What to do with unwanted gifts

This is a version of the article What to do with an unwanted Christmas gift that originally appeared on The Metro website on 26/12/21

The Unwanted Gifts that Keep on Giving

Hopefully this Christmas Santa brought you everything you wanted. However, all of us at some point have received a gift that didn’t meet our hopes. The jumper that doesn’t fit, something to which we are allergic… The list is endless and however grateful we are for the thought, we are sometimes stuck with that unwanted present. So what can you do with it?

plastic straws, fly, presents

I have some tips to share to give you some ideas.

Return for a refund

If you have a gift receipt you should be able to take the item back to the store and get a full refund. However, if you do not have a proof of purchase you may not be able to take the item back. Some stores, particularly larger ones, may take an item back without proof of purchase. However, they will give you the current price.

So, if the price of the item has dropped in the post-Christmas sale this is the price that you will get.

Christmas presents, returns – your rights for more details on your rights.

Recycle, upcycle and repurpose

Donate to clothes and shoe banks. But you can also be imaginative and creative too. When you give the toiletries or food contents from hampers and boxes away keep the container to use again or even as a bin. Use mugs as pen pots, dishes for the birds, socks into puppets and you can even turn a jumper into a cushion!

Sometimes you may like an item and just simply wish it was in a difficult colour. Lyndsey Edwards of Reimagise Personal stylist says simply “consider dying it at home using a Dylon pod. There are a huge variety of shades to choose from!”

If the item is too big you could also take it to your local tailor or seamstress to have it altered to fit you perfectly. They will also be able to tweak the overall style of the item too, if it’s not quite to your taste.

Ruth Mary Chipperfield is the owner of Ruth Mary Jewellery. She suggests remodelling jewellery into something new. She is currently doing this with a client’s Cross. “You can do a lot of metal by reshaping and refashioning.”

Claire Stitt from Stapos Thrifty Life Hacks says that if you get gifted something that you don’t particularly want, need, or like, then have a good think about how else you can use it to make your life a bit easier. For example, a scarf can become a duster, a picture frame can be used with a different picture

Be honest!

Thriftychap blogger, Joseph Seager, suggests something rather refreshing! He says that you could be honest about it and give it back to the giver. “It could be that you’ve already got the item or you simply don’t like it. Whatever the reason, they’ve bought it and if you don’t need or want it, they could make use of it or get their own money back. That openness could help you avoid a similar situation next year.” This brave but honest move could be a win-win for both parties.


Of course, this is the most frequently used and obvious choice. However, if you have a drawer full of these items, make sure you make a note of who has given you what. It is not uncommon for people to regift something to the person who gave it to them and this would certainly be embarrassing! I’ve even known someone regift a book of friendship with the front page ripped out which had a personalised message to her!

Giving away

Stacie Cherry Swift, who focuses on positivity, self-care and mental well-being, says that people on her road regularly give things away when they have a clear out. “Put the gifts outside your door with a ‘FREE’ sign.” Stacie has picked up candles, books and kitchenware while walking up to town or on the school run. “It’s nice to pass on to someone else but also spares the feelings of the gift-giver (unless they are your neighbour!”)

Katie Louise Young from The Finance Fettler advocates paying the act of kindness forward. “Attach an anonymous note to the item purposefully leave it somewhere to be found by someone who may appreciate it more. Perhaps leave it on a colleague’s desk, at a bus stop, on the tube etc.” You really could make the difference to someone’s day!

Charity and community

Charity shops regularly need things to sell. Charities are in need of funds more than ever before. Consider more than just the charity shop though. Your charity shop may still have a backlog from after the lockdown. If you have been given perishable items see if there is a community kitchen or similar that can take the items from you. Hampers of food and toiletries can be broken up and given to your local food bank. Or you could give toiletries to a local hospital for families who have had not had a chance to bring these items with them.

Hold some items back for your child’s school fete raffle in the summer. Keeping items for later on in the year can help charities particularly those that struggle more at other times. Teachers often receive numerous presents and whilst grateful for the thought, sometimes they do end up with some unwanted items. 30 candles can be difficult to use!

Eileen Adamson from Your Money Sorted was a teacher and is now a money coach for other teachers. She advises teachers and other members of the school community to donate as a great fund raising tool. “From all the unwanted gifts, the school can create a few hampers, which can then be raffled to raise money for the school or a chosen charity.”

Selling unwanted gifts

You can sell your items on auction websites, market places and car boot sales. 

Exchange unwanted gifts

“Hold an unwanted gift exchange party!”, enthuses Hayley Muncey from Miss Many Pennies. Everyone brings an unwanted present and swaps for someone else’s unwanted gift. “Hopefully everyone ends up with something they like more, and if not it’s still a good excuse to have some fun and a post-Christmas social event while everyone’s calendar is empty after the festivities!”

In a modern take of Multi-coloured Swap Shop you can take good condition clothes and jewellery to a Swish event and swap them. Organise an event yourself or search online to find a local one.

Keith Grinstead runs Goodbye Lonely. It aims to help people through loneliness, isolation and mental health issues. On Boxing Day, Keith will be running a Zoom session “as a bit of fun to bring people together who are on their own. We’ll also give people the opportunity to swap or give away unwanted presents.”

Stop unwanted presents in the future

Perhaps this year is the year that you have a chat with people about reducing the present buying next time?! Discuss with friends and family ways to reduce the waste. Suggest only giving to the children, having wish lists, only doing a Secret Santa, putting a cost limit on things or agreeing to each give a lump sum to someone’s chosen charity.

Christmas decorations border how to save money when shopping Christmas and salesHow to save money when shopping for Christmas and in the sales. These are various posts about shopping ethically, your rights when it comes to shopping on line and in store, returns, gift cards and what to do with unwanted gifts.



By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

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