What to do with gifts you don’t want

Guestpost by Libsta on Dec 30th
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?

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About Libsta

Libsta is a recovering teacher, novice organic gardener, urban bicycling enthusiast, amateur vegan chef, and wanna-be rock star. She recently relocated back to Boston after living in Chicago for four years. She is hopefully a future Offbeat Bride and Mama but for now enjoying living up her offbeat twenties.