Holiday time is flush with gift-giving. Composing the long lists of whom to get gifts for and how much to spend. Should I give the person something I like or something I think they will like? Will they be happy with their gift or will it make them want to spit in my egg nog? Even if you spend hours deliberating over what you think may be the perfect gift, chances are it may wind up as a re-gift to someone else. Couple that with the current state of the economy and the overwhelming unemployment rate and you’ll understand why re-gifting has become a more acceptable pastime. If you are the recipient of a re-gift or a serial re-gifter, here are a few etiquette rules we think will ensure goodwill to all this time of year.
1. Inspect each item carefully before re-gifting. Conduct the equivilent of a Silkwood shower by removing all signs of previous ownership. Make sure there is no hidden writing with a personalized message, monogram or name. There should be no evidence of prior wrapping or packaging torn from being previously opened.
2. Re-gift items that are relatively new. There is nothing worse than receiving a re-gift from a store that no longer exists or an item that shows it’s age like a boom box with a cassette player. Have the decency to at least re-gift something purchased within the same calendar year.
3. Some items should never be re-gifted. Gifts that have been opened or used should not be re-gifted. Nor should one-of-a-kind gifts or handmade gifts from loved ones, as that would be truly crushing. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law should never re-gift items received from each other. Some relationships are so fragile that one re-gift given to the housekeeper could send them over the edge, and trust me, you do not need that!
4. Keep detailed records. Make sure you keep careful records each year of who gave you what gifts from holidays past. This will prevent you from accidentally re-gifting an item to someone who gave you the same gift the year prior.
5. Make the re-gift look spectacular. If you re-gift an item, at least take the time to make it look presentable, even spectacular. Purchase some new wrapping paper, tie on a ribbon and attach a well written, thoughtful card to the new recipient.
6. Acceptable circumstances for re-gifting. (1) If you are financially strapped and you are positive the recipient would enjoy the gift as much or even more than you do. (2) If you are attending a last minute party and do not have time to purchase a hostess gift. (3) If it is an act of generosity such as an article of clothing, a toy or a gift basket that you do not need and would be more appreciated by a local charity organization. (4) If you are participating in a secret holiday gift exchange. The cap for these gifts is typically $20 and just might be the perfect time to unload a re-gifted item that has been stashed in your closet.
7. Re-gift responsibly. Make wise choices and avoid conflict. Don’t re-gift Uncle Fred, a recovering alcoholic, with a bottle of champagne you received from your client. Don’t bring attention to Cousin Sheila’s thyroid problem by re-gifting a giant popcorn canister from the office. And, avoid re-gifting your sensitive friend Susie with a collection of self-help books you received from your therapist.
8. Accept re-gifts graciously. Never point fingers at a re-gifter and don’t feel obligated to tell the recipient they just received a re-gift. There is never a good way to mention a re-gift so it is better to keep this information to yourself on either end of the equation. If you receive a re-gift, simply accept it with grace and say “thank you”. If you are the re-gifter and you are caught, the best you can do is pass it off as an intentional gag gift and then high tail it to the nearest store to buy something new and fabulous and include a gift receipt!
A final thought to re-gifters. A gift that is given from the heart that is either handmade or purchased is the best gift of all. Sometimes a re-gift feels like a slap in the face and conveys a feeling of I don’t care enough about you to spend the money and that can feel pretty hurtful. Gift giving and receiving should induce pleasure. It should not feel obligatory. After all, it’s not about what you give or receive, but the sincere thought that goes into the exchange.