03/28/2008 02:48 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Après-Holiday Regifting

If you're reading this blog at all, you're probably going to be involved in a decorating project or two at some point in the coming year. And before you begin any project you'll want things as clean and as white and as blank as possible. The first step is not adding anything additional to the clutter that's already there and of course the holidays are notorious for doing just that - loading you up with things that you really don't need to see incorporated into your life.

If you're like me, you're looking at a small mountain of gifts you certainly would never have bought for yourself. You're holding up a mahogany encased desk thermometer and wondering, "What were they thinking? Was I sending out some sort of signal?" In my life, the percentage of gifts I've received that have actually worked out for me has been about fifty percent - which is probably about the same success rate as if someone had sent a chimpanzee into a shopping mall with a charge card and said, "Go get her something nice."

The instant you open a gift, you know immediately if it's a Keeper. If it's not, then you have to decide if it's going to be a Return or a Regift. We all know the school of thought that insists re-gifting is tacky, especially, I suppose, if you're doing it to save money. But re-gifting is a great way to spread the wealth and the joy around without any further manufacturing damage to the environment.

Of course the ideal scenario for re-gifting is when you never let a new gift into your house to begin with. Let's say you're at an office party, a Secret Santa kind of thing, and you don't like, need, or want the gift you've received. Simply redirect it before you get home. In a city like New York it's easy; you can hand it off to the person next to you on the subway. But if you're in L.A., stopped at a light, and you try giving the present to the driver in the next car, they'll think you're throwing a bomb at them. Just remember, if it gets into your house at all, it's probably going to survive until next Christmas.

Certain things like, say, a Dewey Cox doll, have a cultural expiration date so you'll have to find someone to give it to before the movie leaves the theaters. Otherwise, you'll have to wait twenty years for it become acceptable as a nostalgic collectible.

There are certain gifts that are great, just not your thing, but you know someone else they'd be perfect to re-gift to. Warning: Be sure to make a note of the provenance of who gave you what and who you then give it to. The last thing you want to do is unwittingly re-gift to the person who originally gave the gift to you. Remember, every re-gift may come with a history beyond what you know. Like a gun bought on the street, it may have crimes in its past. That's why you're better off not re-gifting to anybody in the same social pool because you might be giving something back to the person who gave it to the person who gave it to you. Keep track of your re-gifts as much as possible because you can only have so much confidence in people's bad memories - especially if the gift is odd, unique or expensive. The silver lining to this cloud is that we're all so glutted with material goods in general that we rarely remember anything's history. But to play it safe rather than sorry you might want to take a page out of Joan Crawford's sadly overlooked self-help book, My Way of Life. She kept scrupulous records of what she wore to parties, personal appearances, and television talk shows on index cards so that she'd never wear the same outfit in front of the same people again.

Try re-gifting on occasions where no gift is required at all. Pass a gift along to someone who has given you great service all year - a valet parking attendant at a favorite restaurant, your FedEx guy, or a helpful employee at your dry cleaners. Don't give a gift instead of a tip - that's too cheap - but in addition to the tip. "Here's the usual tip plus a new cordless candelabra." Not only does the gesture add a more personal touch but gratuitous re-gifting lightens and brightens the whole holiday spirit because gifts are flying around and it's not about obligation or quid pro quo. You'll usually shock the hell out of someone who wasn't expecting a gift from you especially when you say, "I saw this and thought of you." (The danger here is that the re-giftee will then go out and get you something even more useless than what you just gave them. Oh, well, it's all in the game. Just make sure these people don't know where you live and avoid them for a while.)

While re-gifting is great, remember that thrift stores are suffering because of eBay and Craigs List. Check out for a national thrift store directory. This site is terrific for locating thrift stores in or around your area that raise money for charities. Finding a charity-driven thrift store you'd like to support and driving the new-in-box gift items over there yourself is truly is the Greatest re-Gift Of All.