What to do with gifts you don’t want

December 30 | Guest post by Libsta
white elephants
Oh! Wow. Yes. I love it. No, it's just perfect. Thank you so much! Photo by bloomsberries. Used under Creative Commons license.

By now the holidays have come, mostly gone, and given way to a heap of crumpled wrapping paper, sugar withdrawal, and perhaps a trail of pine needles. Every year when Christmas is over I realize I am blessed with a lot of people in my life I love…and a lot of STUFF I do not.

Growing up with a pack-rat mom gave me a sometimes-conflicted outlook on life. I hate waste… and clutter. In my growing effort to stream line my life and limit my carbon footprint, I am choosey about what STUFF I allow into my space. I know this topic has come up on Offbeat Home before, but what do you do when you do not have as much control over the THINGS entering your home? What do you do when these THINGS are gifts?

These few strategies have worked for me.

1. Return or Exchange

In my family we have a long-held honesty policy. We are free to return or exchange gifts we do not like. This policy was instituted by my aunt years ago. We simply admit if we do not like something or do not think we can use it. We give gift receipts with everything. That same aunt buys me a book every year and even though she knows I prefer novels she sometimes buys me memoirs or non-fiction, but includes the receipt. So back to the store I go to pick out a different book (YAY books).

An open policy is probably only good with close friends or family. Make sure you understand store return policies and keep the receipts. If the gift is from someone you do not see often and from a store you like, you can often opt for the exchange route. That way you get something else you want but you may have to settle for the discounted after-holiday value. Still, something you will use is always worth more to you than something you won't.

2. Immediate Re-gifting

Yes, I'm using the forbidden "r" word. I do not think there is anything wrong with re-gifting when it is done for the right reasons. If a gift sucks in the first place, it is not going to be well received a second time. Immediacy is important because it gets the gift out of your hands faster while it is still fresh/relevant/in style. It also limits the likelihood that you will accidentally give it back to the person who gave it to you. This year I re-gifted twice:

  • My BF got a nice pack of lip balms from his work, but he does not use lip balm. I took it and gave it to my co-worker in a Secret Santa exchange.
  • My boss gave me a very nice package of chocolates, but I needed more candy like a hole in the head. I gave it to my landlord along with a plant.

If you are going to re-gift make sure it is within a different circle.

3. Donation

In the months of November and December people tend to find their inner philanthropist. That is a wonderful thing about the season, though there are people in need all year round. In January, someone may NEED that scarf that clashes with your winter coat or the fifth pair of gloves you got this year. Not sure what to donate where?

  • Body lotions, soaps, and shower gels are great for women's shelters! I was frustrated for years because I felt like every holiday I got a basket of scented body care supplies from someone. I did not want to throw them away but it was getting to a point where I had nowhere else to put them. As long as they are unopened, domestic violence shelters are usually thrilled to get this kind of thing.
  • Give gloves, hats, and mittens to homeless shelters.
  • Slippers and pajamas do well at nursing homes, women's shelters, and some hospitals.
  • Give books to nursing homes.
  • Too many mugs? Stop by a soup kitchen.

All of these donations should be un-used. As with re-gifting, donations should be nice quality things that are simply not of use to you.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America and Goodwill take lots of things you would not think to donate. Check the web sites for your area to see what you can donate and where to bring it.

4. Barter

I have never tried this personally but I know many cities have clothing exchanges. You could also post the gift on Freecycle or another bartering web site. Trade and redistribute gifts so nothing goes to waste.

Now that I've shared my knowledge, I need some advice from the homies. I happen to love neck accessories and the color aqua and am accumulating a large collection of necklaces and scarves in the teal/aqua/turquoise family. Most of these are gifts from close friends and family and many are from exotic locations to which they cannot be returned. Any suggestions of the best thing to do with my neckwear?

  1. I am a *huge* fan of giving gently used items I don't want in my house anymore to Goodwill.

    As for your accumulation of scarves, etc., see if there's a charity in your area that assists underprivileged women with acquiring business attire for job interviews. They may be willing to take your accessories off your hands.

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    • That's a great idea! Dress for Success is one, and I'm pretty sure it's national.

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  2. I have a box of re-gifts that I keep in my closet. It's all new stuff, just not things that I want/like or it's a duplicate of something I already own. It's great for last minute hostess gifts, office exchanges, etc.

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    • Pro tip: always label re-gift items with who gave them to you. Accidentally re-gifting something to the original giver is… embarrassing. To say the least.

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    • In addition to regifting I'd throw in "white-elephanting". I've taken many a well-intentioned-but-not-at-all-my-style-Christmas-decoration and wrapped it up as a white elephant present.

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      • Absolutely! A friend of mine threw a post-Christmas white elephant (we usually have one before too). A couple people were actually happy to receive the scarf and apron that just didn't work for me, and I picked up some cool kids' toys. I don't have kids, but a lot of my friends do, and I've been wanting to have a few toys on hand so that coming to Chris' house isn't boring.

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    • I would love to do that but I just don't have the space!

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  3. Great advice! I think re-gifting is one of those things that becomes a little less odd/bad when you are a crafter. I have a gift stash that I add to any time I don't have a specific knitting or crochet project in mind but have the itch to make something, and although those things are technically new, they weren't bought or made with a specific person in mind. Doesn't make them any less special or worthy, though – I've gotten some of my biggest raves over silly dishcloths that I churned out in one evening.

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  4. Here's one I'm stuck on… what do you do with nice, thoughtful art/gifts that just really really aren't your style?

    It's a pull between "I don't want to get rid of this because it has sentimental value" and "I don't want to put this on my wall."

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    • Give it to someone you care about who WILL appreciate it. That way you know someone will cherish it appropriately, the gift is well cared for, and you don't have stuff cluttering up your home.

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    • if it really is sentimental, i would give it a try before you give it away. hang in somewhere you don't see it too often, or group it with other photographs/ pieces of art that you love. maybe it will turn out to be something you like! it's like trying that dress that looks frumpy on the hanger and fabulous once you have it on.

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    • I would say this is a perfect situation for re-gifting.

      I once got given a beautiful silver necklace for Christmas. It was well made, elegant and exactly my style, except for the tiny detail that it was in the shape of a cross and as a life-long athiest I wasn't comfortable wearing it.

      It hung around my house for a year and then got re-gifted to another friend (who didn't know the original giver) who absolutely loved it and wears it regularly.

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    • Donate it to a fundraising auction! Many schools and non profits use these to raise funds annually, and what's not your taste might help raise money from someone who enjoys it more.

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  5. A lot of times women's shelters will take jewelry and other decorative stuff to give to moms/daughters around Valentine's Day. You can also try a goodwill store for that kind of thing. Alternatively, save them for another "secret Santa" kind of exchange, or set up a "jewelry swap" with some friends next holiday season – a bring one get one kind of thing. Love this, BTW.

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    • I made my cousins jewelry advent calendars this last year. A lot of the jewelry was re-gifted. They both have very different styles than mine, so they loved the jewelry and I loved it too, I just wouldn't wear it.

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  6. I needed this as a reminder today. Today and tomorrow, I'm going through all my unwanted/unneeded/just too many things and giving it to Goodwill and a few other charities. Tax write-off and good deed in one!

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  7. Personally, I really would like it if Mr. Ivriniel's family either went to a Secret Santa system or just did away with gift giving for the adults. We don't really need anything. One of his siblings agrees with us, but the other won't hear of it, because he and his wife want the loot while simultaneously giving gifts from the Dollar store to others. A couple of the things they gave me went straight into the "take to Sally Ann" box, after we got home.

    My side of the family this year, we decided forgo giving gifts and instead packed school kits and hygiene kits for Mennonite Central Committee when we got together. http://www.mcc.org/kits

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  8. Consignment shops are also a great option. Every year (especially after Christmas) I go through everything I own and take any clothing, jewellery, shoes, etc to a local consignment shop. Anything they don't accept goes straight to charities for women (its exclusively women's clothing consignment).

    Toys and kids things usually go on websites like kijiji for sale, or again, to a local consignment shop.

    I actually regifted this year as well, I gave my mom two of my design books that had been sitting on my shelves unread for years. I bought them because they were designy..but never really used them. My mom on the other hand loves the books that I gave her, and I know they are being read and loved.

    My husband and I are big into handmade Christmas' (our extended families are starting to get the hang of it this year). We did buy some things for family, but try to restrict it to places like Etsy, Farmer's markets, Craft Sales, etc. It seems to work out well for us so far and helps limit the amount of "stuff" we get every year.

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    • FYI – The stuff the consignment doesn't accept is usually because its older than 2 years old, not the right brand name, or they have too much in stock of the same item.

      So even the stuff going to charity is usually in a great condition. But be warned that out of 2 giant bags of stuff you take to consignment, maybe 3 or 4 items are actually sold and the rest goes to charity. Depends on the consignment store

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      • So true. Consignments can be a lot more trouble than they're worth, particularly if they require you to price them, provide a hanger, and steam or press the clothing yourself. If you just want to get rid of stuff, just donate it. Such a smaller headache.

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  9. Thank you for mentioning giving stuff to shelters! I have some unused blankets that would be perfect for that.

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  10. Our family and close circle of friends all agreed that we would not buy Christmas gifts for the adults and just get nice stuff for the kids instead. I was relieved about this as its our little man's first Christmas and still being on maternity leave things have been tight! As for relatives we gave photos inside their cards of the baby – the grandparents were thrilled, especially my boy's parents as they live over the other side of the country and don't get to see him as often as they'd like. Unwanted gifts averted!

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  11. I'm a frequent freecycler and I think it's a great way to give unwanted items a new life, but it's not a barter system. The freecycle and fullcircle groups I am a part of actually have rules against making trades (although the good karma that comes from offering items often leads to getting free stuff as well).

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  12. My cousins put bacon toothpaste in my stocking? I really…have no idea what to do with this, lol. It's good for a laugh but I am absolutely never going to use this stuff.

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      • This could be the beginning of a hillarious tradition! My parents were part of a church group that did a white elephant gift exchange, and there was a can of squid that got passed around for 12 years. It got to be such a big deal that people would actually fight over it!

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    • Oooh, where did your cousin GET that toothpaste. I'd totally use it.

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  13. That makes a perfect gag gift! My family and I love to play white elephant games and we mostly use silly things like that. There are always a few clunkers that nobody wants, but we inevitably some stuff becomes unexpectedly popular. "One man's trash is another person's treasure" yada yada. So at your next gathering with friends, have everyone bring a ridiculous gift or two. At the very least you'll all laugh a lot.

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  14. Great post! I expressed asked for giftcards and "experiences" this Christmas to avoid getting more stuff (there's only so much I can fit in a backpack on the way back to college on the plane).

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    • Same here, but because my partner and I have moved in together a couple of yearsago and not need any other bowls/mugs/stuff. This was a half-success: we got experience gifts (cooking lessons for 2) but with some related material gifts (recipe books, utensils…) that I will regift or sell on ebay.

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  15. heh we received as a wedding present a painting my step-mother-in-law painted. It's a thoughtful gift but not our style AT ALL. It's super formal and all of our art is pretty modern. Giving it to someone else is out of the question god forbid she ever come over to our house and inquire to the whereabouts of said painting. We eventually ended up hanging it in the hallway since we have nothing else going on in there.

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  16. My good friends and I have "naked lady parties" twice a year, where we exchange gently worn clothes we don't wear anymore. It has expanded to also include exchanges of accessories, and even household items we no longer use – I got a sweet set of wooden bowls, and someone else scored the Lazy Susan I didn't ask for but got for a wedding gift.

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  17. My fiance has four siblings and their tradition was to buy each other gag gifts. While it's good for a Christmas chuckle, Justin Bieber posters and my little pony puzzles have no business being in our home. We donate to Savers, a nonprofit 'department store' that has a little bit of everything (super fun to shop there too!) We have since put the kibosh on the gag gifts and just enjoy hanging out with some good food and drink.

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    • As for necklaces: staple a screen or neutral fabric into a cool picture frame and hang them like a museum exhibit; double them up for bracelets; deconstruct and pop on some earwires for earrings…
      Scarves: I'll use some for table runners or to dress up window treatments

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  18. donating to shelters is always a good idea but many have little or no storage space, so call first to ensure they can accept what you have to donate.

    as for the scarves and "neckwear" in the aqua/turquoise family – if you are crafty at all, you can incorporate them into a craft.
    it's very simple to stitch scarves onto a blanket, comforter, or fleece throw to spice it up. alternatively, if you knit or crochet, cutting them into long strips makes them usable as "yarn".
    using them as tablerunners – or stitched into smaller table mats – or draped over curtains, paintings, or mirrors can be very decorative too.

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  19. Not really in the gift category, but preschools often use things people throw away to do really cool projects- toilet paper rolls, strawberry baskets, empty boxes, egg cartons, leftover art supplies, stickers, etc. If there's a school near you and you would like to go the reuse route, call and see if they could use any of the things you have. When I was a preschool teacher, we made shakers (for music) out of pebbles or dried beans and toilet paper rolls with our two year olds. Scarves are also fabulous for dress up for little ones.

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  20. Goodness, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who get me junk I don't want. My mother manages to do this almost every year, and my MIL too. Sometimes it's nice and expensive junk, but I have no need for it, so it's still junk to me. I got a digital frame last year for Xmas (will never use, I like traditional printed photos that don't waste electricity), and once my husband and I got a set of ornate crystal goblets (we manage to break nice drink ware, so we use mason jars instead). It's just a waste of money on the gift giver's part, and drives me crazy. I wish they would just ask.

    I either return them, or I donate it Goodwill. Regifting is generally pretty tacky, IMO, unless you know it's something the recipient actually wants. If you think it's crap, chances are the re-giftee will think the same.

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  21. It may sound kind of cold, but I usually make it clear to people that I'm happy for them to regift anything I give them, particularly jewellery, and spend the money they save on something they'd prefer. I don't see the problem with admitting how stretched all our resources are and I figure that giving my approval to them decluttering and saving money at the same time can also be my gift to them as it frees them from the worry.

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