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How to Deal With Unwanted Gifts

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Hot topic alert! Today I’ll be covering how to handle the awkwardness of receiving (and possibly getting rid of) unwanted gifts. We’re in the midst of prime gift giving season, and you may already be feeling the dread of the influx of more stuff you don’t necessarily want or need. Read on for my top tips for how to graciously handle unwanted gifts from friends, family members and colleagues. Let’s get into it!


Let Your Needs Be Known

The best way to handle unwanted gifts is to avoid receiving them altogether. Given my values, profession, and tendency to be very direct, I have a lot of practice requesting that the people in my life abstain from buying me gifts. If you are on a mission to live more simply or own less stuff, make sure to explain your values to your friends and family before birthdays, holidays, and special events. Fill them in on your reasons for wanting less, and explain clearly how they can help support your goals.

Clarify the Pain Points

For people who express love by giving gifts, it might help for you to communicate the pain points in a thoughtful way. When my girls were young I told my parents and relatives that while we were so grateful for their thoughtfulness and generosity, we had a small space with limited storage, and receiving lots of new toys, gear, and clothing could feel stressful and suffocating, even though I knew they had the best of intentions.

Make a Clutter-Free Wish List

Here’s the fun part! Just because you don’t want material gifts, doesn’t mean there’s not room for all sorts of creative experiential gifts. If you really don’t want another scented candle or pair of kitschy socks, suggest alternative gift ideas that you would love to receive. I often ask my mom for a pedicure or spa treatment or a nice meal together so she can experience the gift with me. A gift card for a meal delivery service or a restaurant, an online program or class pass, a coaching or personal trainer package, or an experiential gift like breakfast in bed, movie night with treats and popcorn, or a spa day are great options. More here.

Initiate a New Tradition

If your family has a history of going all out with gift giving, you may want to initiate a totally new tradition. You could suggest a gift swap with a fixed budget and set number of gifts, or try a book or recipe exchange. After receiving more holiday gifts than we knew what to do with one year, we started having our girls ask for one larger gift, like a new bike or an ipad, that the whole family could contribute to. Get creative, and brainstorm with your closest family members to see if you arrive at a fun and creative new gift giving ritual that works for everyone.

Be Gracious (and then donate)

Some enthusiastic gift givers just can’t help themselves and won’t stop no matter how clear you are with your wishes. If all else fails, the good news is you can receive the thoughtful and loving intention of the gift, and then opt to donate or pass on the gift itself. Say thank you, be gracious (and grateful), and then find that gift a new home. You get to decide if you’re more comfortable returning, exchanging, regifting, or donating the item in question. Just promise me you won’t shove them in the back of your closet “in case the gift giver ever asks about them.” I promise it’s okay to let go of the gifts – and the side of guilt.

Do you have a creative way to handle unwanted gifts? Share in the comment section below! Xx

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8 comments on “How to Deal With Unwanted Gifts

  1. I love these tips! Especially experience-based gifts, we do something similar as well. If we are in need of anything or our son asks for a specific toy, I make an amazon gift list and ask our family to only shop from the list.

  2. Hi! Curious as to how you handle holiday cards. We’ve opted not to send them ourselves (my brain can’t help but run through the environmental impact, expense, time, etc.), but I have found it awkward when others ask if we want to be added to a list for a holiday card exchange (especially at work) or when we receive cards, but never send them. Would love your thoughts!

    1. Ooh great question! We don’t send holiday cards, but appreciate (and then recycle) the ones we receive from others. I also learned about a great company called “Paper Culture” that not only uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper, but also plants a tree for every card order they receive!

  3. Has anyone ever asked about a gift they’ve given you that you’ve donated? If so, how to you respond. This is my only fear when donating gifts I’m given.

    1. Only my mother – and I’ve just been honest and said something to the effect of “I passed it on to a friend who really loved it.” This seems to be a common fear, but I’ve found it very rare for people to inquire about gifts they’ve given after the fact!

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