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?