Ask Miriam | How Long Should You Keep Unwanted Gifts?


Dear Miriam,

What’s the statute of limitations on gifts I’ll never use? How long do I have to wait to give it away? And, while I’m at it, what are your thoughts on regifting?


Got Gifts

Dear Gifts,

There are so many variables that go into gift giving (and receiving) that’s it’s hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer to your oh-so-common dilemma. My practical answer is that you should not feel obligated to keep something you will never use. My sentimental answer, though, is that sometimes you have to keep something because of who gave it to you or the circumstances under which you received it.

While only you can know if your great-aunt is going to come over and ask you to reveal the whereabouts of the Vegas souvenir keychain she sent last Chanukah, it’s fair to say that, in general, if you receive something that you will never use, you can give it away as soon as you’d like, as long as you write a thank-you note just as promptly. If something comes with a gift receipt, have no qualms about returning it, since that’s what the receipt is for. If you have kids and you receive useless gifts on their behalf, I would suggest hanging onto those items a bit longer since grandparents have a different attachment to gift-giving to grandkids. There’s also a more natural opportunity in a year or so to say, “Oh, they outgrew that.”

If someone in your life brings you frequent useless gifts, you may be tempted to ask that person to stop, but don’t bother. You’ll only cause hurt feelings. Keep accepting the gifts graciously and then getting rid of them. If, however, a person asks you what you’d like for an upcoming occasion, you can be honest about your preferences. Don’t offer suggestions, though, without being asked, at least not to a casual acquaintance.

Which brings me to this scenario: If the person giving you frequent (or even infrequent) useless gifts happens to live in your house, your options for unloading these gifts are much more difficult. If at all possible, show some gesture toward using these things, even if they become “misplaced” soon after. Try to respect the spirit in which they were given, and resist the urge to admonish the person who lives with you for knowing nothing about your taste. Then, well in advance of the next occasion, say something like, “I was wondering if I could tell you about something I’d really like for my next birthday.”

As for regifting, if something is in pristine condition and can plausibly apply to another person you know, I’m all for it. If, though, you’re regifting the item because you really don’t like it, think long and hard about what it means to give it to someone else. Sure, tastes can differ, but if you actively dislike it, unloading it on someone else may not be in the spirit of gift-giving that will feel best for you as the giver. For generic gift-giving where you have no sentimental attachment to the recipient, brand-new, unused gifts are perfectly fine regifts.

Good luck determining which category that DIY photo mug and gardenia-scented candle fit into, and be well,



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