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My mom has a rule: The only gifts she will give, and the only ones she likes to receive, must be regifted or recycled in some way. She’s a hippie-leaning, environmentally conscious pragmatist who eschews the draw of so-called Hallmark holidays -- and I’m proud of her for that.
But the practice leads to some pretty hilarious gift exchanges. When accepting gifts from my mom, we usually start by straining to read between the lines of text on a card that’s been crossed out several times like a tattoo of an old boyfriend’s name updated to vaguely resemble a misshapen dragon. And then we proceed to unwrap the previously used paper on a gift that we recognize because we once gave it to my mom, but she decided she didn’t deserve -- or wouldn’t use -- something so nice.
And then, invariably, my folks present us with a check intended for something highly practical: This Hanukkah, it was for insulation in our drafty house. Score! Just what we wanted, needed, and could immediately apply to our lives -- instead of something grabbed in a mad dash at the mall.
My mom’s methods are unquestionably extreme, but I embrace the general message: Giving gifts for the sake of commercialism -- an obligatory but never-to-be-used candle, picture frame, bowl of potpourri -- seems a waste of effort and of money, especially in lean times.
That’s why I’m a firm believer in regifting. If I received something amazing, but it’s not my size or style, why wouldn’t I want someone else to enjoy it?
For me, this might apply to a kitchen gadget for a dish I don’t prepare (but I know a friend who does) or a home décor item that might be too modern for my vintage home (but would work great with someone else’s look).
Food -- say, a pretty tin of store-bought cookies or candy -- is also fair game for regifting in my book. But of course it must be done right away to ensure freshness. A nice bottle of wine is a perfect thing to regift to a hostess, but I always (always!) make sure I double check the gift bag for any existing card intended for my husband and me! (I shudder to imagine the potentially awkward scene every time.)
Among my regift no-nos are gift cards, which tend to lose value (or get lost and then have no value at all), random stuff that screams “regift” (tchotchkes and other miscellany that defies categorization) and anything into which I know the original giver put much personalized thought and care.
The items in the last category -- whether I love them or not -- tend to linger in my home forever. Because the best part of a gift -- either given or received -- is the loving intention.
Are you a regifter? Tune in to Dateline’s “Holiday Survival Guide” special tonight at 10 p.m. ET to see how your approach stacks up against the experts’ advice: Hoda Kotb, Kathie Lee Gifford and Bravo’s Andy Cohen are all on deck to talk about their list of etiquette dos and don’ts.
Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.