Guilt-Free Receiving

I’ve written quite a bit over the years about clutter-free gifts.  This time, I’m going to look at the other side of the gift-giving equation — the receiving end.

When I work with clients, I often come across items that they never use, but feel guilty disposing of because they were gifts. What is your responsibility to hold on to something you don’t like?  What would the gift-giver think if he or she knew that you held on to it purely out of guilt?  Would he or she prefer that you move the gift along to someone who would like it better?

According to the old saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”  Someone you know felt compelled to give you a gift.  Perhaps it was driven by expectation, or perhaps it was a more spontaneous gesture.  Regardless, it is my opinion that you should honor the gift-giver by receiving the gift graciously.  Let the gift-giver know that you are grateful for the thought.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be grateful for the item itself!  Once you have discharged your duty to the gift-giver, you have no further responsibility to hold on to the gift.  If I gave a gift to someone and later learned that it sat in the closet unused for the next 20 years, I would feel a little disappointed that they didn’t like it, but also slightly annoyed that it never got used or appreciated by anyone.

Rather than holding on to the item out of guilt, I think you honor the spirit of the gift better by getting that unloved item into the hands of someone who might love it. It could be someone you know or it could be a stranger. If you can’t think of someone who would appreciate the gift, then donating it to a thrift shop will help support a charitable cause in addition to allowing the item to fulfill its true function.

Sometimes the true guilt arises from the gift-giver being a member of the immediate family — a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a child — and the recipient feeling like they are dishonoring that person by giving it away.  Don’t confuse the item with the person!  Regifting that item will not diminish your love for that person, whereas keeping it could continually reintroduce bad feelings that you will associate with him or her.

As I have written before, I’m a firm believer in removing from our lives anything that makes us feel bad.  This could be clothing that you used to fit into 30 pounds ago, or papers from a job from which you got fired.  We need to get those items out of our lives, and surround ourselves with things that make us feel positive and whole.

If you are fortunate enough to receive gifts this holiday season that you love and can’t wait to use, that’s great!  If not, then warmly thanking the gift-giver and then giving the gifts away will be the fairest to all concerned — you included.

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