the unwanted gifts dilemma {day 20 of 31}

Several of you have mentioned that you have received a few (or many, many several zillion) gifts from loved ones (or random co-workers/students/neighbors), and they’re just not your style (or you have absolutely no use for them).


To get rid of them would scream, “Ungrateful!” Or “busted,” as the case may be. “Whatever happened to that ice cream scoop warmer I bought you last Christmas? You still have it, don’t you?”

So what do we do about these things, you cry.

I don’t know.

But I have a few ideas. Let me tell you what I’ve done in the past, and then share some wisdom from a few of YOU.

First of all, if I receive something I don’t want/can’t use/think to be ugly, impractical, whatever, and I can return it to the store for money or credit, I’d do it (and have done it).

If that’s not possible, I try to find someone who would appreciate (even love) the gift and re-gift it. I can either be sly about it or just tell them the deal. Gifts like these are good for office party gift exchanges. Or even extended family ones. Gabe’s dad’s family celebrates Christmas before the 25th, and my dad’s fam after, so that worked.

Let me just say that I think there’s a time and place for keeping something awful that someone very special gave you (especially if it’s handmade). I don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat who’s super picky and doesn’t appreciate anything. Here’s what I hate: that someone I love spent their hard-earned money on something that isn’t going to be a blessing to me like they hoped.

A better plan is to get to the source of the problem. Lots and lots of gifts being given and received and not a lot of relationship-building and intangible gifts of time, love, and laughs.

Over the past few years, we’ve really started re-thinking Christmas gifts. Our kids were getting waaaaay too many (they were so overwhelmed they couldn’t really even enjoy them). And we were throwing all our money to the mega-stores to buy people things they didn’t even need (and they were doing the same for us).

Here’s what we’ve done in my immediate family (my parents and siblings) recently. We four sisters exchange names and make a handmade gift. Last year, my sister Bethany made me a quilt out of my girls’ baby/toddler clothes. One year, Steph made me jewelry and a painting. And one year Jess knitted me a scarf and gloves.

My brother, brothers-in-law, and Gabe exchange names and trade $25 gift cards or $25 in cash (pennies if you’re Stewart).

The cousins each have a name and buy a small gift.

And my mom and dad have done money for everyone since forever ago, and we love it. We parents will often take the money and buy what we know our kids want. This year all five of us are taking our money and running (to Cambodia).

Weaning our girls off a ton of gifts has been one of the best things we’ve ever done as parents. They appreciate each thing so much more now and find more joy in the other parts of the holidays–fellowship, game-playing, eating, laughing, giving to those in need.

Here are some great ideas a couple of you shared yesterday:

From Valerie (TX): I too have some gifts (expensive ones!) from well-intentioned family members – stuff I’ve had for years and NEVER used. It’s going on ebay to raise money for my mission trip next summer!

From Sharon: We no longer give gifts on birthdays (except to kids and the parents make a wish list, so they get what they are okay with bringing into their home). Instead, we get together once a year to celebrate all the adults birthdays. We go out to eat and pay for ourselves.

For Christmas it’s been a huge struggle to agree on anything as a family. For a while we did white elephant gifts, which I LOVED! Only buying (and receiving) one gift (well, plus a gift for each kid) was awesome. But some people wanted to buy for everyone.

So, last year everyone did what they wanted. We got some stuff that we won’t ever use and I just put some of the items in a pile of things to donate. My husband and I started a new tradition last year of giving money to a charity in our families name. I made little cards explaining what we are doing, based on the Advent Conspiracy.

We have sold high priced gifts from in-laws on Craigslist and I just pray when my sis-in-law visits that she doesn’t ask to use the electric hot water thing. Or the wine glasses. Lately she’s been sending us an Entertainment book each year – we LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this gift.

One lady I met at the zoo said she has the grandparents buy a zoo membership for her family as a gift each Christmas. I think that is a fantastic idea.

What other ideas (or fears) do you have about preventing/getting rid of unwanted gifts?

18 thoughts on “the unwanted gifts dilemma {day 20 of 31}

  1. chrissy

    I’ve found honesty to be the best policy when it comes to managing expectations of family members. We’ve had several lean years in a row, and we’ve just had to be frank with the relatives and ask that they understand.

    My MIL just sends me cash and lets me pick out the kids’ gift from Grammy. When we lived in Dallas I spent it on a different museum season pass each year. It never broke and never had to be cleaned up, and we got to spend lots more time going out to do fun things as a family than we would have otherwise.

  2. Tanya

    I re-gift alot. I used to feel guilty about it, but then I realized that if someone else would love or appreciate something I have just sitting in the closet why not share that with them.

  3. Brooke

    jay’s family expects you to keep everything. everything. got a snarky comment just this week over some 1970s bath towels i got rid of 3 years ago!!

    so while i’m just itching to get rid of that toaster/can opener/coffee maker set unopened in the cabinet, i don’t see that happening any time soon.

  4. Candice

    SO helpful! Thanks for the ideas. My main takeaways: try to be more specific about what gifts I actually need ahead of time if appropriate. Encourage others that I would rather spend time with them than receive a gift. If I have to & if I can, sell the items for our trip to the Philippines. Be thankful 🙂

    Thanks again. I love 31 days of purging!

  5. Tonia

    I’m so glad you mentioned gift giving. Our family grew up making Christmas a big gift giving deal. I witnessed my parents year after year struggle financially because they spent WAY too much money on Christmas presents. It’s so easy to fall into that same trap. We’ve really tried hard to avoid it though. This year I even made it a point to not suggest that if the kids see something they want “To put it on their Christmas list”. And to emphasized how totally awesome it is that we get presents on Jesus’ birthday. He must really love us! I feel like that’s a pretty easy concept for toddlers/pre-schoolers, because they do love getting birthday gifts.

    I’m lucky because I have a 2 and 3 yr. old, so they are pretty happy with two or three things. We’ve decided to work on making memories. For example, as her big Christmas present each year, my daughter gets to go on a Daddy/Daughter date to Disney on Ice. This year my two yr. old will get to go with Daddy to Monster Truck racing.

    As for outside our family of four, we just don’t really do anything. My family doesn’t really have money so we just ask that they don’t stress about gifts and they are okay with that. My husband’s family does have money, but also gets it that gift giving isn’t necessary and that we’re trying to teach our kids to appreciate what they do have and not become consumers (they feel the same way).

    I do like the idea of making the kids each go through their stuff before Christmas and pick toys to give away to other children in order to make room for the new ones.

    I kind of think it takes that one person in a family to give everyone the okay….”Let’s not do gifts this year”. Now, that’s with my family, and other families might not like that because they do like the gift giving part. I like getting gifts, but I’m totally cool not getting them too. Especially when it releases the burden from me to have to find something for someone that already has everything they need and want.

    I like Sharon’s idea of giving to a charity in someone’s name. World Vision always allows you to buy cool things for people like cows, wells, medical kits, soccer balls for kids in Africa. What a great teaching moment for your kids.

    Gosh I really got on my soapbox with this comment. Anyway, my point is, the less we give and receive unwanted and unneeded things the more we realize how unwanted and unneeded they are and we get over the whole craziness of it all.

  6. Jennifer Ekstrand

    When dealing with gifts that I don’t want, I try to remember that if I give a gift, I want it to make the person happy and if it isn’t making them happy I would want them to (appropriately) get rid of it. While I’m sure there are some people who care more about the gift than the giftee, those people probably aren’t worth trying to please because they’ll find something else to be upset about if they want to (there might be some exceptions).

    I’ve tried to decrease the number of unwanted gifts by actively making an effort to decrease the number of gifts we’re given. This year, my siblings plan to give to a charity instead of each other, and then share about the charity when we would open the gifts. My husband’s siblings draw names to give one real gift and then give less serious gifts to everyone else (gifts that we either have on hand or can buy for a dollar or two, these gifts are often either regifted the next year or thrown away). We also opt out of extended family giveaways or exchanges among friends most of the time.

    I’ve also found that having a wishlist helps. My husband and I have a wishlist posted online that helps us avoid the urge to go buy things that we want but don’t need, gives family members ideas for what to buy, and gives us a place to say things like “please don’t give me lotion because I have an allergic reaction to many of them”. Before we put up the list, people used to e-mail me and ask for suggestions for my husband, they still sometimes as for the link to the wishlist (if they don’t save it from year to year), but it is much easier than trying to come up with ideas every year around holidays or birthdays.

  7. Bethany Peters

    I read a blog once that talked about 3 different kinds of gifts–experience, consumable, and charitable–all of which eliminate clutter! I saved the article in Word, but don’t remember the source.

    Experience gift ideas: karate lessons, trip to COSI or museum, pampering (get hair or nails done, massage), tickets to a game or ballet, gift card to a new bakery, movie tickets

    Consumable gift ideas: favorite treat or snack, fun bath/shower products, coloring books, activity books, stickers, cooking kits, craft kits

  8. Danielle

    We have given to Heifer International every year instead of giving gifts at Christmas. We tend to spend a lot less on gifts than the rest of the family, and it was turning into a competition of who could spend the most money (we obviously were losing and people were happy to point that out.) 2 years in and my family is still pointing out that I should do more (meaning give gifts to them) while my husbands family is totally on board and everyone wants give to someone who is really in need.

    As far as gifts I receive but don’t want, the first option is return or re-gift. I have a small box in one of my closets that I go to for wedding gifts, friends’ birthdays, etc. I have been known to pull things out of that box a year or two later and realize that I actually like it and will use it. Some things go straight to the thrift store, but even those things make great white elephant gifts sometimes.

      1. Danielle

        It’s something we pray about a lot. We pray also that we can “not give” with joy and not self-righteousness. Christmas, and two months worth of birthdays leading up to it, are overwhelming times for us. We have to fight our attitudes a lot during this time. We’re both really excited that Christmas is on a Sunday this year, can’t wait to have focused worship time at church before the chaos ensues!

  9. Ruth Chowdhury

    I was really bad about this as well. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But then i read somewhere and totally agreed with – if your relationship is based on material things, it isn’t a great relationship. My relationships need to be more important than “stuff” so I started getting rid of things i was holding onto just so as not to offend. It was freeing, and i make sure i keep my relationships real.

    Craigslist, donations, etc, are the way I go. Regifting too, if possible.

    We are going to get one “big” gift for each of our kids this Christmas and a couple cheap gifts I’ve been collecting throughout the months (amazon crazy sale, thrift store). We’re hoping they gain an appreciation of people, blessings, quality time, and giving rather than receiving.

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