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Why gift when you can regift?

Last updated on February 7, 2012

If someone gives you a handbag you don’t particularly like, what should you do with it? If you have a gift receipt or know which store it came from, you might be able to return it. But if you don’t, you have three options: (1) Donate it to a thrift store or charity; (2) Regift it to a friend or relative; or (3) Keep it in a closet and take it out whenever you need to swat a fly.

Thankfully, no one gives me handbags, but I have received a few gifts I didn’t like. And though I hate to admit it, I’ve regifted a couple of them fairly successfully. I say “fairly,” because my California friend wasn’t too crazy about the long underwear. But at least his wife seemed to appreciate the mustache trimmer.

You may think that regifting is tacky and improper, that it should be done only under extreme circumstances, such as when your pantry is overflowing with fruitcake and there just aren’t enough dogs around. But regifting has become more common these days, partly because it solves two problems at once. It allows you to get rid of the unneeded gift while also saving you the trouble of going to the store and searching for a gift for a friend who doesn’t really need anything and ought to be satisfied with the Anna Kournikova calendar, so what if he’s gay. (Hey, I’m straight and I have a picture of Clay Aiken on my wall. No, wait, it’s Meg Ryan.)

Regifting is far more common than you think. In fact, if you happen to receive one of those Chia Pets as a gift, keep in mind that it’s probably been in circulation since 1979, probably been tossed out of more homes than an Amway rep.

Some gifts have traveled across the world and back. You give a white hat to Aunt Rani, who doesn’t care for it and gives it to her cousin Shilpa, who gives it to her friend Anita, who takes it to India and gives it to her grandma, Archana, who gives it to her maid, Priya, who gives it to her mother, Raji, who glues a few shells on it and sells it for 2,000 rupees to an American tourist, who returns to New York and gives it to her mother, who is rather thrilled to have a replica of the Taj Mahal.

As you can see, regifting may result in some happiness down the line, even if it does cause a lot of grief along the way. But before you regift, you need to follow a number of rules. Here are just a few:

1. Do not give a gift to the same person who gave it to you. If you’re not sure who gave you a certain gift, then don’t give it anyone you know, except perhaps that middle-aged friend who’s as forgetful as you.

2. Do not regift something that’s been monogrammed. If your initials are “M.C.D.” and they’re printed on a cap, don’t regift the cap to a friend, unless you can convince him that “M.C.D.” stands for “Merry Christmas, Dude.”

3. If an item is scratched or dented, do not regift it. The gift should look brand new, with no more than a few dozen fingerprints. Whatever you do, don’t try to take advantage of any friends who are visually impaired. Just remember: They’ve got feelings. And they’ll catch you.

4. Don’t regift anything with a company logo printed on it, unless it has four wheels and an exhaust. Don’t even think of regifting mugs, key chains and pens that say “2004 Republican National Convention.” Friendships have been lost on far less.

5. Do not reuse the card you received with a gift. This is a bad idea, even if you have a convenient name and can change the words “Love, dad” to “Love, Soledad.”

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