One of the things I struggled with early in my move towards minimalism was gifts. We talked about birthday gifts recently, but today I want to talk about other random gifts and what to do with them. This is a tongue in cheek discussion with some useful tips sprinkled in.
The traveler is characterized by frequent travels to far off lands and always returns with plunder from their conquests.
Often when my mother travels on business she’ll pick up some small souvenirs to bring back to me and my family. It’s a nice gesture, and it shows she is thinking about us as she travels. Sometimes she brings back things that are useful, like a T-shirt that fits well and doesn’t scream tourist.
Other times, she brings back trinkets that aren’t really useful. One time there was a mousepad (I work from a laptop and don’t have a mouse). Another time there was a drink coaster in the form of a very small decorative rug.
Souvenir shopping is tough, as I was reminded during our recent vacation when we picked up few things for friends and family. We didn’t want useless trinkets, so we spent a lot of time picking out beautiful and useful items. We were on vacation and didn’t have anything planned that day, so we had the time to select thoughtful gifts. I understand that my mother, traveling on business, doesn’t have as much time to spend selecting the perfect gifts.
When receiving souvenir gifts, I appreciate the thought, but don’t always keep the item. If the item can be used then I might keep it, like the t-shirt. When they are not useful to me, I’ll offer them to others, like the rug coaster that I gave to my daughter for her dollhouse. Other times I’ll donate them, recycle them, or as a last resort, trash them.
The recycler cannot trash items, especially clothing, no matter how tattered they may be. The recycler may also have an allergic reaction when donating to strangers through places like Goodwill or Salvation Army, thus they prefer to share their treasures with family and friends.
You might have some friends or family that can’t bear to throw things away. These friends are likely very cluttered, but on occasion make some effort to reduce their clutter. Those friends will then show up at your house with a bag full of stuff and the instruction to take what you want and do whatever you want with the rest.
After going through a major whole-house decluttering, I don’t have any desire to re-clutter my home with other peoples second hand items. That said, I will go through the bags on the off chance there might be something useful. The funny thing is, most of the times we’ve gotten second hand clothing from a friend they’ve been so worn out and bleached out that there’s not much worth keeping.
We acknowledge the good intentions and take the bags. We go through them, and if we find something we need that’s in good condition, we’ll keep it. Everything else either gets donated, or trashed if it’s not in good enough condition to donate.
On some occasions we decline the gift outright if we know there is nothing we need and/or if we know we won’t have time to go through it within a couple of days. Our clutter is bad enough, we don’t need to add other people’s clutter to our own.
Grandparents are great gift givers to grandchildren.
We have two sets of grandparents that will often bring over some small gifts when they come to visit. Like the other cases mentioned so far, we appreciation the gifts, but we don’t always keep them.
Our daughter is a budding minimalist, and she does a good job of thinning the herd of incoming gifts. She’ll often set some things aside to be donated or trashed shortly after the grandparent leaves. She has learned that she’d rather keep only what she’ll use, and I’m very proud of her for it.
She has learned that just because someone gives you something, that doesn’t obligate you to keep it.
The Sentimentalist has a endless supply of treasures that must be equally treasured by you. They are also known to check in from time to time to make sure you are, in fact, enjoying all the treasures they have given you.
We haven’t experienced much of this, but I’ve coached people that have. This most commonly happens within the family, as a parent or grandparent hands something down. This something could be a treasured piece of jewelry, a set of china, or a handmade item. Often the sentimentalist will check in later to see how you are enjoying the sentimental gift, so this makes the items even harder to remove from your home.
Your best bet with sentimental items is to assess them before they enter your home. If it is something you can use then by all means keep it. But if it’s something that will go into a closet or cabinet and never be used, then you will need to stop it before it comes in.
It can be difficult to decline sentimental items, so here are a few tips.
- The Thank and Decline – Say a sincere thank you and then explain why you can’t accept it. Be honest. It could be because you don’t have room for it, you don’t have a use for it, or it doesn’t suit your decor or tastes.
- The Thank and Deflect – Give a sincere thank you and then suggest someone who might be more receptive to it. Often you’ll have other (not so minimalist) family members that would love to receive sentimental gifts.
- The Thank and Store – Sometimes you just can’t say “no”. Use this option sparingly. Give thanks for the items and then put it away in a closet. We have a couple of handmade afghans like this. Afghans aren’t our preferred daily use blanket, but we recognize the effort that went into making them, so we have them stored in a closet for occasional use.
- The Thank and Toss – This is a last resort, but sometimes those “sentimental” items aren’t really all that sentimental.
The Bottom Line
Basically, all unwanted gifts boil down to two steps.
- Be Thankful – gift giving isn’t about the gift itself, but rather about saying, “I care about you.” Be thankful for the thought behind the gift.
- Process the Gift – Keep it, donate it, regift it, recycle it, or toss it. Whatever works best so that you stick to your minimalist principle of “keep only that which is useful.”
Do you have any of these gift givers in your life? Share your stories in the comments section below.