Regifting is a moral dilemma

December 26, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

All right, so it's the day after. And you wouldn't give it a second thought, except that it catches your attention out of the corner of one eye. It's sitting there with everything else under the tree in a tangle of paper and ribbon.

And you know this: You didn't want it yesterday, you don't want it today and you won't want it tomorrow. And if you keep it, it will just take up space until some time in the future when you must deal, unpleasantly, with it again. So the question arises:

Is it OK to regift?

Fortunately for you, I did my master's thesis on regifting.

Regifting, of course, is taking something that's been given to you and wrapping it up for someone else. It seems seedy at first, but has its undeniable merits. The gift in question can be most anything, from the waffle iron you already have, to one of those horrible big picture frames with all those small cutouts in the mat for the mounting of multiple snapshots that no one will ever look at and no one will ever care about.


So the first thing to understand is that feelings of regifting are normal. Everyone has them. Wanting to regift does not make you a bad person.

Regifting doesn't mean that you don't care. Well, maybe it does. It's sort of your apathetic nod toward the obligation of gift-giving to a person or in a situation that gets you about as excited as a kitchen stand-up act on YouTube.

The moral dilemma with regifting is twofold. One, it means taking something that someone gave you with care and basically tossing it into the landfill. Even if the giver never finds out, your conscience will still annoyingly remind you that you have betrayed someone's sensitivities.

Second - and it is not pleasant, but you need to accept this - is that regifting disrespects the recipient. The downside of regifting is that you are not taking time out of your day to think, shop and spend money on the person to whom you are giving. (The upside of regifting, of course is that you are not taking time out of your day to think, shop and spend money on the person to whom ... ).

There are rationalizations, however, so feel free to use any of these that may apply. I mean look, the person should have known that you didn't want a porcelain monkey, would never dream of displaying a porcelain monkey and in fact that you would hate a porcelain monkey - and that rather than be a joy it would be a burden on your life. So that's on them, not on you. Grandparents are the exception. They mean well, it's just that they have no idea that your teenage daughter probably isn't interested in TurboTax software.

Second, there is always the chance that the person you are regifting to will like what you have given. Not much of a chance, it's true, but a chance. More than once, I have regifted as sort of a joke only to find the recipient absolutely loved the made-in-Vermont coffee mug with the cartoon cow saying "Good Moo-ning."

And finally, everyone does it. Regifting is a fact of life, and you cannot swim against the tide. You have been the victim of a drive-by regifting at some point, I'm sure. So let's just accept it and get on with the practicalities.

The first rule of regifting is TAKE THE FREAKING TAG OFF. Make sure there are no personal inscriptions anywhere on the item. You can't give a book that's inscribed, "Darling, Happy Arbor Day, love, Little Butch" on the title page. This can cause an embarrassing moment.

The second rule, is no regifting to family members twice removed. Third cousin? Fine. Sister? No.

Third, there needs to be some plausible hope that the person you are regifting to will not hate it. If someone gives you a Precious Moments figurine and you do not collect Precious Moments figurines, but know someone who does, you're golden. On the other hand, do not regift it to someone who collects, say, NASCAR action figures.

Fourth, consider the occasion. Wedding anniversaries are not the time for regifting, take it from me.

Fifth, maintain at least three degrees of separation. If you and the giver have a mutual friend, do not regift to that friend. What you are about to regift may have been regifted to you and an awkward gift triangle could result.

And finally, have an out story. If disaster strikes, and you did miss an inscription somewhere, or if you see a look of horror wash across the recipient's face as the present is opened, be ready to quickly jump in with "Ha ha, isn't that awful? Now you give it to somebody else, OK? It's a great gag."

No charge for this advice, I'm just here to help. But should you ever get something from me, you are right to be veeerrry suspicious.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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