How to Graciously Handle Unwanted Gifts as a Minimalist

Unwanted gifts. It’s a terrible feeling. You open up the present, and all you can think is, “why did they get me this?” Followed by, “what do I do with this?”

If you can hide your emotions, you smile and lie. For those less fortunate, your natural reaction creates tension in the air.

Interestingly enough, I haven’t had too many issues with presents, even before becoming a minimalist. Friends and family seemed always to know what I wanted. But for my wife, Maša, it’s a much different story…

Time and time again, she’s received things that completely miss the mark. I don’t know what she projects that says, “I want candles and bath salts”, but it’s a regular occurrence. Receiving unwanted gifts is frustrating, awkward and time-consuming.

I imagine it would be even worse if we had kids! Shout out to all the minimalist families dealing with inbound gifts.

We’ve learned a lot about navigating these situations much better over the years.

I’ll share what to do with an unwanted gift in this post — both immediately and long-term. But first, let’s take a moment to recognise the value of a gift.

The beautiful gesture of a gift

The history of gift-giving is a long and varied one.

Though giving gifts has likely been around since the dawn of human civilisation, the traditions and meanings that we associate with gift-giving today have evolved considerably over time.

In many cultures, gift-giving is seen to express appreciation or show gratitude for something done. Gifts can also be given to cement social bonds or as a way of building goodwill.

Giving and receiving gifts is also 1 of the 5 love languages pioneered by author Gary Chapman. For some, the act of gift-giving is its own reward.

You probably know someone in your life (perhaps you) who takes great pleasure in finding the perfect present for their loved ones and seeing the joy it brings.

Whatever the reasons, gift-giving is an ancient and universal tradition that shows no signs of slowing down. So next time you exchange gifts with someone, take a moment to reflect on the rich history of this time-honoured tradition.

Listen: Managing Gifts As a Minimalist – Episode 012

The not-so-beautiful gesture of an unwanted gift

What if the gift you give or receive is a complete flop? It happens more than you think.

In a 2020 poll, 62% of Americans said they lied about how much they liked a gift. 55% go to the trouble of displaying presents for when the gift-giver comes over to visit. So as it turns out, we’re not very good at this.

Setting emotions aside, the gift-giver wants you to be happy. There could be a bunch of reasons why the present didn’t resonate:

You’re just getting to know each otherYou have super high expectations or very particularThey think they know youYou don’t really need anythingBound by a process, e.g. secret Santa, a kids birthday party etc.

Given the context, there’s much room for error — increasing the odds of unwanted gifts.

What’s more, you hold onto these things because we don’t want to offend anyone. Meanwhile, these gifts collect dust, take up valuable space in your home, and constantly remind you how so-and-so doesn’t know you.

It’s worth noting that gift-givers want you to be happy and would probably feel worse if you felt forced to keep something you didn’t like. It’s why we often give our loved one’s receipts with a gift in case it needs to be exchanged and returned.

Furthermore, the gift-giver has essentially achieved their goal by giving you a present. As Marie Kondo says, “the purpose of a gift is to be received”.

Lastly, if someone gifts you something, it transfers the ownership from them to you. This is now your thing to deal with, and you can do whatever you want with your property.

Shortly, I’m going to share some ways to deal with these items. However, what’s more important is reducing the risk of receiving unwanted gifts in the first place.

How to prevent unwanted gifts

The first step in preventing unwanted gifts is determining who you’re likely to receive presents from, e.g. family, friends, co-workers, kids’ parents etc. Once you’ve determined the source, it’s time to set some expectations.

There are two approaches to setting expectations; the subtle approach and the direct approach.

The subtle approach

If you have an established relationship with the gift-giver, you can drop hints into a conversation that will reset expectations in your relationship.

Say you’ve recently started getting into minimalism and decluttering. This is an excellent opportunity to mention some of the changes you’re making. For instance, you could say:

“I’ve just decluttered my garage, and I couldn’t believe how many things I donated.”

“I watched a documentary about minimalism, and it’s changed how I think about things.”

“I’m doing a buy-nothing challenge this year. Want to join me?”

“We’ve implemented a one-in, one-out method with the kids’ toys, and it’s been a life-changer.”

Hopefully, by opening up the conversation about how your values are shifting, you can spark curiosity and even participation from your loved ones. If they’re switched on, they’ll pick up on your queues and will likely ask you more questions to qualify their gift in the future.

The direct approach

If you don’t know your potential gift-givers well or have a persistent person who relentlessly gives you things you don’t want or need thinking that they know what’s best, you need to be more direct and transparent when setting expectations.

The worst time to reset expectations is directly after receiving an unwanted gift from someone, although it can be done.

Instead, use the opposite season to when you’ll likely receive the gift to have the conversation. For example, chat to family in March about how to handle Christmas presents. Or write expectations of presents in the invitation to your baby shower.

Read more: What Does a Minimalist Christmas Look Like?

Even when going head-on, keep the conversation positive. Focus on what you want and need instead of what you don’t like (more on that next).

Also, explain that your values are changing, and you’re being more mindful about everything you bring into your life. Be sure to share how clutter impacts you. Give examples of the inconveniences unwanted things have created. Most folks are understanding and will even respect your intentions.

Develop a way to share gift ideas you’ll benefit from

It’s standard advice to share your wishlist with your friends and family. This is still a great strategy. For example, you can state what you want as a couple in your wedding invitations, or perhaps your child wants to raise money to support their favourite charity.

If you have an excellent relationship, you can literally send screenshots of your abandoned cart items from your favourite online store.

But beyond a wishlist, you can get creative and make it two-ways. For example, you could start by asking potential gift-givers what they really want. Do they have a list of things they need? That may trigger them to ask you the same.

Another approach is to establish recurring gifts. For example, for every birthday, request:

Dinner outA cakeTickets to a theatre performanceFamily holidayDonate to a charityA Massage

The cool thing about these recurring gifts is that there’s room for surprise within each item or experience. It might get to the point where you’re excitingly anticipating what type of cake you’ll receive or where you’ll be going out for dinner this year.

Chocolate truffles as an edible gift. Image and recipe: Heartful Table

And if you want, you can ask the gift-giver to participate in the recurring gift, so they have an incentive to get something you both like and enjoy.

After implementing these strategies, I’ve received some fabulous gifts. My friends and family know I like food and experiences. So I’ve received vouchers to luxe grocery stores, a dinner out with my wife, and paid-for day trips. And as a minimalist, they know more often than not that I don’t want a gift.

Read more: A Minimalists Guide To Gifting Experiences (90+ Ideas)

But what about those unwanted presents that squeak through from an unexpected gifter? Or what do you do with the backlog of things sitting in your gift graveyard? Below I have 5 approaches to deal with unwanted presents.

5 ways to deal with unwanted gifts

It can be tough to know what to do with unwanted gifts. Maybe it’s an ugly sweater from a well-meaning aunt or a new coffeemaker that doesn’t fit your lifestyle.

You don’t have to keep these gifts gathering dust on a shelf, whatever the case may be. Instead, you have 5 options for unwanted presents; donate, re-gift, re-purpose, return or keep. Let’s look at each option in more detail.

1. Donate

There are a few things to keep in mind when donating unwanted gifts. First, make sure the gift is in good condition. No one wants to receive a used or damaged gift, so it’s essential only to donate items in good condition.

Second, think about who would most appreciate the gift. Many different organisations accept donations, so choosing one that aligns with your values is important.

For example, if you’re donating clothes, you might want to consider a local women’s shelter. If you’re donating toys, you might want to consider a children’s hospital. And if you’re donating food, consider a food bank.

By thinking about who would most appreciate the gift, you can be sure that your donation is going to a good cause.

2. Re-purpose

Re-purposing is a fantastic way to get creative with your unwanted gifts.

For example, if you receive a vase that you don’t like, you can use it as a pencil holder on your desk. Or, if you receive a shirt that’s too big for you, you can turn it into a pillowcase.

There are endless possibilities for re-purposing unwanted gifts. So get creative and see what you can come up with.

3. Re-gift

Is re-gifting wrong? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times. I’ve watched people in my try to “palm off” things with varying degrees of success.

In the end, I believe re-gifting is an effective method for getting rid of unwanted gifts, but you need to do it the right way.

First, make sure the item is in good condition. You don’t want to re-gift something that is damaged or used.

Second, ensure the item is appropriate for the person you’re giving it to.

Third, remove any tags or personalisation from the item. You don’t want the person you’re giving it to know that it was originally a gift for someone else. Obvious, I know — but we want to avoid any awkward slip-ups!

Lastly, don’t tell the original gift-giver that you’ve re-gifted their present.

You can re-gift unwanted gifts without any awkwardness or hurt feelings by following these simple guidelines.

4. Return

Returning a gift could mean returning to the gift-giver or returning to the store where your gift was purchased. Either way, the situation needs to be dealt with tactfully.

If you’re returning the gift to the gift-giver, it’s essential to explain why you’re doing so. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel like they made a mistake. Perhaps they simply weren’t aware of some critical information.

For example, you could say that the item wasn’t your style or that you already had something similar. If you have a solid and honest relationship, you could be more direct and tell them that you can’t see yourself using the item.

If you’re returning the gift to the store, it’s important to have proof of purchase. This will usually be in the form of a gift receipt.

Most stores have a return policy for unwanted gifts, so check before you go. You can return your unwanted gifts without the hassle by following the proper procedures.

Keep in mind that some stores do not accept returns on opened items, so be sure to check the return policy before returning your gift.

5. Keep

Sometimes the best option is the keep an unwanted gift.

This might be the case if the gift is from a close friend or family member who handed down something very sentimental to them — even if you don’t deed it. Think of a piece of jewellery gifted from your grandmother before she passed away.

Or perhaps the gift is something that you can see yourself using in the future, even though you don’t have a use for it right now.

In these cases, it’s best to keep the gift and find a place to store it until you need it. Specifically, dedicate a box, draw, wardrobe or area in your home for these items and keep it to a minimum, so they don’t take too much space.

There are many different options for dealing with unwanted gifts. Choose the option that makes the most sense for you and the situation.

By taking some time to think about your avenues, you can be sure to make the best decision for everyone involved.

Managing unwanted gifts

Unwanted gifts can be a challenge to manage, but there are many different ways to do it. The best method to handle an unwanted present depends on the circumstances and the relationship between the giver and receiver.

By following these simple tips, you can graciously get rid of unwanted gifts without hurting anyone’s feelings while remaining clutter-free.

Do you have any unwanted gifts that you need to get rid of? What are your plans for dealing with them? Let us know in the comments below.

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