I’ve been a party to several white elephant gift exchanges over the years. Of course, I’ve never once found the item I received remotely useful, but the fun was in the swapping, not in the receiving. If you have a white elephant exchange planned this season, here are a few tips for finding a contribution to the game.
- Read the rules of the exchange. Usually there will be a value limit or instructions to bring something used from home. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the entire limit – you can find great gag gifts for much less.
- Scrounge around home to find something to give. Most people have a storage closet somewhere in their homes where they’ve put all the bad gifts they’ve received over the years. I have several stashed in my office closet. If you’re married, you no doubt have a few horrid wedding gifts tucked away somewhere. That set of Tupperware you received with mismatched lids? Perfect. That odd crystal duck you got as a bridal shower prize? Class it up with a newspaper wrapped box. The giant orange and purple vase your aunt Myrtle made in her beginning pottery class? This is your chance to share her artistry with someone else.
- Hit the thrift stores. If you can’t find something good in your own home, visiting a thrift store is the next best option for white elephant gifts. You can find some amazingly tacky, and cheap, gag gifts at your favorite thrift store.
- Visit the gas station mini-mart or the toy aisle of the grocery store. Last year at my office white elephant exchange, one of the most popular items was a light up hobby horse that appeared to be from the grocery store.
- Visit the bulk aisle of the grocery store. Two other popular items in our exchange were economy-sized boxes of laundry detergent and cereal. Even better, get generic versions.
- If you want something less gag-like, but still cheap, previously viewed DVDs are a great idea. You can also check the bargain aisle at the bookstore for a silly calendar or a bargain book somehow related to your business. If your topic is covered by the Dummies or Idiots guides, grab one of those as your contribution.
- If you’re totally strapped for time, get a coffee or office supply gift card. Unlike most other gifts, these are actually useful.
- If you forgot about the exchange until just before the party, some office supplies make good gifts. Salespeople can toss a few conference goodies into a bag and call it a day. Who doesn’t want a giant logo pen, a plastic water bottle, an oddly-shaped pin cushion, and a labeled memory stick?
At some point in your life, you’ll be invited to a white elephant party. So, while it’s tempting to toss those old wedding gifts you hate or that thing you bought that you’ve never used, keep one or two tucked away in the garage or closet. Then you’ll always have white elephant gifts ready to go. If you have to give and get a few of these a year, I strongly recommend regifting – let someone else enjoy the wealth of tacky items foisted upon you every year.