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57% of Gen-Z and Millennials Have Returned an Unwanted Gift—Here's What to Add to Your 'Do-Not-Buy' List

In a recent survey, more than half of Gen-Z and Millennials admitted to returning a gift. Here are the most-returned items to avoid.

most returned christmas gifts
Written by
Brightly Staff
The holidays bring many things:
extravagant meals
, seasonal decorations, and
gifts galore
. Unfortunately, though all enjoyable, the thematic events, rituals, and presents add up to a whole lot of waste.
Americans toss out
25% more trash
during the holidays than at any other time of year. That trash goes
to the landfill,
as do the majority of returned presents, all left to rot, take up space, leach into our groundwater, and emit greenhouse gases.
One way to help mitigate the problem? Avoid gifting items that are essentially destined to be tossed.

The Environmental Impact of Returning Gifts

most returned gifts
Let's talk about the environmental cost of returning gifts. Returning unwanted presents—whether for credit or money—seems like a simple solution. The reality, however, is environmental blight.
Before a
returned item
makes its way back to racks and shelves, it must be assessed and repackaged—which takes time and money. Add potential use and damage to those factors, and it comes as no surprise that only
48% of returns
can be resold at full price. And so, to the landfill they go.
According to a 
2018 report
, returns within the United States account for five billion pounds of waste, all sent to landfills to produce 15 million tons of carbon emissions annually.

The Most-Returned Gifts to Avoid in 2022

most returned gifts
In Brightly's November 2022 gifting survey of 330 Gen-Z and Millennials, 57% of respondents admitted to returning an unwanted holiday gift. Read on for the what, the why, and how to gift better.

The Most-Returned Gifts

Clothing was by far the most returned category of gift, followed by home decor, miscellaneous items like books, kitchen appliances, and makeup.
Clothing: 63%
Home Decor: 13%
Misc: 13%
Appliances: 8%
Makeup: 3%

Why the Items Were Returned

When it came to clothing, the main rationales behind returns were sizing and taste. In terms of other items, returns were made when gifts were of little use or duplicates—or when the respondents preferred money or store credit to the present itself.
Wrong Size: 36%
Preference: 36%
Not Useful: 14%
Already Owned: 11%
For Money/Credit: 1%

What to Gift Instead

The takeaway? Never gift clothing unless the pieces are explicitly requested (or blatantly hinted at), and the proper sizing is provided to you.
But even more importantly, gifting any physical item comes with the potential of return, which is why showing your love and celebrating the season with experiential gifts is a worthwhile alternative.
Local camping trips, national park passes, museum or concert tickets, or even volunteer opportunities allow your giftee to immerse themselves in the world without all the waste. (You may even get to partake, too!)