We’ve all received gifts at various points in our lives. Birthdays, Christmas, special occasions, or no occasion at all. Perhaps someone in your family handed down a treasured item of the past. Maybe a friend gave you something that thought you could use. When you start decluttering your home, you are likely to come across these gifts and wonder what to do with them. Today I’m going to give you some tips on how to handle these items.
The Purpose of a Gift
To begin, we need to think about the purpose of a gift. A gift is an expression of love or friendship. You give a gift to someone as a means to express your feelings towards them. When you accept a gift, you are accepting the sentiment behind the gift.
The Responsibility of the Gift Receiver
Given that, what is your responsibility as a gift receiver? Your responsibility as a gift receiver is to accept the gift and the sentiment behind it. You acknowledge the symbol of love or friendship.
You are not required to become the caretaker of this gift in perpetuity.
This distinction between accepting the thought behind the gift and the act of keeping and caring for that gift are important as you begin to declutter items from your home.
The decision to keep an item should not be tied to the fact that it was a gift. You have fulfilled your obligation as a gift receiver by accepting the love. When it’s time to declutter, you are free to do what is right in your situation. If that gift is no longer useful, is not part of your decor, or if you simply don’t want it anymore, you are free to remove it from your life.
Of course, if a gift is useful to you, or is something you would like to display in your home, then keep it. But if not, you should feel free to give it a new home by donating, regifting, or even recycling or trashing. A gift in your possession is wholly and completely yours to do as you wish.
There is a loose end that we need to talk about. The gift giver. In many cases we feel an obligation to the gift giver above and beyond accepting the love behind the gift. We feel an obligation to treasure the gift itself. That obligation isn’t really about the gift, but is about your relationship with the gift giver.
In some cases it can feel like a betrayal of that love to declutter a gift. On your side, you can work through those emotions given that you know your goal of decluttering your home. On the side of the gift giver, it may not be as easy to understand.
Many people have a hard time understanding people that downsize and declutter. It’s not the normal way, right? Normal is to accumulate as much stuff as possible, because the person with the most is the winner. (Not really, but it certainly feels that way sometimes.)
You are going against normal, so you will may find it necessary to talk to the gift giver about the gifts you are decluttering. This is especially true when the gift is a particularly expensive or sentimental gift.
As I see it, you have two options: Do it and hope they don’t find out, or tell them ahead of time. Each has it’s place, so lets discuss.
Do it and hope they don’t find out
You might call this “do it and hope the don’t find out” or “do it and don’t care if they find out.” Either is ok. If they do find out, you can address it at that time.
This is a good option for items that aren’t especially sentimental. This is the route you will take with most items. It’s not worth your time to discuss every single item you are decluttering with the gift giver. Quite frankly, once the gift is in your possession, it’s yours to do what you wish.
We did this with kids toys, books, clothing and the like. One of the higher value items we got rid of was a juicer. The cost of the juicer was in the $100 to $200 range and was a Christmas gift from my parents. We used it for a while, realized that juicing was not for us, and put it away in a cabinet. When it came time to declutter, this was one if the items to go.
My mom was actually a bit hesitant to give our daughter any new stuff because she feared it would get decluttered. Interestingly, the fear was more with books than with toys. We were culling our daughter’s book collection to remove the books that she no longer cared to read. We had to reassure my mother that the gifts were appreciated and got used. This fear passed over time. With less stuff, my daughter actually treasured the gifts more. As time passed, I think my mother began to see this and has since continued the gift giving.
Tell them ahead of time
In some cases you may feel obligated to discuss a gifted item with the gift giver before you declutter it. This is typical of very expensive items or items that are particularly sentimental.
In this case you will need to open some dialogue with the gift giver. You can explain that you have too much stuff in your home and you are making some tough decisions about what stays and what goes. You can tell them that the gift meant a lot to you and that you appreciate the love behind it, but the time has come for you to let it go.
(You may have a similar conversation if you did the “do it and hope they don’t find out” and they found out.)
You might give the gift giver some say in how the item is disposed. You could give it back to the gift giver, regift to another family member or friend, or donate it. In each of these cases, someone else will get the chance to treasure this item.
We did this with a china cabinet that was handed down by my mother-in-law. My wife had asked for it, and we used it for a number of years. When we started downsizing, she realized it didn’t fit with our new lifestyle (and didn’t match our new decor). Since this was a sentimental item, she talked to her mother and offered to give it back. Her mother accepted and we took it back to her house.
In this case, it worked out well. The reaction you get will vary. Many people are emotionally tied to “stuff,” and it may be difficult for them to understand decluttering and downsizing. The best you can do is be as thoughtful as possible while standing firm with your goals of living with less.
Share Your Stories
Have you gone thorough this in your decluttering? I’m guessing many of you have, and I’d love to hear your stories of decluttering gifts in the comments section below.