Is It Rude to Return a Present You Don’t Like? An Etiquette Expert Weighs In

published Dec 27, 2022
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Pretty wrapped present in brown paper, brown ribbon, dried flowers
Credit: Erika Layne

Opening up a present can be straight-up exhilarating — peeling back each layer of wrapping paper and imagining what hides inside creates the most giddy anticipation. But the excitement can fall flat when you finally see the gift and it’s…. well… not what you expected. Perhaps you already own the present in question, or maybe it’s not totally your style. Either way, you don’t want or need the gift in front of you.

If you’ve ever been less-than-satisfied with a present, you know it’s polite to send a thank-you note, but then what? Can you return said present? What about regifting? Do you have to fess up and tell the person who spent time, money, and energy finding the gift for you? To help, we tapped Old Soul Etiquette’s Mariah Grumet to answer those burning questions this holiday season.

Can You Return a Gift?

Grumet says returning can be a risky move. To determine if it’s an option, she recommends putting yourself in the sender’s shoes. “The first thing you need to consider is who gave you the gift,” Grumet shares. “How do you think it would make them feel if they found out you returned their gift? Is returning the gift worth potentially hurting this person’s feelings or even damaging your relationship with them?”

That said, there are some exceptions, she explains, including if the gift is a duplicate or doesn’t fit you. If trading in your gift at the store seems a bit cutthroat, consider donating it. “If you are not able to enjoy, use, or wear the gift you were given, I am sure someone else will,” Grumet says. “This is an ideal option, especially when someone gives a gift without a receipt. “

Still, for some sensitive senders, hearing that someone donated a present could sting just as much as a return. If you think the person who bought your gift would feel upset to hear you did anything but keep it, you may just want to tuck it in the back of your closet for now, say Grumet.

Is it OK to Regift?

As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The same goes for one person’s potential returned gift. Maybe you don’t love a present you received, but you know someone who might adore it — can you regift it?

You may have heard that regifting is always a no-no, but Grumet has a different opinion. “[Both] regifting and returning gifts can be acceptable, but it truly depends on the situation,” Grumet explains. “[Determine if] this is someone who visits your home often and may ask about it,” she says. If not and “you choose to regift an item, be sure you are [giving] it to someone in a completely different social circle than the person who gave it to you.”

What If You’re Asked About a Returned Gift?

As a general rule of thumb, Grumet says you should never tell a sender that you got rid of their gift.

But if someone asks about the present they gave you, telling the truth is always the best policy. “Scrambling to find an excuse may get you in more trouble than choosing honesty,” explains Grumet. The key, she says, lies in the delivery. Simply saying that you donated a sweater might come across as a bit callous, so make sure you keep your response as respectful and gracious as possible. Instead, tell your loved one that, as much as you appreciated the gift, it was too small so you donated it to a women’s shelter.

“How they react is not in your control, but you can’t go wrong with being honest,” Grumet says.

Psst: Want to sidestep these sticky situations and forgo gifts altogether? Check out our expert-approved tips for having that conversation with your nearest and dearest.