Given Moni’s post about gift cards and the fact that I am celebrating my birthday as I write this post I thought I would weigh in on gift giving, receiving and gift cards.

I’ll begin with the gift cards. As Moni briefly stated in her post, my thought was ~ Why is it that we find it hard to part with things we rarely if ever use, while at the same time we idly allow money to go wasted in the form of expired gift cards. It really doesn’t make much sense does it. I guess we see the gift card as something we don’t need right now while we are financially sound as opposed to envisaging a time in the future where we might not be able to afford to replace items that we once let go. The question you must ask yourself about the stuff is ~ “Did I ever really need it?” If not let it go and improvise in the future if necessary.

And talking about improvising… I did a three way radio interview this week and the other interviewee related a story of how she decluttered her rolling pin because she hadn’t ever used it in twenty years. The very next week she decided to bake something that required rolling, so she used a drinking glass for the task and didn’t waste time regretting letting go of that, next to useless to her, rolling pin. In fact there are a lot of single use household gadgets that can easily be managed without, particularly if used infrequently. The time saved, if in fact time is saved, doesn’t add up to much if these items aren’t in use on a very regular basis. More time is wasted rummaging through these item while trying to find the ones you do use. Because, like car keys in your handbag, the items you need seem to filter to the bottom.

And as one reader pointed out why has it become almost socially unacceptable to give money as a gift. Money that can be spent anywhere, anytime, while many gift cards given are shop specific and have expiry dates. Giving cash for weddings, bar mitzvahs, engagements and for kids birthdays seem to be acceptable so why not adult birthdays, Christmas and the like. Which brings up the thought that why do we insist on giving material gifts anyway. I prefer to give the gift of time and/or experience to my friends and family who live nearby, unless there is something they specific want as a material gift. Fortunately for me my family who live a long way away, were only too willing to give up the gift giving tradition when I suggested the idea. With Facebook, phones and video chatting there are plenty of ways to give the gift of time spent catching up on those special occasions.

During the interview I mentioned above, the question came up of ~”What was the first thing you decluttered when you decided to reduce your belongings.” I wasn’t certain about that but a silver tea set that I had received as a gift came instantly to mind. The only thing I had done with it over twenty plus years was clean it. This brings in the question of gift giving traditions still lingering from times gone by. With many generations existing within family groups there are a lot of old fashioned ideas about gifts and gift giving that don’t necessarily gel with current times. What once was thought of as a generous and fitting gift is now not necessarily going to be well received but is accepted graciously anyway. Which is of course polite behaviour on both sides but can lead to a lot of unwanted stuff.

Then there are people, like myself, who prefer that others not buy them material gifts and yet some people refuse to comply with such wishes. It seems a little absurd that someone should insist on buying another person a gift, to satisfy their need for gift giving, even they know in advance the recipient won’t want it. No doubt this same person would then be offended if they knew the recipient had regifted, sold or donated the item in order to rid themselves of it.

In summary my take on gift giving and receiving is this…

  • If someone I love likes to receive gifts on special occasions I either buy something I know they will want or give them a gift of time and/or experience.
  • Those who live a long way from me receive a handmade card and usually a phone call depending of the level of the relationship. Some are happy with a Facebook message.
  • Anyone who could do with some extra cash and are happy to receive that then I am more than fine with gifting money.
  • For myself, regarding love ones who like to buy gifts, I generally let them know in advance of something I would enjoy receiving. Be that a material, time or experience style of gift. Yes, even I don’t mind a little solid matter every now and again.
  • For those items that I receive that I have no desire to keep I just donate them to the thrift shop. This is a very rare event because my loved ones know me well.

So I say, when it comes to receiving gifts make up, and let known, your own rules and stick to them. Don’t let anyone clutter up your space with things you don’t want. And when it comes to gift giving, be sensitive to the desires of others, but always try to gift things that aren’t going to become someone else’s unwanted clutter.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter a kitchen utensil or two. I decluttered two utensil holders that had served me well in the past. I’d kept them in the back of a cupboard for a while “just in case” but am now satisfied that I have no further need for them.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Continue reading with these posts:

  • Using your smart phone as a declutter tool I am not one for promoting gadgets or any kind but I have discovered in the last year or so that a smart phone can come in quite handy when it comes to finding new homes for clutter. Here […]
  • Mini Mission Monday ~ By Peggy Mini Mission Monday is about finding ten minutes a day to declutter. To make it easy for you, each Monday I set seven declutter missions, one for each day of the week for you to follow. It […]
  • Outgrown items Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle This jigsaw is too easy for my grandson. He is a bit of a jigsaw prodigy. He was never very interested in it either, because it doesn’t have a dinosaur […]
About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Great post Colleen, lots of food for thought in there.
    Instead of giving presents I’ve started making donations in loved one’s names on their birthdays to charities that are dear to them. I dedicate Kiva loans to friends on special occasions. I also get a tree planted yearly to celebrate an important friendship anniversary. There’s plenty of ways to mark special moments. 🙂

    • Good for you Julie. I love all those ideas.

    • Julie,
      I love Kiva. I lend, gift and have received Kiva as gifts. Any gift made to a charity in someone’s honor, is by my account, the gift that keeps on giving 🙂 Since my Dad’s passing 23 years ago, on his birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day and the day of his passing, I honor him by gifting to his favorite charity with the acknowledgement being sent to my Mom. One of my daughter’s stocking stuffer traditions has always been a gift to one of her favorite charities as well.

    • have to comment on the charitable gift. I like that too. However after my mother passed and we listed some charities for donations (related to her illness, membership, local affiliations) we did receive a donation from a neighbor for an unrelated charity. thought that was a little out of touch, especially since the neighbor also attended the same church. It seemed like she selected a charity of her choice, not necessarily connected to my mother. Oh, thank you for letting me release of some of my pent up disappointment.
      Mantra for the moment: Let it GO!

  2. Hi Colleen,

    Happy Birthday to our decluttering mentor! You are special to people all over the world!!!


  3. Happy Birthday, Colleen! Nice post! Thank you for all your hard work for this blog … it’s appreciated!

    I so agree with your last paragraph and would like to mention something that I’ve experienced. In gift-giving, it is good to be able to “let go” of a gift once you have given it. Once a gift is given, it is the recipient’s to do with as he/she likes, and not what the giver wants the recipient to do with it.

  4. Hau’oli la Hanau, Colleen. That is Happy Birthday in Hawaiian 🙂 When I gift cash, I always gift in a red chinese envelope, the kind traditionally used during Chinese New Year. I know that is more of an Asian tradition, but I embraced it decades ago and it is always a conversation starter.

  5. Happy birthday, Colleen! Great post. I had said earlier in the gift card comments that I didn’t like to give cash. I have to take that back…..I usually give cash to my nephew for his birthday, now that I think about it. I just gave him cash last month. Duh. I also think it’s a fine gift for a wedding present. When I give gift cards, I make sure to pick a store everyone shops at (like Target or Walmart), or a store that I know the person loves. I don’t want a gift card to be another chore someone has to take care of.

    I agree on the “experience” gift. That’s what I prefer to get and give, when possible.

    Hope your birthday was a great one!

  6. Happy Birthday Colleen. Hope you had a joyful day.

    We(hubby and I) have finally stopped receiving too many material gifts from our parents and relatives. Not that they have understood our minimalist lifestyle, they think we are weird for not wanting stuff, but nevertheless they have come around to an extent. They like the idea of giving/receiving consumables but they just don’t understand the idea of gift of time/experience. For them gift giving/receiving HAS to be material. Money as gift is not very exciting for them either. They feel there is no ‘personal touch’ to a gift unless it is material.

    Last month I gave my 14 year old nephew money for his birthday and I could see the joy in his face. But somehow my parents felt I should have given him a material gift….sigh!!

    Oh, also Colleen, I wanted to tell you that I found your gem of a blog in Feb of last year and haven’t looked back since. I have given away a lot of stuff. My husband managed to sell most of his comic books and we have reduced our books pile to a manageable level. And I’am now keeping a careful watch about the stuff coming into the house.

    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your wonderful blog and all the ideas, suggestions and tips from your lovely commenters.

  7. Happy Birthday, Colleen! I hope you have fun celebrating! Thanks for a timely reminder about gifts. Due to illnesses, surgery, and time conflicts, we haven’t celebrated Christmas with my side of the family yet. We are going to visit them later this month. For my nieces, I will give each of them cash. They like to save up their money for activities and to pay for their new iPhones. My mom doesn’t need anything, so I will be giving her cash as well. She and a friend from church enjoy going out to eat after church on Sundays. She can use it for that or for some other treat she would like. Our siblings and their spouses all decided a long time ago that we would stop giving gifts to each other at Christmas. My kids love gift cards to their favorite stores (Target, Barnes & Noble, and Game Stop). My daughter prefers cash, because she loves art and is saving up for art supplies that are expensive.

    Today, I didn’t declutter any kitchen items, but my husband and I decluttered under our bathroom sinks, the drawer, countertop, and drawers in the closet that hold toiletries. I also decluttered an old sweater. I had a bag that has been sitting next to my back door for over a year to give to an acquaintance. I haven’t seen her in over a year. I threw out old/expired stuff and put the rest into a bag to share with people in my Sunday School class (lots of perfume samples, sample packets of skincare/cosmetics, and trial size containers of skincare/haircare/makeup).

    Happy Birthday and thanks for the wonderful post! And I haven’t bought any more magazines! 🙂

  8. Hi Colleen,

    Gifts can be so complicated! I have given up trying to convince my sister to stop buying us gifts, she just insists on doing it although I think she has scaled down a bit, so maybe there is hope. There has been a real sense of relief on all sides when we’ve decided with various friends or family to stop buying gifts for each other. Spending time with people that we rarely see or going on a special outing is so much more memorable and meaningful than a thing that gets stuffed in a drawer, forgotten until it becomes decluttering fodder. I also remember unexpectedly visiting a friend’s house and being taken aback to see a gift (handmade even) which I had given her some months previously still sitting in it’s bag (admittedly surrounded by piles of other random objects, I guess I hadn’t realized she was struggling with clutter in her home). I’m still not quite sure what to make of that, but these days I am very very selective about giving anything handmade to anyone unless I know they will appreciate it.

    Hope you’ve had a very happy birthday!

  9. We try not to exchange gifts with anyone. Why give a gift of money or gift card to someone who is just going to turn around and give the same type thing back? It’s different for children but even then I tend to give gift cards or cash. I have tried to make it a point to tell anyone who asks about gifts that I prefer Amazon or Visa gift cards. The former for e-books and the latter so I can go anywhere (like restaurants or gas pumps).

  10. Happy Birthday, Dear Friend! Gifts can definitely be a touchy subject. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I have just a card for hubby. We are enjoying some really nice weather so maybe we’ll just grill a couple of steaks. No fresh chives from the garden this time of year for a baked potato – drat! But a simple evening sounds terrific to us.

    Gift exchanging at Christmas time is always a headache for me. Somewhere along the line, I kind of lost the enjoyment of it. There seems to be so much pressure. I’d rather give gifts or money or whathaveyou throughout the year as I feel the spark to do so.

  11. Happy Birthday, Colleen! Love your blog, as always.

    I wanted to chime in on money as a gift– it seems that it’s “acceptable” when it’s not an exchange. As in, it’s a gift for a specific event in which a return gift is not expected (wedding, birthday, etc.). Otherwise, Christmas would just be a bunch of people sitting around pulling money from their wallets and then replacing it. The exception of course would be when no return gift is typically given (as in for children). That said, some adults may be affronted at the idea of recieving money from another adult on any occasion – the implication being that they *need* the money. It all boils down to what the gift reciever most wants–and it’s your job as a self-appointed gift giver to determine what those wants are (self-appointed because it’s your job as a gift-reciever to never expect anyone to give you a gift…that’s what makes it a gift!).

    With gifts the “etiquette” should always center on giving something that the reciever genuinely wants. If the cash is going to light up someone’s face more than a dinner together or a new lego set, and it’s within my means to give it, then it’s an okay gift in my book!

  12. Happy Birthday, Colleen! (Sorry to be late, but you are a day ahead of me :))

    Good points about gift giving, as usual.

  13. Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes. Gifts were kept to a minimum but wishes were bountiful. My kind of birthday.

  14. Well timed post, as it was just my 30th! I ensure my invite clarified my gift expectations, which were, none were expected (and that was true!) but if people needed to give me a gift, could they be second hand, consumable or an experience. And everyone complied save for one who didn’t notice (she gave me a bracelet!). Otherwise, I got someone’s surplus drill (the best example of someone knowing my needs, I regularly borrowed her new husband’s drill in times past), two RedBallon vouchers for experiences, chocolates, perfumes, pinata with candy in it, a video tribute, wine. I truly commend friends for listening to my desires, and helping meet my requests.

    Happy birthday to you! Are you also an aquarius? I always get on with fellow aquarius’es!!

  15. Happy belated birthday Colleen. Although I’ve not been posting much over the last wee while, I still love the blog. I’ve not been decluttering much recently either – we’ve kind of got to the maintanance/ plateau stage for now although I’m sure we’ll take another leap through stuff in due course. At the moment I am focusing on one in one out and trying to stay on top of things.

    In the meantime though, I need a good rant about gifts. My sister and family were meant to come to us for christmas but were unfortunately ill and didn’t make it. We had bought some small gifts for them so that there was something under the tree to open but mostly it was to be the ‘experience’ that counted. However – when I eventually caught up with my sister and passed on the small gifts we had got for her, her hubby and the 3 kids (ok, her wheelbarrow for her new allotment wasn’t so small but it is what she needed and her hubby got a tool he needed as well) – she gave me the small things she had got for me and my OH – my sister knows we don’t like stuff – both she and I grew up in a house crammed with stuff and we still dispair at the level of junk/ hoarding that goes on at our dad’s and she knows that my dad has been told by my OH and I to bring nothing that can’t either be eaten, drunk or planted in the garden to our house when he comes to visit. My sis and I are both fairly well on top of making sure stuff keeps moving out of the house and regularly ‘moan’ about our respective partners wanting to keep too much while they get together and moan about how if something stays still too long in each house it gets chucked out, lol.
    Anyway to get back to my rant – I received a bottle of gin- lovely (hic) and I brought home a largish, heavy ish box for my OH. He opened it when he got back from work – it was a table top football game???? What are we going to do with that and why did they waste money on it? OH doesn’t even like football. I don’t know if the kids chose it so they can play with it when they come to visit or what (they’ve already got more than enough toys here IMHO – I keep them a basket of toys, books and crafts). AARRGGHHH. From anyone else it would have been a case of ‘go directly to the charity shop, do not pass go, do not collect £200’ – from them, I dunno. I guess I feel compelled to keep it till at least after their next visit (bah humbug, grumble grumble, I’m such an ungrateful person etc etc)…Hey ho. 🙂

  16. Oh, I’m late. In my defence I was out celebrating my birthday too! Happy birthday!

    I appear to have got a lid on the present situation. Mum likes to give gifts, so she gave me some costume bits I specifically asked for (and now do not have to pay for), a Kobo gift card (the only way I put money on the device, so very welcome), some chocolates (my favourites) and a large pile of smoked salmon (unexpected but VERY welcome, we cannot often afford it). The only other thing I got was money from a grandparent – which I promptly turned into another Kobo card. I don’t think I’m going to try explaining e-readers to her until I’m there in person, I may just write to thank her for the lovely books and leave it at that…!