Decluttering Unwanted Gifts

Decluttering unwanted gifts is SO difficult.

They sit there for years and years, neither used nor given away, just gathering more and more dust.

I am pretty good at decluttering, but for while I was really stuck with a handful of items that psychologically I just didn’t seem to be able to part with. Even though I had barely, or never, used those items since I had received them.

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I feel very uncomfortable with gifts that I don’t truly love. For complex reasons, I have always found receiving gifts to be a bit of an emotional trial. I think there is no single act more likely to provoke a white lie, than the giving of gifts. This of course, is a subject for a whole other post.

I reached a point where I knew that I had to let things go, but I didn’t know how to do it. I needed inspiration to shift unused and unwanted gifts, and I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all, I turned to Sue Kay’s book, No More Clutter.

Sue says:

It is important to accept the gift graciously in the spirit in which it was given. After that it’s up to you what you do with it. Forget the guilt.

Hmm. All well and good, but it wasn’t enough for me to part with those emotionally charged unwanted gifts.

I still remember a day when my mother-in-law asked us where the “bag lady” had gone from our kitchen (a cloth lady with a big skirt that stored carrier bags). Without thinking I mentioned that she was up in the loft. Immediately I could see the hurt and disappointment in her face that her gift was no longer being used.

Is decluttering worth this kind of experience? Would it have been better if I had lied? Said it had gotten ripped or that the kids had pulled it apart?

I have found on my journey that other people place a far greater value on objects than I now do. In fact, in some cases, people disapprove of what they perceive as a wasteful attitude to things and find me difficult to understand.

What can I do about the guilt I feel when another person takes a rejection of their gift as an insult?

Communicate Your Wishes

The Minimalist Mom sensibly suggests that you let potential gift givers understand your desire to live without a lot of stuff. We tried to do this, but while we were living in a house that was still a work in progress (towards a life of less), it was hard for them to connect what we were saying with the environment that we lived in. As time has passed and the house has gotten ever emptier, this has started to make more sense to them.

She also says, at the end of the day:

It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes – regardless of if it was a gift.

As a person who struggles with worrying constantly about what other people think, this helps me. It is my house. Do I want my house to be a shrine to keeping others happy and not myself?

No. None of us want that.

But I still need a real reason, a solid emotional affirmation that letting go of these things is not an ungrateful, bad, or mean thing to do.

Questions To Help With Decluttering Unwanted Gifts

So I thought about it like this:

  • Would the gift-giver want their gift to be sat in the loft gathering dust?
  • If the gift-giver genuinely cares about me, would they want me to keep something they had given me for no reason other than guilt?
  • Would my relationships be closer if I could let gift-givers know what I really needed in my life?
  • Should I make more of an effort to request items that I want around Christmas and birthdays? (I am very bad at this, because I don’t want a lot, but then I end up being given things I don’t want)
  • Do I want to feel overwhelmed and unable to declutter my home because I keep getting stuck on gifts?
  • Is my home my own space, or someone else’s?
  • Do I want to live my life my way, or the way other people think I should?
  • Would a future me, living my life the way I envisage, have these things in her home?

The answer to all of these questions is simple.

Gifts Are Not Feelings

Keeping and using a gift from someone else is not proof that you care about that person or that you have a good relationship with them.

After careful consideration of why I was keeping unwanted gifts, I was finally able to let them go with kindness and an open heart, and no guilt.

I was grateful to receive them, but they were not right for our home.

So what will I say the next time someone asks me about a gift they have given that is mysteriously absent?

I will be honest. That I was very grateful for it, but that I didn’t use it, or need it, or that I didn’t have the space for it.

We shouldn’t be afraid to live our lives honestly and truthfully. And if we are always kind, but firm, then the people that love us should be happy to respect our wishes. The power of open communication can result in closer relationships and less misunderstandings. And that holds true for everything – not just over our clutter.

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Is decluttering unwanted gifts a difficult process? Polite honesty and a reasonable delay is all you need if you want to donate a gift you didn't like.

1 thought on “Decluttering Unwanted Gifts”

  1. Well said! I have a difficult time with gifts my sister gives me and then expects me to keep. I hate seeing the disappointment she feels when she learns that I didn’t keep something, but you’re right: Is this my house, or hers? Your post gives me motivation to be more honest with myself and others when it comes to unwanted/unused gifts. Thank you!

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