How to receive gifts when you’re uncluttering

Who doesn’t love receiving gifts? If you’re like me, you tear them open enthusiastically to see the fantastic things that await you. Gifts can be tangible reminders that someone was thinking of us or wanted to help us celebrate a special occasion. In fact, the person giving the gift likely gains a good dose of positive feelings by the act of giving. It’s hard to think of a downside to getting a present.

…except perhaps when your space is limited. And, when you’re uncluttering. If you’re focused on reducing your stash of stuff and having “a place for everything and everything in it’s place,” you might find yourself reluctant to bring something new into your home. On the other hand, refusing (even if you do so graciously) can result in the gift-giver (and you) having hurt feelings. To better navigate these delicate situations and to avoid mistunderstandings, first…

Talk about your uncluttering plans

…with everyone. When you decide to make a change in your life, like eating healthier, you probably tend to tell those closest to you. That way, they’re not surprised when you decide to eat in or order healthier fare from the menu. A nice side effect of telling the people in your life about your plans is that they can help motivate you and try to help you reach your goal.

Why not do the same when you’re uncluttering? Let your friends, family members, and colleagues know you’re being very purposeful (or even ruthless) about the types and number of things that you will keep. They genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. So, rather than stop them from giving you a gift, tell them you’re minimizing the tangible things you purchase and receive, and instead …

Suggest experience gifts

Have you been meaning to go to the new play that opened a few months ago? Or, perhaps you really want to see your favorite musical group the next time they come to town? Or, maybe you’d like to get in one last road trip with friends before the summer comes to a final close? If there’s a special event or new experience that you’d like to try (like driving your dream car or riding in a hot air balloon), don’t keep it a secret. These types of gifts still let the important people in your life celebrate special moments with you, and you won’t have to carve out storage space for something new.

Ask for a gift for others in need

Knowing that you’re helping someone without getting anything in return can often be very rewarding. In lieu of receiving a physical gift, ask friends and family members to donate to a charity you love. You could also spend some time together volunteering to help others in need (local meal center/food bank, animal shelter). This would be an opportunity to do something good for someone else and spend time with each other.

Accept gifts you receive

It’s not likely that you’ll never again receive a physical gift. When those occasions arise, graciously accept the gift, send a thank you note, and then take some time to decide how useful the item is to you. You may need to create a “deciding space” in your home to store gifts so you can figure out if you will keep them (perhaps in a well frequented closet so that you don’t forget about them). At first, you might not think that you’d find the gifts helpful, but they could end up being just what you needed. If, after a second look, the gift really doesn’t suit you or your current lifestyle, donate the gift to a charitable organization or regift it to someone you believe would really use it (letting that person know they’re welcome to pass it along if they don’t need it).

If you do receive gifts as you’re purging and uncluttering, remember that gift-giving is an emotional experience. The person giving is probably excited about giving you a present and has the best of intentions. He/she is not trying to thwart your plans to simplify, and just might not know that you’re doing things a little differently. Start by having conversation with those in your inner circle about your uncluttering plans. Over time, they will likely adjust to a new way of sharing special moments and experiences with you.

19 Comments for “How to receive gifts when you’re uncluttering”

  1. posted by Katherine on

    A few weeks after I told my mom, she asked me what I wanted for christmas but specifically what I wanted to help organize. I thought it was very thoughtful of her and helpful to me!

  2. posted by peachfront on

    Sure, I’d be happy to tell the friend who is going to buy me another bottle of $4 drugstore body lotion to get me a $100 ticket to a concert instead, but it ain’t gonna happen. Put the shoe on the other foot, and think about how expensive it’s gonna get if you get involved in swapping charitable donations/big deal experiences like plays, concerts, and hot balloon rides as gifts. You could utterly destroy someone’s entire budget, not to mention your own. I prefer to avoid exchanging gifts with everybody in sight.

  3. posted by loripax on

    @peachfront, the intent is not to “upsize” the gift, but to substitute an experience. My cousin and I take each other out for dinner (nothing fancy) for our birthdays instead of exchanging physical gifts. There’s no reason you can’t say to the friend who always gives you unwanted lotions/candles/etc. something like, “Hey, instead of exchanging gifts this year, can we go out for a coffee and spend some time together?” Experiences don’t have to cost a lot.

  4. posted by Jodi on

    Asking for consumable gifts (like lotion) is a good option too, since they’ll eventually be used up and can be decluttered. It would take some time, but it’s not going to take up space forever like an ugly tie or angel statue or something. =)

  5. posted by Henave on

    Our family is very comfortable telling each other exactly what we want for gift-giving occasions (including links to websites) but we are conscious of budget concerns. If it is an expensive item, we’ll say we are saving up for x item (with a link to the site) and a giftcard or giftcode to help pay for it in any amount would be appreciated. So even if you have expensive tastes, there are different ways for someone to contribute a portion of the cost.

  6. posted by Rae on

    Peachfront, I live in a tiny home (an RV). Most of the people in my entourage know what to get me within their budget, and it’s all ‘experiences.’ In the less than $10 range is the Starbucks (or other coffee shop) gift card. I work from home, so a Starbucks card is an excuse to get away from the computer for a bit and savour the morning.

    (I used to be really anti gift card thinking it was just a gift of money, but money would get absorbed into my budget while I remember what I did (or got) with a gift card, plus the person actually got in the car and went to a store they know I shop at to buy the card.)

  7. posted by susan on

    My parents are elderly and packrats. I give them gift cards to dine out. From a $50 card to a $10 card. I give them Heavenly Hams, truffles, and other nice food stuffs. They don’t need anything even clothing and I don’t want to contribute to the nest.
    I used to do experiences but they are getting too old ( dementia) to go to concerts and plays so now it is consumables or things like snow removal, AAA membership, or lawn service.

    I am a clutterphobe and tell them several things I want so they can still surprise me a little.. They like to buy and wrap gifts but do like to give me what I like.

    My best friend and I exchange gift cards for the favorite store and same amount but we go shopping together and have lunch. It’s an even swap but we have fun spending the day shopping for our gift. We may get to the point where we just have lunch and that is okey too.

    I decline office secret santa or gift swaps but will bring in a special treat or buy the support staff lunch.

  8. posted by susan on

    I agree a gift card is a nice gift. The girls in the office know I don’t like ‘stuff’ so for my birthday they chipped in and gave me a gift card to a plant nursery. Perfect. I saved it for fall to put in some perennials. A gift card to a place the person likes is thoughtful. You can always attach it to a small box of Godiva chocolates, box of nice teas or tie it to a bouquet of flowers. What ever the person likes.

  9. posted by Suzy on

    My grandmother didn’t want gifts, but she had given so much to me over the years that I really wanted to give her something for Christmas. So, I used to buy her “coffee bricks” and mail them to her. She loved them! and I got to give her something and not contribute to all the stuff she had from the 100+ years of living!!

  10. posted by EngineerMom on

    I was actually planning to write into Unclutterer for this exact situation. Glad to see it answered!

    We recently made a 2500-mile move to the West Coast. It was an extremely stressful move, selling our house and car, figuring out what to ship, how to ship it, what to buy out there, finding an apartment we could afford, etc. Add two small children to the mix, and it becomes even more fun.

    As soon as we knew the move was coming, I started telling everyone. We all (me, hubby, 2 kids) have summer birthdays, so our birthdays were all coming up shortly before the move. The two kids are the only grandkids on both sides, and there was a wedding in the immediate family in which my elder child participated. In short, multiple occasions for gifts to be given to our family on top of me frantically trying to declutter our life for this huge move.

    Huge amounts of stress and some bad feelings resulted from family members giving us rather physically large gifts for the kids for birthdays and the wedding participation, in part because of how I responded to the gifts (not enthusiastically, and not always entirely politely). Looking back, I should have just shut up, smiled politely, and thanked the giver. At the time all I could think is “Why on earth are you giving my child this huge toy when we’re about to move 2500 mile away and now I have to tell my under-5-year-old to either give up a toy he previously chose to keep or get rid of the new toy??”

    I think another thing that’s hard to deal with are givers who (literally) cry when they discover you’ve chosen to donate or regift something they gave you. I have dealt with this more than once with an in-law, and at this point I don’t know what to do other than sort of look awkward.

  11. posted by laura m. on

    I agree that food items, gift cards are ideal. We don’t buy gifts anymore, like some families, we agreed to not do gifts, as we all have too much stuff we really don’t need.

  12. posted by Karen B. on

    A gift is not a contract. It’s a gift. Once someone gives you something, their claim on it is done. You are not obligated to keep/treasure/display the gift. Some people do not understand this, but some do.

    If I receive something I don’t really care to keep, I’ll send a thank you note to the giver, put a tag on it saying who it’s from, and either donate it or regift it later to anyone who doesn’t know the giver. If the giver asks me at a later time what happened to it (if they notice it’s not prominently displayed in my home), I’ll either say it’s stored away for now, or I’m not sure where I put it. I will not tell them I no longer have it, as I found that is more of an affront to the giver than anything else I could say.

  13. posted by snosie on

    EngineerMom (yay that you’re an engineer too!) – it sounds oh so tough, but surely your family knew you were moving. It’s a shame you felt so bad, and they made you feel like that, but they weren’t really ‘listening’ to your needs, so don’t let it worry you too much.

    I move on things that don’t work for me (loose leaf tea, a ‘finding Mr Right’ book (for a declutterer!)). I do try to make usually ‘gift’ events less gifty – ie, come bake your fave cake for us all to enjoy, join me for dinner (usually $$$ – not compulsory of course, so no one thinks, oh I should ALSO buy something!). Even moving into a new place (out of home), I’ve really not accumulated much in gifts. 😀

  14. posted by [email protected] on

    Yes do tell everyone about your uncluttering, and gently suggest gifts be kept to a minimum, or are experience gifts (or very specific things). A great way is to lead by example… This is how I gifted my Mom’s birthday this year…home-made card/photo, theatre tickets and home-made cake – simple and effective (although not frugal! the price of tcikets oh boy! but cheap wasn’t the aim – no clutter was).

  15. posted by Miriam on

    Over the past several years an older family member has been thanking me for the gifts I have given her (after I have searched high and low for something appropriate, and spent hours, days, and weeks doing so, not to mention gasoline running from store to store). Then the next time she sees me, she gives it back to me without a word of explanation. This feels like constant rejection, and it has contributed to seriously hurt feelings on my part.

    The last time I gave her a gift, it was a flower arrangement; she had asked for something for the dining room table. She thanked me. A week or so later she asked if she could exchange it for something else. I gave her the receipt. Next time I saw her, I asked what she chose instead. Nothing–she returned it for cash! I don’t give her gifts any more. It hurts too much. In fact I don’t even socialize with her anymore. She is oblivious to my feelings:(

  16. posted by Dinah Gray on

    My 5 year old is turning 6 in two weeks. My mother in law asked what to give her. I thought about it. She doesn’t really need anything. I told her that perhaps she could take her out for ice cream for her birthday and put what other money she would have spent into my daughters saving account. Stuff comes and go’s, but time with grandma will not last forever. She liked that idea.

  17. posted by [email protected] on

    @Dinah – I like that idea too…how lovely…

  18. posted by clothespin on

    The WORST gift to get? Homemade things from your very well intentioned mother in law. I just had our 2nd (and last) baby and my MIL, who is not a huge fan of breastfeeding, kindly made me a very thoughtful “nursing shirt”… from a pattern from the 70’s (she said in the style of the Mamas and Papas) in a hideous dark print fabric. It is an abomination to fashion. Plus, it doesn’t even work as a nursing top. The people I’ve shown it to sit with their mouths open and ask how long she’s known me? (12 years) This after an equally appalling maternity top and what in the blazes quilt (infant sized) for my very tall 4 year old.

    I KNOW the time and energy that goes into making this stuff. I sew too! So, as much as I appreciate the effort and thought… the result is just beyond keeping. This is the insanely hard part, I hate to say I don’t like it but this stuff just keeps coming…

    I finally suggested that perhaps I could give her a few patterns that suit me better and fabric that I like (I have some in the stash and with a newborn, no time to make it up)… I think her feelings were hurt a little, but I just didn’t know what else to do. (and neither did my husband, who despite having a y chromosome, was equally wondering his mothers mental capacity at the stuff she’s made.)

    So, I think that a blank email is going out to my sewing family kindly requesting that before they spend huge ammounts of time and energy, not to mention money, making myself or the girls something to PLEASE ask me first to make sure it’s something that I might like.

    And, as a result of all of this, this is a rule that I will be following from now on too. I will ALWAYS ask a person before starting a large project for them. Homemade gifts (like quilts and afghans and clothes..) are so hard to get rid of I don’t want to add to their burden. Plus, workign with them to pick out colors adds to the fun of the gift in the long run…

  19. posted by SAHMama on

    For me and my DH, we ask for:

    From my parents: beef from my uncle who raises grassfed organic beef. My parents purchase a 1/4 cow for us each year for Christmas. We enjoy it very much, it cuts my budget and doesn’t create clutter. And, the money stays in the family!

    From DH’s parents:
    Zoo and children’s science museum memberships. No clutter, doesn’t break, don’t have to clean it, store it, put it away or maintain it.

    For our children, when people ask us what to get them, I usually make a list that is at least 1/2 consumables and 1/4 things they need along with a few wants. My DD is 5 and DS is 2 so it’s been easy so far.

    DD’s birthday is coming up and her list includes:
    footed pajamas
    Hello Kitty long sleeve shirt
    chocolate covered pretzels
    bubble bath

    seems pretty reasonable to me! 🙂

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