Regifting: What to do with unwanted Christmas gifts

By Julia Bryson
BBC News

Image source, Thinkstock

Many of us will have received presents we didn't want this Christmas. The question is, when is it ok to regift them?

Up until perhaps a decade ago - in a pre-credit crunch world - storing an unwanted present to wrap up again for someone else might have been frowned upon.

It was something we did, but maybe didn't tell anyone we did it. A dirty little gift-giving secret.

Then times got tight and it was given a name: regifting. Soon it became a buzzword and the socially acceptable thing to do with those five bubble bath sets, three pairs of gloves and multiple boxes of chocolates from Auntie Mary.

The unthinkable happened - passing off unwanted gifts to unsuspecting friends and family became the norm. Regifting became cool.


To give as a gift again; (in later use) spec. to give (an unwanted gift that one has received) to someone else as a gift.

Image caption,
Clockwise from top left: Karen Beddow, Bonita Turner, Katie Haydock, Michelle McNulty, Erin Ek Rush

Bonita Turner, fashion editor turned blogger at Mamas VIB, knows a thing or two about shopping and the etiquette of regifting.

"I hate the thought of being ungrateful - but sometimes you just don't need or want something that someone has given you," she says.

"I keep any 'unwanted' gifts in a plastic-lidded box to regift throughout the year. I also donate some to Cancer Research charity shops, one year I handed a lot to a hospice for their raffle table and any soft toys and games to my local women's refuge."

Ms Turner says she has recently passed on a book which was bought for her by a friend but already owned, ironically titled "The Thrift Book: Live Well and Spend Less" by India Knight.

Many people end up donating unwanted gifts to charity, usually allowing a respectable amount of time to lapse before passing it on.

Sanna Pehkonen, who writes a parenting blog called Wave to Mummy, says: "If it is something I don't need or don't want I put it aside for later re-gifting, or for donating for a good cause. I might also keep some small items for the office Secret Santa.

"Obviously if the item does come with a gift receipt I've sometimes returned them and bought something more suitable for myself with the credit note."

Seven things to do with an unwanted gift

Image source, Thinkstock
  1. Donate it to a charity shop
  2. Save them in a safe place to regift as birthday presents throughout the year
  3. Keep for the office secret Santa
  4. Sell it, like thrift blogger Katy Stevens, who says: "If it is an expensive item I will try and sell it and buy myself something else nice with the money."
  5. Send soft toys to a women's refuge
  6. Organise a present swap with friends - or play a game like Michelle McNulty [see below]
  7. If you're feeling especially tired and bereft of festive spirit, you could always put it in the bin?

Erin Ek Rush, from the website Yorkshire Tots, tries not to keep anything that doesn't '"spark joy".

She says: "After reading Spark Joy by Marie Kondo, I try to not keep anything in the house that doesn't do just that, so this includes gifts I can't use or don't suit me.

"Instead of feeling guilty about passing things on, it's better to think they are being used and appreciated by someone. If I think I know of someone who would like or use an item, I pass it along then and there."

There can be pitfalls to re-gifting though, so make sure you remember who gave you the item in question. Forgetting could backfire.

Image source, Thinkstock

But according to Karen Beddow - a mother-of-three and author of travel blog Mini Travellers - it's usually fine among friends.

"I received a scarf from a friend which I gave her the year before," she says. "It made me giggle, I don't mind that at all."

It might also be worth being careful to look up the cost of a present before you re-gift it.

Mrs Beddow adds: "I had been given some very expensive face cream as a thank you from a client at work, and had no idea of the value. The recipient was gobsmacked I had spent that much."

Some people think it's acceptable to give an unwanted present back to the giver. Katie Haydock, from lifestyle blog Life on Vista Street, has had gifts given back to her.

"I have had gifts given back to me before when they've been unsuitable - I'd rather not have known to be honest," she says.

"Not only did it make me think the person in question was ungrateful, it made me put less thought into their gifts thereafter - sticking to cheap and cheerful generic gift sets for them. They should have re-gifted."

The most unusual - and possibly fun - way to pass on your unwanted gifts is to play a game, like Michelle McNulty who writes the blog Seeing Rainbows.

"We play a game on Boxing Day at a family party," she says. "We all bring an unwanted gift and all pay £1.

"We then use cards to try and match the gifts at random then we are allowed to force a swap. It's hilarious and actually you can end up with some cool stuff- or the cash."

The rules of regifting, according to etiquette and protocol expert William Hanson

  • Consider the quality of the gift you're regifting. I always say if you're giving it away, it is probably because you didn't like it in the first place.
  • Regifting is ok if it's something you already own. The only time I have regifted is if I have been given a duplicate, or if it's something you have a lot of, like scented candles or boxes of chocolates."
  • You need to make sure there are at least four or five degrees of separation between the person who gave it to you and the person you are giving it to.
  • If it's handmade or homemade then never regift it - it's either put up with it or put it in the bin.
  • If you have friends who are consistently giving you unsuitable gifts, you might need to find better friends.

William Hanson offers courses in good manners, civility and etiquette.