Dec 22 2009 - 2:13am


Illustration by EMILY MARCUS/Standard-Examiner
Illustration by EMILY MARCUS/Standard-Examiner

"He's a regifter."

A mortified Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, shouted that in a 1995 episode of the TV hit "Seinfeld." That was the moment the word "regift" was born.

The practice has grown by leaps and bounds, according to Jodi Newbern, author of "The Regifting Revival!: A Guide to Reusing Gifts Graciously" (Synergy Books, 2009).

Although the phrase might be just 15 years old, she said, regifting has always existed in some form.

"Even people who before would have never even thought about it are realizing that they probably have been doing it -- they just never called it regifting," said Newbern. "You may have been regifted, too, and never known it because it was done right."

Marilyn Albertson asked a holiday financial class this month if regifting is a good idea.

"The majority of the people said, 'You bet, we like it,' " said Albertson, county director of the Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake City.

White elephant gifts, giving items to charity that you received as a gift, and even passing heirlooms down through the family are all forms of regifting.

Albertson said you can make heirloom gifts even more unique by including a paper detailing the history and significance of the item.

There are a variety of reasons why regifting continues to grow among certain circles -- to be funny, to save money, and even to maximize recycling efforts.

"Really, when you donate things to goodwill or other sources, oftentimes in a sense you are regifting those that you have that maybe you were given," Albertson said. "Really, when we are in this age of recycling and reusing -- it adds a second life to those things."

Despite the rising popularity, regifting still carries a negative connotation, according to Newbern. Some people still feel just like Elaine Benes in the "Seinfeld" episode. "Usually it's because they had a poor regifting experience," Newbern said. "People don't know how to do it right."

Bad regifts may involve giving "trash" or things that you believe are junk, she said. Or giving someone a gift that they gave you originally. Her regifting book includes a log where you can record gifts and the givers, so you can avoid that misery.

Also, "Make sure you really check out the item you are giving," Albertson said. Look inside the box to make sure the original giver didn't stash a card for you. See if there are stickers or labels that would identify the original age of the product. Lastly, make sure the gift is actually what's pictured on the box.

Albertson almost made that mistake with a wedding gift she was giving away. At the last second, she looked inside the box and found an assortment of handmade items that she still has today.

The right way

If you want to avoid the regifting faux pas, start by questioning your own motives.

"Is it because it's something you don't want? Is it something that you feel would be of value to someone else?" Albertson said. Giving towel sets or kitchen items to young couples, for example, benefits them.

The key is to look around your house with that particular person's tastes and needs in mind.

"First thing you have to realize is you have to do it with some class," Newbern said. "Doing it right is not any different than shopping from your closet or regifting containers. Regifting doesn't need to be junk."

Newbern said her habit of regifting started when she received too many duplicate gifts at her wedding. So she started storing them in a closet, from which she could choose gifts for certain people. "It's kind of become a walk-in closet now at my house," Newbern laughed.

Start organizing your own regifting closet, shelf or container for those last-second gifts.

Now that Christmas is only a few days away, you might find yourself scrambling to find those presents. That's not a problem for Newbern.

"Some great last-minute gifts are things that you probably just got as gifts," Newbern said. "Especially if you are a teacher or somebody that may have been to some office parties or neighborhood parties, where you got a bottle of wine that perhaps you don't need."

Holiday items that you have received already this year or will in the next few days can turn into great gifts to give others. Cheese trays, sausage packs or holiday dinnerware serve as perfect regifts in a pinch.

Dress it up

The presentation can help establish the value of the gift. If you are regifting as a way of recycling and reusing, then look at reusing old wrapping paper, boxes and bags to help with your overall mission.

You can be saving up the entire year's worth of gift wrap just for use on the holidays -- even the tissue.

Or, you can even create your own unique gift wrap in a pinch.

"You can use paper that you have, and then you don't need to go out and buy it," said Cathy Hashimoto, of the Utah State University Extension in Salt Lake City.

Use paper grocery bags to wrap gifts, and create colorful designs with ribbon or markers.

Turn the wrapping into an activity with the kids by using stamps, glue and glitter.

"It's just teaching them to be resourceful with items from around the house," said Hashimoto.

Albertson added: "We need to get into the habit of not thinking everything has to be thrown away, but see if we can't find a second use for things.

"I think we can look at the whole gamut, from the packaging to the gift."

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