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What to Do with Unwanted, Inappropriate Gifts: Keep, Regift, Dump, Sell

Updated on November 17, 2016
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Dr. John applies his scientific (PhD) research skills & 30 years experience as an inventor & futurist to review technology, apps, software.

What to do with unwanted gifts is a perennial dilemma at Christmas and for birthdays? Should you respect the giver by keeping them, even when you don't want them? Should these unwanted gifts be added to the pile at the back of the cupboard? Or should you feel free to do what you want with them, including throwing them out, reselling them or even using them as gifts for someone else?

Is there an acceptable period of time you should keep them before you can feel free to do what you like with them?

This article explores this moral dilemma, etiquette and manners issue and well as the options for deciding what to do with unwanted gifts.

The limited surveys that have been conducted on unwanted gifts has shown the following:

  • About 60% per cent of people surveyed expected to receive least one inappropriate or unwanted gift on birthdays and at Christmas and almost 40% will offload that present on an online site such as Ebay.
  • More men than women sold the goods online for cash and more women re-gifted their unwanted presents.
  • The average sale price for an unwanted gift on Ebay is about $64 (14% over $100), and 40 % of people used the money to buy a better gift, about 30% used it to pay bills, and 30% saved the money.
  • The most unpopular gift was clothing, with about 40% saying they had to force a smile while accepting a ''ghastly'' clothing item.
  • Other unpopular gifts were toiletries (about 30%), jewellery (about 15 %) and ornaments (about 10%)
  • About 20% of people said that the person most likely to give an inappropriate present to a teenager or an adult was their mother.
  • Only about 10% of people said that they would tell the giver that they did not liking the present and would ask for the receipt.
  • About a third of the people surveyed said that they would shove the unwanted present to the back of a cupboard as they did not feel comfortable with getting rid of the gift and felt obliged to keep it.
  • About 15 % people interviewed would give the gift away, perhaps to a charity.
  • Only 2% said they would dump the gift.
  • About 40% per cent of dud presents would be kept in a cupboard or storeroom
  • About 20% of unwanted presents would be re-gifted.

Should we show false gratitude for unwanted or inappropriate gifts

If you get an unwanted gift that is totally inappropriate should you pretend to like the gift and thank the giver to be polite? Or should you active passively to avoid telling a lie. Is it an unjustifiable lie, insincerity, or perhaps, a half truth?

Should you question the motives of the giver:

  • they genuinely thought you would like the gift
  • they got you something at the last minute without putting much thought into it
  • they were genuinely trying to make some point with the gift
  • they were being nasty to you
  • they had recycled the gift

If so what should you do about it? It is not polite to refuse the gift of to give it back. But are you justified in saying 'I've got one already' 'What does it do?' What's the point of this? Or perhaps you should make some subtle joke about it. Otherwise you can bite your tongue, stay quiet and pretend it did not happen.

The Timing Issue

You are not obliged to keep the present for ever, which is your property after all, but it is not polite or sensible should not give it away or dispose of it immediately, especially if it is unique and recognisable. If it is a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates the timing is not very important but if its an ornament or a personal item then perhaps you should keep it for a month until the giver can see it in your house at least once before it disappears. One trick with food or drink items is to open them immediately and share them with the giver. If you are on a diet and don't want to take the box of chocolates home - open them and share them around.

Polite Disposal

There are many views on this:

  • You can't sell presents. There is no such thing as unwanted gift given to you with good intentions and love. After a suitable period the gift can be thrown out.
  • Be careful with re-gifting. Don't mistakenly give the gift back to the giver or to anyone who may recognise it as having been given to you.
  • Re-gifting is fine - why not its your property!
  • Selling gifts is fine - why not its your property!
  • Donate the unwanted gifts to charities or if you sell them donate the proceeds to charity

How to react if you get an unwanted gift

Etiquette says that we should:

  • Look for something positive or at least one redeeming feature that you can comment on comment on.
  • Compliment the giver. You may hate the gift, but you should show the giver that you really appreciate them.
  • Keep the response simple and guarded. Going over the top with your response will arouse suspicion. You may also mislead the giver into believing you really love the gift. It can also be counter-productive - If it is horrible, don't overdo the reaction by shouting out how wonderful it is. You could end up getting more of the same next year.
  • Duplicate gifts - If you receive duplicate gifts, compliment the givers mutual good taste. Always remember forget the old fallback response that you will now have an extra one for the car.
  • Remember to always say thank you.

Disposal Options after a small, suitable delay

  • Donate to charity. Even though the gift may not appeal to you, someone else will be looking for exactly the same item.
  • Re-gift, but you need to be careful as you don't want to be discovered. It is remarkable how often someone will recognise that you are giving unwanted gifts to someone else, Don't give them to the original giver next year!
  • Auction on eBay, why not make a few dollars from something you don't want?
  • Host a garage sale.
  • Store your unwanted gifts in a spare drawer, the attic or the garage. You never know when you may need to hastily find it and put it back on display, such as that unique lamp when your grandmother comes to visit. This is definitely and art!

What can we learn from Unwanted Gifts

  • Many people are very sensible and will enclose the receipts for the goods in a sealed envelop with the gift. This especially applies to clothes and jewellery which are very personal
  • Receiving unwanted gifts is a reminder that you can do it as well and that you need to put more effort into it or include receipts or give neutral presents that can be easily exchanged, swapped, re-gifted or disposed of.
  • Many people give gifts that can be re-gifted anonymously such a wine or chocolates
  • Give gift card or vouchers - but this is very impersonal and can be interpreted as a 'cop-out' or that 'you can't be bothered'
  • Secret Santa and Chris Kindle (or Kris Kringle) is a good idea to reduce the number of unwanted gifts that everyone receives. There are lots of versions but essentially individuals of a family, work group or community are randomly assigned a person for which they anonymously buy a gift. This reduces the overall cost and means that the giver can spend lots more time choosing an appropriate gift. This avoids everyone having to buy a gift for everyone and generally many of the gifts will be unwanted as they don't have the time or knowledge to buy ideal gifts. Removing the need for anonymousity and calling for volunteers or nominating someone to buy a present for each individual may be better as it means the person buying the gift is more likely to buy them something they generally want.
  • Many charities issue calls for unwanted gifts to be donated to them

© 2011 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • rednickle profile image


    6 years ago from New Brunswick Canada

    lol cold suggestions but in the givers defense, it is the thought that counts

  • rebeccamealey profile image

    Rebecca Mealey 

    6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

    Thank goodness for gift cards.Nice Hub,and cute illustrations.


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