Monday, September 15, 2008

Rules of Regifting

Several sources have it that the word "regifting" entered popular culture in a 1995 Seinfeld episode involving a label maker. For whatever reason, regifting seems to have emerged as an actual CONCEPT in the last decade or so. So how has it become such a recognizable and increasingly accepted idea in our society? Perhaps the accumulation of stuff in our society has reached a tipping point; perhaps the continual call to recycle has made people more conscious of the advantages of passing things on. Because we all think in words, giving a name to something brings it into focus for us, allows it to exist in a new and more conscious way.

So thanks to the writers of Seinfeld, regifting is now an accepted part of modern society. Whether anyone admits it or not, we almost all do it. And regifted items can be perfect gifts, and not at all inconsiderate when done carefully... but there are some guidelines to follow.

First I want to justify WHY regifting is a good idea:
  1. It gets rid of STUFF. If you have a cabinet or closet full of items that have no useful place in your home, they can be made useful by giving them to someone who can use them. We live in a society that has more unnecessary junk than any time in history; regifting is recycling in its highest form.
  2. It saves money. If you need to buy a $10-20 gift for someone, don't have a good idea of what to give them, and there's a lovely tchotchke in your closet that you know they would like, where's the virtue in going and spending money on a (presumably) FRESH tchotchke to give them?
  3. For close friends and family who get upset when you spend money on a present for them, regifting becomes a sort of fun cadeau challenge - finding something truly appropriate for someone, yet letting them know it was inexpensive or a freebie so they won't get upset that you spent money. Regifting works exceptionally well in this context.
Now, let's talk about the perceived drawbacks:
  1. You could hurt the feelings of the original giver. We agree, this must not happen. If there is a chance that they might find out that you are regifting their gift, you cannot proceed.
  2. It's cheap. Well, neither of us consider that a real drawback. The value of a gift should always be calculated by how appropriate and desirable it is to the recipient, not on how much you spent.
  3. It's bad manners. Well, if you are able to maintain that high degree of gifting perfection in our modern society, then yes, I suppose it would be. But no one seems to hesitate to sell unwanted gifts on eBay; no one complains about the manners attached to that action. What is done with a gift once received should be up to the recipient. Do we insist that they use our gift for the purpose for which it was intended, whether they like it or not? Of course not. The sweater that is too small... the perfume that makes them sneeze... what are they to do with it? Respectfully keep it in a drawer? No one expects that, if we really think about it. So the options are giving it to charity, selling it, throwing it away, or regifting it. In this context, regifting is no more inappropriate that donating or selling, and more respectful than just throwing it away!

Now that we've cleverly persuaded you of the validity of regifting, here are some rules to follow, since there is risk involved:

  1. If you don't remember where a gift came from, then be VERY CAREFUL where you regift it. Nothing is ruder or more appalling than giving it to the original Giver, or to someone who was around when you initially received it. This should be obvious!
  2. Personalized gifts are ineligible for regifting - books with notes written on the endpapers, notecards with your name embossed, monogrammed pieces.
  3. Rewrap the item, or re-giftbag it. Overly-crumpled tissue paper is a dead giveaway that this gift has been "around the block." I used to get regifted items all the time from a co-worker, and they were perfectly nice... but for some of them, it was pretty obvious that they'd been sitting in reserve for a while, in the same gift bags in which she'd received them!
  4. Be particularly watchful for pricetags and aging stickers - if the pricetag has been on the bottom of an item for so long that the glue has started to deteriorate, or it was poorly removed and the remaining glue has gotten grimy, it's a good giveaway that the item's been in re-gifting rotation.
  5. If you suspect that a gift you have received has been regifted more than once, it needs to stop with you. Gifts that are continually passed on begin to acquire an Aura of Failure. It needs to be taken out of the rotation, lest it arrive back in the hands of the initial giver by mistake! Give it to Goodwill or AmVets. Stop the cycle.
Recommended regifting ideas:
  1. Candles. Always useful, neutral, and safe.
  2. Picture Frames. Ditto.
  3. Books - duplicates of books already on your shelves in particular, or ones that are humorous or seasonal.
  4. Christmas ornaments.
  5. Scented soaps, fancy lotions, "gourmet" toiletries. However, don't regift perfume unless you do so fairly soon; it tends to evaporate, and you could wind up giving someone a half empty bottle.
  6. Gourmet foods, such as biscotti, olive oil, fancy coffee, European jams & jellies (unopened, of course).
  7. Blank books and journals.
  8. Anything from the HomeGoods section of TJ Maxx.
  9. You might also consider partial regifting. This works particularly well if you are assembling a gift basket or kit of some kind. A regifted candle that might be rather boring on its own can be a great filler item for a gift basket. Regifted picture frames can be wrapped with a picture inside, a wedding or graduation invitation, or an interesting print.
  10. Items that can be "used up", such as the food and toiletries listed above. That way, they won't linger and potentially be revealed as regifts.

Gifts to avoid regifting:

  1. Mugs. These need to be taken out of the gift-giving business altogether. They are acceptable in rare occasions when filled with, say, diamonds. Or Krugerrands.
  2. Clothes. Unless you're very sure of the gift recipient's size and/or taste in clothes, regifting apparel is generally a bad idea. If it's been sitting around for awhile, it's probably not returnable, and you don't want to risk sticking someone with a sweater that's 2 sizes too small.
  3. Items not appropriate to the occasion or gift recipient. Don't regift just to get rid of things. The goal is still to let your gift recipient know that you put some real thought an effort into your selection.
Ultimately, it's important to be sensitive to the personality of the recipient. Some people would be hurt if they suspected you were regifting to them, despite the manifold perfections of the gift itself; so be wary. The best regifting should be as if the gift were to go into an alternate universe, never to be seen again by any of the original parties.

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