Decluttering Gifts From Others

You know the problem.

Decluttering gifts is SO difficult.

They sit there for years and years, neither used nor given away, just gathering more and more dust.

I am pretty good at decluttering, but I’ve gotten stuck with a handful of items that psychologically I just don’t seem to be able to part with.

I have barely, or never, used these items since I received them.

I feel very uncomfortable with gifts that I don’t truly love. For complex reasons going back to my childhood, I have always found receiving gifts to be an emotional trial. I think there is no single act more likely to provoke a white lie, than the giving of gifts. This of course, is a subject for a whole other post.

I decided today, as I continued to clear out the loft, that I needed inspiration to shift unused gifts, and I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all, I turned to Sue Kay’s book, No More Clutter.

Sue says:

“It is important to accept the gift graciously in the spirit in which it was given. After that it’s up to you what you do with it. Forget the guilt.”

Hmm. All well and good, but not enough for me to part with those emotionally charged unwanted gifts.

I still remember my mother-in-law asking where the “bag lady” had gone from our kitchen (a cloth lady with a big skirt that holds carrier bags). Without thinking I mentioned she was up in the loft. Immediately I could see the hurt and disappointment in my mother-in-law’s face that her gift was no longer being used. She then made a rash comment about my children choking to death on carrier bags lying around in the drawers. Is decluttering worth this kind of experience?

Would it have been better if I had lied? Said it had gotten ripped or broken?

I have found increasingly that other people place a far greater value on objects than I do. In fact, in some cases, other people disapprove of what they perceive as a transient attitude to things and find me difficult to understand.

What can I do about the guilt I feel when another person takes a rejection of their gift as an insult?

The Minimalist Mom sensibly suggests that you let potential gift givers understand your desire to live without a lot of stuff. We have tried to do this, on many occasions, but we live in a house that is still a work in progress, and I think until our family walk through our doors and see a zen paradise, they will not truly understand our desire to have less.

She also says, at the end of the day:

“It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes – regardless of if it was a gift.”

As a person who struggles with worrying constantly about what other people think, this helps me. It is my house. Do I want my house to be a shrine to keeping others happy and not myself?

No I do not.

But I still need a real reason, a solid emotional affirmation that letting go of these things is not an ungrateful, bad, or mean thing to do.

So I thought about it like this:

  • Would the gift giver want their gift to be sat in the loft gathering dust?
  • If the gift-giver genuinely cares about me, would they want me to keep something they had given me for no reason other than guilt?
  • Would my relationships be closer if I could let gift givers know what I really needed in my life?
  • Should I make more of an effort to request items that I want around Christmas and birthdays? (I am very bad at this, because I don’t want a lot, but then I end up being given things I don’t want)
  • Do I want to feel overwhelmed and unable to declutter my home because I keep getting stuck on gifts?
  • Do I want my home to be my own space, or not?
  • Do I want to live my life my way, or the way other people think I should?
  • Would a future me, living my life the way I envisage, have these things in her home?

The answer to all of these questions is simple.

Keeping and using a gift from someone else is not proof that you care about that person or that you have a good relationship with them.

So I think I can let go of these gifts now. With kindness and an open heart, and no guilt.

I was grateful to receive them, but they are not right for us, or our home.

And what will I say the next time someone asks me about a gift they have given that is mysteriously absent?

I will be honest. That we were very grateful for it, but we didn’t use it, and we don’t have space for it.

Because all we can do is live our lives honestly and truthfully, and those that love us should be OK with that.

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