Regifting – the evergreen question of gift giving.
The other day I asked what I supposed was a simple question on my Instagram stories, but it turns out there’s quite a lot of prejudice attached to regifting. Since the question “how do you feel about regifting?” sparked quite a conversation in my private messages on IG and the Christmas season of gift giving is just now upon us, I figured it deserved a blog post.
Regifting or to regift means that you pass on an unwanted gift you’ve received to another person as a gift for them. Although it seems simple in theory, there’s quite a lot of emotional and symbolic value attached to gift giving. The most common arguments against regifting therefore include disrespect towards the original gift giver or disrespect towards the new recipient. Passing something on may imply that you are casually disregarding the effort the gift giver put into selecting and acquiring a gift for you and that you’re not willing to put in any effort into selecting a gift for the new recipient. However, is it really that bad or that simple?
The symbolic value of gifts
Firstly we need to ask ourselves, does the symbolic value of giving and receiving a gift transfer onto the gift itself? For example, it’s your birthday and your friend carefully selects a book you are sure to like, but it turns out you already own a copy of it. Does the fact that you already have the same book diminish their effort and the thought that went into picking the right book for you? If anything, it’s even further proof that they know you well and that they’d chosen a great gift, since we can’t be expected to know which items people already have at home. So, your friend proudly presents you with the book, you accept it and act happy, because you already know it’s a great book and because it’s impolite to point out that they had, in fact, accidentally given you a useless present. I mean let’s face it, what are you going to do with a spare copy?
Clearly the symbolic and emotional value in this case lies in the actual act of gift giving, because you’re happy and touched your friend bought you such a nice gift, but the book itself is now a bit of nuisance, so you’re likely not and won’t become attached to it in any way. You can keep it and let it clutter your home, you can throw it in the trash (which would be a huge shame and completely disrespectful not just to the gift giver, but also to the environment and the work and resources spent on producing the book), you can donate it or you can regift it. So, why is it alright to donate things we no longer need, including gifts, but less OK to regift them?
What about disrespect?
Let’s look at a few more examples: you receive a wonderful handmade hat from your grandmother, but it looks absolutely horrible on you. You hate it and can’t bear to wear it in public, but you’re also deeply touched by the amount of time and effort that went into making it for you, so you either wear it anyway or can’t bear to part with it and keep it somewhere at the bottom of your closet. The symbolic value is, in this case, strongly attached to the gift itself as well and it is unlikely that you would even want to regift something like that.
But still, on the off chance you would: perhaps you have a friend who has a real passion for hand-knitted hats and you now that they would just love this hat and it would be worn a lot like it was intended to. Is it therefore disrespectful towards your grandmother to pass it on? On the one hand, you’re showing a lot of respect for her work by making sure the hat gets to live its life as a hat, but on the other hand, it might make your grandmother sad to see that you didn’t like the hat she made for you (which is why we usually don’t get rid of handmade gifts in the first place). However, is it disrespectful towards the friend who would be the recipient of such a gift? Absolutely not. If anything, they would probably be quite touched that you’re close enough that you’re willing to entrust them with something as precious as a hand-knitted hat by your grandmother, which makes the symbolic value of the gift even higher.
You also have another friend who hates hats and is super modern, stylish and wouldn’t be caught dead with a hand-knitted accessory. Would it be disrespectful to try and hoist an ugly hand-knitted hat on them? YEAH, no matter who had made it. In this case you’d be doing exactly what got regifting its bad reputation, getting rid of an unwanted item with absolutely no consideration for the new recipient, with the added bonus of carelessly insulting your grandmother’s work.
What about a normal, non-handmade gift you don’t like or absolutely hate? Where’s the symbolic value there? Well, I think we can all agree it exists only in the act of gift giving and it’s possibly quite low even there, as someone who knows you should be able to pick out a gift that you at least reasonably like and enjoy. Of course mistakes happen and people change, so I’m not saying people don’t mean well when they accidentally select a bad gift, but just because they meant well you shouldn’t be obligated to hold on to something you don’t need, want or even like. Standard business gifts are often a perfect example of unwanted gifts and no one has any qualms about passing them on, so why are unwanted gifts from friends and family so sacred? Isn’t it the thought that counts, as the saying goes, and isn’t the act of gift giving finished once the gifts exchange hands?
The second you gift something to someone and it leaves your hands, it is no longer yours. It is therefore up to the recipient what they want to do with their property, whether they will use it themselves or give it away and that should be more socially acknowledged than it is. Of course it’s polite to not regift the gift back to the original giver or flaunt the fact that you’re regifting it, unless we’re talking double items, but it should still be acceptable to regift something as far as the original gift giver is concerned.
Since we’ve established that, let’s go back to that spare copy of the book. You now have 2 copies of the same book. The second one is in mint condition and you know it’s a great book that you would potentially even buy for your father’s birthday, because he would love it. So is the symbolic value of giving the second book to your father on his next birthday in any way diminished just because you didn’t pay for the book and regifted it? Again, we’re talking unused items in good conditions, unopened food and make up products, unneeded household items etc., not half worn-out things you’d otherwise toss out.
Therefore, regifting something isn’t disrespectful towards the new recipient either, as long as you’re giving them something that you genuinely feel would suit them and that you might have bought/made for them anyway. Much like with gift giving, the keyword here is thoughtful regifting, not just regifting for the sake of getting rid of something. In fact, thoughtfully selecting your gifts in general, or even taking the time to make them yourself, decreases the chance that your gifts will become unwanted, potentially regifted gifts. Since it’s the thought that counts, part of the thought from the gift giver should also be “what would the person actually like”, not just thinking of them and buying them a gift for their special day/holiday.
To wrap it up, regifting is not nearly as bad as thoughtless regifting over the years has made it seem and actually isn’t disrespectful when done right, so there really shouldn’t be so much prejudice about it. If you’re regifting thoughtfully, there’s no shame in passing on an item a recipient would be glad to receive and that you may no longer need or want. Same goes for excess food items, although you should pay special attention to expiration dates – we’ve all either received or regifted an expired box of fancy chocolates from the back of the kitchen cupboard, only to realise with horror it’s way past its prime. Trust me, it’s not a nice feeling on either end.
Additionally, since I can’t help myself: regifting is a very sustainable gift giving option, because it saves unwanted items from ending up in the trash and reduces your waste and clutter at home. It also saves you money, since we tend to gift each other items that are more on the expensive side, and prevents mindless consumerism in the form of last minute emergency gift hauls, which makes it a win on all fronts.
Now tell me, do you regift? Would you?
P.S.: You can also significantly reduce your waste if you save and reuse wrapping paper and gift bags. See my sustainable gift wrapping ideas here.