I’ve always been good at re-gifting unwanted presents, even in my childhood. There was a time in the 80s when boxes of Black Magic chocolates, panettone and bottles of cheap vermouth were re-gifted so many times among my Greek relatives and friends they took to marking each one surreptitiously with an X so they could see whether they ended up getting the same gift they'd already given someone else, sometimes years later.
Some would say re-gifting is a terrible, ungrateful thing to do, but I’ve always felt that it’s better to give to someone who will use and enjoy a gift rather than have it sitting at the back of my bedroom cupboard for years, until I take it to the op shop where it may or may not end up in landfill. And this was before I understood the ongoing implications to our environment and local economies.
Re-gifting is easier to do when the gift is obviously bought in haste and doesn’t have much thought or consideration put into it. It’s harder when your mother-in-law gives you a bed linen set worth $500, in a shade of puce (with elaborate gold embroidery) you can’t ever, ever learn to love.
We're afraid of appearing selfish and inconsiderate. We’re afraid of feeling shunned and ashamed. We’re afraid of being found out. Why?
Our culture tells us to feel guilty about not appreciating presents. So we keep them. We're afraid of appearing selfish and inconsiderate. We’re afraid of being found out. Why? I’ve never been found out myself, but when I was a kid I watched one of my cousins throw a tantrum because my mother gave him a huge bundle of new and old books for Christmas, one of which his family had given us. Feeling guilty about re-gifting this is an outdated notion, perhaps nominally true before the rise of mass-produced plastic goods, before fast fashion, before everything and anything could be bought cheaply and unthinkingly online at the click of a button.
Re-gifting can be one of the most environmentally responsible things you can do. In 2018, 400 million dollars was spent on 10 million unwanted Christmas gifts that ended up in landfill by the following year, as well as the waste of single-use plastics in packaging, decorations and wrapping paper.
Re-gifting saves money, which is obvious. It also saves the water, resource extraction and energy inputs that go into manufacturing an item and thus reduces your personal carbon footprint. If you’re squeamish about re-gifting to people you know, join your local Buy Nothing or local community groups and offer unwanted gifts on there. Or create a post-Christmas gathering among your friends.
Make sure the book you re-gift doesn’t have a loving inscription written on the first page with your name on it and check if there’s a heartfelt note tucked into the novelty T-shirt you hate.
There is one thing I’ve learned from the merry-go-round of chocolates and Cinzano in my extended Greek family. Try not to re-gift in the same social circle - you don’t want to give someone the same present they gave you two years ago. Make sure the book you re-gift doesn’t have a loving inscription written on the first page with your name on it and check if there’s a heartfelt note tucked into the novelty T-shirt you hate. Avoid re-gifting monogrammed pieces. Importantly, re-gifting isn’t just an easy way to get rid of something you don’t like. Re-gift with the recipients' personal tastes and preferences in mind. Is it something you would actually spend money on for that particular person?
For me, re-gifting is the solution to a world bent on giving mindlessly. Now, my friends and family see no shame in passing it on if we’re not going to make use of a well-intentioned present. We also buy second-hand for each other, as well as pickling, jamming, baking and celebrating the hand-made and unique offerings of our own time, talents and energy.
Katerina Cosgrove is a writer. You can follow Katerina on Twitter @katcosgrove.