When Gifts From Others Become Burdens, How Do You Deal?

Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. – Dalai Lama

A good friend of mine recently asked me how to deal with gifts from others that carried sentimental value but that she felt guilty about getting rid of since she no longer had a need or use for the item.

This is what minimalists experience on occasion: when we receive gifts we don’t really need or particularly want, but because they were from a loved one, we feel guilty about donating/recycling/re-gifting the item. What do we do? How do we free ourselves from our clutter without hurting others?

The answer is: it’s not a matter of your happiness or theirs that lie in the gift itself. Just because you get rid of it doesn’t mean you don’t care about or love them–the person. The gift is just a tangible expression of their love or appreciation for you.

When we realize we can be free without having all these gifts, trinkets, and little knick knacks from those who mean well, we can be very free indeed.

But how, you ask? How do we cope with this guilt? What can you actually do to free your life of all these things that no longer carry any practical use but you just can’t bear to get rid of?

May I offer 3 options? You choose what you’d like to do. It is, after all, your life. :)

3 Simple Ways to Rid Yourself of Gifts from Others You Just Don’t Need:

1. Come back to it in 2 months.

Put those items you are unsure about in a box, place that box in your closet or shelf, and make a reminder for yourself to visit it in 2 months. If, after 2 months, of you not missing it, using it, or wanting it, you can then donate/give the items away.

This delayed method of minimizing is a good start for those who may not yet be able to commit to giving up their sentimental gifts and want to have a fall back, a “just in case” plan. More often than not, we realize we didn’t even remember we had the items when we come back to revisit it and make the decisions on whether to keep it or not.

I started off doing this when I begun minimizing my stuff. After I did that a few times, it gave me the audacity to continue applying minimalism in other areas of my life (my time/schedule, my commitments, my activities, etc.). It’s okay to start off slow. In fact, I encourage you to go slow. Minimalism isn’t always everyone’s preferred lifestyle choice and you really just don’t know until you try it out. Discovering how free and simple your life could be when you get rid of a few unwanted gifts and items can give you that extra push towards decluttering your life.

2. Take a photo of the gift before donating it to a local charity.

Sentimentality when it comes to gifts from others are usually because you treasure the person, not necessarily the item. Knowing the difference can mean less or more clutter in your life.

What I’ve done with a few gifts from those I care about but don’t want to carry the gift with me everywhere I move is to snap a photo of it before giving the gift away to a local charity or community drop box. With this method, you can always have the photo with you (that is, storing it on your computer) without taking up physical space in your home.

3. Ask yourself if you really truly love this gift and cannot imagine your life without it. Be honest in your response.

This is the core of minimalism. If you absolutely cannot see yourself without this gift in your life and must have it with you wherever you live, then indeed, do keep that precious gift. If it brings you joy and fond memories, then all the better!

The whole point of minimalism is you get rid of all the things that stagnate your life, that bring you down or holds you back. If something is in your life that makes you smile or gives you inspiration, why would you get rid of it?

My wonderful friend, corporate marketing executive and author Grace Bulger of , shares a story of how her parents gave her a simple, handmade doll made by a woman in Charleston, South Carolina, and how she immediately fell in love with it when she saw it. There was no denying that she would be getting rid of this beloved doll that makes her smile every time Grace sees it. If the gift brings you joy like it does for Grace, by all means, keep it.

There are no set “rules” when applying minimalism in your life. Each person will have it slightly different from another. One person may have 500 things, another person 50. So long as it works for you, you need not change a thing. Knowing what works for you is solving half the problem.

Hopefully, after a while of adopting a minimalist lifestyle, people will start to understand that you just don’t want gifts anymore. At least, not tangible items.

Preferably, gifts from the heart and that which have no return policy attached, are the most treasured.

Such intangible gifts include:

1. Time. When you give yourself away to another by means of time spent with them, you can never get that time back. You are, essentially, giving a part of your life to that person. How absolutely amazing! It is the truest form of giving. Why else do you see so many volunteers giving themselves away for the greater good of mankind? It is because it’s the most impactful and rewarding.

2. Art. When we create a piece of art, whether that’s a drawing, a portrait, an audio track of yourself singing or playing an instrument, a homemade video, a scrapbook of wonderful memories, homemade crafts, and the like, we are giving a piece of our creative selves away. As children, we loved to give our parents or friends our artwork from school or from just doodling around at home. Why did that satisfy us so and make us so happy? It is because we put time, effort, energy, and love into creating that piece of art, just so we can give it away so that another person can enjoy it. That, I feel, is a deep intrinsic benefit of being an artist. It doesn’t have to be an artist in the traditional sense. It’s about being a human artist. The kind act of giving away our most precious creations in life for the benefit and joy of others. How wonderfully selfless!

3. Love. However you interpret this, love could be a homecooked meal for a friend. It could be surprising your significant other with a longed for and much needed vacation. It could be finally changing yourself for the better because it’ll make you a better, healthier person (like giving up smoking for your family, or losing the extra 20 lbs. in order to better your health so you can live longer to see your kids grow up). Love is simply being true and authentic, to yourself and your loved ones.

I truly hope this has helped you at the very least to start thinking about the items in your life that either don’t bring you any joy or that are stagnating your life. That includes gifts from others who mean well, but that which are not adding value and positivity in your life. It’s okay. You need not feel guilty! You treasure and love that person. Getting rid of something does not make you love that person less. In fact, it’ll free up more of your energy to give back to others. Ah, the joy of a minimalist life!


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  • http://joelrunyon.com/two3 Joel Runyon | [BIT]

    Ooo. Perfect timing. Just had a convo with a friend about this. I'm gonna share it now. Thanks nina :)

  • Bo

    Great post. I'm starting to become more minimalistic, and I've lately wondered how people handle this. You certainly don't want to hurt the person's feelings, but you can't carry around everything you ever get either…

  • JimK

    I think one approach is to tell loved ones before Christmas or Birthdays that you would prefer that they donate money, however small to a charity of your choosing or just simply take you out for a meal.Also one can explain to any fammily members that you have everyhing you desire in it would be wasteful to purchase something that you don't really need.Another good gift is money, because people can do what they please with it.Money in a card is always appreciated by the young and old.

  • https://castlesintheair.org Nina | Castles in the Air

    Glad to have helped, Joel!

  • https://castlesintheair.org Nina | Castles in the Air

    Exactly. So long as we keep that in mind, we can be very free, indeed. :)

  • https://castlesintheair.org Nina | Castles in the Air

    Money is always a viable option, whether to you or a charity, like you said. Great tips, Jim!

  • http://twitter.com/slspace The Living Space

    I think I just put them in a box somewhere in my parents's basement and let them gather dust.

  • https://castlesintheair.org Nina | Castles in the Air

    Haha, that's what I used to do too! Then I just got rid of it altogether. =P

  • tokyin

    The best gifts that I received are memories =)

    Most of the time, I forgot what people gave me for my birthday or Christmas, but the warm feeling knowing that those who love/care for me give me gifts, and the sweet memory of a birthday meal/when I open Christmas gifts – those memories and experiences are intangible and invaluable!! To me, it no longer matters much what the gifts are – what matter most is the memories and experiences!

    And I agree that intangible gifts are more valubale (no return policy ^_^). Money comes, money goes. But time, art, love, jump off John Hancock to a signature death – for these, once you give out, it's no return.

    True – we do spend time to make money so we can buy gifts; but spending time to make a person happy/for the greater good of another person; spend time to draw/write/make a video/a personalize gift – I believe these are way more valuable than $$$!

    One more thing that I would do for any tangible gifts that I don't need – just give it to someone (as a gift) who don't know the original giver, coz it will look very bad if A give a gift to me but he/she sees B using/wearing it…. -___-

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