An examination of the reasons for moral unease around regifting and how to do properly in order to be more sustainable and anti-consumerist.
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Wikipedia defines regifting as “the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes in the guise of a new gift.” However, I want to expand that definition for the sake of this article. I think that regifting comes in a lot of different forms, but at its core it is about giving someone a gift that you have received for free. For example if you get something for free from an event, and then you give it to someone else. Perhaps you get a t-shirt or a water bottle from a sponsor booth, an item that you might have too many of. If you give this to someone else, this would qualify as regifting. Of course there is also the more straightforward scenario of giving someone else a birthday gift that you had received from someone, perhaps you didn’t like it or had a duplicate of it.
I wouldn’t call myself a “shameless” regifter because it certainly isn’t without qualms, but with that being said, I regift things all the time. I definitely get called out on it by my friends and family, mostly in jest, but I wanted to take the time to write this article to organize my thoughts on the matter. I try to do it in the most ethical way possible, and I want to introduce other people to my way of thinking as well.
The Moral Question of Regifting
While I think that regifting is not inherently morally wrong, it can still be morally wrong or cause repercussions. If the person who gave you the gift put a lot of effort or money into the gift and then see that it was given away to someone else, they might feel some type of way about it.
- They could feel hurt/embarrassed/insecure because they feel bad that they gave you a bad gift.
- In this case, you can assure them that you appreciated the gesture and effort, but that it has a better home now with someone who would actually use it.
- Embarrassment/insecurity would likely come about because of what a bad gift represents, that they don’t really know you that well or they are not a good gift giver.
- They could feel angry because they spent time, money, and effort on a gift that you gave away.
- I don’t think that it is disrespectful or that you owe the gift giver anything. At the end of the day, it was their choice to get you a gift, and it is yours after they give it to you. You should still be grateful to them though, or at least demonstrate gratitude because it is rude not to.
Once again, nothing was compulsory for the gift givers, so the blame is not on you. Social norms may have dictated that they get you a gift, but they could have bucked the norm, or just gotten you a gift card. Unless you mandated people give you gifts and in that case you were extorting them.
Something that is not morally okay is trying to pass off the gift as something that you bought them because that is lying, and in some cases, it could backfire.
- If the gift you are regifting is expensive, the receiver may feel bad about the supposed expenditure on your part.
- If the person likes the gift, they could ask you where you got it, to which you will have to lie more.
Another source of unease around regifting is the potential perception of the receiver of the gift. In other words, how will the person you are giving the gift to think of it/you? This is less a moral quandary and more about the anxiety of being perceived and misunderstood.
- “They’ll think I’m cheap”: Well I mean it kind of is, but as long as you can make your intentions clear that it wasn’t about the money, then you should be fine. It also depends on the quality of the goods that are being regifted.
- “They’ll think I don’t care about them”: This is an understandable line of thought because the amount spent on a gift is a common heuristic for determining how special that person is to you. If you know this person will judge you, then you shouldn’t regift to them, but most people aren’t that shallow. I think the main thing to remember is that when giving a gift, it is the thought that counts, not the amount of money behind it.
I think it all comes down to using proper judgment for regifting. It is definitely possible to do it in a tactful, respectful, and thoughtful way, which is what I will explore in the rest of this article.
Considerations of Regifting
Does the recipient know it’s a regift?
- They know (Transparent)
- They don’t know (Opaque)
You can use regifting to your advantage in a transparent regift. Imagine that an acquaintance got you a bottle of wine when they came as a +1 to a dinner party that you were hosting. Since the person didn’t really know you that well, they got you a kind of wine that you don’t particularly like, but you know that your friend will definitely enjoy. You can tell your friend, “I was recently given this bottle of wine from someone that you know I don’t usually drink, but I thought of you and how you would definitely enjoy it more, so you should have it.”
What is the item? Its condition?
- Expensive vs cheap item
- Branded vs generic item
- Used vs not used item
I think that you should not be giving someone junk, but if you are able to give someone a lot of cheap things at once, then it becomes more socially acceptable in my opinion. It is kind of similar to being given a stocking full of stocking stuffers on Christmas morning. As for the conditions of the items, I am of the opinion that it doesn’t need to still be in its original packaging, sometimes you have to use something a few times before knowing that you don’t want it. Just make sure that it is clean and fully functional.
When I say branded item I mean something like a t-shirt that has some random company on it that you got for free. I think if the company is culturally or personally relevant, then it is okay to regift, otherwise you should try to remove the logo, or just not regift.
What’s the occasion?
In some cultures gift value is very important, especially when considering reciprocity/representation of gratitude, so it is important to fully understand the occasion of the gift giving, as well as the attitude/gift philosophy of the receiver. Not all occasions are occasions for regifting.
The Guiding Principles of Regifting
Regifting is easy as long as you put a little bit of thought into it. Just keep the following in mind:
- You don’t need to tell the person that the gift is a regift, but be honest if asked, and certainly don’t lie about the origins of the gift.
- Think about if this person would actually want it.
- Some people are less likely to regift, so then it’s either collecting dust at this person’s home, or it ends up in the trash.
- You still need to put in effort.
- Wrap it, write a card, etc.
- Don’t give something back to the person who gave it to you.
- If it’s used, make sure that it’s lightly used.
- If it is a small gift, perhaps consider bundling it with other things, like a favorite food or beverage of theirs.
The Benefits of Regifting
- Some people just throw things away that they don’t use (especially if it is a perishable good). If we instead gave it to someone else that likes
- Lots of gift occasions have been propped up by big corporations (see: Christmas, Valentine’s Day).
- Why buy something else if you have something on hand? Provided that the person would like it of course, we don’t want them to feel the need to throw it away.
- If something was going to be collecting dust in your house anyway, that’s space that you’ve now freed up.
It’s fiscally responsible.
- That’s money that you didn’t have to spend on buying a gift for someone. But try saving it instead of using it to splurge on yourself!