For the eco-conscious, the festive season can be hard to navigate. Australians are estimated to spend $17.3 billion this Christmas, and much of that is on brand new items that may end up in landfill. So, turning to secondhand gifts makes sense – but the etiquette around it can be tricky.
Should you let the recipient know the present isn’t new? If it’s a regift, disclose its history? And what types of presents tick both the ‘thoughtful’ and ‘sustainable’ boxes without looking cheap?
Ms Wong says there are a few things to remember when giving preloved presents; select something you know they will appreciate, look for good quality and authentic items, and package them well.
“I haven’t gifted everyone I know secondhand, because it may be OK for me but I understand it’s not for everybody,” she says, adding that sticking to close friends and family is the safest way to make sure your effort is appreciated.
“Some cultures actually don’t like receiving secondhand,” says Ms Wong, who is based in Sydney. Her own mother, she explains, who is originally from Macau, used to believe secondhand items might carry bad luck from a previous owner.
For those friends who would gladly accept a secondhand gift, Ms Wong suggests being upfront about its origins.
“Whatever that item is, it came with a story [and] I think it’s nice for the person to know,” she says.
Rewrapping unused presents you don’t want is fine, just make sure it doesn’t go to the wrong person, suggests Ms Wong. And unless you are passing down a family heirloom, gifting something you’ve already used puts you at risk of looking lazy. So what preloved goodies should you give this holiday season?
Preloved clothing and bags make great gifts if they are good quality and presented well. Vintage shopping is a great way to find unique pieces you can’t buy in retail stores. Stick to quality items – no one wants holey, used underwear as a present (or any underwear for that matter). Check the label and search the brand to get a sense of the quality of the item.
“Even if you buy a brand new shirt, within the first wear, it’s going to be secondhand anyway,” says Ms Wong. “I look out for things I know they would like and I package them nicely. Make sure they’re washed, laundered and crisp-pressed.”
There’s nothing better than that new book smell, and there are millions of novels languishing in sheds and secondhand stores across the country looking for a new home. Stick to people whose book sense you know well. Three novels from a favourite author, wrapped in brown paper and topped with a ribbon is considerate, not cheap.
Just check the pages of the book for markings first.
Tablets, phones, video game consoles and cameras are some of the most wanted – and most expensive – items on Christmas wish lists. Buying even brand new electronic presents is a risky endeavour as personal preferences, previous equipment and unexpected add-ons can turn your gift into a burden. So tread even more carefully when tech is pre-used. Make a list (of things to inspect) and check it twice to ensure everything is working. Sanitise anything that touches skin such as phones or headsets. Make sure the item comes in the original packaging, with the instruction manual and all settings are reset, and avoid kitchen goods or anything that might create a safety risk (like a hairdryer or slow cooker).
One thing you can’t buy new is antiques. Whether it’s an upholstered vintage chair, a collection of rare vinyl records or a polaroid camera, sometimes being old makes a gift more valuable.
“There is value in something that they don’t mass produce anymore,” says Ms Wong.
Gifting an antique is a great way to give a sustainable gift to someone who might otherwise turn up their nose. Just make sure to think carefully about what the receiver would actually like, says Ms Wong.
“If we thought more consciously of what we’re buying to begin with, we would actually end up with less junk around.”
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