Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Problem of Unwanted Gifts

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - book cover

Imagine my surprise to find this on page six of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth Narnia book, regarding a painting:
Aunt Alberta didn't like it at all (that is why it was put away in a little back bedroom upstairs), but she couldn't get rid of it because it had been a wedding present from someone she did not want to offend.
That was written in 1952, and it's the same issue people confront today. No matter how we try to avoid getting gifts of things we don't like, some of them sneak into our lives, anyway.

First of all, it is perfectly OK to not save every gift you've been given. As Don Aslett writes, a gift is a "message of love and appreciation" and "its message will live with us, be part of us - forever, possibly" without holding onto the gift itself.

If there are no issues about hurting someone's feelings, it's easier to let a gift go. You can exchange it, donate it, re-gift it, or sell it with no qualms.

But what about gifts from people who will both notice and care if their gifts aren't displayed in your home, or if you don't wear the jewelry they bought you? And what if the gift is handmade? As Juli Culbertson and Marj Decker write in Scaling Down, "Fewer items create greater guilt than lovingly crafted gifts you can't stand."

There are no simple answers here. As much as I don't like my home to be filled with things I don't like, I'd be hard pressed to give away something if that would seriously hurt the feelings of a beloved friend or relative.

One common approach is to keep and display such items for a while, and then move them along. If you have ideas on how best to handle such gifts, please share them in the comments.


Boston organizer said...

I like the issue of keeping unwanted gifts. Here's what works for me. Keep the gift until I forget who gave it to me and then make it disappear when my wife is not home.

Anonymous said...

My friend just gave me a blue vase ,that he got at the thrift store,for my birthday.He told me "I like that vase,andI want to see it in use at your house".I don't like that vase,I don't have blue in my house,I don't want to see it in use at my house.He's dying of cancer.I figure I'll display it until he dies and then maybe I'll change my mind.Or more likely-donate it back to the thrift store.

Jeri Dansky said...

Anonymous, I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Displaying the vase for as long as he's around to know you've got it sounds like the only compassionate thing to do.

If you eventually donate it back, you may want to take a photo before you do so.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think that if the gifts are unwanted, then they should either be passed along or returned to the giver. If the giver is so concerned that we aren't going to use it or appreciate it, then perhaps they wanted it more than we did.

I try to prevent bad gifts by being ready with some inexpensive ideas if people ask me what I'd like for a birthday or Christmas gift.

Jeri Dansky said...

Michaela, trying to prevent unwanted gifts is a great approach.

But I can see where someone might keep an unwanted gift, because the desire to not hurt someone's feelings takes precedence over other considerations. Sometimes someone has gone to great effort to get what they truly think is the perfect gift for you. Sometimes they've even handmade the gift.

In such cases, if you think the person will be hurt by not seeing the item in use, then I think it's not clutter any more, even if it is an otherwise-unwanted item. It becomes "something useful" in an odd sort of way - where the "use" is "making the giver happy."