Swap or sell: what to do with holiday gifts that just don't work for you
CALGARY - That sweater your great Aunt Bertha gave you for Christmas isn't really your style, but you'd feel guilty getting rid of it.
So it sits in your closet, gathering dust and taking up space.
Many of us accumulate stuff we don't want or need in December, whether it's well-intentioned but ill-suited gifts or items bought on impulse during Boxing Week because we couldn't resist a good bargain.
Marta Nowinska has a solution.
She's the founder of Swapsity, an online marketplace where users list what they have to offer — web design skills or a seldom worn designer dress, for instance — and put together a "wish list" of items or services they need. Then the system, where no money changes hands, matches them up.
There's even a "swap wizard" to help those who don't know where to start identify things that can be traded.
Nowinska says a lot of needless spending takes place over the holidays and that much of the time, neither the giver nor the receiver is happy with the results.
"A lot of people end up hoarding the unwanted gifts and not doing anything about it," she said.
"It becomes clutter. So you have two dissatisfied people — an unwanted present and undesirable stress on the credit card in January."
In fact, a survey by Purolator Inc. in January 2013 found 65 per cent of Canadians kept holiday gifts they disliked because they felt guilty doing otherwise, while 17 per cent planned to donate the unloved item and 10 per cent were bent on re-gifting.
Nowinska recommends swapping stuff for experiences, like a hang- glider flight or a therapeutic massage.
Swapping is both eco- and wallet-friendly, Nowinska said. But it's also friendly in the literal sense, too. Eyeball-to-eyeball interaction between swappers is much more social and pleasant than the often cold interactions between cashier and customer.
For Frances Ho, gift cards were a scourge.
"I actually had a wallet that I would keep in my car," she said. "It was called the gift card wallet."
Any time Ho was at the mall, she'd take out the gift card wallet and wander around, looking for something to buy.
"And I realized that I didn't really want to waste money just for the sake of buying something."
She said she'd rather just swap those cards for cash so she could pay off bills or buy something she actually wanted.
Four years ago, Ho co-founded CardSwap, an online marketplace for buyers and sellers of gift cards. Sellers can get up to 92 per cent of a card's value in cash or "swap points," which can be redeemed for other cards.
CardSwap — which was featured on the CBC's investment-pitch reality show Dragons' Den in 2011 — has 100,000 active users and is the largest website of its kind in Canada.
Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada Inc., said Canadians' holiday spending splurge often stretches from just after Halloween through to January.
There will surely be a mad rush to take advantage of bargains during Boxing Week, but Schwartz said it's important to set a budget and home in on items you actually need ahead of time.
"Don't get fooled into impulse buying, because that's where the danger begins," he said.
Staying home is an option, too.
"Don't get involved in the whole Boxing Week, Boxing Day mentality and say 'Listen, I've got what I need. I don't need anymore. Why do I need temptations of trying to do something over and above what I can afford?'"
And if you've received gifts that don't work for you, Schwartz said, "The first thing we say is sell sell sell."
"If there's something in your closet or there's something that really you're not utilizing, there's a couple of great sites like eBay or Kijiji or Craigslist that are more than happy to help you sell those items," said Schwartz.
"Don't be fooled, they definitely do generate funds that you may not have anticipated."