Oh, the holidays – the twinkling lights, warm cider, office parties, long lines at the post office – these are part of our traditions. But there’s another one, a more sinister holiday theme that persists year after year- the Bad Gift. Maybe your Aunt Matilda just can’t remember that your sweater size isn’t what it was when you were 12. Or your neighbor Frank is so proud of his unusual crocheting skills, he foists a lopsided tea cozy on you in the worst color combinations imaginable, every year. You awkwardly accept, express your gratitude for their kindness…and wonder what the HECK you are going to do with this thing?
Hide it away in a closet to never see the light of day again? Display it proudly and learn to love it? Or will you re-gift? Re-gifting may be one of those decisions people make but don’t want to admit to. But re-gifting satisfies a few human desires – it allows us to be frugal, and also eco-friendly. Think of it as paying that gift forward, and saving both money and natural resources!
And according to a well-respected ethics specialist, we can all come out of hiding as re-gifters and do so without guilt – as long as we follow some basic etiquette about the practice.
For one thing, it is perfectly acceptable to tell your aunt what size you wear, and explain to her that you would like to exchange her gift for something that fits you, if she will let you know where she bought it. Barring that, go ahead and re-gift, as long as it’s not to your sister or brother or someone else Aunt Matilda might see at the next family get-together, wearing that sweater she gave to you.
Another rule to adhere to is this – if what was given to you is a very personal item, something made by the gifter themselves - like Frank’s tea cozies – it’s best to hold onto it. You may want to keep that tea cozy handy for those afternoons when Frank stops by to chat, so he can see it is being used. He doesn’t need to know you will stash it again after he leaves. This is known as “benevolent deception,” and it’s acceptable because it spares the feelings of the giver from unnecessary rejection of their heartfelt gift.
Another factor to consider is how much that gift might benefit someone else. If it’s a duplicate of something you already own, there is no harm in re-wrapping it and giving it to someone you know has a need or desire for that item. No need to keep an extra toaster or electric drill out of obligation, when your cousin needs one. Just don’t use it a few times and then try to pass it off as new!
Most importantly, remember that the gift-giver gave something to you out of kindness, so no matter what you plan to do with it, be gracious in accepting it. Also avoid giving a gift that isn’t a good match for the recipient. Let the bad gifting stop with you, and be thoughtful about what you give and to whom. And for those items that just don’t fall into any of the above categories of re-gift possibilities? There’s always the donation bin or the yard sale table, where a perfect stranger may find something that was just what they wanted!