What to do with unwanted gifts from relatives


Answering a question from a reader today. If you have a topic you would like discussed here just email me at theminimalistmom at gmail dot com.

From reader A:

Several family members are shoppers/pack rats and have been so incredibly generous to us, particularly since we had our baby. However, this means that we have a huge influx of stuff, even though neither my husband nor I shop. If I wasn’t such a purger by nature, we could have been featured on an episode of hoarders by now. As it is, our reasonably sized apartment is completely packed to the gills.

Do you have any experience/advice on how to deal with the sometimes unwanted gifts from others without hurting anyone’s feelings? Suggestions that we could give them on what to give us instead of more stuff? I would hate to seem ungrateful or to offend anyone, but I end up giving so much away, and that doesn’t feel right either. . .

Our first Christmas after the big purge I opened every gift for my son, and there were many, and I felt deflated at the thought of storing it in my home. The gifts felt like a burden instead of what they were: gifts.

I was torn with guilt at not feeling gratitude and frustration over the work these gifts would be: sorting, donating, stressing over if someone noticed we no longer had them in our home.

Since then I’ve worked on a few things and have come to a happy place on what to do with unwanted gifts and how to gracefully and lovingly deal with generous relatives.

Make your wishes known.

My mom and my mother-in-law know about this blog and read it. We’ve talked to them about our hopes of raising Henry without a lot of stuff.

But, you know, they’re still grandmas.

They love giving their grandson gifts and clothes. Moving overseas has not deterred them. They pay exorbitant amounts of postage to send Henry clothing and toys on his birthday and at Christmas. And even someitmes just because they saw something for him that they couldn’t resist.

They’ve toned it down a shade, which is helpful, but we still get a lot of things from them. So I don’t get frustrated by it now. If they still want to send a lot of stuff they know we might donate it if it’s not something we will use.

Let them know what you need.

Another thing that has greatly helped is that we give them gift ideas and let them know what we have used from previous gifts.

Both grandmas love buying clothes so I make sure to tell them about the ones that they have bought and that we use a lot. When we were visiting family in Canada recently I pointed out when Henry was wearing something that they had bought (which was most of his outfits) and thanked them again for it. Side note: I rarely buy clothes for my son. We get enough from the grandmas that I only need to buy a handful of things when Henry grows out of a size.

You can also use a list making tool, like Amazon Wish List, and share it with relatives. That way they are buying things they know you will use.

Ask for experience gifts.

We suggested, and received, a family pass for the Vancouver Art Gallery one year. Every time we went to the gallery I mentioned it to my mother-in-law and thanked her again for the gift.

If people want suggestions for gifts ask for passes to the zoo, aquarium, children’s museum, etc. Make sure to send a quick note of thanks or mention it in passing when you use those experience gifts. It reinforces that they gave a gift that kept on giving and they’ll be more likely to give an experience gift again.

Keep things for a short time and then donate them.

Prolific gift givers tend to forget what they bought. Unless it’s an heirloom item, store it away for a few months and then pass it on to someone that will use it.

Are you running the risk that someone will ask about it and you’ll have to tell them you donated their gift? Yes. It might feel awkward at first but thank them again for the gift and then say you weren’t able to use it.

I know it doesn’t feel right to donate gifts but if you’ve made your wishes known, if you’ve suggested experience gifts or things you could use, and the gift giver still hasn’t taken the message, move on. It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes – regardless of if it was a gift.

Always be thankful.

I’m a terrible gift receiver. Long before embracing minimalism I felt awkward and embarrassed when I received gifts. The reasons are many fold and have to do with receiving charity as a child, growing up without a lot of money and my dad. Too cliched and boring to get into here.

I’m trying to be a better gift receiver now. To be thankful and cheerful even if I’m getting something that is going right to the donation pile.

Because the gift isn’t about me. The gift has nothing to do with my son’s minimalist toy box or my two pairs of jeans or my small home.

The gift is about the person giving it.

So smile for them and be thankful.

Anyone else have suggestion for dealing with unwanted gifts from relatives?

A Privileged Life

Sometimes I feel like there should be a note at the top of every post I write here. It would read something like this:

Disclaimer: I am a white university educated woman living in the first world.

I have led a life of privilege.

Sure, from under the mountains of consumer debt, or when I compared myself to those that have more than me, I didn’t always feel privileged. I didn’t always feel or see that in this world I was one of the lucky ones. Clean drinking water, access to education and healthcare. I have all of that.

I am privileged.

I want to live with less but I already have so much.

When you read posts here about the small ways my husband and I have changed our lifestyle, or even some of the bigger ones, please know it is a privilege to do this. Most people don’t get to make these choices.

For most people in this life, less isn’t a choice. Less is a reality.

It’s a sobering thought: I’m enjoying just having a half dozen pairs of shoes when there are so many that go barefoot.

At times I feel like this pursuit of less is a silly thing to think about, write about and put my efforts into. There are bigger causes. I’m not curing cancer or helping people get off the streets.

But then I’m reminded that small change can change the world. I’m reminded that because I can see more clearly that I am living a privileged life, I’m giving more.

The real tragedy of leading a privileged life is not your warm bed while so many live without a bed at all. The real tragedy of leading a privileged life is in not recognizing that you’re leading it. And it’s been easier to feel rich, to enjoy everything I do have, to see the privilege in my life and to give more, since I let go of a lot of stuff.

Do you think you lead a privileged life?

Multifunctional Clothing

Source: hayleystarr.com via Rachel on Pinterest

One dress. Over one hundred ways to wear it.

I’ve been enamored with multifunctional clothing lately. Cardigans that reverse and cinch and dresses that you can tie and twist into Grecian gowns or halter dresses. I like the idea of investing in one piece that I can wear many ways.

If you want a smaller wardrobe multifunctional clothing can give you more with less. Here are a few finds.


American Apparel Circle Scarf. One tube of cotton lycra. More than a dozen ways to wear it.



Claire sent me this one. The Versalette can be worn 15 different ways from a tunic, to a strapless dress to a skirt. Beyond function and fashion, this garment is also a feel good purchase. The materials have been sourced ethically with the environment and its citizens in mind.
I want one of my own but they a) don’t ship overseas and b) I’m unsure if the one size fits all fit of this garment would work on my 6 ft size 14 frame.

Source: ecouterre.com via Rachel on Pinterest


Not sure about the hoodie on this one but I do like the idea of owning a piece of clothing that doubles as a bag. Would be great for travel: beach bag by day and top by night.

More multifunctional garments and tutorials:

Anyone else seen, or own, multifunctional clothing?

PS. Apologies for the light posting this week. Getting over jet lag and we’re moving (not far, just down the street). Should be back to more frequent posts next week.

Spend Less Than You Make

Source: allyou.com via Rayna on Pinterest


As part of the Simplify Your Family Life Sale I am writing about ways to make life easier around the home. The Simplify Your Family Life Sale runs April 16-20 and is a fantastic deal if you are looking for more how-to on saving time, money and space. 35 e-books with a value of $375 for just $29. The Simplify Your Family Life Sale is brought to you in part by Plan to Eat, an online meal planning app that makes eating at home simple. Receive an exclusive coupon code on a one-year membership with your purchase!


This is such a simple concept and yet… it escaped me for years.

For most of my 20’s I spent what I wanted to spend and it had little to do with what I earned. The gap between my earnings and spending was never huge but it was enough to have credit card debt and stay on the minimum payment plan for my student loans. It also kept me in a perpetual state of consumer guilt. The short high I got from buying myself something nice was immediately followed by dread that I couldn’t afford it.

Spending less than you make simplifies family life by:

  • Reducing tension or arguments around spending.
  • Answers the question, can we afford it?
  • Creates a cushion for the inevitable but unexpected bill.

For my family, spending less than we make means my husband and I no longer have arguments about purchases. It’s easier to have a non-judgmental conversation about our ‘wants’ and ‘nice to-haves’ and leave emotions out of it.

This strategy also helps when you have unexpected bills.

Life happens.

The best laid budget can be shredded by car repair bills or a cracked tooth. It’s not a matter of if you’ll have a large unexpected bill but a matter of when.

If you’re living below your means those out of the blue bills sting but you pay them and move on. If you’re living pay cheque to pay cheque those unexpected bills just push you further into debt and make it harder to see a way out.

If you’re in debt or struggling to pay your bills spending less than you earn will be challenging to implement. Start with small changes like cutting a few nice to have bills like cell phones with data plans, premium cable television and curb your eating out. Then look for ways to increase your income to pay off debt (check out this post and the comments section for ideas on creating side income).

It took us a few months to cut our bills and spending and then almost two years to pay off all of our consumer debt. In September of 2011 we were finally able to start spending less than we made and start saving.

Now when we have an unexpected bill we pay it with cash, dipping into our savings if need be, and then get back to our regular savings the next month. The peace we feel now was worth all the hard work of getting out of debt.

Has anyone else had a shift in their financial life from spending more than they made to spending less?


Know What’s for Dinner


As part of the Simplify Your Family Life Sale I am writing about ways to make life easier around the home. The Simplify Your Family Life Sale runs April 16-20 and is a fantastic deal if you are looking for more how-to on saving time, money and space. 35 e-books with a value of $375 for just $29.


Do you know what’s for dinner tonight?

I’ve noticed that when I don’t have a plan for dinner we eat later and I spend more time and energy thinking about the dinner plan and cooking. It haunts my afternoon even if I am out at the pool with Henry or writing or doing other housework. I still have that thought in the back of my head, what am I going to do about dinner?

Meal planning takes all of that stress away. Meal planning makes the day more productive and the evening more relaxing. Meal planning always has the what’s for dinner question answered.

The lovely Jo gave us her strategy here.

Meal planning simplifies family life by:

  • reducing food waste and food cost
  • reducing stress in the late afternoon and early evening when most of us are tired and a bit cranky from school and work

The other gem that’s simplified dinner for me: prep and cook in advance.

Even this mostly stay at home mom of one finds the late afternoon to be a challenging time to cook. Henry recently dropped his afternoon nap and from 4pm onwards he needs more attention. So I’ve started to prep dinner in the morning or even the night before. I’ll chop vegetables or get a slow cooked meal started so that dinner is either already prepared or just needs a few minutes to finish.

I’m not always a perfect meal planner, weekends are usually a mix of leftovers and a take out meal, but most weeks I have Monday to Friday all planned out. It’s a nice way to start the week ahead of the game and feeling organized.

Anyone else solved that age old what’s for dinner question for their family?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...