Today, in the U.S., regifting can be controversial because some people feel that it lacks integrity. The original gift recipient is passing along a gift that was specifically selected for them – to someone else. However, others feel that regifting is a way to pass along something that might be more special and useful to another person. In the U.S., regifting has become more acceptable in certain social circles, and is viewed as a way to help the environment. However, experts advise it is best to exercise caution or avoid regifting food and perishable items during a pandemic for health and safety reasons.

In many cultures outside the U.S., regifting continues to be viewed as a faux pas, or as taboo. We have received numerous inquiries about regifting this year. Our founder has been interviewed by the media, and we share our responses with numerous readers and the media below:

  1. When is it okay to regift something? 

 It depends on the situation. There are numerous considerations, which we discuss here in detail.

Tips on regifting: 

  • The recipient is key. Be sure to regift to the right person. Is the item something that the recipient would choose for themselves? Does it fill a need or want? Is it a quality present that they would genuinely enjoy?
  • Original wrapping & instructions.  Be sure the gift is not previously used or a “hand-me-down.” It should be in its original packaging and fully sealed exactly as if purchased new. This is especially true during a global pandemic when health and safety are paramount.
  • Original giver efforts: Be sure the gift wasn’t created or organized as a special, meaningful gift from the giver to you.
  • Personalized: Avoid regifting engraved, monogrammed, or otherwise personalized pieces that are clearly intended for a specific recipient.
  • Different circles. Don’t regift within the same circle. Instead, regift within different family, friends, business, and work circles to avoid hurt feelings or awkward situations. Think your aunt Ashley won’t notice that your mother received the identical fragrance set that she gave you for your birthday? Think again!
  1. Are there certain gifts that are best to regift? 

Healthy and safety must be top of mind when thinking about regifting during a pandemic. If an item has been worn, used, or otherwise handled, it is inappropriate to regift the item. Some all-purpose gifts are better suited to regifting than others. If the item falls into one of the following categories, consider placing it in a new gift box or wrap it up nicely in the recipient’s favorite color.

  • Alcohol, beer, or spirits: Not really a red wine fan? Tie a pretty bow around the bottle and regift it to someone you know will enjoy it. Specialty beer, spirits, and wine, with the original tax seal intact, may be regifted.
  • Appliances: Unused small appliances, like cordless mixers, mini waffle-makers, NutriBullets, panini-makers, and rice cookers, in their original packages.
  • Certain clothing: If it’s unworn, with original tags, and it’s unisize, (or intended recipient sizing is certain) such as gloves, hats, scarves, socks, slippers, and wraps.
  • Fragrances: Only if unused, meaning it is still in its original packaging, including the plastic wrapping around the fragrance box (unopened box, plastic, seal, and unopened bottle). Be cautious: once the plastic is unwrapped, it’s used.
  • Gift baskets: If pre-packed by a retailer, done immediately, properly stored, and un-expired, these may be regifted if the foil seal is unbroken
  • Gift cards: Regift immediately, double-checking the balance and expiration date before presenting it in a new gift card holder.
  • Technology, games, and puzzles: Aficionados will like these fun treasures!
  1. Are there certain gifts to avoid regifting?
  • A broken seal: If you have opened the box, unwrapped the plastic, or broken the seal, it’s a no-no. Even if it’s a Scooter or a golf club.
  • Art: When my parents visit, they quietly observe, taking mental notes of their gifted art we display. They’re world travelers with excellent taste, so we are blessed. Unfortunately, good taste isn’t universal. It’s best to hold on to art – as the giver selected this expensive piece with you in mind. Display it when they visit.
  • Jewelry: My stepson’s former girlfriend gave me a less than desirable bracelet. Even though it wasn’t my style, she selected it for me. I wore it when we dined together. Now that their relationship is over, it can be donated or great fun during an accessory swap with friends.
  • Anything personalized: If your name or initials are engraved, monogrammed, or etched, then it’s yours. Either keep it, and like the jewelry above, use it when you are with that person, or store the item away as a keepsake.
  • Outdated IT: Regifting outdated technology (i.e., a Blackberry phone), is a faux pas. Research donation sites so that parts can be recycled or reused.
  • Unusual pieces: Avoid regifting items that are distinct, novel, or unusual.
  1. Do you need to tell the recipient or the original gift giver that you’re regifting? Should you only tell them if they explicitly ask?

Yes. It is my practice to let the person know that I’m regifting and I explain why I’m doing so. Etiquette is about kindness, integrity, honesty, and respect. The danger in failing to come clean is that if you get caught, your integrity is on the line.  There is a Buddhist philosophy around detachment and letting go – so let them know in advance. If you’re “caught,” avoid attempting to hide it; rather own up to it and acknowledge that you thought the gift was a better fit for the new recipient. If your sister-in-law gave you a cookbook, for example, and she discovered you gave it to your best friend who is a fabulous cook, respond with, “Thank you for the thoughtful gift. Since I don’t cook much, I thought my friend Marci who is a fabulous cook would enjoy it much more. If I offended you, I deeply apologize. Please know that I appreciate your thoughtfulness.”

  1. Any final suggestions regarding re-gifting? 

More than anything, gift giving is an expression of gratitude and appreciation for the recipient. In the end, you want to acknowledge the person’s importance and value to you. Whatever you decide in terms of gift giving this season, remember that the key is expression of gratitude and, most importantly, the recipient feeling appreciated.

Be thoughtful and remember, some people really attribute a lot of extra baggage to holiday gift giving. If you’re undecided about regifting, consider this: is saving your time or your shopping funds worth the risk of a lost relationship?

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, modern manners and etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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