The right way to give secondhand gifts, according to an etiquette expert
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When Carrie Aulenbacher turned 40, she didn’t want a big party. Instead, she opted for a quieter version of her big day, including a cake from her husband and an afternoon visit from her mother and father.
Secondhand gifts are standard practice in Aulenbacher’s family, but what she unwrapped was far beyond what she expected: a late 1970s palm-sized emergency sewing kit, a dozen plastic icicles and a broken plastic bead organizer, all presented in a cracked plastic tote.
“I was happy it wasn’t a gag gift of a walker or something tied with black balloons,” Aulenbacher says. “But these from my own mother to her daughter on my 40th birthday left me speechless.”
Giving secondhand gifts: Tacky or tasteful?
Consumers say they will spend an average of about $1,007 this holiday season, with over 60 percent of that being spent on gifts, according to the National Retail Federation. Meanwhile, a recent Bankrate survey finds that 16 percent of Americans would give used or secondhand gifts to save money this holiday season.
But is regifting to cut back on costs poor etiquette?
Whether giving a secondhand gift is tasteful depends on the way it’s gifted. Jennifer Porter, a manners teacher and etiquette coach in Seattle, is an advocate for properly regifting.
“Gift giving is a gesture that should be celebrated,” Porter says. “It should be as fun for the giver as the receiver. Gifting is about sharing a little bit of yourself and passing it along. Regifting is a great way to share that.”
Tips for those thinking of giving secondhand gifts this year
Aulenbacher’s situation wasn’t the proper way to give secondhand gifts, but she decided not to confront her mother over the matter.
“It was not worth the effort, especially on my special day,” Aulenbacher says. “I just smiled and thanked her so we could move on.”
Thankfully, situations like Aulenbacher’s can be prevented.
“With a little bit of thought and care, gifting is appropriate,” Porter says. “And if someone notices, there are ways you can handle the situation delicately.”
If you’re considering giving secondhand gifts this year, follow Porter’s tips to avoid any awkward situations.
Keep the gift in its original packaging: Presentation is key. Porter says the gift should be in its original packaging — so if you opened an item and realized you don’t like it, that’s not an eligible item to regifts. Consider donating open items instead.
Take the time to rewrap the gift: “Rewrap the gift. Put in gift back with fresh tissue paper, freshen it up. It’ll make you feel better as someone who is regifting, if there’s some guilt involved.”
Don’t give the gift to someone related to the person who initially gifted it to you: This would be the worst-case scenario where feelings would likely be hurt, so just avoid it entirely. Porter also advises against regifting in families or social circles.
If someone notices you regifting something they gifted to you, Porter says being honest is the best way to diffuse the situation.
“Express your gratitude of the gift, but explain that you weren’t able to use it so you decided to pass it along,” Porter says. “And don’t lie to try and cover it up.”
Don’t regift junk: Porter says a good gift should be thoughtful and given with good intention. However, don’t regift something just to get it off your hands.
Changing the way we think about secondhand gifts
Giving secondhand gifts doesn’t have to bring embarrassment or guilt to the gift giver, Porter says. If the thought does bring guilt, consider gifting something unique and inexpensive instead.
“A nice card or a batch of cookies works great,” Porter says.
And for those who think regifting is tacky? Porter says they should consider seeing the strategy from a different angle.
“(Regifting) shows care for the original gift giver, along the ideas of paying it forward to someone who can use it or enjoy it more,” Porter says. “Gifting should be a joyous thing. It’s not just about what you’re giving someone, but also about the thought behind it.”