What to do with unwanted gifts

Christmas, birthdays and virtually any holiday can leave a burden of unwanted gifts. But what ends up happening to them?

Gifts that give again

Let's face it, unless you get a kick out of it, re-gifting comes with a mild case of guilt. On the other hand, leaving things to clutter up your house just encourages the worst form of consumerism – hoarding. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's what to do when you're on the receiving end of unwanted gifts. 

In this article:

Putting thought into your gifts

Asking your loved ones what they want means less chance of a surprise, but even less chance of an unwanted product – and where your money goes makes a real impact on what manufacturers put onto shelves.

While it's nice to buy something small that someone might get a kick out of, how long will it really benefit them? A Christmas card may give some fleeting warm fuzzies and that doodad may get a laugh at Christmas lunch, but all is forgotten when they end up disposing of them on Boxing Day (albeit with a slight tinge of guilt).

It goes without saying that if you're looking for a gift, putting real thought into it means the recipient is more likely to use it rather than dispose of it. There are even concierge services that you can pay to do this for you, sounding out what the person you're buying the gift for is like and then using that information to match a gift to them. The more recent phenomenon of 'experience' purchases may also be a good alternative for some loved ones.

Reinvent Secret Santa

If you have an office Secret Santa with a limit (CHOICE has one with a $10 budget), then think about changing the nature of what you purchase. Christmas has changed a lot over the last hundred years or so (and Secret Santa has existed for much less time), so don't feel like you're disposing of a tradition – rather you're making it your own. 

The number of quality gifts you can purchase for $10 is limited, but a little thought means you may not even need to purchase a 'thing' that ends up sitting on their desk for 12 months, unused. Instead of a tacky trinket try a charity donation in their name, a plant to brighten up their desk or a funky reusable coffee cup.  

If you're buying the gift

We've all been there. We've bought a gift on a whim (or via the TV shopping network after a glass of wine) and it sits in a cupboard somewhere, unwanted. We asked our CHOICE.community members for a list of unused products they've been given and it was lengthy. We've even tested some of them in their fad times, even quite recently (looking at you, spiralisers).

This is not to say these products are unwanted by everyone – just that they don't always end up being useful. It could be that it was a terribly designed product. Here at CHOICE we try to minimise this by comparing like products so you don't have to go through that retail depression.

Sometimes the reason is seasonal – few people use a slow cooker in summer, but ramp it up in autumn and winter and then forget about it next season. The same wilful forgetfulness could be said for a number of products in the list below. It's by no means exhaustive, and some people use these gifts extensively.

Gifts to avoid

And of course, clothes. So many unwanted clothes.

What to do with your unwanted gifts

Sometimes we receive gifts that simply don't make any sense. The intention behind the gift may be good but misdirected, or the present was simply grabbed from a pallet on Christmas Eve in a mad rush. Whatever the reason, there's a significant cache of unwanted gifts the day after Christmas. Before chucking anything (discretely of course) in the garbage however, there are some other ways to redistribute.

Re-gifting your unwanted presents

You've probably been on the receiving end of a re-gifting at some point in your life, but you'll never really know, as no one will own up to it. But we should embrace it – we've recognised that someone else would want this gift much more than we do. Some people even keep a re-gifting hoard that they save up each year to re-gift next Christmas. It saves something from going to landfill, and just may find its way to someone who will actually use it.

Tip: Keep an eye on who originally gave it to you, otherwise you may end up re-gifting it to the original gift-giver.

Selling your unwanted gifts

If you're afraid of getting caught by friends and family, perhaps you want to cast your net wider and sell your unwanted gifts online. A large peak period for selling products online is post-Christmas. Gumtree claims there's a 28% increase in new listings in the two weeks after Christmas, so rest assured you're not the only one doing it. It's also a good time to get in if you enjoy looking for a bargain.

Selling your unwanted gifts online can even make an alternate stream of income, if you're good at it. But for others it's a chore, and if you aren't willing to put in the hard yards, you won't attract the buyers. Signing up to one of a plethora of online selling tools, taking photos and describing the product takes up an hour or so of your time, so for smaller trinkets or products that don't appeal to many (see gifts to avoid) it may not be worth it.

Donating your unwanted gifts

You might want to consider donating that unwanted gift to your local charity – someone with very little at Christmastime may really appreciate what you would otherwise keep stashed away in your cupboard.  

Before you do, make sure it's in perfect condition. Charities have to go through all of your donations and make a decision on what's worth keeping and what will go to landfill. If your donations have obvious flaws, they'll be chucked – which means it costs the charity more in the long run.

Returning your unwanted presents

Let's be honest, this option requires a family that's open to holding onto receipts because they know they may be giving a gift that the receiver may not want. That's rare. If you're holding onto a receipt because you think the receiver won't like what you're giving – don't give the gift. Give them cash or chat to them about what they want so you don't need to hold onto a receipt. 

If you've made up your mind, remember you have a right to a refund under the Australian Consumer Law only when there is a fault with the item. Check prior to purchase whether the store has a 'change of mind' policy.

Looking for inspiration for your gift buying? Check out our buying guides to find the right gift for anyone: 

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