There’s nothing quite as heartbreakingly awkward as opening an undesirable holiday gift while the gift giver looks on, all smiles and anticipation. You, in turn, feign excitement and gratitude, even as the only thing running through your mind is how you’re going to get rid of it. “Well, thanks, Aunt Enid! Another ceramic frog holding a fishing pole. Just what I wanted!”

The typical holiday gift reject finds its way into a regift pile, joining a bounty of clueless, extraneous and straight-out tragic items. Eventually, you may have the chance to free yourself of the gift in question at a "white elephant"-style gift exchange. From there, it may continue to circulate through the tongue-in-cheek gift-exchange circuit, being passed from recipient to recipient until it reaches someone who truly wants and needs a pair of squirrel underpants or a Solid Gold workout video.

And then there are the less inherently ludicrous gifts that you simply don’t need. Maybe you already have the item, maybe it’s the wrong size, or perhaps you just don’t have room in your kitchen for another hand mixer. For these kinds of items, the natural impulse is to wrap it back up — saving you time and money and eliminating waste — and bestow it to a friend or loved one who you think could truly use it (although many folks have superb regift radar). But this standard method of regifting isn’t the only option. There are other ways, both charitable and crafty, to part with unwanted presents. Here are some of our favorites:

1. Toy time: Has your scatterbrained elderly neighbor given Junior the same SpongeBob LEGO set for three years in a row? Community toy drives are an excellent, feel-good way to part with new, unused toys your family doesn't need. The granddaddy of them all, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, offers nationwide toy drop-off locations ensuring that your unwrapped regift makes its way to a less fortunate child in your very own community. Or, if you don’t have a surplus of new-toy rejects, you can make a financial contribution to the foundation. Another popular option is giving to the Military Children’s Charity.

2. Get thrifty: Let’s say you have a slightly used gift on your hands — a pair of shoes that don’t quite fit, or a throw rug that became an eyesore after a weeklong trial run — and it can’t be tactfully regifted the traditional way. Donating it to a thrift or charity store is the easiest and most obvious next step. Someone is bound to take a liking to your passed-on present and swoop it up, with the proceeds going to a charitable cause. One of our favorite places to take holiday rejects: Housing Works Thrift Stores.


3. The repurposed holiday reject: Before you try to get rid of an unwanted holiday gift altogether, put yourself in a DIY state of mind and think outside the gift box. Is there a way a rejected item can remain in your home but serve another purpose? If you’re handy with a needle and thread, transform that hideous sweater set into a comfy blanket for your pooch. Or break out the craft supplies and give the coffee mug your cousin bought at the Cancun airport a makeover, turning it into a pencil or paintbrush holder or a planter.


4. Host a regift exchange: As mentioned above, a white elephant gift exchange is a fun and harmless way to unload questionable gifts on others while freeing up valuable real estate in your home — and keeping rejected gifts out of landfills. But if you want to keep things on a non-gag note, plan a regift exchange with friends and co-workers who also have amassed unwanted gift stockpiles and want to keep things on the cheap. These get-togethers can be particularly successful if everyone involved has a common interest, whether it be fashion, cookware or interior decor. You never know … you could walk away with a pair of designer sunglasses or a bottle of your favorite red wine.

MNN homepage photo credit: IQSolution/iStockphoto

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The responsible regift: 4 ways to offload a holiday misfire and make it count
You can find a good use for that tacky sweater, or even that nice food processor that you just don't need.