by Susan Caplan McCarthy
I know, it’s spring, so it may seem like it’s too early to start thinking about holiday gift-giving … but, there are also birthdays and other life events to think about; the other day my husband asked what I wanted for my birthday which is three months away, so, I guess that put the topic of gifts on my mind.
If you’ve been decluttering your home, chances are that on more than one occasion you’ve held an item that you received as a gift. While for other items, you asked, Do I use this? Do I like this? With gifts, you probably also questioned your relationship with the gift giver and how they would react if they learned you gave away a gift.
Although a gift shouldn’t come with an obligation or burden to use, display, or store an item, sometimes, it does. Think about the different people you’ve exchanged gifts with and you can probably recall a memory or two of someone asking you about something they’d given to you as a gift. However, this isn’t everyone you know (at least, I hope not!).
Also, you’ll want to have personal conversations with family and friends, either in person, by phone, or through email. You’ll have different suggestions for different people and situations – you won’t have the same conversation with your mother as with the members of your book club.
Start talking to the people whom you believe won’t be upset or offended by the idea of not exchanging gifts or by gifting experiences. Don’t wait until it’s November to have this conversation – some people buy gifts months in advance.
Tell Your Decluttering Story
If you haven’t already told those close to you that you are decluttering your belongings, this is the time to share what you are doing. Explain why you decided to get rid of excess items and become more intentional about what you are keeping.
You may even want to mention what you’ve done with items, explain where you’ve donated items or how you’ve sold some things. Judge the individual’s reaction. Are they concerned that you’re selling things because you need the money? Do they think you’re decluttering because you are going to move?
Are they telling you that someday you’ll regret getting rid of every item you’ve tossed … what if your grandchild is going to a 70s-themed party and you must explain that you got rid of your leisure suit!
If the person you are talking to seems opposed to decluttering, then you may want to save your talk about not exchanging gifts for some another time.
Offer Minimalist Gift Ideas
Suggest not exchanging gifts. Explain that spending time together is more important and offer some ideas that would appeal to that person – go out for coffee or a meal, go for a walk, spend a day at the beach. Families could schedule time to go sledding or to host a cookout.
If you have a large family that gets together, suggest limiting gift-giving to the kids.
Avoid proposing something that would stress others. Suggesting that everyone limit commercialism by creating handmade gifts puts stress on people who don’t normally engage in crafts. And, now, you’re exchanging gifts that people may feel obligated to keep.
Explain that you’d like a donation to be made to a specific charity. If you have a milestone birthday or a second (or third) wedding coming up and you don’t want to receive a physical gift, suggest that a donation be made. Donate in honor of someone else’s birthday.
Consider consumables such as beer, wine, coffee, or specialty food. This can be a significant gift if you go the route of an edible-of-the-month-club. One of my friends was thrilled that her husband gave her a six-month membership to a vegan treat subscription box.
Exchange gift cards. Although some people feel gift cards are impersonal, if you know someone loves a store, website, or restaurant, then a gift card allows the person (or you) to purchase something they’ve needed or wanted. I asked my brother and sister-in-law for a gift card for Google Play Store, so I could get a subscription to the meditation app I wanted to use.
If someone insists on exchanging physical gifts, ask if they’d be interested in telling you what they want, with you listing a specific item as well. Set a price limit before anyone suggests an item. You could be specific (here’s the item number) or general (I’d like a red wool cardigan).
Gift an experience. Concert tickets, movie tickets, tickets to a show, membership to a museum. For my fiftieth birthday, I’d asked for a gift certificate to get a manicure and pedicure (I’d never had either) and my husband surprised me with an entire day of beauty! I would have never got myself something like this. Be mindful of what the other person normally spends on gifts, so you don’t put a strain on their budget.
Remember, gift exchanges also occur at work or with different groups, clubs, or societies that you belong to. In some cases, a Yankee Swap or white elephant gift exchange may be part of the entertainment. Making this type of event go away would probably be too difficult; however, you could suggest that everyone bring something from home to re-gift, perhaps around a theme such as a book or knickknack.
In the comments below, please share some ways that you deal with gift exchanges as you work at minimizing the excess in your home. And, share this article on social media as a way to start your conversation with friends and family.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.