10+ Unspoken Rules of Gifting This Holiday Season

7 min readDec 5, 2023
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My husband and I discussed gifts one night. He said when it comes to receiving gifts, it’s the thought counts and that I can’t donate the item.

I don’t agree. I have caught one of my in-laws reselling something I bought at their yard sale years ago. Another admitted they regifted several of the items I gave them over the years.

But I can’t donate? Or regift? Here’s what the etiquette says:

What to do after someone gives you a gift?

“Accept the gift graciously, smile and say, ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me,’” says Gottsman. You may also remark how thoughtful the other person has been or express that you’re surprised to be receiving something from them. “Whatever you say, keep the tone light and lively.Dec 21, 2022

So What Kind of Gifts Suck?

This list is not going to include everything but it’s a start…

  • candles
  • cheesy decor items
  • blankets
  • regifts
  • cheap candy
  • books if you don’t know what the person likes to read
  • small items given with no thought
  • gift cards that are not a match to the recipient
  • As Seen on TV stuff
  • clothing
  • pajamas
  • Hickory Farms kit
  • the list goes on…

But what about immediately donating the item?

Apartment Therapy has a lot of advice for getting rid of unwanted gifts respectfully:


List it on Facebook Marketplace. Avoid a potentially awkward situation with the giver and keep any items off social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Instagram Stories where they might see it. If you must re-sell online, consider asking a friend to do it.

If a tense situation does arise, be tactful and honest. “Embrace the awkward and push past it. Recognize it will be awkward and be truthful,” Swann shares. “Tell the person that you’re so thankful that they thought of you and right now you’re doing a purge of things you own and this is one of the things that wound up on the list.” Her advice is to recognize the person and their thoughtfulness again, and any hurt feelings should be smoothed over.

Instead, try to…

Exchange it. If the gift-giver included a receipt, there’s truly no harm in swapping the present in question for something more to your taste. If the receipt is included, the giver knew there was a possibility you might want a different size or style — or something else entirely! — so there will be no hard feelings if you make an exchange. They wouldn’t have given you a gift if they didn’t want to make you happy.

Regift it… carefully. According to Swann, regifting is “absolutely acceptable” with a few caveats. “The key to remember is to not regift within the same circle of individuals. For example, if you receive a gift from a coworker and you want to regift it, you wouldn’t regift it amongst your coworkers,” she advises. “Keep in mind that you should only regift items that you have not used. Make sure [the item is] in its original packaging and put it in another gift bag or re-wrap it in new paper.”

Think outside the box — literally. Maybe you won’t use that patterned bowl as part of your daily meals, but would it look cool on your coffee table, or perhaps in the bathroom to hold hair ties and lip balms? If that art print doesn’t really go with your interior design vibe, what if you change the frame it came in? Could you wear that tank top for spin class? Be creative and you may find that the present you didn’t think you wanted becomes part of your daily life in a surprising way.

Sell gift cards online. Did you receive a gift card to a store you don’t shop at or a restaurant you don’t frequent? You can sell it online, and it’s super easy. Raise.com and Cardpool are great places to start; you can sell gift cards and store credit and get paid via PayPal, direct deposit, or a check. And of course, there’s always Craigslist! You may not get the equivalent in cash back, but if the gift card is taking up space in your wallet, do yourself a favor and swap it for something you’ll actually use.

Find the item a loving home. Did your Secret Santa give you a book you’ve already read, a kitchen gadget you know you won’t use, or a perfume that’s just not your thing? It could be the perfect fit for a friend, coworker, or even someone in your building! (If you don’t know your neighbors, that’s what the “FREE” box in your apartment lobby is for.) You could also consider keeping the gift until social gatherings are once again permitted, then hosting a “gift swap” party with friends or neighbors, where everyone brings a gift to swap; you can donate whatever is left over to a local thrift store or organization in need.

Donate it — responsibly. Rehoming clothing at the thrift store seems sustainable, but as Green America reports, approximately three million tons of donated textiles are incinerated and 10 million tons end up in landfills each year. Before you make a trip to the thrift, consider what you’re donating: Can you see someone else using this item? Is it timely for the season and weather? If your item is a total score, feel free to donate it — but if it stands a risk of lingering on the shelf, try to find another way to give it a new life by researching alternatives to the thrift store.

Here are more gift-giving tips from Gobanking:

Don’t Ask People What They Want

Unless you’re shopping for family members or very close friends, you shouldn’t ask people what they want as a gift for a birthday or other occasion. This can make the recipient feel uncomfortable and also shows your lack of creativity.

It is a big thing in my in-law family to ask for wish lists, even from 50-year-old employed men. It has gotten ridiculous and rude as the years have gone on. I can buy my own gift card to Target, thanks very much.

My mother-in-law keeps it up every year, sending her wishlist. I am tired of it. Last year I tried to have a no-gift Christmas and everyone freaked out. It was ridiculous. And we wound up having gifts. And I did not like it.

You Don’t Have To Spend as Much on Someone as They Spend On You

Some friends or family members give lavish gifts that you might not be financially able or willing to reciprocate — and that’s totally fine. With gifts, it really is the thought that counts, not the dollars that went into it.

Another big issue. My mother in law likes everything to be fair and square. She pretends to spend the same on everyone. But what really happens is most of her budget goes to “the boys” who get the pricey electronics and “the girls” get the cheap decor items. She talks about how much she spends while we are opening gifts which is so tacky. I try to keep my mouth shut for the sake of the holiday but it is irritating to see someone get expensive video games and I get a Hello Kitty pillow.

Avoid Regifting

It’s tempting to regift when you receive something you don’t want or already have, but it can be very hurtful if the person who gave you that gift finds out. A better alternative is to donate the gift or give it away. If you do regift, make sure the gift is still in good condition and isn’t personalized — and that there’s no way the original giver would ever find out about it.

This is a tough one because everyone is trying to make their dollars go further in this economy. So I am not against regifting but there are rules:

1. Make sure the item is not used

Gifts should be unused, in their original packaging. Lightly used may be acceptable in some situations, but it’s not ideal.

2. Not sentimental

If someone made you a homemade gift or knitted you a scarf, it is probably not going to be good for regifting.

3. Make sure it’s not personalized

If your name or initials are anywhere on the book or piece of jewelry, do not regift it. If you are caught, it would be very embarassing.

4. The recipient will like it

Instead of pulling out anything just to have a gift, make sure the recipient will actually like it.

5. Consider the original giver

Be sure the regifted gift doesn’t end up someplace where the original giver will see it — or worse, accidentally given back to the original giver as a re-gift.

6. Rewrap the gift

Do not just take off the label and slap on a new label. Actually rewrap or rebox it for the new recipient. And be sure there is no leftover tape stuck to the package from the original giver. This has happened to me and the person is then caught red-handed regifting.

7. And do not announce it’s a regift

This has happened to me and it’s very embarrassing. You don’t need to announce to anyone that you’re regifting (in fact, don’t), but at the same time don’t feel weird about it either. If you’ve followed all the other rules you’ve given someone something they’ll cherish more than you would have.

I hope these ideas help you get through another holiday season!




New England born- now living in the Midwest. Blogger, author, influencer, history addict and genealogist in training