Ask Unclutterer: Trinket overload

Reader Nick submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My full name is Nicholas, and so ever since I was a little kid, my family has been buying me figurines of St. Nicholas, Santa Claus. Large Santas, small Santas, fragile Santas, expensive Santas, cheap Santas, and of course some ugly Santas.

When I moved out I managed to leave the majority of them at my parent’s house, but still have plenty.

How can I get rid of these things without offending my family?

When I was a child, I had intense phobias for tadpoles and frogs. The creek that ran through my grandparents’ farm was full of them, and my cousins thought my screams of horror upon encountering them were hysterical. So, up until recently, everyone in my family gave me frog stuff whenever they gave me gifts.

Like you, I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I kept all of the frog stuff. Which, of course, bred more frog stuff from people beyond my family. Friends would come over, see my collection of frogs, and then buy me frog things for gifts thinking I loved frogs.

This all ended abruptly when I got rid of the frogs.

My friends noticed immediately (since they’re in my house more often than my extended family members) and none of them has ever mentioned it or given me a frog since.

I openly told my family that I stopped collecting frogs and donated their years of gifts to my friend who is a biology teacher to display in her classroom. No one had any objections and I haven’t received a frog from any of them in years. I told them by showing them a “before” picture of my bathroom (where the frogs had been displayed) and then the “after” picture of my redecorated space.

In your situation, you could give your Santa Claus collection to someone who is obsessed with Christmas decorating or to a local store to use in a holiday window display. Take a picture of the collection in its new home so that your family can see that the gifts are still being loved by someone else.

I kept a few of my favorite frogs, but have them covertly displayed throughout the house so that they’re not obviously a collection to visitors. I also photographed the full collection before getting rid of it, so that I could remember who gave me what over the years. You could keep your favorite Santas in a small collection, too, and just bring them out at the holidays.

It’s the grand purge that seems to get people’s attention, however, and will let your family know that you’ve reached Santa Claus overload. Other people don’t want you to feel burdened by their gifts, so don’t worry about saying goodbye to something that is cluttering up your space. Also, get the Santas you left at your parents’ place out of their space — it’s never a good idea to make your clutter someone else’s responsibility.

Thank you, Nick, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to you on your Santa Claus purge! Also, check out the comments for more advice from our readers.

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29 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Trinket overload”

  1. posted by Lose That Girl on

    I’ve spent much of my life being gifted everything frog too! I had to actually tell people that I didn’t want each and every item the world offered that featured a frog. Until I said something, they took no notice of the fact that I didn’t use the frog shower curtain, or the frog candles that I was gifted. They were blind to it and I had to point it out. Now I rarely get anything frog related – thank goodness. I feel better and my friends and family do too, because they’re not wasting money on trinkets that no one wants.

  2. posted by Vicki K on

    The idea of taking a photo of all the Santas is a really good one. It could even be put in a frame and kept with Christmas decorations and taken out once a year.

    Frog photos could be taken out annually in the spring?

  3. posted by Kari on

    For the santa stuff, If you don’t want to sell it, think about giving it to an organization that works with kids for their christmas decorations. We had a bunch of santas given to us by family that we didn’t like or use; I donated them to the local Ronald McDonald house (we live close to a regional hospital complex) and to a local organization that serves kids under 5 who have been in abuse situations. Both places were happy to have the additional decorations. Oh, and I told the family members who kept giving us these things what I had done–how I appreciated their gifts but didn’t have the room for them so sent them on to places that would use them. Haven’t gotten another one since.

  4. posted by Courtney on

    Oh man…I have an entire collection of moose…that I’ve put in boxes and bags and have no idea what to do with it now!!

  5. posted by Noel on

    I received lots of Christmas themed items with my name (and no, my birthday is not anywhere near Christmas). I display most only at holiday time.
    My MIL has lots of giraffes (hundreds, really). She says that at her funeral, all attendees will be required to take one home.

  6. posted by Noah on

    While I don’t have a specific collection I do receive random things from family. My family likes to take the kids to the dollar store to shop for Christmas and birthday gifts. Of course this means we all end up with a pile of stuff we are not sure what to do with. The kids really do put a lot of thought into it so I try to hold onto the stuff for about a year and either use it or display it somewhere when they come over. After the next Christmas or birthday though I toss it or donate it. This keeps the kids happy and no one even realizes it.

  7. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Courtney — Do you know anyone who owns a bed and breakfast in the mountains you could give your collection to? Your local Caribo Coffee? Any forest rangers? Game wardens? People who work at state or national parks? Maybe sell them as a collection on eBay or Craigslist … there has to be someone out there who would love your moose!

  8. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Donate Christmas stuff to nursing homes, VA hospitals, group homes for kids, animal shelters even.

    When I was in college, my parents had to drive through Austin to get to San Antonio, where they went shopping monthly at the military base, and of course make a stop to see me on their way home. By the end of the fall semester, I had 40 cans of tomato sauce and 35 packages of jello in my cupboards.

    At my Christmas party, every guest had to take 2 cans of sauce and 2 boxes of jello home with them. It was quite festive!


  9. posted by Louise on

    One thing to do with small trinkets that you have no desire to display all year: make them into Christmas ornaments. Tie ribbon on them and hang them from the tree for just a few weeks a year. This displays them at a time when the family member or friend who gave you the trinket is likely to see it, reminds you of their thoughtfulness, and has a built in time to put it away in a box.

    For a while, I collected animal figurines. I made ornaments out of the nicest small ones and got to enjoy them once a year.

  10. posted by Christine on

    I definitely agree with the ebay and craigslist idea. My friend has sold tons of “lots” (an auction of similar or like items) on ebay. Collectors of Santas, moose, and frogs would love to bid on your items! And then you know that they’re going to a good home :o)

  11. posted by enigma on


    The thought of mourners leaving the cemetary, each of them with a giraffe ….

    Please, say thanks to your MIL for the picture (and the laugh, I admit it).

  12. posted by Haley J. on

    Noel, sell those Santas on eBay! In photographing them to sell, you’ll also create a record of the ones you aren’t keeping.

    And let us know when you do, because a few new Christmas items are welcome every year at my house. Seriously.

  13. posted by Consultant Calamities on

    am I the only one that thinks that its creepy that people kept giving you frog stuff, when frogs really just creeped you out? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I find that rather odd.

    My MIL is the one in our family that gives us weird, dust-collecting crap that none of us like or use. Not just for birthdays and Christmas, but just at random times, too.

    In my challenge to throw/toss/declutter the last several years, I’ve finally decided enough is enough and tossed and donated most of it. She hasn’t said a thing (honestly she’s too clueless to notice!)…but keeps buying crap for us…and we just keep donating it.

    About every other month we bring big pile of stuff to Goodwill. I’d estimate that nearly 50% of it comes from MIL…*sighhh*

  14. posted by martha in mobile on

    Ooohh — come talk to my husband about giving up his collection of frosted hi-ball glasses from National Parks (specifically the western states; the Carlsbad Cavern glass has bats on it, though they look more like bowties).

  15. posted by infmom on

    The local Salvation Army or Goodwill would be an ideal place for a Santa donation, especially if you do it no later than October so they can put all the Santas on sale in time for all the eager bargain-conscious decorators to get their hands on them.

  16. posted by Mark on

    One day long ago my family drove by a pasture full of cows and my mom remarked how cute they were. Or something like that. Anyway, for years she received cowphernalia–cow pot holders, cow glasses, cow prints.

    One of the more obnoxious items was a cow cookie jar that moos when you open the lid. I once gave her a very tasteful Christmas ornament featuring a cow playing the violin in a sitting, udderly exposed position. Finally, she cried No Mas!

    However, one day not long before Christmas, I spied a t-shirt out on the sidewalk in front of a clothing store. Picture of a cow’s head, with international circle and slash meaning NO juxtaposed over it, and the tag line Cowdependent No More. (This was a few years ago, when “codependent” was a big buzz word.)

    As someone who recently gave up a vintage furnishings shop, I’m trying mightily to declutter my life. Part of my therapy is a post a day about an item I own on The next step will be to sell, give away, or otherwise dispose of 4 out of every 5 items I write about!

  17. posted by Another Deb on

    The last time I was at the Goodwill there was a large shelf loaded with about 80 items from a beer stein collection. I can just imagine the widow of some collector hauling those things out before the body was cold.

    Other visits have featured shot-glass collections, state spoon collections, and dozens of whisky decanters in various shapes.

  18. posted by Beth on

    I’m unsubscribing; I didn’t appreciate the attitude in the comments of the last post, and you know what? It wasn’t that everyone got riled up. It was that people were *offended*. Too bad; I really liked a lot of the posts, but a glimpse of the rudeness by the author is quite enough to drive me away.

  19. posted by Sky on

    People seem to forget the joy of collecting is the search, not receiving tacky crap. I’ve quit collecting and sold most of what I used to collect.

    If someone gives you something, it is yours and you are free to do whatever with it. Including getting rid of it.

  20. posted by Dawn F on

    You could Freecycle your collection, too – if you’re not interested in getting any money for the items. Just post on your local Freecycle website and somebody who is totally in love with Santa figurines (cow stuff, frog items, joyous trinkets, etc.) will glady stop by and pick them up! Easy and simple!

  21. posted by Anne on

    I have been pondering decluttering my house of my whale collection. Some I do truly love, but mainly there are too many to really enjoy. I have been hesitant to part with them because I do want to remember them and the people they came from. Thanks for the great ideas!

    One idea this makes me think of is taking photos of each one and then using one of the online places to create a hard-cover book with the photos and info about them. The book I can keep on a shelf or store in my memory box (a rubbermaid tote) and will take up far less space. The ones I truly love can be scattered and have places of honor rather than just being bunched with the rest.

  22. posted by Erin on

    My mother loves Christmas. She starts decorating as soon as the last Trick or Treater comes through (a rule my dad had to make so she didn’t decorate before xmas). Needless to say she had a lot of xmas stuff – including a Santa Clause collection. My mother has excellent taste and style – and because she had a 9000 sqft home, it didn’t look cluttered with Christmas. Everyone loved coming over (as she loves entertaining) and commented it was like the department store displays (which she used to help design). It was beautiful. And then one day, she and my father decided that all of their stuff would one day become a burden (they are wonderful parents!). She got rid of most of the contents of their home, sold it and downsized to under 3000 sqft (still huge, I know. I’m in a 1000 sqft condo). BUT – we were all aghast as she was “getting rid of Christmas.” Her Christmas decorations were meticulously stored, labeled, and she had a separate (carpeted) storage closet just for Christmas. But she kept telling us that what we love is that she loves Christmas and being home together – we don’t love the actual items. She asked each of us what 1 thing we didn’t want her to get rid of, and then she got rid of 90+% of it. She gave it to a number of different places (friends, charities) and it was amazing how happy and free she seemed when she had downsized Christmas (that’s what we call it!). This past Christmas the 6 of us celebrated in their condo. It was still incredibly decorated – but not cluttered because she had gotten rid of so much. This year at Christmas we all were really excited to master her recipes, so she ended up cooking very little and just supervising the four of us kids. No house, no Santa Clause collection, she didn’t cook – and like every year before she said it was the best Christmas ever, and we all agreed.

  23. posted by lshay on

    My grandmother endured many ‘gifts’ of roadrunner-themed items because of an offhand remark she made the first time she saw one. She confessed to me once that she didn’t even like them that much.

    I had a personal experience with several years of bunny gifts – jewelry, figurines, donations to bunny rescue groups, etc. – until I finally convinced people that I’m not that into bunnies.

    Perhaps people searching for the ‘perfect’ gift grab onto an idea that seems to fit the person but not be overly expensive.

  24. posted by JC on

    My grandmother decided that I should collect dolls like she does. Throughout my childhood and until I graduated, I was the recipient of some terrible and sometimes scary gifts. I am rid of all but a few that were gifts from friends who traveled to foreign countries (not the plastic touristy stuff, but really well made figures).

    I try very hard to not add to people’s clutter. This year at Christmas I am making gifts. The ladies in my family will be receiving embroidered totes for shopping and some lovely silk scarves from some yardage I found on sale. The men are getting personalized treats/ sauces/ or chutneys and mittens. The children are getting animals made from old sweaters. The gifts are personal and useful.

  25. posted by Marie on

    @Beth: get over yourself. If you’re cranked up by ironic, jokey blog posts, just sit in a darkened room with your blanky and suck your thumb so no one can possible offend you.

  26. posted by mstreemn on

    Please don’t inflict your collection on others…dispose of it in a way that makes you happy. We had a large 12 banker box size collection of children toys and trinkets at our house that were left behind when my bil, sil and niece moved to california. Boxes and boxes of “we’ll come get it’s “….three years later
    We called the local shelter and they happily took them. them. We sorted, cleaned and pulled out the 5 things they still really wanted.

  27. posted by Java Monster on

    When I was a young girl, like many young girls I was nuts about horses. What happened was, for YEARS after I was over that phase, I got horse related stuff until I directly told my mother I was OVER it! My grandmother took a longer time to get that idea out of her head. It was easier than trying to find out what my “new thing” was.

    Later, when Star Wars came out (in 1977) I liked it, because, darn, *Star Wars!*; and again, for *years* after I got Star Wars calenders and so forth (but not the fun toys like action figures or spaceships) until again, I cried ENOUGH already!

    Frankly, I think those sorts of imposed “collections” are a sign of utmost laziness by gift-givers. It can start out as an earnest attempt to gift family with something they like (but in a passing manner) and then it never stops until the person has to be direct and say “enough already!” It means the gift-giver isn’t thinking of the person they’re gifting. They’re going by habit instead of asking the person what they’d like, or what they currently enjoy.

    For a while my mother collected various Moose stuffed animals (we had a dog named Moose that she dearly loved) but I don’t think I ever contributed to that collection: she knew what she liked, she exhibited it tastefully. More than that would have been overwhelming and again, LAZY. She has since given some of those moose stuffed animals to my kids, who honestly couldn’t care less about them. I’m probably going to hand them over to Goodwill this week. No one will miss them.

    Again, contributing to a collection of items the person you’re giving to may not even like is pure laziness by the gift-giver. Buy or do something else.

  28. posted by Ajana on

    I got rid of my “collection” of animal ornaments several years ago. They were gifts from well-meaning friends but I never cared for them. I packed them carefully in a box and kept them for 12 months. If any friend asked I would explain they were packed away and offered to return any if they wanted them – no one did. After the year was up I disposed of the box. For me, it was a guilt-free way to get rid of the darn things which just collected dust.

    Now I am working on my partner’s “collection” of memorabilia. The items are boxed and, so far, only he has only retrieved one item. The rest is due for permanent removal in March next year… I hope.

    The nice thing is, and my partner agrees, is the lack of clutter in the living room where all this stuff used to be. These “collections” we gathered just added clutter to our lives and certainly never made them better. Another weight lifted.

  29. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Hey Nick!
    My husband, whose nickname is Christmas Boy would be happy to take one of those Santas off your hands! LOL…

    The thing to remember is this: Things are not people and people are not things. You’re not diminishing the relationships with those who gave you the Santas by divesting yourself of the things themselves. The relationship isn’t dependent on the ownership of the thing and the love remains long after the thing is gone. This is a good way to explain it to anyone who might ask, too. :o)

    Good luck with your Santa collection!

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