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Hand-me-down Etiquette: Appropriate Ways to Give & Accept Second Hand Gifts

The Proper Behavior for Giving and Receiving Hand-me-downs

Most of us remember the awkward feeling of receiving hand-me-down clothes during childhood. You may have been embarrassed to wear someone else's jeans, or you may have been excited to get something "new to you."

At other times a situation caused you to be the recipient of hand-me-downs:

  • When pregnant, you got maternity clothes and baby supplies.
  • After a house fire, you received kitchen appliances and household goods.

So what is the proper behavior when you receive hand-me-downs? And what about giving them? Are there things to consider on the opposite side of the hand-me-down cycle?

As someone who has been on both sides of the hand-me-down chain, I have some tips for proper hand-me-down etiquette.

How to Handle Receiving Hand-me-downs

Be Honest

If you have no use for the items or simply do not want them, you should state that clearly. Turning down hand-me-downs can be awkward, but use some of these excuses:

  • Thank you, but we have enough right now. I'm sure there is someone else who is in greater need.
  • We are trying to de-clutter our home, so we cannot accept any additional things.

Be Grateful

Realize that the person offering the hand-me-downs is really trying to be helpful and generous. She probably knows where the thrift store donation box is. She wants to help someone she knows and cares about. So express your thanks rather than getting offended.

Ask Questions

Hand-me-downs are a grab bag of fun. You never know what you will get. Sometimes there are only one or two gems in a large sack of items. So ask upfront what the giver wants you to do if the items don't work out -- the clothes don't fit, the style doesn't suit you, the furniture is too big, the situation changes.

More than likely the giver will tell you to get rid of what you don't want by passing it to someone else or donating to a second-hand shop. But some hand-me-down givers want their items back if you can't use them. So make that crystal clear upfront.

Always check before donating hand-me-downs to a thrift store.

Always check before donating hand-me-downs to a thrift store.

Improper Behaviors for the Recipient

Making a Profit by Reselling

Reselling the goods you received as hand-me-downs is not good form. The person who gave them to you wanted to help with your needs, not help you make a fast buck. So refrain from posting hand-me-downs on Craig's List or eBay.

An exception would be when an item becomes unusable after owning the item for some time. Possibly you've outgrown the item or it is no longer needed (maybe maternity clothes). Only in that case can you discreetly sell the item. Never brag about the profit you made on hand-me-downs. That is impolite.

Remember that the items were given to you, so consider donating them to someone else in need instead of making a few dollars off of someone else's generosity. What goes around comes around.


Keep Hand-me-downs Organized in the Closet

Keep your hand-me-downs tidy in the closet.

Keep your hand-me-downs tidy in the closet.

Tips for the Giver of Hand-me-downs

Don't offer garbage.

Giving things that you don't value isn't really generosity; it's just taking out the trash. If you question the quality of the things you want to give away, donate them to the second hand shop instead.

Don't demand.

If someone declines your offer, accept it graciously.

Don't wait around.

This especially applies to donating clothes. Don't wait while the recipient tries them on. Just drop them off without fanfare. If you wait to see the hand-me-downs modeled, the recipient can become very uncomfortable if he doesn't like the clothes or they don't fit.

Don't follow up.

It's embarrassing to the recipient when you to ask if the items fit or helped. Just give with no strings attached. If the recipient adores the hand-me-downs, he will tell you. Or maybe you'll see him wearing the clothes you donated. Then you'll know for sure that he likes the gifts.

Be clear.

Communicate clearly about what to do if the items don't work out. Let's say the hand-me-downs are clothes. You can say, "If these clothes don't fit or you don't like them, just give them back to me." Or maybe you don't care about the items at all. Then clearly tell the recipient that you don't care what they do with them. You can say, "If these don't work for you, feel free to throw them away, donate them to a charity shop, or pass them on to someone else."


Undecided1 on January 02, 2018:

I have a question for this audience...

I have a sister in law who has a son 1 year older than ours. She gave us tons of baby clothes when he was born and never specified what she'd like me to do with them once he outgrew them. I asked and she said donate them. I was not working at the time and was selling my old clothing online to bring some help into the home in the side. She knew at that time that some items were baby/toddler clothes but never mentioned anything about it, she was just aware of it.

Our son is now 7 years old. The sister in law is now asking for our sons clothes that she gave us 7 years ago. I told her I had maybe 10 pieces, if that, that I could give back. She involved my father in law who sent me a message saying that I need to give my SIL her clothes back. I tried explaining to him but omg this is insane. Most of the clothes we've gotten were gifts from both of our parents and clothes we've bought ourselves. She is under the impression and putting my father in law under the impression that she has "many large boxes of clothes" from her son here that she'd like back. The baby clothes from her are long gone. Given to salvation army, sold if able, etc. I am not sure what to do to make her happy and not come off like the idiot a-hole to my in-laws...

Any advice would be appreciated!

Vina on October 10, 2017:


My friend received a saree (Indian clothing that's used for draping) from her friend as a hand-me-down, but my friend did not like the saree's color, fabric, and it's blouse. So she decided to hand it down to me a 4 to 5 years ago since she knows I like that color. I like the saree and it's color but not it's blouse particularly. We wear sarees very rarely here (mostly for parties once in a year or so). Hence, I was not in a hurry to buy a new blouse, and only recently I had one stitched for me. I haven't worn the saree to any occasion yet because I was excited to wear other sarees that my mom had bought for me and also because I didn't have the new blouse ready at that time.

She figured that I haven't worn that saree to any parties yet and asked me to give the saree and it's blouse back to her last week. (She knew I liked the saree). She said that she wanted to wear it now. So, I gave it all back to her without any questions, as I received it. Is her gesture okay? It was an awkward situation. If it were me, I wouldn't have asked that from my friend after so many years. Would like to know what you all think about this. Am I wrong to think that this is awkward?


fanfreluche from France (but Canadian at heart) on January 27, 2012:

I usually tell someone if I really don't need something and suggest they give to Charity. I got so many proposition after the birth of my second child. I turned down almost everything because I had all I needed (clothes and accessories). Plus some people need more than I do.

Interesting tips about Hand-me-down Etiquette.

Giselle Maine on April 30, 2011:

An original and unusual topic, and written superbly. Thanks for the great hub!

Vicki on April 30, 2011:

Great post. It is good to think about the etiquette of giving things to others. (Especially, don't hand down garbage and don't give things to others if you'll be upset if you don't get them back.)

On the receiving end, it was a relief to get to the point that I could say, "no, thanks" if I didn't want or need a particular "gift".

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