Five Rules for Re-Gifting the Right Way

From the obvious (Hello, take the tag off!) to the finesse jobs, there’s a way to do the deed without the dirt.



illustration by Robert Donnelly

It’s January, and that means dry skin, temporarily crowded gyms—and re-gifting. You know, the irresistible urge to get rid of fruitcakes and every other present that can only charitably be described as “thoughtful.” Americans love thrift, so, if you can get away with re-gifting, more power to you. (And, before you get huffy, we’re not alone in this: More than 90 percent of respondents agreed re-gifting was acceptable in one recent survey.) But, let’s be frank: You’ve got to do it right. We’re here to help with that.

First of all—and, really, we cannot stress this enough—don’t give it back to the person who gave it to you. This involves remembering who wrapped up a dud, stuck a bow on it, and put it under your designated holiday-gift-receiving object. That’s annoying, but tough. So is getting caught re-gifting—and the chances are high when you know only one person who would enjoy something that ugly. No one said the holidays were easy.

Take the darn tag off. This should be self-explanatory: Nobody named John wants to get a present addressed to “Joe” (or, especially, “Cheryl”).

Not every disappointing offering can be re-gifted. Sorry, but just because you got a lemon present doesn’t mean you can pawn it off on someone else. Your narcissistic son-in-law brought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black to your holiday party and you’d rather give it to the mail carrier than remind him for the 40th time that you’re in AA. Fine. But nobody wants Aunt Gladys’s corn-silk replica of Minsk. Nobody. Throw it out...

Unless Aunt Gladys is going to hope to see it. You know, ever since Uncle Al died, things have been tough for her. It’s hard to scrape together the money to come in from California, but she just wants to spend as many of her final years as possible with… yada yada. You see where this is going. The best solution is to hide away her ugly gifts in the guest room, if you have one, so she’ll see it when she stays over.

Warning: Sometimes the people who make food baskets hide an orange way down in the green confetti and foam they use to stuff the thing. There you are, thinking you’re all suave and magnanimous-looking, passing along an unopened gift basket with Godiva chocolate in it as if you’d bought it new because you knew how much your boss likes Presidents’ Day, when, really, it came in November and you just kinda went crazy during the holidays and should be on a diet anyway. Then, boom!—she opens it up and it looks like there’s a trial for a new kind of penicillin going on down there. No good. Not to worry: The preemptive solution is to open the basket, remove perishables, and hand out the packets of tempting goodies separately—caramel popcorn, those giant sourdough pretzels, and an uncomfortably sized dry-cured sausage. You’ll increase your impact and decrease the chances of giving anyone food poisoning.

Happy re-gifting. And, no, we’d never do it to you.