The topic of re-gifting - giving someone a gift that someone else gave you - has been getting major coverage of late. The ABC program "20/20" tackled the topic recently. But as a re-gifter, I was encouraged when Oprah Winfrey seemed to support it. On a recent program she asked a group of experts whether re-gifting is tacky or rude.
Ceri Marsh and Kim Izzo, authors of "The Fabulous Girl's Guide To Decorum," weighed in on the practice.
"It's not just rude. It's kind of tacky," Marsh said.
Added Izzo, with a look of disgust on her face: "It seems like a twisted form of recycling."
Oh, but my girl Oprah wasn't so sure.
"If you get something that you absolutely cannot use, you're not going to use it, it's not of any merit to you, you cannot pass it on?" she asked the women incredulously.
Not as a gift, the women said.
You can't re-gift "in the spirit of love and graciousness?" Oprah pressed.
"What about the feelings of the person who chose it for you?" Marsh said. "You need to honor that."
Clearly Marsh had studied Oprah and knew that saying something like you need to "honor" people's gifts might help her win this debate.
I rolled my eyes. March and Izzo are fabulously wrong.
When to re-gift
You honor people when you receive a gift by saying thank you and meaning it. However, after you say thank you and the giver is no longer around, you can stomp on the gift, shred it, throw it to your dog for a chew toy - or re-gift it. A gift is yours to do with as you please.
You most certainly can re-gift, and it's not rude or tacky. It would, however, be rude to give a gift back to the person who gave it to you. It would be tacky to give a gift in which you failed to remove any cards and other indicators that the gift was originally given to you. It's tacky to use the gift before re-gifting it.
In a recent Discover Financial Services national survey, six out of 10 of those polled found the idea of re-gifting horrifying. Only 2 percent of respondents said they love re-gifting, and do it all the time.
Perhaps it's not the act of re-gifting that horrifies people but the horror stories of bad re-gifters, said Jenn Errick, communications associate with the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit that encourages people to cut their spending and waste less.
Errick, a strong believer in re-gifting, said she had a relative who was notorious for giving things out of his closet - things such as freebies with corporate logos on them.
"Re-gifting has gotten a bad reputation because people who want to cut corners are not thinking about what the recipient wants," Errick said. "It doesn't matter if you give somebody something from your own closet, the mall or a catalog. It's not thinking of what the person would want or could use that is rude and tacky."
Gift's true meaning
Every year during the holidays, I get questions from folks about the appropriateness of re-gifting. Usually I refer people to the dictionary. Look up the word "gift."
A gift means you give something voluntarily without the expectation of anything in return. The definition doesn't say you have to honor a gift. Doesn't say it has to be new or bought.
Unfortunately, in this culture, people measure love by material things. Why is it wrong to give as a gift something you received but would be more useful or appreciated by someone else?
"It's better environmentally to give away things we already own," Errick said. "It's better to extend the life of things that have already been manufactured."
For example, Errick said, giving away a book in good condition that you've already read could make a nice gift.
"You could write a little note inside the jacket," she added.
We say, "it's the thought that counts." We say what we really want is a gift that shows that someone thought about us or knew our soul well enough to know we wanted a tennis bracelet or iPod for Christmas.
But that phrase - "it's the thought that counts" - is a lie people tell themselves so that they don't feel like ingrates when they bad-mouth someone who gives them something they don't like or, God forbid, suspect were re-gifted.
If it truly is the thought that counts, then why can't we all show our love by just telling folks what we think of them?
Oh, right, our economy would collapse.