How to win friends and family while regifting

NEW YORK (Reuters) - There are plenty of delicate subjects during the holiday season, but one of the touchiest could be regifting.

Plenty of us do it, but avoid talking about it for fear of offending friends and family.

Susan Choi and Pete Wells have developed a different approach. Instead of whispering about regifting, the Brooklyn, New York City couple are shouting it from the rooftops.

Later this month, Choi and Wells are hosting their annual “world-saving party,” where wine will be plentiful, the conversation flowing, and holiday presents will be regifted - openly and without shame.

“Every holiday, there is always a gift that doesn’t fit the recipient perfectly, but there is always someone else who will love it,” says Choi, a novelist.

Unique gifts that found more fitting homes at the couple’s party over the last decade include a singing marshmallow, an inflatable robot on wheels, and a 60-pound cast-iron pig dressed in chef’s whites.

Indeed, Wells and Choi are the vanguards of a larger societal trend. A whopping 76 percent of people now say regifting is acceptable, according to data from the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey. That’s up from 73 percent last year and 71 percent in 2012.

Some 42 percent of respondents admit they regifted last year, up from 32 percent the year before.

Driving the trend is a general distaste for waste, possibly because money is still tight after the recession, or just out of concern for the environment, says Julie Blais Comeau, an etiquette expert in Gatineau, Quebec, and author of “Etiquette: Confidence & Credibility.”

So what exactly is being regifted? Most often, kitchenware (20 percent of the time), according to American Express. That’s followed closely by sweaters (15 percent), electronics (13 percent) and gloves (13 percent).

Christy Canterbury, who lives in Manhattan, has an ideal item for an elegant regift: A bottle of wine. She basically swims in the stuff, as a wine judge and one of the 312 Masters of Wine in the world.

Since wine is not “like a scarf your friend knit for you on the subway every morning for three weeks,” Canterbury says, it’s easily transferable and often well appreciated.

Friends are the most frequent recipients of regifting, according to the American Express survey, getting 41 percent of recycled presents, followed by co-workers, with 32 percent.


Despite the numbers, not everyone would be thrilled to receive something originally intended for Aunt Mildred. The 24 percent of people who dislike the concept of regifting could find it offensive, especially at such a tension-packed time of year.

To prevent adding to everyone’s stress load while offloading your gifts, try being discreet: Regift between different social circles, and avoid doing it if it will cause trouble.

“It’s like on ‘Seinfeld’ when Jerry and George were talking about ‘worlds colliding’,” says Comeau. “If you think they might, then just don’t do it.”

It helps to know your target. You might be so close with someone that they expect a personalized gift, but there’s no reason the selection of a regifted present cannot involve thought and care.

“Don’t regift a tea set to someone who doesn’t drink tea,” says Comeau. “It should always appeal to the receiver.”

To take regifting out of the shadows, simply embrace it, says Allison Hemming, founder of staffing agency The Hired Guns. She once participated in a “Regift Secret Santa” at the office. “We never laughed harder or had more fun exchanging gifts,” she says.

That echoes the success of Susan Choi’s and Pete Wells’ annual party.

“It makes me happy to think that we can take some of all this stuff in our lives, and give it to other people who might like it,” Choi says.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum