Five things to do with your unwanted Christmas presents

Nana's gift of the new Michael Buble LP wasn't exactly what Holly had wanted
“People sometimes feel guilty about selling or throwing away their gifts, so donating them can ease consciences as they help charities continue their important work”
  • | by Rachel England

As a nation of gift-givers, we leave a lot to be desired. According to classifieds website, last year we gave and received unwanted pressies to the astounding value of £2.4bn.

A third of those gifts are now gathering dust in the back of cupboards, and 2% were simply chucked in the bin. Merry Christmas, the environment!

However, while there may not be an easy way to tell your mother-in-law that, actually, you’re all right for novelty tea towels now, there are a number of things you can do with them which don’t involve hiding or bins, and which may actually spread the Christmas cheer a little further.

Give them to charity

It is the season of good will, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, after all. “We often see a surge of donations after Christmas,” says charity shop worker Nadine Potts. “Everything from jumpers and books to DVDs and cosmetic gift sets. There’s nothing wrong with them, it’s just that they’re not necessarily to the recipient’s taste, or are the wrong size, for example.

“People sometimes feel guilty about selling or throwing away their gifts, as they were given with good intentions, so donating them can ease consciences as they help charities continue their important work.”

For one family in Devon, donating their gifts to charity has even become something of a tradition. “At the end of Christmas Day, we openly tell one another what’s unwanted and we see if anyone wants to do swapsies,” says Lisa Caroll, mum of three grown-up children and one of four siblings (that’s a lot of opportunity for gifts to go wrong). “Then we gather up the unwanted gifts and take them to the charity shop together. We’re helping others and getting a better idea of what not to get next year!”

Recycle them

By which we mean giving them another punt at being a genuinely appreciated gift. Just pop them to one side and wait for the next birthday, wedding or bar mitzvah – even next Christmas – then re-wrap and give.

But make sure you keep a tab on whose gift it is you’re recycling, warns marketing executive James Franks: “I decided to repurpose a nasty tie one year by giving it to my uncle. At the exact moment he unwrapped it I remembered it was him that had given it to me in the first place. Yeah, awkward.”

Sell them

Ah, it’s not really in the spirit of the season to mercilessly flog gifts intended to put a smile on your face, but you know... the current economic climate and all that. Obviously sites like eBay and Gumtree are clear choices for selling your unwanted wares, but there’s a host of other places where you stand to make a quick buck, too.

Music Magpie and Play both take CDs, DVDs and games, or pop along to your local CEX store for cash or credit on other items.

Selling through Amazon Market Place can eliminate some of the fees associated with eBay, and it even offers delightfully named service ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’, where you simply sling your goods its way and it flogs them for you.

If your wallet is packed with gift cards you’ll never use, liquidate them. Try – you won’t get the whole value of the card but you will get a lump of cash to spend however you please.

Alternatively, look at swap sites, which match you with others looking to offload their unwanted items. There are a number of general swapping sites – , for example – as well as specialist services:  for games, for clothing and for books. These won’t put any cold hard cash in your pocket but they might offer up an item you actually want.

Return them

Let’s not beat around the bush, as unappealing a prospect this is to well-intentioned gift-givers, the most obvious way of dealing with an unwanted item is to just take it back from whence it came. This is usually fine if you have a receipt and act sharp – many stores offer a 28-day returns policy.

However, since you don’t want to hurt Aunt Susan’s feelings you’re unlikely to have, or ask for, the receipt. So what do you do?

Well, shops are under no obligation to give you a refund unless the product is damaged or faulty, and will usually require proof of purchase of some kind.

But immersed in the remnants of Christmas spirit and with an eye on future sales, many stores are prepared to move the goalposts at this time of year. Make sure the item is still sealed in its original packaging or still has its tags and smile very sweetly. It’s unlikely that you’ll get a refund, but you might swing store credit.

If you’re only after a different size or colour, that’s not usually a problem and most retailers are happy to help.

Have fun with them

Not sure of the ethics behind this one, but since Christmas is the season of fun and cheer we think it’s ok.

Why not start a bad present pool? This can be done at work or with friends – you only need a few good-humoured participants.

After the holidays, everyone pops their one unwanted gift into a sack and then takes another, like a questionable round of secret Santa. Your present is someone else’s problem now, and you can all sit around having a jolly good laugh at the atrocious tastes of your nearest and dearest.

“We started a bad present pool at the office a couple of years ago,” says account manager Ben. “It’s always hilarious and someone always comes up trumps with something really bad. Having said that there have been a couple of successes where people have actually gotten something they like.”

Does he feel mean essentially laughing at other peoples’ expense? “Not really. A lot of it goes to charity in the end, and the whole thing makes for a fun atmosphere – good cheer and all that is the point of Christmas, isn’t it?”