How to Deal with Unwanted Gifts this Holiday Season


Liz Jenkins

minimal holiday gift

What does the holiday season mean to you? Family time? Travel? Stress? More STUFF coming into your home and life than you know what to do with? With such a consumer-driven culture that only seems to grow bigger and louder every year, the holidays have largely become known as a time to exchange gifts. And don’t get me wrong—I think exchanging gifts is a wonderful thing! The truth is, though, that many gifts we receive are given to us because it’s “what’s supposed to happen” or because the giver feels some kind of obligation. As a result, many of us end up with an influx of things we don’t want—or need—during the holiday season.

If you’re ready to make your holiday season less about stuff and more about quality time and creating memories, we’re here to give you a starting point.

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Be Proactive With Friends and Family

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Truthfully, getting people around you to stop gifting random items is a year-long (and lifelong) effort. If you want less stuff in your life, the best way to communicate that to friends and family is to model it in normal life situations. Figure out how you want your life to look, and when people ask questions or make remarks about your movement away from material possessions, explain to them that you don’t want to bring things into your home that don’t have purpose. When a friend or family member sees and hears you being more intentional about your belongings all year round, they’re less likely to bring you an “obligation gift” around the holidays if they know you won’t use it or find any joy in it.

Now, of course, it’s not realistic to start preaching minimalism to your friends and family over the next few weeks before the holidays hit. But, if your family hasn’t started shopping yet, why not have an honest conversation with them now? A great way to approach this would be to say something like, “If you haven’t already bought gifts, we’d love to talk about different Christmas options.” Then, if they’re open to your ideas, ask if you could focus less on “stuff” this holiday season. Propose going to a concert or event together instead of exchanging gifts, or ask if the money that would go toward gifts could be put into a new car fund or a home renovation project you’ve wanted to do. Ask your parents if they could take your kids to the zoo instead of buying them endless toys this year.

Unfortunately, if your family has already started with gift shopping, it may be difficult to avoid the onslaught of stuff this year. You can deal with unwanted gifts that you’ll receive in productive ways (more on that later!), but this holiday season could be a wonderful opportunity to start a conversation about next year. After the hustle and bustle dies down, you could say to friends or family, “I’ve been thinking about the wonderful memories we made this Christmas, and I’m so grateful for the time we’ve had together. What would you think of taking a trip next year so we can spend even more time enjoying each other’s company?” It’s never too early to approach the subject (especially with family members who may need time to think about an “alternative Christmas”), and there are certainly ways to start the conversation and state your priorities with love and grace.

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Be Mindful of Your Commitments

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We’ve all been to a holiday party with a white elephant or “dirty Santa” gift exchange, and we’ve probably all ended up with something we won’t really use. With this in mind, be selective about the holiday parties and events you attend this year. If you know that an event will be centered around a gift exchange, kindly let the host know that you would love to come and spend time with the group, but would rather not participate in the gift exchange this time. Better yet, if the thought of going to the party doesn’t make you happy, lower your stress level even more and politely decline the invitation altogether.

Becoming more intentional with your “stuff” and with your time this holiday season will help you refocus on what’s truly important this holiday season—being with the people you love.

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Sorting Through the Gifts After They’ve Been Received

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It may be a bit too late to stop the incessant flow of material gifts for this year, but that doesn’t mean the things you received and don’t want will go to waste. Of course, re-gifting is always an option (just be sure not to give something back to the original giver in the future!). Start a “re-gifting closet” (or cabinet, drawer or box) in your home, and use items from it when you’re headed to a party or if a friend has a birthday coming up.

Donations are a wonderful way to spread the holiday love and cheer. Got a new sheet set from your aunt that you’re certain you’ll never use? Donate it to a homeless shelter, where someone will be more than happy to take that set off your hands. Received a new kitchen or home appliance you can’t use or don’t have space for? See if you can take it to an organization that helps people rebuild their homes and lives after tragedy, such as Habitat for Humanity or a local domestic violence shelter. Someone can use the items that you don’t need, so keep a list of charities that you like donating to, and that you know will be able to benefit from your donations.

Remember this: you’re not obligated to keep any gift! If a gift is going to be more of a burden than a joy in your life, pass it along to someone who can use it and find value in it. Besides, if your aunt ever asks what happened to that sheet set, is she really going to fault you for honestly answering, “I knew the shelter needed it more than I did, and it brings me joy to know it gives someone a place to sleep”? We hope not!

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Avoiding the Self-Inflicted “Stuff Overwhelm”

holiday home decorations

Besides the gifts that you’ll likely receive this year, you also have your own holiday decorations and items to worry about! Maybe you’ve held onto that tacky garland that you don’t really love for years, or maybe those old ribbons and bows have been staring at you from the garage storage shelf for too long now.

Make a pact with yourself this year to get rid of any decorations you don’t use or don’t have space for in your home. If you didn’t use it this year, chances are good that you won’t use it in the future, so donate it! Declutter your decorations so that you’ll only have items you truly love for future holidays.

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Get Help with Holiday Decluttering

If you’re too overwhelmed to know where to begin after this holiday season, let A Fresh Space help you bring order and joy back to your living spaces. We can help you sort gifts and existing items in your home to determine what you should keep, and we can provide practical strategies for keeping the “stuff” under control. Contact us today to set up a consultation, and we’ll support you on the journey to focus your time and energy less on “stuff” and more on the people you during the holidays and all year round.

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