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The Dos and Don'ts of Regifting

C'mon, stop being such a Goody Two-shoes. Everybody's doing it. Well, maybe not everyone, but according to a survey by Harris Interactive last year, more than half of us admit to regifting -- that is, passing off unwanted gifts as if they were being bestowed for the very first time. Given the state of the economy, you've got to imagine that even more people will be putting idle presents back into play this holiday season.

For years considered a clear social no-no, regifting is shedding its stigma, whether it's due to economic hardship, eco-friendly attitude shifts, or bulging closets and drawers full of stuff we never wanted in the first place.

Today, anywhere from 60% to 78% of us, depending on what survey you read, think regifting is A-OK. In fact, giving gifts that have past lives is so routine, there's an official day dedicated to celebrating the practice: Dec. 18 -- the Thursday before Christmas -- has been christened National Regifting Day by Money Management International (MMI). (As with all new calendar additions, it's best to check with your boss before taking the day off in observance.)

What? Me, regift? Pshaw!
The personal reasons people regift have little to do with, say, the inability to find a parking space at the mall, or plain old laziness. More than 60% of re-packagers have their heart in the right place, passing along items because they believe the next recipient will appreciate it more than they do, according to MMI. About four in 10 more pragmatically cite regifting as a way to save some green. Frankly, can you blame them?

Lest you think the well-to-do abstain from the practice, consider that one-third of households with annual incomes in the $100,000 to $150,000 range recycle unwanted presents. (Data on whether they regift cooler stuff was unavailable at press time.)

The rules of regifting
Whether you do or you don't (riiiight), there's one single critical cardinal rule to follow before you release your stampede of white-elephant gifts back into the world: Don't get caught.

Following regifting etiquette to the letter will keep your karma right and ensure that a failed regift doesn't end up back under your Christmas tree someday.

The Dos and Don'ts
There are plenty of obvious "tells" that a gift has been resurrected from holidays past. To avoid them:

Don't confuse "barely used" with "brand-spankin' new": If there are any signs of wear and tear -- a broken seal, scratched part, pit stains -- the item's a no-go for regifting. Particularly discerning recipients will notice even the subtlest signs of use (e.g. mismatched or missing twist-ties on cords).

Do not pass off items that were clearly purchased for you: If it's monogrammed, sorry, you're stuck with it. (Unless you've got a knack for creative needlepoint reinterpretations.) Same for anything that obviously was meant to coordinate with your peach-and-purple sitting room decor, or relate to whatever hobby you might have.

Don't give away anything handmade by someone you know: Handmade items are off the list of possible regiftables for two reasons: First, it was likely given with much more sentimental intentions than, say, a coffee grinder. Second, such gifts tend to be extremely recognizable. If it was lovingly crafted and signed by someone you know (who isn't a famous artist, that is), hold onto it. A personal rule-of-thumb I've set which you may want to follow: Pretty much anything in the macrame category is automatically out of the running for regifting. (With the possible exception of the estimated seven remaining macrame enthusiasts in North America.)

Don't use different sentimental criteria for regifts: Re-circulating a problem gift just to get it out of your sight is bad form. Same goes for slapping a new bow on an old tchotchke just to check someone's name off the holiday gift list.

Don't give unused (or even "lightly loved") gift cards: A gift card with a $43.22 balance is an obvious regift. Same with any card that has an expiration date less than a year away or has had any fees from non-use already deducted.

Don't declare "It's vintage!" when it's really just plain bedraggled: Just because it's old doesn't mean it's a cherished collectible. Remember, those who truly love antiques -- or even kitsch -- will likely be as charmed by your dusty basement cast-offs as you are by theirs. A truly vintage baking set from your great-great aunt is one thing. (If you're giving it a new home, cop to its provenance -- heck, that adds to its charm.) Unused baking pans you received for your wedding eight years ago are another category entirely: donation or giveaway.

Don't regift swag: Skip the stuff you got from that trade show you went to earlier in the year -- you know, key chains, coffee mugs, and outerwear with some random company's logo. If it was free in the first place, it's worth even less in round 2.

Do not bestow a white elephant regift out of spite: Funny, sure. But that flicker of sheer horror on the recipient's face will come back to haunt you.

The right way to regift
Follow these regifting tips to come off like a sentimental big lug during the big reveal.

Keep track of the flow chart of gifting: There's no bigger horror than returning a gift to its original giver. Avoid this by keeping track of each item's past (formally, on a spreadsheet, if you want to be a regifting pro). In fact, regifting pros suggest that to play it safe, its best to repurpose in an entirely different social circle than the one from which the original item arrived. (For reference, check your family tree and office organizational chart.) That way, the original gift-giver won't find out that those potholders he painstakingly picked out have found a second life elsewhere.

Make sure all original packaging is intact: Does it pass the shrinkwrap test? If the item originally came hermetically sealed from the factory, it should move up the gift chain in the same condition. (Review the "barely used" versus "brand spankin' new" entry above.)

Triple-check for all telltale regifting signs: Gift tags stuck in the bottom of the box's folds, gift receipts, the whiff of someone else's perfume, an actual picture of someone you know in the frame (and not the standby camera-ready studio family shot) -- remove all signs (dust for fingerprints if you must) that the gift has a past. Finally, before you present it, step back and re-evaluate the regift from the recipient's perspective to make sure it passes muster.

Give with good intentions: The sentiment behind your regift should be the same as the thought behind any new gift: You're passing it along because you think the recipient will appreciate it.

Give it away anyway: If you received something that doesn't pass the regift test, you don't have to be stuck with it forever. Pass it along without the guise of the "new gift" (minus wrapping paper, bow, and card) and give the recipient an easy out (e.g., "I wore this once and was told it made my complexion come off as puce. If you like it -- or know someone else who would -- it's yours.").

Finally, we all know that when it comes to gifts, that whole "it's the thought that counts" yarn really doesn't fly with anyone but your parents. For all others, it is all about the gift (though no one will cop to it, at least on record). So put some thought into your gift -- er, regift -- and pat yourself on the back for finding it a permanent home.

More holiday Foolishness:

This article was originally published Dec. 6, 2007. It has been updated.

Dayana Yochim absolutely adores every single gift she receives and has never, ever regifted anything (as far as you know). She is happy to receive a regift, so long as it's tasteful, figure-flattering, and something she really, really wants. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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