Ask LH: When Is It OK To Give A Used Gift?

Ask LH: When Is It OK To Give A Used Gift?

Dear Lifehacker, I don’t have a lot of money to buy presents this year, but I love to give them. I have some stuff I would like to give as gifts — some are gently used, others more well used — and I was also thinking about buying used items on Amazon as gifts. Is this appropriate? Signed, Pre-Owned Presents

Dear Pre-Owned,

Giving a used gift could be an excellent idea — it’s not only good for your wallet, it’s good for the environment too. However, the etiquette of giving things that you’ve used is much like the etiquette of re-gifting (giving away unused and unwanted items): Some people are totally against it and dislike hand-me-downs, while others don’t mind at all and might even prefer it. Before you give your stuff away, here are some things you should consider.

It should be all about the recipient

Gift-giving is all about the other person, so the propriety of giving a used gift is really in the eye of the recipient, etiquette expert Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”) notes. For the right person, even old shoes could be appropriate.


Do you know if your gift recipient has an opinion about getting second-hand items? If he or she frequents thrift shops and garage sales, ardently believes in reusing and repurposing items, and/or loves vintage items, those are some clues a thoughtfully selected and useful pre-owned gift would be appreciated. Picture: JD Thomas/Flickr

The key words there are thoughtful and useful. As with any gift (whether used, re-gifted, DIY or brand new), your consideration of the other person’s tastes and wants is what counts. (It’s hardly in the Christmas spirit if you’re just trying to clear out your spare room.)

Certain types of gifts are better for giving used than others


Some types of used gifts are actually more valuable because they are old, such as antique furniture, vintage clothing or some musical instruments, as the New York Times points out. Picture: Monrovia Public Library/Flickr

Great used gifts also include those that aren’t available anymore or rare: classic toys and collectibles, for example, and early edition books.

Also, expertly crafted items that stand the test of time (or were made better way back when) are tasteful gift ideas. Hand-carved items, cookware sets and leather jackets fall into this category.

Under the not so great category are:

  • Things that require maintenance or added cost. Don’t give someone with a “dumb phone” your old smartphone unless you know he/she is OK with getting a data plan. A tank full of fish, a ficus tree, and other living things should also be carefully considered before you give them as gifts.
  • Certain kids/baby items. Car seats, for example, are often subject to recalls. Check first to make sure they’re still safe.
  • Items that are excessively worn, in need of repair, or otherwise damaged. Even if the gift is something the person would like and use, if it’s missing parts or full of holes or stains, that’s not a great gift. (In some cases you might be able to fix up the item before giving it away though.)

Be open about the gift being used

If you buy a used book on Amazon and it’s exactly like new, you don’t have to disclose you saved money on the gift. In other cases though, you probably should tell the other person that you’ve used the item before or got it second-hand — especially if it obviously looks used or the person knows you’ve owned it. For example, you could say “I’ve read this book a hundred times I’ve practically memorised it. I thought you would really enjoy it too.”

Whether you choose to gift a used item or not, make your gift about acknowledging the other person and it’ll be much appreciated.


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