What do you do if you’re trying to live sustainably or minimally but your family or friends love giving presents? This can be a difficult topic and conversation to have. Gift giving a certain way can become a tradition for families and people generally aren’t happy with change – especially with traditions.
I’ve been very fortunate where gift-giving isn’t a big deal in my family, as a kid we never had mountains of presents (it’s crazy how that’s advertised as the “perfect” Christmas) and my family has generally been very practical with gifts – giving things the person has asked for or they know will get used, gift cards to favourite places, consumables, or experiences like a meal out. Instead of gifts to each other my husband and I plan a little weekend away together, since we live away from our families they usually also get involved and will treat us to a nice dinner out on our trip, it’s a lovely time and so much more meaningful than some stuff we don’t want.
Tips to Reduce Unwanted Gifts
Keep the conversation positive
I think this is the most important. Telling someone you don’t want “junk” or their sweatshop-made gifts is hurtful and will make them upset and defensive. Instead focus on how other gift ideas make you happy or bring you joy. For example you could explain that you really care about a certain cause so it would mean a lot if instead of gifts they made a donation to a charity/organization, or how you feel so much happier having worked hard on decluttering and instead of physical gifts you’d love to spend some quality time together. If there’s something specific that you’d like, instead of talking about how other similar items might be unsustainable or unethical, focus on how that item would work really well for you and you would use it all the time.
You want them to see how this is something that would make you happy, not feel bad about their gifts or like they are unappreciated.
Make alternative suggestions
Maybe your family or friends are feeling the same way about all the gift-giving but no one else has expressed it. They might be very open to other ideas:
- Instead of getting individual gifts you could suggest that everyone draws names and buys 1 gift for 1 person. This way you can spend a little more on the gift and get something the person truly wants.
- You could agree to gift experiences – dinners, movie tickets, coffee dates, or any activity they enjoy. Instead of giving gifts why not spend time together doing something you all enjoy?
- If you’re all into food and cooking you could decide to gift consumables like homemade cookies, coffee/tea, favorite liquors, etc.
- Or another option if you’re all crafty is to give handmade gifts
- You could all use a wishlist. There are apps like Giftster where everyone lists things they’d like, you can share it with a group and mark things that are purchased so there won’t be duplicates. This way people can ask for things they actually want and it makes shopping easier for everyone.
Show extra appreciation when people respect your wishes
Remember that it can be a big deal for some people to change their habits. If your relative who loves giving knick-knacks gave you a charitable donation like you asked, they might be worried that it’s “not enough” or you won’t be happy when everyone else get their gifts. Make an extra effort to thank them and explain that it’s a wonderful gift and really means a lot to you. Of course you should show gratitude, but taking extra time to explain how meaningful it is will help the person know they made the right choice and they’ll also likely remember for the next time how special that gift was to you.
What about when you receive an unwanted gift?
I think it’s important to be gracious receiving the gift and then try to find that item a home where it will actually be used. I really like how Courtney Carver explains gift giving, that the “gift” isn’t the physical object, the gift is meant to be an expression of love or appreciation so you can keep the intention of the gift but still let go of the object, the person who gave you the gift likely wouldn’t want it to cause you stress or negative feelings.
If you know someone who would use and appreciate the gift, re-gifting can be a great option. Also look for charities you might be able to donate it to, for example if you received skincare products that you won’t use try to find a local shelter that takes care and hygiene products.
I would really love to hear your thoughts and tips on this topic! Are unwanted gifts an issue for your conscious lifestyle? Have you tried talking to others about it or suggesting alternatives?