“Regifting” is an interesting word, but let’s be honest, it’s a euphemism; basically, regifting is the offloading of an unwanted present onto some other poor unwitting soul. It’s similar to indulging in a modestly unsavoury personal habit; most of us have done it, but few will admit to the fact. Regifting is the mechanism whereby such items as novelty underwear, toy donkeys wearing sombreros, or neckties with mooning Santas on them circulate perpetually and invisibly through the economy – a bit like the black market in that respect, but with the crucial difference that the black market is always in something that people actually want.
So why does it happen, and can it be stopped? More importantly, should we be doing it anyway? To regift or not to regift, that is the question. And like Hamlet, I will dither; my answer is yes and no, depending on the circumstances.
If your only alternative is to throw the offending item away, I would say yes: regift it, bearing in mind the well-known environmental mantra with three Rs – Re-use, Recycle and the other one that I always forget. We are continually being told the world is running out of holes in the ground in which to bury unwanted stuff; although this may not be strictly true, it does seem thrifty and sensible to squeeze more use out of something rather than lay it to rest for eternity in landfill. Even if that something is just a horrible scarf with pictures of tap-dancing cartoon chipmunks on it.
But you may find better things to do with that scarf than pass it on to an unsuspecting relative as a last-minute birthday gift. Before I get to that, however, I want to ask the question: why is this madness happening in the first place?
The short answer to that question is: society. Don’t get me wrong, I love our 21st-century consumer culture; it has brought with it fantastic wealth and abundance. After all, without it we wouldn’t be equipped with personal computers – I would probably not be writing this article, you would not be reading it, and none of us would have as much free time to devote to these activities. But coupled with well-established gift-giving traditions and festivals, such as Christmas, the global consumer culture has also become something of a monster, spewing a vast torrent of stuff our way and pressurising us to buy it, just so that we can observe the ritual of passing it on to friends and loved ones.
There is a spectrum of desirability. Some gifts, such as iPods and PlayStations, are at one end, and at the other end are objects such as luminous garden gnomes. Like life forms in an ecosystem, they all have their allotted niches.
So what could give a plastic garden gnome an evolutionary advantage over an iPod? Price is one factor: iPods are relatively expensive, gnomes are cheap. And there’s the fallibility of human judgement. Look – it glows in the dark, Aunt Harriet will love it! No, foolish consumer, take it from me: she won’t. Alas, too late – the damage is done, and yet another regifting cycle has just been spawned.
Anyway, I digress. Can it be stopped? Yes it certainly can. This chain can be broken by the simple act of making sure an item goes to someone who will want it. There are charity shops which exist partly for this very purpose. And there is the excellent Freecycle network, which is basically a no-cost dating service for people and items of junk. One person’s tat is another person’s treasure trove, and in a vast global community there are a near-infinite number of perfect matches to be made. I’m a great fan of Freecycle; many an old belonging of mine has passed on to a happy and (I hope) permanent home, this way. And let me emphasise – it’s free, hence the name; that should appeal to you, if you’re anything like me.
The other way to stamp out the horror of regifting is to make sure you give items that people won’t want to ditch at the first opportunity. Some obvious strategies are to give someone something they’ve specifically said they wanted – a box set of Eurovision Song Contest DVDs, for instance; whatever floats their boat. Or something very personal – a beautifully framed copy of their Tractor Salesman of the Year 1985 award certificate. Now that’s perfectly unregiftable.
On the other hand, in a tribute to our fine consumer society, you could always give something that can be consumed, i.e., eaten or drunk. A bottle of rather splendid single malt whisky, perhaps. Or a box of luxury Belgian truffles. These are things that always seem to go down well, and which don’t tend to be regifted, strangely enough.
However, if you do happen to receive a bottle of single malt whisky or a box of luxury truffles and feel the old regifting urge, don’t despair; you can always send them on to me.
© Alex Cull, 4th January 2009
(Never having watched Seinfeld, I had no idea what “regifting” was, until I read about it on Helium.com. After that, of course I just had to write my own article on the subject.)