The Joy of Holiday (Re) Giving

PHOTO: Regifting etiquette- when is it ok and not ok to regift?

Judy Twersky can't throw away a gift. Doesn't matter if it cost 25 cents and has tentacles growing out of it, she simply can't toss out a present.

"It feels so wasteful to throw something away when I know there are other people out there who would enjoy it," Twersky, a 60-year-old publicist in New York told ABC News.

So this is a great time of year for Twersky, because it gives her the chance to indulge in one of her favorite pastimes: The Regift.

Ah, yes. The Regift. As every Seinfeld fan knows, regifting--that is, repurposing an unwanted object for someone else's delight--is a ubiquitous part of the holiday season, and, let's face it, graduations, anniversaries, birthdays and weddings.

According to a recent online survey conducted by Bookoo.com, a virtual yard sale community, 92 percent of 3,774 people interviewed think it's completely acceptable to regift, and more than 62 percent plan on doing so this year.

Home décor products (63 percent), antiques (63 percent) and books (59 percent) are among the most popular regifted items, but the survey also found that nothing is too outrageous to be passed along: Monogrammed clothing--with someone else's initials on them; two-year-old fruitcake (that the person had originally given the gifter); a box of chocolates with bites taken out of several pieces; an outdated desk calendar; partly used gift cards; and–yes—even a used toilet seat (don't ask).

"My brother used to give me gift cards for things I would never use, like Omaha Steaks when I was a vegetarian," Doug Evans, 28, a graduate student at Marshall University in Charleston, W.V., told ABC News.

A self-described "total regifter" who themes his holiday parties around re-gifting unopened presents from years past, Evans takes his practice seriously. "I do a pretty good job remembering who gave me the things in my closets and storage boxes that I never use," he said, acknowledging the inherent risks in mistakenly re-gifting a gift to the original giver.

This has happened to Twersky, the "Queen of Regifting," twice. "In both instances, the people sounded very sincere so I don't think they even realized that in fact they were pretending to have bought me 'perfect black onyx earrings' which I had already given them," she said.

With that in mind, not everyone thinks re-gifting is socially acceptable. Charles Purdy, author of Urban Etiquette, believes we should adhere to the adage about the thought counting more than the gift.

"Seeming to reject a present can seem to reject the thoughtfulness of the giver, which you definitely don't want to do," Purdy told ABC News. He suggests not regifting, or only doing so when the person who gave you the gift in the first place is sure to not find out. "Of course, every relationship is different -- you may know that the giver won't be offended if his or her gift finds a better home with someone else, so that's an exception."

But Bruce Weinstein, the author of Ethical Intelligence, feels differently. The way he sees it, regifting--a practice he calls "benevolent deception"--is a moral obligation, at least from an environmental standpoint.

"We have limited resources on the planet. Who would object to reduce, reuse and recycle as a general principle?" Weinstein told ABC News. "If you get something that can benefit others, it would be wrong not to give it to them--especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, where so many people lost and need things like clothing and food that we might get or don't want.

"Let's say your friend is a huge friend of The Munstes, but she's never owned it and I give you the complete DVD--and you don't like it," he continued. "You could, out of a fear of hurting my feelings, just hang onto it. But the point of giving a gift is to please the recipient. So what the heck does it matter to her if you buy it or got it another way? What matters to her is that she got a complete Munsters set. By the same token, you don't have to tell me you've given it away."

And, he added, if someone gives you an unwelcome gift but expects to see you using it, the "ethical obligations to avoid causing harm and to respect others requires you to bite the bullet and go along with it," he said.

Indeed, regifting is an art that must be practiced delicately. Jewelry designer Jodi Newbern, the author of Regifting Revival!: A Guide to Reusing Gifts Graciously, recommends "tasteful regifting." That unopened box of toothpicks? Don't just give it to your brother-in-law because it's still wrapped and you know he likes to clean his teeth after a meal; instead, try to give something a little more nuanced (gold plated toothpicks, perhaps?).

Jodi R. R. Smith, who runs Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, in Marblehead, Mass., has a series of tips for successful regifiting. Among them:

Present it well: "Just as a gourmet meal would lose its appeal served in a Styrofoam box, care and consideration should be given to the wrapping, ribbon and bows on the re-gifted gift," she said. "Also, take the time to be sure any original cards have been completely removed."

Separate circles: Make sure the person who gave you the gift does not know and/or interact with the person to whom you are giving the gift. "The more unusual the item, the more the distance should be between the giver and the re-giftee," she said.

Be honest--sometimes: In certain instances, it's perfectly fine to tell people the item is a re-gift, especially if it's a family heirloom, jewel or expensive piece of china. "Your uncle's old car as a 16th birthday present is really quite thoughtful," she said.

Above all, make sure the item has never been worn, used, washed, played with, or drunk, as Twerksy learned when she gave her superintendent a bottle of brandy that was --oops!--half empty.

"It was this blue-glass bottle and had a fancy label and looked to me like it was sealed tight," she recalled with a laugh. "He said, 'In the future you might want to think about getting me a bottle that hasn't been opened.' I thought he was joking. He wasn't."

Not surprisingly, she was mortified--and ended up blaming the liquor store for selling her a used bottle. She has never regifted alcohol again.

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