Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

What to do with unwanted gifts?

Christmas has passed, and you’re no doubt drowning in gifts (I’ve enough chocolate to last me until next Christmas), and for a good number of people, you’ll be looking at some of the presents and not wanting them. Around a quarter of all online purchases made between Black Friday and Boxing Day are returned, amounting to just under £5 billion worth of purchases, while the throngs of people out looking for post-Christmas bargains are matched only by the number heading to the High Street to return things they’ve received.

Of course, the question arises – if you don’t want a gift, how should you approach getting rid of it (if, indeed, you do get rid of it)? Do you address the person who bought it and figure out if it can be returned or exchanged? Should you pass it onto someone else, someone who you think may appreciate it more than you? Or do you just hold onto it and live with it? There’s a whole, complicated web of etiquette when it comes to dealing with unwanted gifts, so here’s some guidance on how to approach the situation.

If you’re thinking of re-gifting, be very careful where it ends up.

I would suggest that the correct approach to dealing with unwanted gifts depends on exactly why they are unwanted. If it’s simply the case that you already own the thing you’ve been gifted, I think honesty is the best policy – thank the gifter for the thought, and explain the situation, and they’re bound to understand. Most gifts will come with a receipt, and most right-minded gift-givers will have held onto that receipt just in case such a scenario arises, so don’t be afraid to speak to them about it. This is particularly useful if the gift is clothes – it’s sensible to retain the receipt in case the size or colour is wrong, but it can also be handy if you’re not a fan of the item and want to exchange it.

If you’re thinking of re-gifting, be very careful where it ends up. If something is recognisable, make sure if goes nowhere near anyone who would actually recognise it – imagine how insulting it would be to see something you’d put lots of hard work into just fobbed off onto someone else. On that note, if a gift is personalised, you’ll probably have to like it or lump it, but you can’t just hand it off. It’s very tempting to use unwanted gifts as presents for awkward people, or for those with nearby birthdays, but don’t do it unless you’re genuinely sure that the person would want it. There’s a bottle of red wine that, year on year, has wound up under our tree or my aunt’s because it keeps cycling, unwanted.

The important thing is to be thoughtful at every inch of the process

Charity shops are an option, but don’t use them as a place just to dump any old tat – only good-quality items, and I’d advise steering clear of dropping off personalised goods. The grandmother of a friend of mine knitted him a jumper with his name on it. The thing was awful – it was sickly-green with the name in yellow, and I can’t imagine anyone ever wearing it. He took it to the local charity shop and, by a cruel turn of fate, his other grandmother saw it. She bought it, and gave it to him for his birthday – which was hilarious, but things went to pot once the first grandmother learned about it. 

Of course, getting rid of an unwanted gift (however you do it) is fraught with danger in itself – what happens if the person expects you to wear their gift, asks about what you thought of the book, or visits your house and wonders where their gift is? But it’s often a risk you have to take, because everyone has received something that they don’t like, and that’s just a fact of life. The important thing is to be thoughtful at every inch of the process – as you choose a gift, as you receive it and be thankful for it and, if need be, in how you dispose of it.


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