Encouraging re-gifting


in Economics, Geek stuff, Psychology

I don’t think it is appropriate that our society has a general stigma against ‘re-gifting‘: the practice of giving away something that was itself received as a gift.

In many ways, re-gifting is a rational response to the fundamental problem of gift-giving, namely that gift-givers are not necessarily able to pick things that gift-recipients will want. Very often, the cost to the giver will substantially exceed the benefit to the recipient. For example, you might get an inferior version of something you already own, and which nobody needs more than one of. There are also clothes that don’t fit or do not fit your style, books you will never read, foods you do not enjoy, and so on.

Allowing the recipient to give the gift to somebody who may like it more reduces the odds that it will sit unused and unappreciated in a corner or a closet somewhere.

I wonder if there is any concrete way in which the tolerance for re-gifting within society can be increased. Perhaps there should be a designated day, sometime after Christmas, on which people are encouraged to re-gift. In particular, they should be encouraged to give away anything that has little or no value to them, but which they know will be valued by somebody else.

For the record, as a utilitarian I encourage people to re-gift unwanted things that I have given to them at various times. I can’t promise that I won’t be a bit disappointed to learn that I have chosen something for you that has no value, but I will be glad at least that it is going to somebody who will have a use for it.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. December 10, 2011 at 7:37 pm


n. hobbitish. A birthday present, esp. one whose use has been forgotten.

“Hobbits give presents to other people on their own birthdays. Not very expensive ones, as a rule, and not so lavishly as on this occasion; but it was not a bad system.”

— The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 50-51.

“It was a tendency of hobbit-holes to get cluttered up; for which the custom of giving so many birthday-presents was largely responsible. Not, of course, that the birthday-presents were always new; there were one or two old mathoms of forgotten uses that had circulated all around the district; but Bilbo had usually given new presents and kept those that he received.”

— The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 65.

oleh December 11, 2011 at 7:54 am

I will come out of the closet. I am a supporter and practioner of re-gifting. (although like Milan i do feel some disappointment when I hear that one of my gifts to someone has been re-gifted). Other practitioners of this know of or have heard of include people that receive boxes of chocolates passing them forward (I have certianly done that) or families who receive dowries such as cows for their daughters then giving those same cows to the families of their future daughters in law.

As a way to help overcome the stigma, I will plan to regift something I receive this Christmas.

. December 17, 2017 at 3:03 am

Second, “regifting,” or giving away a gift someone else gave to you, though considered a social taboo, is not quite as ghastly as often thought. Researchers showed in the journal Psychological Science in 2012 that we overestimate how offended people will be to learn that their gift was passed on to someone else. Participants in the study reported that if they gave someone an unwanted gift, they would prefer it be given away than thrown away outright. So that’s something.

Furthermore, there is a narrow range of circumstances in which regifting is not just tolerated but actively embraced. The key is to follow what I call the Fruitcake Principle: If you don’t value it, don’t regift it. Only pass on things you yourself own and authentically treasure.

If you have doubts about the wisdom of regifting used items with sentimental value, you aren’t alone — but you may be missing out on a special opportunity. For instance, scholars at Carnegie Mellon recently demonstrated that we’re more likely to give practical gifts that seem personal (such as a jersey for the recipient’s favorite football team) than sentimentally valuable ones (say, a cherished photo we have had for years). However, they also found that recipients would actually prefer to receive fewer practical gifts and more sentimentally valuable ones.

So if a friend gives you something you truly love and you think it will make someone else happy as well, feel free to regift it. On the other hand, if it’s a fruitcake, you’re fooling no one. Toss it.

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