Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Gifts with Strings

Cindy and Colleen: Friendship, the best gift without strings.


Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

 First of all, and most importantly, Colleen and I had a fantastic time. Steve was super, and we all had a good time getting to know each other.

Now to our regularly scheduled blog…

Have you ever been told, “If you don’t want this, be sure to give it back?”

How about, “(Deceased relative) wanted you to have this. Be sure to take really good care of it.”

Or, “You so admired mine, that I bought you one too.” A variation of this one is, “I really admired this item, so I bought it for you.”

Or, the most dreaded of all, “Where’s that (fill in the item of your choosing) that I gave you for (holiday)?”

Oh, gifts with strings, what a trouble they can be. The strings are demands that you care for, cherish, account for, value and possible return gifted items in the way that the giver expects.

Let’s be kind: gifts are meant to show someone we care, that we were thinking of them, that they’re important to us, or that we remember a special day in their lives. So why are they so fraught with anxiety at times?


  • We get things we don’t need.
  • We get things we don’t want.
  • We get things we don’t like…at all.
  • We get things that giver can’t afford (or, truth be told, things that are a lot less than what we believe that gift giver can afford)
  • We get things that feel like they were purchased without thought (really a trouble when it’s a spouse or dear friend)
  • And, we get gifts with strings.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about our inability to control things that no longer belong to us. This same lack of control applies to gifts, or it should. Once you give a gift, or someone gives a gift to you, that item is no longer under the giver’s control. It’s not yours anymore. Don’t give gifts with strings, and don’t accept a gift with strings. We all have so many things we try to control, why try to control an object that lives with someone else? If you feel that you repeatedly give a certain person gifts that he/she doesn’t appreciate properly, take a hint. Give something different, give nothing, make a donation to charity, but don’t keep trying to control what isn’t yours.

Today’s Mini Mission

Take a quick look in the master bedroom and find something to declutter. It’s that simple. Don’t fuss, don’t hesitate, just find that one thing and get it out of there.

Today’s Declutter Item

Here is a little more stationery clutter. This one is a little obscure though so I am keeping an eye on it at the thrift shop. If it doesn’t sell soon I will bring it home and try to find another option to find it a new home. I don’t want to clutter up the thrift shop with my clutter. (Drat! I don’t know what the obscure object was. Somehow I deleted it when I insert the post. Sorry Colleen! You’ll just have to tell us what the photo would have been.)

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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  1. Ah yes, those dreaded strings. That’s why I like to receive and give gift cards. I/they can get what I/they want. I’ve had those stringy gifts and I have fought that fight about decluttering them. I finally came up with a solution. I have stopped worrying about someone else’s hangups about giving. If I am near the person who gave it to me I will offer it to them first and say something like, “I really appreciate ______ but it no longer fits into my life style/decorating scheme.”

    • I can only remember giving back one gift like that Deb J. It was an awkward moment, but he took it. It feel under the category, “I love this, so I bought it for you.” I wonder if he still has it, or if it’s listed with a bunch of other art books he listed on Amazon.

      • Let me say that I have warned everyone that I don’t want THINGS. There really aren’t that many people who do anything for me anymore too. When it became a thing of give a gift and get a last minute check (out of guilt) from the recipients we just called it off. Some people can’t seem to take a gift without giving one back. These were all family so we just stopped it all and they were happy. That left a few friends that still like to get and give. Even that has turned into an exchange of gift cards. I’m working on them all to just have a good dinner together and forget the gifts. maybe this year.

  2. My mother once said to me, “I know you don’t like knick knacks, but I got you this for your birthday.” It was an expensive and really awful collectible item. I felt terrible that she had wasted her money, but the item went straight to the charity shop. Good thing she lives far away and never realized it was gone from my house.

    Today’s mini mission seemed hard at first. I’ve been pretty brutal decluttering our master bedroom. Then I remembered that I haven’t in 17 years decluttered a swimsuit. I got rid of three. Yay!

    • Wow, surely the swimsuits ‘die’ in 17 years! Good work. I too think I have swimsuits that haven’t seen enough wear to warrant their existence, though I usually swim twice weekly, and over this summer I had a broken shoulder, so perhaps I’m premature.

      • My neighbor was in the pool last year wearing a classic cut black swimsuit out of sturdier material than suits are made of today. It was a real beauty. She doesn’t swim, so I asked where it had come from. It was the suit of her husband’s late wife. He’s been gone for 2 years; they were married for 13 years, so if the suit belong to the wife prior to that, it probably was 17 years old. I’m guessing lack of Spandex or Lycra made it hold up better.

        Despite my story, I agree: swimsuits over 2 or 3 years are usually shot, espeically if they spend a lot of time in the sun, surf, or pool.

        • OMG 17yrs old!!! Was it made of iron?? We end up replacing bathers often due to the amount of chlorine that gets added to pools here. It probably kills all known bugs and germs very quickly but it kills your bathers faster!!

          Can’t wait to find a house with a pool so we can convert to salt, a little kinder to the fabric and I guess we may not ‘GLOW’ as much hahaha.

          Beautiful pic of you gals together, hope you all had a great time 🙂

    • A gift that begins, “I know you won’t like this”??? Geez.

  3. Cindy & Colleen – how nice to be able to get together in person!! Glad you’re having a good time.

    Ah, yes, gifts with strings. The only ones that I think are permissible are pets that we need to find a home for, and would want back to make other arrangements if the receiver should ever have to give them up.

    • I think that after a certain number of years, even a rescue pet is a non-returnable item, but that’s just my thoughts.

      • Yes, probably – I was thinking shorter term.

        And I realized quite some time after posting this that it wasn’t really relevant because I meant pets that the other party wants and agrees to take, not “gift” pets (there shouldn’t be such a thing, in my opinion). Don’t mind me, please, I have been forced to think about neglected pets this week, and that has made me crabby and absent-minded about everything else!

  4. well at least there is one beautiful picture in this post. amazing you two got to meet each other in person. looks like you had a fab time together.

    I dont know why gifts are such a big thing, but yeah I have a lot of items I cant give away because they gave it to me as a gift. I got a two person hot stone/raclette from my brother and his girlfriend for christmas, never used it, probably have to force myself to use it. maybe I actually like it then. My mum is coming to visit me on a regular basis now. and she just cant resist the temptation of beautiful decoration/knick knacks. She got me a lime green metal box, inside its like a sixpack, even with a bottle opener on a chain… the six parts inside are too small to actually put bottles in it, but “I thought you could use it outside on your little gardentable, put all your knick knacks inside, like suncream and sunglasses, pens and scissors, nail equipment and lighters.” ARGH. I mean I like the design so I kept it, it stands there now as decoration and maybe I can actually use it in the summer (once there IS summer). Same as my brothers gift. I will force myself to use it, and if I like it, I will keep using it, if not it will go.
    I dont have troubles telling my friends that I dont want gifts that might end up as clutter. If I need something I tell people. but my family is somehow deaf. or I am not clear enough…

    • Wow, Lena, I always had the impression you were already minimalist. Unbelievable that you own a raclette and a lime green knick-knack-holder. 🙂

      • hehe. very unbelievable indeed. but then again. I would have never bought that myself…

        • I had to look up raclette. Perhaps you could deal with it as my friend did a gift of a donut maker. She returned it to the store, but treated the family to a day of donut indulgence. I believe they went to 4 donut shops in one day. That helped them feel like they’d “made up for” not being able to make donuts at home.

          • I cant return it. the raclette was bought in switzerland and the plug was different than normal plugs (it had 3 little pins instead of two) and they made my uncle change that into the normal plug, just after christmas, I had no saying in this whatsoever… So this thing has been never used, but it has been already “repaired”. well yeah. my family. I just shake my head in ironic disbelief and keep the box stashed away until I can face the process of decluttering it. because I will at one point 😉

  5. So great you both got to meet!

    As far as gifts with strings attached, my husband & I long ago agreed to not freak out & run quick to buy someone a gift if we did not initially plan on getting them a gift to begin with if they gave us a gift. That is we would not gift out of gift guilt.
    We try to be good guests & bring a host/hostess gift (usually a good selection of beer as that’s the kinda folks we keep company with). But otherwise, if we receive a unexpected holiday gift from someone – we don’t reciprocate if we had not planned (& thus budgeted) for that. Yeah it’s kinda harsh – but we had to draw the line somewhere.

    • I like your idea – and I tend to agree. If it’s not planned, it’s not going to be right in many cases, and perhaps you’re only giving out of reciprocity, rather than desire to, which is a slippery slope!

    • I think I’m like that about Christmas or birthday gifts, as well. I was surprised by a really thoughtful b-day gift from a co-worker, and when her b-day rolled around not too much longer, I did feel like I need to reciprocate. I regifted a book store GC I had. She loves to buy books with her gandson on the weekends, so they were both happy.

    • I’d kinda like to strangle the first person who received a gift and then ran out and bought something for that someone and then proceeded to infect everyone with the guilt gift gene!! LOL 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. So glad that you two finally got to meet!

  7. I’m so glad to see you both so happy on that picture! 😀

  8. Great photo and lovely that you got to meet each other – I bet you haven’t stopped talking ! My mother doesnt mind what happens to her stuff now and is busy decluttering (at 87 ) and I think she is actually enjoying the process and finding it liberating- at last ! But she has always had an amazing memory and she definitely gave things with strings attached – not all the time but on a few memorable occasions that led to some very messy awkwardness which is now settled and which has taught me to give”with no strings attached ” . I’ve been giving things to my neice but I have stressed she is free do what she likes with it if she loses interest or changes her mind etc Those challenging situations with my mother took time but eventually I became very very clear in my thinking that if you give someone something you relinquish all rights to after that . So obvious now but difficult back then when guilty feelings make you doubt yourself and your own judgement.

    • My in-laws knew that friends and I used to have an annual garage sale, and they said, “Don’t sell anything we gave you. Just return it.” I thought, “Over my dead body.” There was NO WAY that I would open that can of worms and return a gift. Finally they have stopped giving me gifts except the occasional, specifically requested item, like the fabulous long, heavy duty garden hose I requested one year, and I think we’re all happier.

  9. No strings, but still gifts make me shirk away

    My friend stayed with me over the weekend. She bought me a beautiful card (totally knows me, it’s blue with a birdcage – I have an almost blue house with 7 birdcages!). And some soap, which she got from a shop I love (I told her about my new shampoo from there), and it had a very topical humourous name. I just don’t use solid soap… What to do…. (IT is HUGE too!)

    Alas, not that big a drama. But It’s so nice to see a photo of you both, together! So wonderful!

    • ah soap. thats like perfume, people love giving it as gifts but they hardly get your taste right.
      I got soap for my birthday a couple of years ago. eco-soap, special flavours, really fancy little bricks. they were looking pretty in the bathroom cupboard for 2 years and at one point then I decided that I will use them for washing hands. because – guess what?! soap is made for washing hands and not just for looking pretty.
      I did that with the orange flavour and I liked it. It didnt take that long to use up actually. And then I thought I start with the other one, but …ewwwww, cinnamon soap is really not my thing. I like that stuff in my food, but not on my hands. I gave it to a friend, she liked it immediatly and gave me a glass of self made marmelade. love it.

      I am back to liquid soap for good. so the only advice I have for you: either use it up or give it away.

    • Sounds like you could exchange the solid soap for a liquid (or something else) since you know where it came from???

  10. cute picture of the two of you. I’ve found that ever since we got married, we’ve been getting more knick-knacky/home decor type items, with plenty of “instructions” where we should put it, etc. Since I’m pretty sarcastic, I have no problem telling people things along the lines of “oh, goodwill will love this, thanks.” they know all about how i’ve become semi-minimalist in the past few years, so I don’t feel too bad about it if they choose not to care to listen.

    • lol – great line!

    • Oh Boy do I love me some good snarky! Bravo!

    • Yikes – gifts with instructions on where/how to use them??? Now that IS bold!

    • Hahahaha love it love it love it, maybe you could issue your own instructions of “where to put it” hahahaha this just made my day, huge smiles and laughter!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Are these givers people who give to Faith and want to express their affection( even if the “wrong” gift)? Why should their tokens of affection and affiliation be met with the veil of childish anger known as sarcasism? Why can’t Faith say “thank you”?

      • Hi Gail,
        I think what Faith is trying to say is that if a person continues to let people know that they would prefer not to a receive gifts but said people insist on giving them anyway then there comes a time where one’s patience runs and sarcasm may be the only message that will get through. We have discussed this situation many times here at 365 Less Things. Choosing not to be a part of the materialist society is as much of a life choice as religion or vegetarianism for instance and one is entitled to expect people to respect their life choice. Anyone who is close enough to another person should be in a position to realise how important this is to them. After all it isn’t difficult to fine an alternate gift that doesn’t cause clutter.

  11. Often the strings are the ones we tie on ourselves! By that I mean, keeping things because of some sense of obligation to the donor (who may or may not even care!). The other day I declared my intent to rid the Seniors Centre of a couch and chair with shredded fabric and foam that is turning to crumbs. I received a shocked, “But it was DONATED!!!” Well, if whoever donated it 20 years ago wants it back, I’ll be glad to deliver it.

    • That made me laugh out loud. Did you take it away?

      We had a couch, not nearly in that bad of shape, in the fellowship hall at church. There was a hush-hush discussion about getting the cloth recovered because “you never know who might be offended.” I was shocked – it was ugly and tatty. Wouldn’t the donor be glad that we were honoring their gift by preserving it? People can be so touchy at times! (No doubt, including me.)

      • haha. amazing. so the donated item becomes a clutter item because it was donated in the first place.

        yes, if I insult people and run around kicking everybody I dont like, well that might backfire at one point. But if someone might feel offended if we handle and deal with things such as couches, its their problem. And if they consider it as a problem, they have to speak up and tell me. Cause I wont restrict my action just because someone might not be happy about that. I am not happy about other peoples actions too, but I dont take it personally. 😉

        • I am learning that old folks are extremely touchy. The canny ones give stuff with tiny engraved plaques “In Memory Of…” We’re stuck with that stuff forever. We even have a photocopier with a memorial plaque on it. What are we supposed to do when THAT dies?
          The couch and chair will require a motion at our next meeting but I’m on the Board and have stacked the deck. How convenient that the Big Stuff Garbage Removal Day is the same week and I’m one of the volunteers! And I already have a few good excused to stall the process of replacing it.

          • a photocopier with a memorial plaque on it. I cant stop laughing. I guess I would try to get off the plaque and put it on the next photocopier. that way it would put a smile on my face everytime I see it.

  12. Oh girls I’m bang in the middle of Dance Comps, the house is being walked through everyday by viewers (to hopefully buy) my hubby is in the process of changing jobs, my car is a little sick and needs a look at and I have a splitting headache, BUT now I have a split face from laughing loudly,!!!! Thanks girls for making my day here’s a gift for you all with no strings attached except the fact that you must find time to share it with others 🙂 and do it everyday 🙂 ‘SMILE’ 🙂 🙂 🙂

  13. I too have been chuckling and giggling at the comments for today’s post. Gifts with instructions!! Dizzy my girls dance and we have comps next weekend – now there’s a non minimalist hobby if ever there was one and I love your ‘free gift’ – smilin back at you! : )

    • Cheers Kay,

      Good Luck to your girls for the Comps, Touche’ to the non-minimalist hobby. I’ve decluttered 100’s of Dance items recently and will do so again after this round. Why do kids keep growing so fast??? So where in the world are you???? 🙂 🙂 🙂

  14. My hubby bought me a small etched Chinese design perfume bottle many years ago. It was very pretty but no use really (it’s quite hard to decant your favourite perfume from the purpose made bottle into a tiny bottle). I’ve been moving that little bottle around the house for years because I felt that I couldn’t say “Look, love. Nice bottle but it’s in the way”. Anyway, I came in from work yesterday and he confessed that while getting one (yes) of his hair products out of the bathroom cabinet, he’d knocked that perfume bottle over and it had smashed. I did manage to say “Oh well, never mind” and he said “Somehow, I didn’t think you’d be that bothered. You probably thought it was clutter anyway”.
    So the message is sinking in?!!

  15. Lovely photo of the two of you. I’ll bet you talked all day and all night 🙂

  16. I used to feel obligated to buy my husband an anniversary/birthday/Christmas present every year and it was so stressful trying to come up with the ‘perfect’ gift that would be appreciated. Of course, he never knew what to buy me either (neither of us have the gift-giving gene!) A couple of years ago I decided it was enough and these times of celebration are so lovely without the added burden of presents. Today it’s our 16th wedding anniversary and we’re going out for a lovely lunch. That’s quite enough!

    • Happy Anniversary Loretta

      Hope you enjoyed your lovely lunch together andheres to many, many more happy years :):):)

  17. Love the picture of the two of you. I am new to this site but am guessing that you just met in person since one lives in US and one in Australia.
    My MIL is gone now but she NEVER gave a gift that she didn’t tell me where it was to go in the house. Sometimes I listened – most often not until she finally gave up and started giving me cash. A much appreciated gift and I could get what I needed vs what she thought I should have. Loving this site. Tossed out 3 pens and some receipts and old bookmarks this morning before work. From the bedroom – so guess I met the mini-mission before I got this email.

  18. I had a friend give me a bunch of clams and I gave a bag to my neighbor. I told him what I did and he got upset and said he would never give me any ever again because I gave then away, then he threatened to spank me. I am 47 and he was 58. I thought I was passing on his love. I guess love was not in his heart. Great web site. Thank you.

  19. Erik,
    I gave a neighbor some cookies and fruit last year and she told me later she had shared them with a neighbor. At first, I was mad because I had made the cookies especially for her. I realized that I would rather her share them than them go to waste. Now, the three of us share things all the time. A friend of mine is quite ill, so I took her a casserole. In turn, she gave me 3 oranges and 2 grapefruit. I cannot eat the grapefruit so I gave them to my friend who in turn passed them on to her neighbor because her husband has a medication restriction on grapefruit. So, those grapefruit really got a workout but they were eaten and enjoyed. Anyway. my point is, I can understand why your friend got upset (a little) but if someone else can use them, all the better. The spanking – WOW – strange reaction.
    Erik, I think you did the right thing to share your largess and your friend missed the boat.
    Colleen, the new website is very classy. Love the script!

    • Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for your story, you shared the love. I have one more story. I was a youth group leader at my church and I bought some kids musical equipment and made them a music video. It all cost about $5000. I wanted nothing in return except that the kids don’t give up on their dreams. Nothing went as planned and the parents thought I might be molesting their kids so they spread rumors and lies about me. Their suspicion temporarily cost me my reputation until the truth came out. I gave everyone I dealt with 100% respect even as they accused me of horrible things. When all was said and done, I had the complete respect of my entire community. The band is called “The Paralytics”

  20. We live in a different state from any family, so they only come to visit on occasion. It has been such a relief to realize that nobody seems to remember what they’ve given us – at each visit we have a conversation along the lines of “What a lovely bowl, where did you get it?” “You”. So I guess I can declutter freely.

    Speaking of husbands accidentally decluttering for us, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the cookie tin my grandmother had sent me. I sent it to work with my husband and he came home very apologetic that he’d lost it. Problem solved!

    • A great situation to be in. I know because I am the same. I didn’t even live in the same country for a while. I love to visit my relatives and have them visit me but it is nice to know I have the freedom of passing on things they give me if they don’t suit me or my lifestyle. Lucky my family are so tuned in that they were only too happy to comply with the idea I put to them not to exchange gifts between us at all.

      As for that cookie tin ~ don’t you just love it when a plan come together. 😉