmas and Hanukkah guarantees not having to resort to a last-minute regift.

Regifting stories gone horribly, horribly wrong are the stuff of legend, and every year you probably hear a new one…

“I accidentally gave my aunt the cookie tin she gave me two years ago.”

“I got caught big time! I didn’t count on there being a second card (addressed to me) inside the box!”

“The rice cooker I got from my cousin actually had rice in it. But hey, at least I know it works.”

“My family has been shamelessly passing around the same reindeer candle for seven years.”

Horror stories notwithstanding, regifting does have its upsides. You don’t have to be a tacky, sneaky cheapskate to appreciate the eco-value of “recycling” something you haven’t used. Indeed, sometimes it takes a true friend to recognize when a gift you’ve been given was really meant to belong to a buddy who would love it and get good use out of it. And parents of younger children, especially, tend to re-evaluate their stance on regifting when their kids get a half-dozen versions of the same toy that all the other kids in the neighborhood also want for their birthdays.

So if you’re a closet regifter, rest assured: You’re not alone. In fact, a Code of Regifting Ethics has emerged from the shadowy, persecuted regifting underworld, marking horror stories the signs of amateurs at work. Follow these simple commandments, and you, too, can regift with class, dignity, and little to no fear of karmic retribution…

Rule #1: Thou shalt not regift anything you’ve already used. This is the single most important rule. Don’t try to fudge it. Think of this rule as your excuse to give that gently-worn sweater to a worthy charity, instead of racking your brains trying to think of a friend who won’t remember seeing you in it.

Rule #2: Thou shalt carefully examine your regift from every angle. Check for gift notes tucked into the box. Check for inscriptions on the first ten pages of the book. Check for damage. And for the love of sweet pickle juice, check for monograms and personalization.

Rule #3: Thou shalt be certain, beyond a doubt, that the person who originally gave you the gift does not know, and never will know, the person you’re regifting it to. File under “duh.”

Rule #4: Thou shalt regift with the same care and generosity with which you, er, regular-gift. Wrap the gift nicely, include a thoughtful card, and observe your usual gift-giving discretion. You wouldn’t tell a friend how much you paid for a gift you bought, right? You don’t need to tell her how much you didn’t pay, either. (Total honesty might make you feel better, but it probably won’t have the same effect on the recipient.)

Rule #5: Thou shalt only regift things that other people might actually want. On the “do” list: Bottles of wine and champagne are almost universally welcome regifts. Other good regifts: new toys, bestselling books, unused (and unopened) beauty products, edible goodies that not only are fresh but also look fresh, music (anything that wasn’t the big hit of last year, that is), and picture frames you’ve taken the trouble to put great pictures into.

On the “don’t” list: Branded stuff (umbrellas with logos on them, the silver pen from the conference you went to that has the conference name on it), small appliances (too obvious), anything that was itself obviously a regift. . . unless you’re headed to a White Elephant party.

And then there’s “the big maybe:” Anyone who’s ever been married has probably regifted at least one wedding present. We ain’t sayin’ it’s right or wrong. But if you regifted a wedding present, you probably know that there’s about a 65% chance that the recipient guessed. . . which isn’t exactly the desired effect. Which brings us to the final rule of regifting.

Rule #6: Thou shalt remember why you give gifts to begin with. We give gifts because we want people to like them. We give gifts out of the impulse of generosity, and because as a species, we like seeing each others’ eyes light up with delight and surprise, one of many characteristics that distinguishes human beings from, say, woodpeckers or garden slugs. If you can’t see a regift making somebody you know and love happy, maybe that regift deserves another recipient. Like a charity. Or the recycle bin.

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