Gifts are like emails…

…you feel obliged to respond in kind.

Have you ever been excited to receive an email and enthusiastically respond. Then in return the original sender follows through with another email and you are happy to carry on the conversation. In response you receive a reply and you feel obligated to reply in turn. Once you hit the send button you wonder could this banter carry on indefinitely, will the person at the receiving end feel obliged to respond yet again whether they want to or not.

To me this situation sounds a lot like gift giving. A new friend initiates the birthday gift giving process then the receiver thinks that when that person’s birthday comes around that it would be the done thing to return in kind. Next thing they know they both have another person on their Christmas list as well.

There are two ways to avoid this madness. One ~ Don’t tell people when you are celebrating a birthday. Two ~ Make it perfectly clear that you do not wish to celebrate occasions with the exchanging of gifts. There are plenty of ways to enjoy an occasion without lavishing gifts on people. One is quality time.

It is also possible to stop the madness once it has begun. Simply let people know that you are in the process of decluttering your home with the intent to keep it permanently that way, and would prefer not to exchange gifts in the future. This is not and unreasonable request. I have never lost a friend over making such a request and I dare say neither will you.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter any saucepans or frying pans you simply don’t use. These are bulky items that waste a lot of space if they are kept for those just-in-case moments. They are also items that can easily be borrowed from a friend, relative or neighbour in the rare case they are necessary.

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

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Day 194 Revisited I received a comment from Dizzy last week who is meticulously reading through my archives catching up on all that she has missed out on. She has only just discovered my blog recently and […]
  • Friday’s Favourites ~ 22Feb2013 On Fridays at 365 Less Things I share with you my favourite comments from my wonderful readers and my favourite web finds of the week. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I […]
  • Day 72 Accumulation + Laziness = Loss of Space & Dollars Sometimes we can end up with multiples of certain things hiding in several places around the house. The Allen Keys that are today's discard are a perfect example. They seem to have bred […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, you are right. It’s like one email or gift begets another and another and another. Sheesh!

  2. I had the gift problem with a friend of mine. She was buying increasingly more expensive gifts for me and my children every year. She’s a lovely lady but we are very different and the gifts were very rarely suitable for any of us. So, together with another friend in the same situation, we broached the no gifts in future idea, with the explanation that we had so much already and often duplicates etc etc. Well, it went down like a ton of bricks! She was extremely upset and pointed out that she didn’t buy gifts with the aim of getting gifts in return and that she would still buy us gifts because she liked doing it. In an unusual show of strength, I stuck to my guns and stopped giving her or her children presents and after several years, she stopped too. We are still friends, and now go out for dinner when one of us has a birthday – but it was touch and go there for a while 🙂

  3. This is a tricky one. I still remember the hurt I felt as a teenager when I was told not to bother buying presents for a beloved little cousin. I don’t have a large family and I felt quite rejected and unimportant by that part of the family after that. I have also seen the hurt my daughter has experienced as family presents have “dried up” over the years. The older cousins (boys I might add) all did well when they turned 18 and so on, but the thrill of giving had worn off when it came to her turn and nothing was forthcoming.

    The key is communication I guess – how much better if my aunt had said “xxx has so many toys, maybe you could spend some time doing xxx with him instead”. And I feel it is extremely important to be fair with children/young people – I am giving each cousin in the family EXACTLY the same amount for their 18th (only one to go now) and that will be the end of it. But I will have “clean feet” as my Scottish grandmother used to say.

    • Hi Laura, I completely understand how you feel about this. It is certainly a subject that is viewed from one extreme to the other by different people. It all depends on what meaning and emotion a person places on gift giving in the first place. How much we associate the exchange of gifts with the value people place on use personally. That is a recipe for disappointment in my opinion. I got to a point where I found the whole process pointless at best and annoying at worse. It is a really complex custom in many ways.

      I am glad that very early on in my adult life when most of my siblings began having children of their own that we all decided not to exchange gifts either with each other or to buy them for the multitudes of nieces and nephews that came along. We exchange cards and in some cases phone calls instead. Because that has always been the case it as simply been accepted by all. When we get together at Christmas we use the Secret Santa concept to celebrate the occasion. It works for us.

    • Laura – I am handling a similar situation, though not so much on a gift level but on what I call ‘the whole childhood package’. My eldest is 18 and not hugely a family-gung-ho type guy, his car and his friends are his priority at the moment and he’s not really interested in family activities or being a part of family traditions any more. My youngest is 15, only three years difference, but she loves being a part of a family and all that goes with it. Her complaint is that her brother got 18 years of childhood before he decided to begin absenting himself from family occasions, whereas she only got 15 years before it started to unravel and she sometimes feels a little short-changed. I think it is part of family dynamics for the youngest, but I do make an effort to ensure that we don’t allow these things to peter out just because of one non-participant

  4. Boy, this is right up my alley. Somehow I lost my best friend over this. Or at least I thought she was my best friend. She and her husband were both about 10 years older than us. And also much wealthier. My husband and I both became disabled and had to go on SS disability. Therefore, our income went way down. And of course, I didn’t have much spending money. She and I both had birthdays in the same month and had exchanged birthday gifts, but I asked if we could set a price limit on it, and she said sure. So we decided on $25.00. And I honored that. My husband and I live very simply. We don’t eat out, don’t go out to the movies or anything like that. I have to buy my clothes from Walmart. Then, several years ago, we met for our birthday lunch and exchanged gifts. She gave me the strangest gift I ever received. It was a crystal carousel, with little colored crystals on the top of it about 4 inches tall, and maybe 3 inches wide. It wasn’t something that I ever would even look at. Totally outside of anything I would ever even consider purchasing. Totally useless. Just a dust gatherer. But she said that when she saw it, she just knew that it was the perfect gift for me. Then, she leaned in and confessed that yes, she went over our budget agreement. I really didn’t even know what to say. I had bought her a pair of sterling silver earrings that I had found online that ended up costing me $24.98 including shipping and taxes. I had stayed within my budget. As the days rolled by and the months, she began to withdraw. Then suddenly she just stopped communications. I called her and asked if I had done something wrong. And she said no, that she was just so busy that she didn’t have time to call or email. And I never heard from her again. That was 2 years ago.

    • This is still Annie. I wanted to add one more thing to my post. I didn’t keep that carousel thing. For several reasons. Mostly because I really don’t like “knick knacks”. Useless little “pretties” that must be placed “just so” to make your living room or whatever look better. Sort of like silk flowers. I am sure a lot of you enjoy silk flowers, and that is wonderful. You can make that choice. I used to have a lot of them. But, finally I just put some thought into it, and decided that if I wanted plants, I would have REAL plants. So I tossed all the silk flowers and bought real plants, over time. One plant at a time, and interestingly, my husband said he was SO glad to see those flowers go. I gave that crystal carousel to the Thrift Shop in town.

  5. I agree, it can turn into a burden, exchanging gifts is not important, spending time with someone is important. Over the years, my gift exchange list has shortened and I am thankful for that. It takes a lot of the pressure off, whether it is financially or the hard task of picking something out. Something I do enjoy doing is cooking a favorite dish for people who are special in my life. I do that often for people’s birthdays.

    I sent many pots and pans to the donation center today :). I hope that someone will be able to get some use out of them.

  6. Hi Colleen! Outside Christmas and the eventual birthday party of my child’s friend I am not a great gift giving person. It is not that I don’t like gift giving, but unless you really know what that person needs and you can buy it within your budget, it is just a waste of money. I am getting into a little battle with relatives about my children’s gifts this Christmas. I am insisting that they donate some old toys to compensate for the lot they are going to get. And I have received the odd look (the “you are depriving your child” look… 😀 ), but I am sticking to my guns. I would much rather be taken out for a cappuccino and a piece of cake than get a gift.

    • Andreia – a nice coffee and cake or a nice lunch out is the ideal gift for me too. Because I get to pick what I want and it doesn’t hang around forever. The perfect gift.

      • Hi Moni! It is a shame we can’t go out and have a nice lunch or coffee…darn the distance!!! 😀 😀 😀

    • I like the coffee and cake (or pie) idea too. I’d much rather spend time with someone than get a gift.

  7. Over the years, I’ve had to flex and bend with friends and family members as our families have grown in numbers and age. But I really enjoy gift giving–trying to pay attention to needs and preferences all year to choose something appropriate. I have found that “one size does not fit all”– with some of our siblings’ families we take our cues from them and are more modest in our exchanges. But I love to get something nice for our parents as they spent years doing nice things for us. With some friends of more limited means- we spend a day of crafting together–time well spent!

  8. I think this is certainly something everyone feels to an extent and which gets stronger with age. I know my Mum would rather not have lots of extra “stuff” for her birthday or Christmas. That’s why I tend to take her for afternoon tea or an outing round a National Trust building (historic houses & castles, etc.) rather than giving presents. However, I also think that things like charity gifts, are a good idea – like with World Vision’s Must Have Gifts: No clutter, nice card and someone around the world who did desperately want something received it!

    • Hi Liz and welcome to 365 Less Things. I think I would enjoy being your mum, afternoon teas and old buildings are right up my ally. Thank you for the link to Must Have Gifts. We have a Oxfam store in our local shopping centre where we can buy these sorts of gifts for charity. You pay and receive a card with a photo on of the gift that is being donated. I must get in and do that on behalf of my kids and their families since we are only doing secret santa giving this year. It is good to be able to do it in person at the store because it is all pay over the counter and we don’t end up getting endless requests for more donations in the mail.