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Yes, it's ok to regift your unwanted presents

When your Christmas presents miss the mark, should you be able to regift them?

Disappointed customer unboxing wrong item purchased with home shopping, regift
Regifting would save $980 million each year. (Source: Getty) (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Bad gifts, unsuitable gifts, weird gifts – we’ve all had them, and we’ve probably all unknowingly given them.

From gifting something someone’s already got, to completely misreading their taste or interests, $980 million gets wasted on unwanted gifts every year, according to research from The Australia Institute.

In fact, nearly a third of Australians actively expect to receive a gift they don’t want – so what happens if you get a gift you simply know you won’t use?

Also by Emma Edwards:


Gift giving has long carried the slogan ‘it’s the thought that counts’, which makes passing on unwanted gifts to someone else quite a contentious topic. But as we become more socially conscious of waste, is it time to shift the narrative on regifting?

I asked my community on Instagram for their thoughts on the great taboo.

Regifting might not be as frowned upon as you think

Surprisingly, the overwhelming majority said the overall concept of regifting didn’t bother them.

In fact, a commonality that fell out of hundreds of opinions was the idea that once a gift is given, it’s up to the recipient what they do with it.

Refreshing. I like it.

The more I thought about this idea, the more I noticed that all too often we fall into the trap of making gift giving about us, not the recipient.

Giving gifts that prioritise making us feel good over actually being useful to the recipient, or giving gifts with an expectation of how much they should be enjoyed or appreciated or used is where regifting becomes really quite complicated.

Is it still the thought that counts?

We’re conditioned from a young age to be grateful for any and all gifts, regardless of how absurdly unusable they are, because it’s the thought that counts. And while gratitude at receiving a gift is of course important, it got me thinking.

Getting one dodgy gift and having to pretend it’s exactly what you need is one thing, and yes, part of being a decent human being who doesn’t break Aunt Lucy’s sweet soul.

But when poorly thought through gifts are given over and over again, causing more and more waste each time, where do we draw the line?

I received several responses from people who felt hurt by discovering gifts they’d given had been regifted. And that’s understandable. You thought you’d got a great gift and you found out they gave it to a friend. That’s not gonna feel amazing.

But if this is happening repeatedly, it could be time for a conversation, or some reflection, about the gifts you’re giving. If you express your love through gift giving but find yourself put out when those gifts are passed on, it could be that the gifts being given aren’t suitable for the recipients.

Happy sisters opening Christmas presents while sitting in living room at home
We've been told it's the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving. (Source: Getty) (Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images)

With so much waste falling out of the giving season every year, we really need to start unwinding the regifting taboo

If we embraced the idea put forward by so many – that once a gift is given it’s up to the recipient what they do with it – we might be able to reduce the stigma around regifting, and reduce the loaded emotional nature of it, too.

Passing a gift you won’t use onto someone who will probably isn’t the backstab you think it is. Would you prefer it went in the bin?

What about receiving a regift?

A lot of the conversation about regifting is centred around how the original giver feels – but what if you receive a regift?

A common response was that receiving a regift was absolutely fine, providing it wasn’t thoughtless and a transfer of waste. If you’ve been given a gift that would be great for someone else, regift away – but don’t pass on stuff you hate for the sake of it.

Others questioned how they’d know it was a regift, which actually answers for a lot. Perhaps the goal of regifting is exactly that: to make it undetectable. Not because of the taboo of regifting – a good gift is a good gift, regardless of where it came from. But because of the importance of thoughtful regifting.

If you’re considering regifting an item, ask yourself if anyone would guess it was being regifted. If you could easily have bought that gift for that person organically, go wild. Regift away. But if you’re trying to shuffle off an ugly scarf to someone else, that’s where it gets a bit sticky.

The bottom line: change the way we gift

Ultimately, alongside adjusting our views on regifting, we really need to shift the way we gift if we want to reduce the waste that comes with it.

Gifting purposefully – that is, to give things that have real use in the recipient’s life, or that can be easily regifted – is one way to switch up your gifting. Avoid gifts that guess people’s tastes or interests, unless you have absolute certainty that it’s what they want, and don’t be afraid of gift lists. It’s far better to give someone something they definitely want than to roll the dice.

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