Where I am with gifts and gifting

Since we are on the subject of obligation clutter this week I thought I would do a quick post on gift giving, receiving and decluttering.  Not everyone will agree with what I have to say here but that is OK we are all entitled to set our own boundaries when it comes to this tradition.  What I prefer ~ which is what this post is about ~ is to avoid the likelihood of unwanted  and obligatory items entering my home not to mention the unnecessary addition to the supply and demand of products I don’t need that have a detrimental effect on the environment.

I have written plenty of post on this subject in the past but it bares mentioning over and over again because the more we here something that more we can come to accept it as a reality we can live with. I can assure you I have lost no friends or been alienated from any family member for my attitude towards gift giving, receiving and decluttering. I hope you will consider that proof that it is possible to set your boundaries without paying a price. So don’t feel obliged to give things you would rather not, live by other peoples rules on accepting things you don’t want or keep things you didn’t wish to receive in the first place or have long since tired of.

Gift Giving

“Any time you give with the intent of getting in return, then it’s not really a gift , it’s a trade.” ~ Jane Velez-Mitchell

I believe a gift is meant to bring pleasure to the person you are giving it to. Yes we feel excited and expectant when giving that the person receiving will love what we have to offer but this isn’t always going to be the case. No matter how much thought is put into a gift or how great you think the item is yourself isn’t a guarantee of reciprocal pleasure. As the quote from Jane Velez-Mitchell states above, giving a gift isn’t about the adulation you will receive in return from the eternally grateful receiver so don’t expect it. We should also not expect that the item will be kept if it is not to the receivers taste or necessity.

It is very rare that I will give a material gift these days unless it is something that the person has mentioned that they really want. I give gifts of company, experience or something consumable. In the case of my family, who all live far away, they were easily convince that mailing things back and forth was pointless and were happy with the no gifts at all idea. I do always send a card ~ usually home made ~ and phone them for a chat. As for my friends, I usually take them out for a combination of two of the following, lunch, dinner, a movie, some sort of local excursion. There is no potential clutter involved and we get to spend some quality time together. My two Uncluttered Gift Idea guides give some great suggestions as to what you can give as gifts that cause no clutter.

Gift Receiving

I have informed just about everyone I know that I don’t wish to receive material gifts. I am happy if my friends or family want to buy me gifts but would prefer they limit them to gifts of company, experience or something consumable. By company I mean spending time with me or calling me on my birthday. By experience I mean, for example, paying for a massage, a manicure or a movie. And by consumable I mean things like flowers, a box of chocolates or a meal out together… Whenever someone does give me a material gift, which isn’t often because most have conformed to my wishes, I don’t refuse it I accept politely but usually declutter it soon after and then sometime prior to the next celebratory occasion I remind them again that I prefer not to receive gifts.

Gift Decluttering

Clearly, from what I have written above, I feel that no gift should be given with strings attached. Therefore I have no issue with decluttering gifts that I have no use for. Especially in light of the fact that everyone I know is aware that I do not wish to receive them. I really only have one friend that still insists on giving me material gifts and she now always says to me “Please return it if it isn’t what you want. I have left the receipt in the bag.” I accept graciously and then if I do decide to return the item I don’t bother to tell her and she is polite enough not to ask. She is happy to have been able to give me something and I don’t feel obliged to keep it.

* I may not be able to respond to comments on this post as I will be out of action for at least four days due to having an operation. I have left the comment section open so you can enjoy chatting about it to your fellow 365ers. I hope to be back participating early next week.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter an unwanted gift ~ No explanation necessary, sell, donate or regift it.

Today’s Declutter Item

This item was not an unwanted gift at the time it was given, in fact it was requested but years later with our change of attitude to possessions it is now unwanted. It was a gift from me to my husband and I have no issue with him wanting to let it go in fact it couldn’t happen soon enough because I am the one who had to dust it. I have a habit of accidentally break his stuff so this is one potential victim that managed to escape before the inevitable happened. It was sold on ebay.

Cast Iron Aircraft Model

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

“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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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. Great post. Before I comment, I wanted to wish you the best with your surgery and recovery. When I give a gift, I try to always tell the receiver that they are welcome to pass it on if they don’t like it. But, like you, I try to give consumable gifts like restaurant gift cards to their favorite place to eat, or give experience like going out to lunch and spending time with them. I also don’t hesitate to give cash to family members because it if fun to buy something yourself that you want or have a little extra money that you don’t have to account for in the budget. We went to Disneyland instead of Christmas gifts one year and the family loved it. I loved not having the worry about making the magic or shopping. I also loved being together and just having fun. This is a touchy subject for many, but you addressed it very well.

    • Thank you for the well wishes Spendwisemom. Our ideas on gift giving and receiving are quite similar. I love that you took your family to Disneyland instead of giving gifts and that the children were happy to forgo the gifts, good for them. Avoiding gift shopping what a wonderful gift to give yourself.

  2. Best luck with your surgery Colleen! Hope all goes well & you are/will be a-ok!

  3. Get well soon, Colleen.

    I have a problem with receiving gifts as I have very little space in my home, and very simple tastes, so can’t really think of something I want, even when prompted. A pal who wanted to give me a housewarming gift asked what I would like and I told her I didn’t want/ need anything but as she insisted, said something either very small or consumable. She bought me the following; a calender of wonderful photos of the natural world, which gave pleasure for the year and was then recycled, a bottle of bath foam which was enjoyed and the container recycled, and a packet of chocolate-covered nuts (which lasted the least time of all). I was very impressed with her thoughtfulness. 😛

    My Nan is nearly 90 and has a bungalow with all the usual nooks and crannies covered with knick-knacks and family photos. At her request, I give her a hamper of storecupboard foods plus a few treats at Christmas and birthday. When she and Grandad reached their Golden Wedding they got the usual cluttery stuff like souvenir plates but there were some inspired gifts; 50 golden daffodil bulbs for the garden, 5 golden roses bushes, ditto.

    It is possible to tame the monster pile of unwanted gifts, with a good heart, patience, determination and a following wind.

    • What wonderful ideas for anniversary gifts! Those guests had on their thinking caps for sure.

  4. My prayers for your quick and uneventful recovery, Colleen.

  5. Good wishes for your surgery and recovery, Colleen. I’ll be thinking of you.

    Another thoughtful, in-depth post. You seem to know the right things to say to folks so they get the message without hurt feelings. Not all of us have that talent! But your posts have definitely helped me to learn and get better at this.

  6. Good luck with your surgery! I hope everything will go well!

  7. Praying your surgery goes well Colleen. Will miss you for the next few days but you need to take it easy and let your body and mind heal after surgery.

    This is another great post. Mom is having a hard time with this. She really likes to give gifts especially at Christmas. I do to but I have realized like you that many times it’s either items people don’t want or don’t need (like sweets). Unfortunately, we don’t have the money to take people to lunch or things like that. It is much cheaper to bake something and give it. I think I have been able to help her with this but we will see when Christmas rolls around.

    On place where I have an issue with gifts is for baby or wedding showers. Many honorees are smart and put themselves on a registry for these occasions and that helps a great deal. I have more and more occasions where the honoree will indicate they have everything they need and ask for money towards a honeymoon or towards a big item for a nursery and that is good too. I have two baby showers coming up where the honoree feels she has enough of most things so the showers have become diaper showers. I hate to say that while that’s what they need, it’s not much fun for the giver. So I have decided to give them a gift card to Wal-Mart where they can get anything they want. I don’t know about them but I wouldn’t want 50 packages of diapers to have to store.

    • Agreed Deb J – a registry is helpful. But then I wonder why we can’t gather at a shower without gifts? I know there are people who solely have them for gifts, but if that wasn’t your bent, then you could just have the company? (giving diapers would be a bit dull, but at least you know they’ll be used – and I wonder if the honoree ends up with too many in certain sizes or not?)

      I avoid the expectation of gifts with some events, by making it ‘bring something to bake’ – that way we all share the spoils, they feel they are ‘bringing something’ and there’s little to no clutter!

      • Snosie, I like your “bring something to bake” idea. I know of a couple of people who got too many diapers of one size and had to trade them out. I also know of someone who got several packs of newborn diapers at a regular shower along with many other things and her baby was born at 10 pounds and 11 ounces. So she had to take the newborn diapers back and trade them. You just never know. That’s why I’m becoming more and more of a gift card person.

  8. May you have a speedy recovery after surgery, Colleen!

    We’re well past the weddings and baby showers point, so our biggest challenge is Christmas, and I’m delighted to say that we’re getting further from gift giving with every year that passes.

    This past Christmas was the first time that we all got together for a meal, and did NO gifts at all. It was wonderful.

    My husband and I don’t usually exchange gifts either. When it comes to birthdays or anniversaries for our children and grandchildren, we always give a gift of cash or a gift card that we KNOW they can use. Even gift cards are becoming a bit of a hassle these days, if people don’t use them quick enough, so cash in a card is usually the best.

    For our grandchildren at Christmas, we wrap a money gift with a small box of chocolates, or some other candy they enjoy, simply for the added touch of fun.

    This might be being a little hard-core, but when it comes to my own special occasions, I ask my husband not to bother buying me a card. Why spend up to five dollars on a card I’m only going to throw away (or make a collage with!)?

    He still likes to receive gifts and cards, so on his birthday or Father’s Day, I do get him a card and a gift.

    He doesn’t really understand how I can possibly “not care” about getting cards or gifts, but I really don’t. I know a lot of you here will understand that. 🙂

    • Becky,
      I totally understand where you are coming from (“not care”). I really don’t care, either. If my kids make a hand made card then I love it. Otherwise, it is just a waste of time and energy and money (purchase a card and sign it; and I don’t even do the collage thing, so it goes into the recycle pile). Our family, spread out all over the world, stopped gift giving ages ago. We each (family group or individual) make a donation, of our choice in amount, to our choice of a charity (and do this on-line). 🙂

  9. All the best for your surgery Colleen and take as much time off as you need- we will all survive ! but we will all look forward to your return too!
    Gifts – tricky one – still thinking about it but you did write sensitively about it – I agree with Jo H – you write well. I think Christmas will be easy to change as we often change the way we do things anyway .For the last few years we have limited the spend amount to $20.00 and each person only buys one gift which goes into a lucky dip type arrangement .Before that we had a system whereby all names went into a hat and each person only bought a gift for whoever they pulled out of the hat (the name came with suggestions and ideas that the person themselves had requested.)That probably worked better than the current system in that at least everyone received something they wanted.Birthdays ,and friends – still in the too hard basket for me but definitely thinking about it-will save the post and read it again.I think what I would like to say is “dont give me anything but if you really want to do something how about a donation to Animal Welfare league ” – just a thought but I love the idea! And at Christmas – World Vision or equivalent would love our donations and people could have the fun of choosing a particular project – plenty of scope for useful creativity!

  10. Thanks you to all those well wishes my precious 365ers. I will be off to the hospital in 15 minutes and I am actually looking forward to it. The sooner I get this over and done with the better. I am expecting a speedy recovery so no slacking while I’m gone. 😉

  11. All the best Colleen!

    I got three candles as a housewarming gift in Feb. On Sunday I was going to a housewarming (with a very ‘thing’ person – ie I may have felt awkward without a gift), so I nicely wrapped one of my gifted candles that happened to be in her favourite colour – done! (And there was a slew of other gifts, as predicted)

  12. All the best Colleen!

    Personally I prefer gift cards or an experience, and so that is what I give as gifts.

    A family I know, do something a bit different for the Xmas. It is a reverse Santa. Everyone draws a name from the hat. Say for example that grand-son pulls grandma’s name out of the hat. Grandma later presents grandson with a gift wrapped package, addressed to her. She has bought her own gift but the anticipation/surprise happens on the grandson’s side of the equation. Grandma gets what she wants, grandson is trying to figure what he’s given her.

    Apparently it was the grandma who instigated the idea because she was sick of getting “old lady” gifts.

    • This is brilliant! And the person buying the gift can choose to spend a lot or a little, with no impact on the “giver”‘s wallet. I love this idea. And, I got a chuckle over grandma 🙂 Thanks for this, Moni.

      • The best part of it was that grandma – this is honest to goodness truth – wanted a boogie board! Her grandson was gobsmacked!

      • What a fun thing to do!!! I love it! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and how cute this Grandma must be! Smart smart woman!!!!

  13. A belated best wishes for your surgery and recovery Colleen. I’m sure your husband will look after you well afterwards 🙂

    I’m a big fan of giving consumables too. We recently visited friends in Melbourne and I wanted to take them something as a token of their hospitality so took them some fresh eggs, from our local egg lady. I know they both love to bake, and good eggs are a Big Deal in the city!!

  14. Tuesday was my birthday and I received not one ‘Thing’ but many wonderful gifts. My spouse wrote me a sweet note, friends sent emails and I spent the day volunteering at the wildlife rehabilitation centre. I got to catch an owl, pet a baby beaver, visit the orphaned fawns, help feed a hawk with a broken wing, and play with a porcupine. There’s not a Thing on this planet that can top a great day!

    Colleen, I hope you’ll be back to having great days again soon. W

    • Hi Wendy B – that is an awesome way to spend the day! Are the animals wary of humans?

      • Sorry about the delay. Been off in the woods with the critters. The answer is YES, the wild animals are very wary of humans and have to be handled with care, for their safety and ours. As many as possible are released to the wild when their injuries heal, or the orphans can be adopted out to members of their own species. Some, however, are ‘forever animals’ and they are a little bit more tame. The porcupine has been at the centre since birth so he’s a bit of a pet – just one with spines!! Very rewarding work.

    • Happy Belated Birthday Wendy! What an awesome day you had! Thanks for sharing it with us! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  15. Hi everyone again – I have just been reminded of my memorable gift ever. From my son who forgot to get my gift, obviously nothing open except the petrol station……so I got a gift wrapped TV Guide!

  16. Go well. Be well, Colleen. Saying my prayers and sending you my Aloha across the Pacific. One day at a time. “You” come first!

  17. Colleen, I hope the surgery goes/went well and wish you all the best for your recovery!

    I will freely admit that I love gifts – both giving and receiving. I do prefer flowers and food, though. I try to make that clear especially to friends, neighbours and aquaintances who are invited to some kind of party and therefore might feel weird with empty hands, and it works just fine. I occassionally receive an unnecessary gift (it seems to be hard to give tea without giving a mug as well), but it’s become a rare thing – maybe about two or three a year which I easily declutter.
    My grannies also have a habit of giving me socks or underwear/pajamas for christmas and actually I really like that. I get handknit socks and nuts from one granny and a pair of (quality, I’d never spend that much myself, I guess) underwear or pajamas and a box of chocolate from the other. It’s not in huge amounts, so it just restocks those that have worn out during the year. As I know that I’ll get some, I don’t buy them myself.
    We have a lot of these “habitual” christmas presents in the family: My Mum always gives calendars for the following year to both her mother and her children.
    Though the lack of “surprise” may seem boring, I like it a lot this way, it’s comfy and “traditional” and there’s still the surprise in which colour the new socks will be or what pictures the new calendar will show.

    • You reminded me of my grandad: his sister always gave him a box of Turkish Delight for Christmas, which he savoured slowly over a period of several months. It was the shape of the package that gave it away – the box was octagonal!
      My grandparents have been a wonderful role model in gratitude and thrift. My 96 yr old Granny still cooks as if a war was on and has led a thrifty and careful life full of gratitude and appreciation that is a fantastic example in this world of greed and over-consumption.
      One of my favourite memories is of my grandparents sharing an orange as a treat in the evenings sometimes when I was staying over – another leftover habit from WWII. Beautifully frugal.

      • What a lovely story MelD. If one lives through times like this they learn to appreciate the little things in life. Your story actually reminded me of my father and they way he methodically nibbles through a chocolate bar we have here in Australia called a Cherry Ripe. He can make those things last for ages.

  18. Colleen,
    My prayers and well wishes are with you and your family! Take as much time as you need, us 365ers are a chatty bunch and we enjoy each others company, but will miss you! Come back when you ARE READY and not one minute more! 🙂 PROMISE!!!???!!!

  19. Hi Colleen,

    I’ve just found your blog, and my thoughts are with you during your surgery and recovery. Gift giving and receiving can certainly be a touchy subject. Thanks to you and the commenters for their ideas.

    One thing I’ve done in the past in donate money to an organization in the gift receivee’s name. There are also websites that let you purchase supplies to aid humanitarian efforts or relief work in foreign communities; for example, donate money to give drinking water to a community in need in the giftee’s name. No clutter, and it can do some good!

    • Hi Jamie and welcome to 365 Less Things. Thank you for your good wishes, I am home now which is much better than being cooped up in hospital with visiting hours, endless boredom and uncomfortable beds. The nurses and the food was good though but it isn’t the same as being at home.

      I have written many times on the subject of gift giving including donating as gifts and this idea is also covered in my Uncluttered Gift Guide. I love the foreign aid ones where you can specifically choose what to give such as farm animals, mosquito nets etc. We have a Oxfam store in our local shopping centre where I often buy cards that have a donation element for just this purpose. It is so easy.

  20. Colleen – all the best for your surgery and on a speedy recovery.

    just a little vent re: gift giving – l bought a small top (size 1) for my niece and a card – posted it – light as a feather yet the padded bag and postage cost MORE than the gift ! cheers aussie post!

    PS: did anyone see the doco on abc2 tonight – cherry’s cash dilemma – really interesting
    – followed rich, no so rich, freegans, those choosing not to go on benefits etc…what money means to different people.

  21. Julia St. Charles

    Great post. I think a small minority of people simply do not understand not wanting THINGS, and, like your friend who includes the receipt, they still think that if you didn’t want something that it was the WRONG thing, rather than that it was “wrong” BECAUSE it was a thing.

    We have the same rules with our families; for those who insist on giving us a tangible gift we do keep a short list of books and movies we’d like to have. Movies are removed from the plastic case and stored in a zippered binder. Amazing how many movies can be held in the space that would otherwise be occupied by a dozen or so plastic cases.

    I have one relative who still insists on giving household “decor” items — “oh, you just HAVE to have nice things to decorate your home!” Fortunately, I have her convinced that I like nice candles rather than knick-knacks. Candles are consumable.

  22. An appropriate time to reread this before Christmas 2013… “consumables all the way” we say to our adult children, after they say” but we have to give you something!” A box of maraschino chocolates for my hubby and a bottle of Dubonet for me.