Say, whatever happened to that faux Ming vase you got for Christmas last year? Still in its packing box, stuffed in a closet somewhere because it doesn’t match your country style? Over the holidays we’ll probably all receive at least one gift that doesn’t match our décor, our fashion sense or our lifestyle – but we usually feel too guilty to dispose of these unsuitable items. Instead we tuck them away, unused and forgotten until five or ten years down the road when they get tossed, well beyond their "if-you-haven’t-used-it-in-a-year-get-rid-of-it" expiration date.

Most of these unwanted gifts don’t come from our nearest and dearest family and friends, who know us well and are familiar with what we like and don’t like. And even when our loved ones miss the mark and pick something that we never would have chosen for ourselves, we recognize the love that is expressed in the gift and we use it, wear it or display it anyway.

The gifts that we don’t feel quite so inclined to use, wear or display usually come – through secret santas, office gift exchanges, etc. – from kind-hearted people who simply don’t know us very well. They aren’t attuned to our style or décor, and they’ll probably never be around to perpetrate the accusatory "Aha!" moment when they notice that the pink flamingo towel set they gave is nowhere in sight.

So instead of stashing those unwanted presents away in the attic or basement and rendering them useless in an "out-of-sight, out-of mind" kind of way, here are five ideas for making good use of them:

1) Return or exchange them. Check the items for price tags. Even if the portion showing the price has been torn off, the rest of the tag might indicate the store where the item was purchased and provide enough information for them to process the return. If you receive the gift before Christmas day, make the return prior to December 25. Huge price reductions will be taken after the holiday, and if no receipt is available the store will only give a refund or store credit in the amount of the current (reduced) price of the item. The store might not provide a cash refund without a receipt – but you can still use a store credit to select something that will be more useful to you.

2) Re-gift them. The controversial practice of turning around and giving a gift that you received to someone else was dubbed "re-gifting" in the sitcom Seinfeld. Re-gifting has a somewhat shady reputation as the sleazy practice of pawning inferior items onto unsuspecting people. But it really can work if the item is something you know the recipient will truly like and use. You can make the practice of re-gifting feel a little more respectable by making the item an unplanned addition to a main gift or by giving it as an unexpected treat to someone that you would not ordinarily get a present for.

3) Give them away. Another way to handle re-gifting is to do it openly by offering the item to someone that you think would like it without concealing the fact that it was a gift to you. Let’s say you’re allergic to scented toiletries and just received a pampering basket with soaps and lotions. Tell the person you’re offering it to that it was a gift but you just can’t use it. Some friends have given me several things this way, and I was tickled to receive them. An additional option for dealing with the items – and the one that is most truly in the spirit of the season – is to include the gifts in your donations to the Salvation Army, Goodwill or other charitable organization.

4) Sell them on consignment or in a yard sale. Items without price tags are difficult if not impossible to return, even if you can figure out where they came from. But if they remain unopened or unused, they can be sold for a decent price at a consignment store, yard sale or flea market. Use the income to purchase something more suitable, or – better yet – add the money to your pool of financial resources and earn a longer-term benefit.

5) Use them for a reasonable period of time, then get rid of them. Heirlooms become heirlooms because they’re things we cherish and want to hand down through the generations. Everything else can be disposed of – via re-sale, donation or trash truck – when it’s outlived its usefulness. Holding onto things that were gifts from acquaintances you haven’t seen in years out of guilt or misplaced sentimentality leads to clutter, and the best way to deal with clutter is to prevent it in the first place. As the saying goes, don’t love things and use people – love people and use things.


Beth Huber is a pianist, piano teacher and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in such national publications as The Dollar Stretcher, Writer's Digest, The Secret Place and Clavier Magazine. She lives in Chester County, PA. She can be reached at bethhuber@verizon.net.