We give gifts because we value our relationships with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances who help us throughout the year. A gift shows our appreciation and/or love and brings joy and pleasure to the recipient. The act of giving a gift usually makes us feel good.
If the purpose of giving gifts is to make others feel good, why would we want to risk hurting someone by re-gifting?
When we re-gift, we risk crushing the feelings of the original giver by giving away a gift they took time selecting and risk making the new recipient feel less appreciated and not worthy of our time to shop for them. In the end, the person who re-gifted is also unhappy because they hurt people who they must care for if they considered gifting them in the first place.
I cannot find any steadfast etiquette rule on re-gifting. Some etiquette experts see it as a convenient form of recycling and others adamantly disagree. This etiquette expert does not feel the risk of re-gifting is worth the potential negative consequences of hurting someone’s feelings and advises against it.
This etiquette expert also did not land on this planet yesterday and realizes re-gifting is not a new phenomenon. People have been re-gifting for years. Until recently, no one dared to admit they re-gifted and kept it hush, hush. The topic became more public in the past decade after a Seinfeld episode aired about a white elephant gift exchange.
If you decide to ignore my expert advise on re-gifting, at least follow these guidelines to avoid getting busted:
1. Don’t re-gift used items. The gift must be new, in its original packaging, and not from a company that has gone out of business. For example, you should no longer gift items from Marshall Field’s. The company has been sold for years. Giving such a gift – will get you busted!
2. Wrap the gift in new gift wrap with a new gift card. Check to make sure the original gift card is not tucked in the gift. If the new recipient finds it – you’re busted!
3. Don’t re-gift if you don’t remember who originally gave you the gift. You don’t want to risk the embarrassment of giving it back to the same person. Make sure the new recipient does not know the original giver. If they run in the same social circles – you’re busted!
4. Make sure the new recipient will enjoy and use the gift. If not, you’re busted for unloading your unwanted items on them.
5. Don’t re-gift items the original giver will notice are gone. For example, if you re-gifted the toaster Aunt Betty gave you and she wants to make toast while visiting – you’re busted!
6. Don’t re-gift personal, customized, hand-made, or one-of-a-kind items. If there’s only one like it and the original giver sees it out there – you’re busted!
8. Never tell the new recipient you received the gift and didn’t want it. Obviously – you’re busted!
9. I do bend a little when re-gifting consumable items such as wine, candles, and bath products. Since these items are hopefully not around your house for years to come, there’s less chance of getting busted. Do not re-gift rare vintage or limited label wines. If future recipients continue to re-gift these items until they find an appropriate home, they may end up in the original giver’s hands and you run the risk of being busted.
What happens if you do get busted?
If the giver or recipient know their gift was re-gifted, the proper etiquette for them is not to say anything about it. If you are caught in the act, offer a sincere apology. Tell them how much you appreciated their thoughtfulness in giving the gift and you did not want to hurt their feelings by letting them know you did not have use for it. Rather than let the gift go unused, you felt you should give the gift to someone who could use it.
Hopefully, the relationship is solid enough to withstand such a blunder and they will forgive and forget.
Perhaps conflicting social issues, such as re-gifting, are how the rules of etiquette evolve and are made. Until the question of re-gifting is clarified, be careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process.