Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reclaiming Regifting

Photo by Claudia~Assad on Flickr using Creative Commons.

This post somehow got "stuck" and was never posted in time. I found it today and am giving it life. Hope you enjoy.

Welp, it's that time of year. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Tuesday have come and gone, and there are...12 days... left of shopping, if you celebrate that particular winter holiday. (Why some of our most sacred holidays - and not just the one you might be thinking of - have become consumer hey-days is beyond me, but that's another blog entirely.)

I love shopping as much as the next girl, but often there are a few things that get in my way. The first is financial. (See my previous blog on why going green can help save $green$.) The second is usually green guilt. Yet I have an idea for saving on both - it's not a new one, but I'm bringing it back to life.

I am reclaiming regifting. Yes, you heard me. Regifting. Still considered strictly taboo by most people I know, regifting has gotten a bad rap. (See Seinfeld episode The Label Maker, 1995.) But with simple consideration (and plenty of written "rule books" out there), one can manage to regift successfully.

I know - you're still skeptical, but let's see if we can't remove some of the stigma. First, regifting is really no more than giving a friend or relative something you no longer want or need, but think they might. It's high-level reusing/recycling. It can fall into the category of hand-me-downs, Freecycling, "dumpster diving", curb shopping, and even Freeganism, but it doesn't have to (not that I discourage any of those practices - in fact, I highly encourage them).

Second, regifting conserves environmental resources (used in manufacturing, packaging, and shipping new products) and your personal resources (money).

Still need more convincing? Our ancestors used to pass down precious family items, called heirlooms (not that anyone even knows what that means anymore), from one family member to the next. They were usually items of high quality and sentimental value, made to last and used by many generations. Guess what? Heirlooms are regifts. Ever heard of inheriting? That's just a fancy word for regifting.

My grandmother's friend had a fantastic idea about regifting, too, which so inspired me. She realized that she was getting up in her years, so even though she was not particularly ill she began preparations for the handling of her belongings after she passed. Anytime someone complimented an item in her house or wardrobe, etc., she would put their name on a piece of paper and place it under/on/in the item (or a list, where physical storage of the name would not be practical). This way she felt sure she could pass on her belongings to people who would appreciate them most.

There are countless traditional stories of heroes/heroines who have sacrificed their most prized possessions for something special for a loved one - or even a stranger. It is not a new concept, and I feel it should not be discounted as a meaningful means for giving, especially in times of economic and/or environmental crisis (both of which we presently live in).

Regifting, then, for my purposes, means giving someone a gift of something that has been yours - whether for years or a minute. Perhaps it was a gift to you and you never liked or used it, or maybe it's something you purchased for yourself and prized for a decade. It may or may not be used, and it may or may not have originally been a gift. The only requirement is that it is not newly purchased. In any event, the most important aspect of regifting is the intention; regifting only really works when you are giving someone a gift that is meaningful to both you and to the recipient. (But let's be honest - that's true of most gifts.)

Having said that, there are a few "rules of engagement" when it comes to regifting. There are plenty of web sites offering opinions on the matter, but below I will list those I feel are most important (in no particular order). These are guidelines, and are meant to be broken when/if the appropriate time comes. If your family is more open-minded about regifting, feel free to break 'em all.

Loose Rules for Regifting (see above disclaimer about "rules")
  • NEVER regift to the original gift-giver. At that point you might as well have returned it to her the second she gave it to you and said "no thanks". One way to remember who gave you the item, if you think you'll forget, is to note the giver's name on a slip of paper in the box as soon as you receive the item.
  • NEVER regift to a person the original gift-giver is likely to come in contact with, as this is still often viewed as rude and can create hurt feelings for both the new recipient and the original gift-giver. This means that unless your family is open to regifting, it's probably not a good idea to regift those reindeer slippers your mother gave you to Aunt Ida or Cousin Larry, as they might show up wearing them on Christmas, and boy, will that be a fun dinner sitting across from Mother.
  • Know your recipient. This is always a good idea, but especially with regifting. If it is obvious that your gift is a regift, be sure that the recipient is either unaware of it, or is open to the idea of regifting and will not be offended. Then make sure that your gift is special to the recipient (see below).
  • Be sure your gift is appropriate for the recipient. The best policy about regifting is to only regift when you are moved to do so. In other words, don't just give any random person something that you have lying around, but if you remember someone saying they wanted a recycled glass vase and you received two, one of which you don't need/use, then it's a pretty good regift and will likely be well-received.
  • Choose regift items that are durable and in good to new condition. Regifting can be budget-friendly, but if you give your sister a sudoku puzzle book in which you've solved 50% of the puzzles in pen, your gift will only seem cheap. Instead try clothing, accessories, furniture, games, or housewares that are almost good as new, or that have many "miles" left in them. Alternately, have something refurbished to the specifications/needs of a friend - then it will be a more personalized regift.
  • Opinions vary on whether or not the regifter should inform the recipient that the item is a regift. It can be a sensitive subject, so trust your gut. If your friend is a card-carrying vegan who hasn't purchased anything new in a year and proudly tells everyone about it, then you will likely impress her with a regift. If, on the other hand, your mother-in-law only buys brand name items, you might want to spare her that particular detail and just let her know you were thinking of her when you "found" this item. (Hey, it's true!)
  • Perhaps the single most important aspect of regifting is to slowly break in your family and friends. Let them know in advance that you love regifts, and that you'd love to give them, if they're open to them. Share with them the reasons regifting is important to you (hint: see the fourth and fifth paragraphs of this blog entry), and invite discussion.
  • As an addendum to the last rule, be open to receiving regifts yourself, and make it known to your loved ones. Just as recycling doesn't make much of a difference if we don't also purchase recycled goods, regifting doesn't work as well if you do not also invite others to regift to you.
Of course, for whatever gifts you may plan to give this year, I suggest wrapping them in:
  • reused or recycled wrapping paper
  • wrapping paper or gift bags salvaged from previous holidays
  • pre-wrapped boxes that can be reused over and over again (shirt/clothing boxes work nicely for this - wrap the top and bottom halves separately, or just the top half of the box)
  • newspaper or magazines
  • brown paper bags that you decorated yourself
  • reused gift boxes filled with shredded paper from your office (or shredded wrapping paper that didn't make the cut as reusable)
  • reusable fabric, perhaps tied fancifully
  • a pillowcase
  • blankets from the living room
  • another gift (a basket, a scarf, a sweatshirt, etc.)
  • other reusable, sustainable methods
(Or check out this cool blooming wrapping paper that you can later plant in the garden - it somehow grows flowers!)

Have a wonderful holiday season!

(Note: In the interest of honesty, I confess that I will be purchasing some new items as gifts this year as well as regifting.)