In Defense of Regifting

Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0.

To the best of my knowledge, I’ve only been regifted once. I was a college student visiting my father a few days after Christmas when he handed me a slim, wrapped package. It was a gift from his new girlfriend, a woman I’d only met once or twice.

I unwrapped the package to find a journal filled with images of Amish quilts. I was admittedly thrown off—why did she think a 20-year-old would be into the patchwork designs of Lancaster, Pennsylvania? Still, any wannabe writer can benefit from some empty pages. It was a perfectly fine gift, until I turned the page and noticed a handwritten inscription. It was made out to my dad’s girlfriend from someone named Betty. Busted.

I’d never expected a gift from this woman; now that I’d received one, I was insulted. Her decision to regift seemed tacky and cheap—worse, it was lazy.

I always imagined regifters as a troubled sort who ransacked their junk drawers because they couldn’t be bothered to go to the mall. They were reprobates who did their “shopping” at White Elephant parties. They didn’t care.

But then I got older, and accumulated more stuff—stuff I didn’t necessarily need. Much of it was through my job as a writer. During my work on a beauty guide I’d receive round-the-clock deliveries of every skin cream, shampoo, and eye shadow known to humankind. I couldn’t possibly use it all, just as I couldn’t possibly take up every offer of a free facial or color treatment that came my way without my skin melting or hair falling out. But I knew someone who could: My mother.

My first official act of regifting was to wrap up a full set of the very fancy skincare range I’d recently received from a spa. The products were valued at over $600, probably 10 times more than I’d normally spend on one Christmas present. But what really made it work was the knowledge that my mother truly is a beauty product junkie. It wasn’t an arbitrary handoff, and she loved it. (And yes, she was aware that I hadn’t actually spent $600.)

Since then, I’ve amassed a little stockpile of treats bound for a better home: goodie bag castoffs, unopened bottles of booze, impersonal knickknacks that have come my way. If I come across something that a friend or loved one might have more use for than I will, I’ll put it to the side. Call it regifting, or “treasure upcycling.” I have no regrets.

One of the major complaints about regifting is that it seems stingy. Yet millions of people line up outside big-box retailers on Black Friday and scour the internet for Cyber Monday sales, all so they won’t have to pay full-price on Christmas presents. We don’t begrudge anyone for saving money; if anything, we congratulate them for their smart shopping and resourcefulness. Would regifting get more respect if there was an entire consumer holiday dedicated to it? We could have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and Regifting Wednesday.

So long as regifting is done purposely and with consideration (i.e., you’re not just arbitrarily dumping your old stuff on another person) I think it’s a perfectly acceptable practice. Just be sure to follow these pointers—and hide those tell-tale inscriptions!

Don’t make it personal

If a gift comes with special meaning attached—say, jewelry from a romantic partner or a family keepsake—regifting is bound to result in hurt feelings. It’s also best to avoid regifting items within a particular social group. For example, don’t pawn off a Secret Santa gift from one work colleague to another, or give Cousin Tiffany the sweater your grandma knitted just for you. It’d be just your luck for her to show up to the next family reunion wearing it.

Cover your tracks

Successful regifting means removing all evidence of prior ownership. Is the item clean, unused, and new-looking? If it’s a book or journal, are the pages dog-eared or flecked with coffee stains? Make sure safety seals are intact and tags are still attached. Keep everything in the original product packaging and wrap it all nicely.

Repackage and reinvent

If you have a handful of smaller items (a nice bar of chocolate, a brand-new lipstick that came as a gift with purchase from your last trip to the beauty counter), look for creative ways to tailor them to your intended recipient. Add a DVD, some gourmet popcorn, and perhaps a bottle of wine and that regifted bar of chocolate forms the basis of a “movie night” gift bag. Group beauty items together for a spa-inspired stocking, or combine the lipstick with a couple of other “girls’ night out” essentials.

Provide gift receipts (if you can)

Gift receipts (or the lack thereof) are a regifter’s smoking gun. What if, heaven forbid, your recipient needs to return or exchange something? The best-case scenario is that you have the original (and recent) gift receipt still in your possession. Offer to go to the store with them to authorize the exchange. Otherwise, your best hope is that they believe that you truly did lose the receipt, or that the store will offer credit without further proof. Or, maybe they’ll end up regifting the item to someone else as some sort of retail circle of life.


If something isn’t regift-worthy or of significant value, don’t feel pressured to keep it around. Organizing expert Marie Kondo would want you to donate (or at least clear out) any items that no longer bring you joy. Do some good, and you might even get a tax deduction.

Erin Donnelly is a freelance journalist who has written for Refinery29, Marie Claire, Mic, Playboy, The Week, and more. She is based in London.

This piece is part of The Billfold’s Holidays and Money series.

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