To Regift or Not To Regift?

Regifting 2

Cue the following traumatic recollections of real life regifting situations:

1. “Oh, thank you so much for this ______. It’s our favorite.”

“Yeah, dad’s boss got that for him.”


2. “Oooohhhhh, thank you… that will look nice on the, uh, mantel, um, yeah” (trying not to let on that you bought that item for that person last year).

3. “Oh boy. I hope he doesn’t notice his gift looks different from everyone else’s.”

4. (Spoken by someone who used to have a substance abuse problem and was probably not lucid when they said it.) “Heeerrreee… I made this for you…” (Hands relative’s new significant other a wooden shelf that has screws sticking out of it at odd angles and looks like someone tried to embellish the edges with a dull pocketknife while lying unconscious on a remote sandbar. Maybe not a regift, but evoked the same horrifying, “I want to crawl under a rock and teleport to a different continent” feeling.)

Regifting is the practice of giving someone a gift that was originally given to you. As someone with food allergies, I’ve done this with food-related gifts, including gift cards, because I don’t want them to go to waste. Please note that I have enough Tazo tea to keep me awake through July 2015 courtesy of Starbucks. In this case I don’t feel odd regifting because I certainly wouldn’t open a gift and say, “oh, by the way, I’ll wind up in the ER if I eat that, so nah, you can keep it.”

Regifting other items, though, gets a bit touchy. Some people think it’s perfectly fine; others look upon the practice with scorn as if it is the pinnacle of social sins. Personally I don’t like having things I don’t use, so if I know someone can use it, I’m generally not averse to passing it on. There is far too much waste in this world already.

It’s fairly rare that I’ve done this, and usually I’ll give the recipient a heads up like, “hey, could you use one of these? So and so gave it to me, but for ___ reason, I don’t think I’ll use it.” Only when I’m feeling very, very sneaky will I wrap up something other than a gift card and pass it along. When I do this, I must ask myself the following questions:

1. Did that same person buy this for me last year?

2. Does that person know the person who gave it to me?

2A. Could that person know the person who gave it to me?

3. Did that person go shopping with the person who gave it to me?

4. Is that person married to the person who gave it to me?

5. Is that person related to the person who gave it to me?

6. What if I’ve forgotten where it came from?

7. Is there any possible way this person is going to find out that someone else actually bought this for me first?

8. What is my exit strategy if I’m discovered?

9. Will I need counseling to dampen the feelings of guilt that will follow me around for years after regifting?

10. Are there any telltale characteristics of the gift or wrapping that will clue the recipient into the fact that the gift was not purchased by yours truly (price tag still affixed, it doesn’t smell like Goo Gone where I tried to remove the inevitable residual price tag gunk, anything that’s supposed to be sealed or taped shut isn’t, it’s unlikely to have been purchased by someone who just finished grad school, isn’t in the original packaging, and/or it isn’t chic, classy, or completely off the wall)?

11. How I can I tactfully end the relationship with this person if they even suspect that I’ve regifted?

On it goes. I think I just talked myself out of regifting ever again. There’s too much baggage involved. Now I’m trying hard to think of any time I actually have regifted– oh yes, there was that time. It was a last minute “oh no, I need something for that person” situation. I will admit to taking a few things straight to the thrift store… I’m not ungrateful, I just couldn’t think of anyone who could use them and didn’t want to be a hoarder and keep them hanging around until I did.

Emily Post says that regifting is acceptable when these conditions are met (

  • You’re certain that the gift is something the recipient would really like to receive.
  • The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed) and comes with its original box and instructions.
  • The gift isn’t one that the original giver took great care to select or make.

Yeah, that would stink, giving someone back a gift they made you (here, Aunt Edna, enjoy this wonderful hand-knit lamb’s wool scarf in the alarming plum-on-persimmon chevron pattern with periwinkle pom pom trim that screams “I’m only wearing this because the person who made it for me loves me very much and spent seven months making it.”) That would merit a quick teleportation to a different continent– and a change of identity.

I guess one way of making sure no one ever surprises you with a gift you bought for them is buying things that are awkward and inappropriate: cheap pastel underwear that comes up to your neck. Lutefisk. A year-long musical tie of the month subscription. Perishable items that need to be put in the fridge immediately. A lavishly wrapped stack of back issues of Paranoia magazine. A fast-growing vine that will take over an entire acre by the time next Christmas rolls around.

Yet the opposite could also be true… buy them something they’ll like so much that they’ll eat every last crumb or never part with it. An inflatable unicorn horn from Archie McPhee. Coffee from Camano Island Roasters. Fran’s Gray and Smoked Salt Caramels. Movie tickets. A Scooby Doo chia pet. Catnip toys. A WSU Cougars tartan tie (yes!!). Hmm, it seems there are a lot of things you can buy people that they won’t actually give back to you, inadvertently or otherwise.

There is one instance in which it is highly advisable to regift– the white elephant gift exchange. The silly force runs strong in my family, and items that have made the rounds over the years include knee-high silk screened salmon socks, an electronic USS Enterprise ornament, a cute fuzzy blue elephant, and a smiling ceramic potted flower holding a blank sign that one of the kids regifted to me as a prank New Year’s present. At the PD some Family brand dried mangoes made the rounds until I put them in my emergency survival kit about, oh, seven years ago.

On that note, I’m curious to see if the powder blue ’70s tuxedo with the blonde curly Greatest American Hero wig and the worn white sneakers makes an appearance this year. There was also that outdated rotary dial desk phone with the mismatched handset… and I won’t resubmit the CD set I scored last year, I Think There’s a Terrorist in My Soup. I’m also eager to see if the loose GI Joe heads or rainbow umbrella hat make it into the mix later this month.

Well, I must say that, as an adult, I don’t expect anything and believe Christmas should focus primarily on the children. But my friends and family are usually very thoughtful and kind, so I don’t anticipate wanting to regift or donate anything (unless someone buys me itchy grey socks with tight elastic– I’d rather listen to Via Galactica-era show tunes, and that’s saying something).

Even so, after hashing this out in a blog post for all the world to see, I’m feeling exceptionally weird about regifting now. I’ll certainly think twice before I send another briefly pre-owned ___ over to Cousin ___ and hope that my cunning, covert shift of material wealth is never discovered lest I be thought of as a cheapskate, flake, tightwad, or recent college grad on a limited budget.



Have you ever noticed that we buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like? –Adrian Rogers


©2012 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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