Getting Rid of Unwanted Gifts

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This year I am writing about striving for less, and my journey towards a more simple lifestyle.

One big hurdle that I have encountered is the well-meaning gifts that clutter up my home. I am one of those people who used to feel so incredibly guilty about getting rid of gifts, or returning them, but in trying to rid of our home of unnecessary possessions and clutter, I’ve had to really explore my feelings about rejecting gifts.

Getting Rid of Unwanted Gifts

Whether it’s an issue of too many (stuffed animals), “not my taste” (sequined Christmas pillows), or the worst, gifts that go against our values or lifestyle (singing vanity mirror that told my daughter how pretty she was), there are so many gifts that have come through our home that have sat unused, or I’ve felt guilty returning or donating, but I am resolving to have an empowered relationship with gifts that I don’t want.

Rejecting or not wanting a gift does not mean that I don’t appreciate the gift giver and their efforts.

It does not mean that I don’t value the time, money, and thought that went into purchasing the gift.

It does not mean that I am entitled or insensitive or selfish.

It just means that the gift, while intended for me, does not appeal to me or benefit my life, which is what a gift is supposed to do.


Gifts are such a tricky conundrum, as a great gift reflects equally on the giver as well as the receiver. It can reflect the health of the relationship or just be a straight-up miss.

Gifts are a love language for me, and like many of our struggles, my past relationships with gift giving and receiving had a strong influence on all of the guilt that I had surrounding gifts. My mom was a firm sales-only shopper and my dad’s strongest love language is gifts, but together that combined to ensure that while we received many gifts growing up, they were often somewhat random gifts that we didn’t want, need, or like, and the special occasions when we asked for a specific gift, the same amount of money would be put towards buying more items, but not necessarily ones that we wanted.

Receiving gifts that we don’t like can cause us to feel misunderstood. The excitement of receiving and opening a gift quickly gives way to a feeling of slight disappointment and confusion, followed quickly by guilt at our apparent lack of appreciation, and a compulsion to cover up our true feelings to preserve the relationship.

A bad gift can take you from feeling excited and loved, to feeling deceitful, guilty, and misunderstood as quickly as you can unwrap it.

I’ve carried guilt about this for years. I’ve felt like a lousy daughter for not loving the bevy of gifts that were presented to me at every birthday and Christmas. I’ve felt guilty knowing that many others received less or nothing on those days, and guilt over the jealousy I felt towards friends who didn’t know how lucky they had it to get just what they wanted.

So many of us tell ourselves that we are being selfish when we don’t love an ill-fitting gift. We hold onto the gift, allowing it to take up space in our homes out of obligation; or, we return it and feel sheepish and guilty about the process. And heaven forbid, the gift giver ever ask about the missing gift…

I trust that my real relationships can withstand not holding onto emotional clutter, and resolve to donate unwanted gifts.

So, what do we do? Because, quite frankly, keeping the ill-fitting gifts is absurd:

Closets, rooms, homes filled with items we don’t love because someone else thought it should be there.

Equating holding onto the gift (or feeling guilty about returning or rejecting the gift) as symbolic of holding onto our friendship.

But it is still hard to really be okay with saying no to gifts, or disposing of gifts that we don’t want.

At first, it is easier to start passively. Graciously accept and silently return or donate gifts that don’t suit you. Go through your home and be honest about which gifts you are keeping out of obligation or guilt.

Getting Rid of Unwanted Gifts

There are some people who I will never be able to be forthright with when it comes to not accepting gifts that I don’t want — and that’s okay. For some people, gift giving is more about them than you, and they will take it personally if you don’t want the item. I personally believe it is okay to shield those people from the truth, and not inform them of the gift’s eventual disposal.

However, there are some wonderful friends who will appreciate you letting them know beforehand what your true desires and requests are. I’m pretty good for knowing which friends or family members will buy me or Ella a Christmas or birthday gift, and if they may need a bit of guidance.

I try to heed off the gift giving by making a pre-emptive suggestion, for example, requesting that instead of gifts, we go on a road trip together. Or instead of a toy, would they mind gifting Ella an experience or class? (Like a dance class, or a trip to the zoo.) For those who insist on buying gifts, I sometimes will casually mention that G needs a dance outfit for an upcoming class, or at least figure out a way to mention that we just got rid of a ton of stuffed animals…

I’ll also suggest disposable items — suggesting they bring a bottle of wine for us to enjoy together, or asking for their homemade chocolate chip cookies as a gift. I’ve found most of my friends and family are thankful to have a solid gift suggestion and are more than happy to give exactly what I ask for. I also have a Pinterest board of Lifestyle Products I Love and an Etsy wishlist that some of my savvy friends will think to shop from.

Personally, I’m not ready to tell someone that I don’t like a gift because I know I’ll feel guilty if the person takes it personally and is hurt, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to allow those gifts to clutter up my home while I continue to work on that aspect of myself.

I trust that my real relationships can withstand not holding onto emotional clutter, and resolve to donate unwanted gifts.


I’m curious, how have you dealt with gifts you don’t want?

What are your suggestions for avoiding those gifts?

For more articles in our Motherhood & Minimalism Series, check out The True Cost of Minimalism and Purging Books.

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  1. The emotional aspects of getting rid of gifts are far and away the most difficult. There are a lot of options for the actual “disposal” or re-purposing, which I’ve covered a few times before, but it’s not feeling like you’re letting down Aunt Susie that’s the hard part.

  2. You have so many great tips on here! I really enjoyed this post. After all who needs ANOTHER stuffed animal :(.

    Thanks for linking up with Tuesday Talk!

  3. Yes! All of it, especially your first two points. After 7yrs married, 12 years together, my in-laws still end up getting me things I dislike/have no use for 95% of the time. I used to feel so misunderstood. Now, I just know to expect that most likely their gifts to me will end up straight to Goodwill…even if I give them a list of gift ideas like they ask for.

    (visiting from WFMW)

    1. It’s really hard to move past that – I often think feeling understood is akin to really feeling loved. (And feeling misunderstood is a really easy way to not feel loved.)
      Good for your for establishing realistic expectations and preparing yourself 🙂

  4. Such a great read! Gifts are always a touch call, and I agree that it is often more about the buyer than the giver. Thanks so much for sharing on Idea Box!! Happy to be featuring this post this week, and hope you join us again! The party is live today until Tuesday.

  5. This is such a tricky subject and I love how you address it. Thanks for linking up at the Wonderful Wed. Blog Hop. I featured you on my fb page, please come back next week. Carrie, A Mother’s Shadow

  6. I’ve been pretty good at clearing the clutter in my home. Now, if I can just get my teenagers to do the same!

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