The One Thing You Should Never Do With a Gift You Don’t Like, According to an Etiquette Expert

updated Dec 21, 2020
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Credit: Sandra Rojo

The halls are decked, the gifts unwrapped, and the festivities celebrated—albeit in a slightly different way than usual this year. Now, you may have found yourself with a few gifts from well-meaning relatives and in-laws that you appreciate, but just don’t love. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, and getting a gift from someone is always special and heart-warming, but what do you do with presents you won’t realistically use?

First, remember to accept the gift in question with grace and tact. Elaine Swann, founder of the Swann School of Protocol, recommends framing your thank-you note around the person giving you the gift and not the present itself. “Focus your thank you more along the lines of their graciousness, kindness, and thoughtfulness as opposed to the gift itself. Focus more on the person themselves,” she says. Even if it’s not your style, they’ll feel the warm fuzzies of your gratitude, which is a present in itself.

Once you’ve thanked the giver, you can start forming an action plan for the gift. Here are a few tried-and-tested tips for gifts you just don’t love—starting with one thing you should never do.


List it on Facebook Marketplace. Avoid a potentially awkward situation with the giver and keep any items off social media platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Instagram Stories where they might see it. If you must re-sell online, consider asking a friend to do it. 

If a tense situation does arise, be tactful and honest. “Embrace the awkward and push past it. Recognize it will be awkward and be truthful,” Swann shares. “Tell the person that you’re so thankful that they thought of you and right now you’re doing a purge of things you own and this is one of the things that wound up on the list.” Her advice is to recognize the person and their thoughtfulness again, and any hurt feelings should be smoothed over.

Instead, try to…

Exchange it. If the gift-giver included a receipt, there’s truly no harm in swapping the present in question for something more to your taste. If the receipt is included, the giver knew there was a possibility you might want a different size or style—or something else entirely!—so there will be no hard feelings if you make an exchange. They wouldn’t have given you a gift if they didn’t want to make you happy.

Regift it… carefully. According to Swann, regifting is “absolutely acceptable” with a few caveats. “The key to remember is to not regift within the same circle of individuals. For example, if you receive a gift from a coworker and you want to regift it, you wouldn’t regift it amongst your coworkers,” she advises. “Keep in mind that you should only regift items that you have not used. Make sure [the item is] in its original packaging and put it in another gift bag or re-wrap it in new paper.” 

Think outside the box—literally. Maybe you won’t use that patterned bowl as part of your daily meals, but would it look cool on your coffee table, or perhaps in the bathroom to hold hair ties and lip balms? If that art print doesn’t really go with your interior design vibe, what if you change the frame it came in? Could you wear that tank top for spin class? Be creative and you may find that the present you didn’t think you wanted becomes part of your daily life in a surprising way.

Sell gift cards online. Did you receive a gift card to a store you don’t shop at or a restaurant you don’t frequent? You can sell it online, and it’s super easy. and Cardpool are great places to start; you can sell gift cards and store credit and get paid via PayPal, direct deposit, or a check. And of course, there’s always Craigslist! You may not get the equivalent in cash back, but if the gift card is taking up space in your wallet, do yourself a favor and swap it for something you’ll actually use.

Find the item a loving home. Did your Secret Santa give you a book you’ve already read, a kitchen gadget you know you won’t use, or a perfume that’s just not your thing? It could be the perfect fit for a friend, coworker, or even someone in your building! (If you don’t know your neighbors, that’s what the “FREE” box in your apartment lobby is for.) You could also consider keeping the gift until social gatherings are once again permitted, then hosting a “gift swap” party with friends or neighbors, where everyone brings a gift to swap; you can donate whatever is left over to a local thrift store or organization in need.

Donate it—responsibly. Rehoming clothing at the thrift store seems sustainable, but as Green America reports, approximately three million tons of donated textiles are incinerated and 10 million tons end up in landfills each year. Before you make a trip to the thrift, consider what you’re donating: Can you see someone else using this item? Is it timely for the season and weather? If your item is a total score, feel free to donate it—but if it stands a risk of lingering on the shelf, try to find another way to give it a new life by researching alternatives to the thrift store. 

If you received beauty products you know you won’t use, keep them in their original packaging and donate to a women’s shelter or Dress for Success-style organization. If you were gifted cold-weather accessories that will just take up precious storage space in your closet, consider donating to a local homeless shelter or keeping them in your car to hand to someone who looks like they need them.