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27 Dec

How To Deal With Unwanted Gifts

The indulgences of the festive season may seem like a distant memory. But unwanted gifts—those unwished-for legacies of the holidays—linger long after the last leftovers are finally gone from the fridge. So here’s how to deal with those items you can’t find a place for in your life.

The plague of the unwanted gift

52% of Americans surveyed admit to getting at least one unwanted gift over the holidays, according to a study by Finder. While 43% of people just hold on to the gifts, 35% give them to someone else, 17% sell them, and sadly, 8% throw them away. It’s clear that a considerable portion of the holiday retail frenzy was money not well spent.

So what should you do with unwanted presents if you’re not among the luckier 48% of recipients? Read on for some ideas.

Donate responsibly

Donating unwanted presents to thrift shops and charities is fairly foolproof. The age-old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” rings true⁠—no matter how ghastly you may consider your gift, someone else out there will love it. Plus, the proceeds of its sale go to supporting a charity or worthy cause, so as long as the item meets the thrift store’s guidelines (including donating during operating hours and not leaving donations when the shop is closed over the holidays), it’s a win-win situation.

Be aware that charity stores have massive problems with receiving an overwhelming amount of donations. In some cases, charities are even forced to spend money sorting and disposing of the items. For clothing alone, an estimated 25% goes directly to landfillAn additional 40-50% is exported into the problematic global second hand clothing trade, where it swamps the local textile market of countries such as Ghana. Exported textile donations even end up being buried or burned in such countries. So make sure to be mindful with your donations and donate responsibly.


Regifting is an obvious way to handle a present that’s not quite right for you but perfect for someone else. However, it has its downsides, one being that you have to store the presents until potential recipients have a birthday or some other occasion that calls for a gift. If you were inundated with unwanted items at Christmas, that could make for quite a pile taking up space. Plus, you’ll need to remember who gave you each gift, so you don’t unwittingly return it to them. This option, therefore, is probably best for the highly organised, patient, and tidy among us.

What if your unwanted presents are perishable? In the event that you receive a Christmas hamper but have given up sugar or decided to forego various other indulgences that these fancy food parcels tend to contain, your best bet is to regift it. You could do this bit by bit (keep the crackers and olives on standby for last minute barbecue invitations, take the jam into work when you’re having a special morning tea, etc) or in one fell swoop (hampers make an impressive contribution when you’re staying at a friend’s holiday house, for instance). There’s also the option of donating it to those in need through your local charity, church, or food bank, or checking if your neighbours would like it.


Wanting a more hands-on way to farewell “not right for me” gifts and bring a catch up with friends into the mix? Unwanted presents are the perfect excuse for starting a post-festive-season tradition: the New Year Gift Swap. Once the silly season is over, invite friends and loved ones to bring over their disappointing gifts (making sure you don’t invite the givers, unless they have a sense of humour) and enjoy some premium nibbles from a Christmas hamper (unless you’ve already regifted yours) as you swap presents. If there are still unwanted items left at the end of the swap, head back to the start of this article and read again.


Reselling is another way to give unwanted items a new lease on life in someone else’s home. Plus, thanks to online platforms, reselling has become easier and more accessible than ever.

But whether you choose to sell your unwanted gifts online or offline, make sure your items are in as good condition as they can be when they arrive at the buyers’ doorsteps. Give them a good wash if necessary, and try sending them out in their original box.

How about decorations?

While most unwanted presents can easily be given a second chance, decorations are not always treated so kindly—brown, dried out trees are left on the nature strip, and tinsel and fake reindeer antlers spill out of rubbish bins along with reams of scrunched up wrapping paper. Sure, sparkly, shiny decorations are cheap enough to buy new—and throw out—every year (in part thanks to an entire town in China devoted to their manufacture), but why send things to landfill if they can be used again?

Save wrapping paper to grace presents next year, recycle it, or find out whether your local kinder or primary school art room can put it to use. The same goes for tinsel that has turned tatty—or take up a collection from your neighbourhood and drop it off in bulk at a recycled craft supplies service in your area.

Rather than having to get rid of decorations every year, though, why not create for-keeps items that become part of family traditions, starting with the Christmas tree: invest in a small potted pine or spruce that can be brought into the house every year but won’t take up too much space outside, or paint a tree branch for a more contemporary look.

As for decorations, old cards and ribbons can be refashioned into baubles, use odd lengths of yarn to make pom poms, and old wrapping paper to form paper chains, or jump online for more inspiration. Your unique creations can be stored in a box and added to every year via an annual pre-holiday crafternoon before the decorating of the tree, creating environmentally friendly festive cheer and family memories⁠—treasured gifts that money can’t buy.

Editor's note

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