For the past 3 years, my step-father has given me three vintage china serving dishes. All are beautiful, all were once very expensive. All were also purchased used at thrift stores. Many people believe that giving used gifts is tacky, or that it means that the gift wasn’t thought through. I agree that if done poorly, giving used gifts can indeed look a little less than exciting. Almost no one wants a worn and faded pair of sweatpants from your closet. I think it’s interesting, however, that “used” as an entire concept gets such a bad reputation.
There is nothing shameful about an object being previously owned. If one were to purchase a used object that looks new, wrap it, and present it to someone else, and that person unwrapped it and liked it, all without ever knowing it was used, would it matter? What makes a gift’s status as “used” unacceptable to people is the idea that “used” things have less value than new things. Those of us who regularly buy vintage clothing, furniture, and household goods know that this is utterly wrong. An object’s value does not increase or decrease based on how many people have owned it, assuming it’s in good condition. The object is inherently valued only for its usefulness, it’s condition, and it’s aesthetic appeal to the recipient of the gift.
The benefit of shopping for used gifts during the holidays is that objects regain value in the hands of the recipient of a gift, more so than they would have in a landfill. I’ve received tons of gifts from my family and friends that were technically used. One of the most thoughtful used gifts I ever received was a dress from my mother that she had made in the 1970s. I love this vintage dress, I love that my mom made it and that I can imagine her in it at my age.
Another used gift I really love is a collection of books featuring black and white photographs of dancer given to me by my wife’s step-mother. Because I have a dance background, this gift was thoughtful, and it came off of her own shelves. What all these used gifts have in common is the thought. You know that old saying about gifts, “It’s the thought that counts?” It turns out, that saying really is true! It’s especially true for picking out used gifts. If you really think about the recipient, it’s completely possible to give a previously-owned gift that is received with joy.
Then there’s the concept of re-gifting, where you take a new object that someone gifted you and give it to someone else. It works sometimes, but it doesn’t work when it’s obviously a regifted item that no one wants, like cheap smelling shower gel or fugly napkin rings. I still think re-gifting is a fantastic concept in theory, but it must be carried out appropriately. The same rule applies: Know your recipient.
I’ve compiled some helpful Dos and Don’t to help make used gift buying easy for you. The suggestions are broken up between Thrifted Gifts and Regifting so you have ideas about both options.
How To Give Used Gifts
1. Vintage Household Items: Vintage casserole dishes, clocks, china, sets of glassware, teapots, and real silver anything are usually good gifts. It really helps to know the person’s style here, are they mid-century modern? Are they into Victorian stuff? Colonial? What about little vintage perfume bottles for a beauty product lover? Think creatively.
2. Good Quality Clothing and Accessories: The other day I found a vintage Oscar de la Renta blazer at a thrift store for $8. I bought it for myself, but I still think it would have made a great gift. Vintage make-up cases, designer handbags in good and clean condition and scarves are all things you can find at thrift stores for great prices.
3. Vinyl Records and Books: If you’re shopping for a bibliophile or a vinyl collector, thrift stores are great. Just make sure the records have no scratches and the books are in good condition. Vintage books are especially easy to find.
4. Vintage Linens: At some thrift stores and antique shops it’s easy to find vintage tea towels, tablecloths, curtains, and blankets. Just make sure to smell everything, make sure it’s all clean, and undamaged.
5. Jewelry: You can find some amazing used jewelry. Gold and silver, pearls, real gemstones, people donate some beautiful stuff. It’s typically kept in a glass box at the register.
1. Anything Damaged: No holes, no rips, fading, definitely no stains. If you think you can repair the item and it would still make a good gift, then go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to steer clear. Loveable damage is probably okay if you know the item will be well-received, but be picky.
2. Mold, Dust or Cat Pee: Just stay away for everyone’s sake. If something smells musty, it’s not worth the money. Most thrift stores won’t sell these items anyway, but you never know. Examine everything you find a few times.
3. Anything Too Comical: When I was a kid, I was in this youth group that did a huge white elephant gift exchange with the kids and parents around the holidays. It was fun, but people would wrap up ugly but funny coffee cups and pass them off as gifts. Sure….they were funny. But it’s doubtful that anyone ever used those sad cups. They probably just ended up in a landfill. So be thoughtful. If you think someone will actually use the funny/ugly thing you want to purchase that’s one thing, but gag gifts usually end up in the trash.
1. Wine: You can regift wine a million times. If you don’t like Chardonnay and you know your host does, put a ribbon on that bottle that your aunt gave to you as a wedding gift and take it to the party.
2. Soap and Candles: If the soap or candle is of good quality but of a smell you simply don’t enjoy, it might be someone else’s perfect gift.
3. Household do-dads: Fancy wine-openers, those little cheese knives you know are cute but you’ll never use, brand new wooden spoons, picture-frames, and vases, you get the idea. Stuff you don’t want but is new and would make someone else happy.
4. Books: As long as there are no dog-eared pages and the cover still looks fresh, go for it.
5. Accessories: Does anyone else have the conundrum of having too many make-up bags? I feel like I get them as gifts a lot. Items like these are perfect for re-gifting if they’ve never been used. Also, socks, belts, scarves, hats, anything cozy for the winter, slippers, regift away!
1. Things that smell so artificial they just shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place. I’m not sure how to even properly dispose of these things 🙁
2. Anything where the packaging is damaged. If you know you have the perfect gift but the packaging is ripped up, dented, or taped, take it out of the original packaging and try to repackage it so it looks nice. The one exception is toys- kids really don’t care.
3. Anything you yourself have used. Don’t give people half-burnt candles. Don’t give people stuff you’ve tried but didn’t like, or broke a piece off of. Those things go into the category of asking your friend ahead of time if they’d like the thing, not as a gift but because you don’t want it.
4. Makeup or Skin Products: I think this can almost work if you know someone’s tastes really well, but most makeup has a shelf life, and if it’s been sitting in your re-gifting pile for a long time, it’s going to probably already be expired.
What are other used gift ideas that have a small footprint on the environment? I’d love to see some ideas in the comments 🙂