Upcycling: The New Regifting

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor

There’s a reason White Elephant Gift Exchanges exist. Sure, theoretically you could bring a really cool gift, but usually the vaunted White Elephant – also known by appellations such as Yankee Swap, Devil’s Santa, and the Grinch Game – consists of shameless regifts.

The sad truth is that many of us simply don’t appreciate our holiday gifts. Some 42 percent of women return holiday gifts from their husbands, while 17 percent donate presents they don’t like, 13 percent regift, and 10 percent just chuck it. When it comes to waste, throwing 10 percent of all unwanted gifts into the landfill is pretty shocking, especially considering the already extant holiday waste problem.

Regifts to the Rescue?

Looked at this way, regifting seems like almost the right thing to do. Plus, emotionally, it feels good to pass an unwanted item on to someone else and think, “Ahhhh. We’ve done our part.” Now it shall be loved. Except, not. The problem with regifts is that dumb or trashy presents are usually still pretty dumb and trashy…yes, even in someone else’s house.

So may I cordially suggest this holiday that instead of passing on a gift you didn’t love, you try to make it better? Let’s take a look at a few ways to up the quality of a regift before you send it off to its new owner, or turn old items into completely new ones for those you love.

Upcycling New Gifts

It’s really disappointing to know someone went to time and effort to buy you something brand new that you don’t like. If returning is an option, go ahead. If not, your ship is not yet sunk.


Upcycled book notebooks make great gifts | image: Sarah/Flickr

New books, for instance, are great upcycling fodder. I have pretty specific taste in books – young adult, sci-fi/fantasy, ancient history, or pop science and psychology writing – and don’t really appreciate much else. Even when someone gets the genre right, I’ve discovered that beautiful covers often disguise really, really crappy books.

The good news? They make great notebooks! A few years ago I learned how to turn books into custom journals, and have now made these for several gift exchanges. People are always pleasantly surprised and confused when they open them, like: “Oh! This doesn’t suck. Huh.”

Ugly clothing can often be made into pretty reusable napkins. These mismatched serviettes make a great art project. They have a delightfully careless air, which is so hot right now. Choose absorbent cotton or linen as your base material and be sure to preshrink it.

Upcycling Old Gifts

Wha? Where am I? What day is it???

…Sorry, I just emerged from the Upcycling Clickbait Rabbit Hole. The Internets almost didn’t let me go that time. Anyway, if you looooove trolling through tutorials on How to Turn Old Things Into New Things, well, here you go: this and this should keep you busy for hours or even days until 2019.


The upcycling possibilities for old scrabble tiles are practically endless | image: R. Crap Mariner/Flickr

If you want some more specific recommendations, I’ve personally been wanting to try this project turning beer bottles into specialty cups. It looks really easy (albeit a bit dangerous) and perfect for the suds lover in your life. Here are ideas for creating home decor abound. Some people find this kind of thing kitschy, but if your family is super arts-and-crafty like mine, they’ll appreciate puzzle-piece napkin rings, sheet-music holiday trees and cake plate terrariums. Because, adorable.

Got a Scrabble set that’s missing half the letters? That doesn’t mean you can’t do something amazing with it: try these best-ever personalized gift tags that can turn into keychains or bookmarks come January.

For the Eco-Conscious Regifter

Some regift from an environmental standpoint, regardless of whether or not they’ve received disappointing presents. Personally, I buy about half my gifts at Value Village, often painting a bowl or wooden coat rack, or altering a tee to make it feel trendy and new. Upcycling win!

If you’re more of a point-and-click holiday gifter, head to Etsy and type “upcycled” into the search bar. They have hundreds of thousands of gifts made from other things, all of them adorable and pretty reasonably priced.

Of course, the above suggestions are a very small sampling of the ideas of out there (see above clickbait black holes for proof). The point is to put your thinking cap on before giving someone junk they’ll be just as burdened with as you were, and to instead give a gift that will be cherished rather than tossed.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.