Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When holiday gifts raise your eyebrows

What to do with stuff that just doesn't work for you

  • Print

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 identifying things that can be traded.

Nowinska says a lot of needless spending takes place during the holidays and that much of the time, neither the giver nor the receiver is happy with the result.

"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."

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 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 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 wants.

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 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 Counselling Services of Canada Inc., said Canadians' holiday spending splurge often stretches from just after Halloween through to January.

"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 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."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2013 B19

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Weekend springtime weather with Doug Speirs - Apr 19

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young goose   reaches for long strands of grass Friday night near McGillvary Blvd-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 19 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012

View More Gallery Photos


What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google