Get Real Good At Re-gifting

Re-gifting is a good skill to learn, if you like to save money, and a useful strategy, if you need to save space. The trick, I’ve always thought, is not to muddy the waters: if a coworker gives you something you want to re-gift, you do so in an entirely different social milieu, such as your mommy group, or to a person there’s no chance your coworker knows, such as your elementary school friend.

The only real rule of re-gifting, after all, is don’t get caught.

Some people find the practice distasteful. “I put real effort into picking out that ill-fitting, puce sweater!” they might say. “I did it for you!” Ah, it is a sad thing when we emotionally over-invest in anything we let go of, for once the puce sweater is gone, we have no say in what its new owner does with it. She has hack it to pieces with a cleaver, wrap it around her chinchilla like a blanket, offer it up on an altar to the god of her choice: it is entirely up to her.

The same goes even for vintage family china. The new owner is within her rights to donate it to Goodwill or re-gift it to her in-laws. So, you know. Giver beware.

And why not, honestly? There is too much Stuff floating around. Seen from faraway, we all look like the planet Jupiter, ringed by the flotsam and jetsam of our messy lives. When you give me a snow globe, what you’re trying to say is, I love you, or, at least, I see that you exist. I can acknowledge and appreciate that intention even while handing on the trinket to someone else. The love, at least, we don’t Kon Mari away.

HBO’s John Oliver recently went on an entertaining tear on the subject of re-gifting for a special web-only mini episode of his show. I was primed to like it from the start and even more so when he began denigrating scented candles as being “extra desperate for attention.” He also advises re-wrapping a present altogether when you re-gift it. “A horrible gift,” he says, “much like your pet, always looks better dressed up.”

Oliver isn’t the only expert out there, though. Re-gifting is such a humdrum fact of life that even the Emily Post Institute has addressed it. Officially, and unsurprisingly, the EPI disapproves.

gifts should be recycled only rarely, and only under the following circumstances:

+ You’re certain that the gift is something the recipient would really like to receive.

+ The gift is brand new (no cast-offs allowed!) and comes with its original packaging and instructions.

+ The gift isn’t one that the original giver took great care to select or make.

+ It’s not handmade or personalized (think monogrammed or engraved).

Simply put, you have to make sure you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings — either the original giver’s or the new recipient’s.

These are good and important standards to hold to — in certain cases. If you have a loving partner who delights you year in and year out with their creativity, then sure, re-gifting the puce sweater or the snow globe to them is lazy at best and callous at worst. But a lot of the time, we end up with whole lists of people we must give presents to, lists that are nearly as long as Santa’s. Only we don’t have the kind of time or resources that Santa does. In these circumstances, we do our best. Sometimes, that scented candle that makes me cringe and you smile, when re-wrapped nicely, is just the ticket.

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