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Hand-Me-Down Etiquette: How to Give and Receive Used Gifts

Learn how to gracefully give or accept a gift of hand-me-down clothing or other used items.

Learn how to gracefully give or accept a gift of hand-me-down clothing or other used items.

Giving and Receiving Hand-Me-Downs Politely

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 may have 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.

Proper Behavior for Secondhand Gifts

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 etiquette.

Gently used clothing can be a welcome gift, but it can also be an awkward one.

Gently used clothing can be a welcome gift, but it can also be an awkward one.

How to Handle Receiving Hand-Me-Downs

Follow these tips to politely receive—or decline—secondhand items.

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 up front what the giver wants you to do if the items don't work out—for example, if the clothes don't fit, the style doesn't suit you, the furniture is too big, or 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 it to a secondhand shop. But some hand-me-down givers want their items back if you can't use them. So make that crystal clear up front.

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

Here is what not to do if someone gives you secondhand items.

Don't Try to Make 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 craigslist 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.

Tips for the Giver of Hand-Me-Downs

There are tricky aspects of giving as well as receiving used items. Follow these tips for a smooth gifting experience.

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."