How to Receive Gifts as a Minimalist

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The holidays, simultaneously the most wonderful time of the year and also an annoyance to the minimalist crowd who doesn’t love all the consumerism or want a bunch of new stuff.

Especially if you’re early on in your minimalism journey it can feel stressful to know that people are going to want to buy you gifts. Particularly if your loved ones aren’t per se talented at gift giving and already tended to buy you lots of things you didn’t want before you became a minimalist.

Today I want to share with you my personal opinion on the best way to handle gift receiving as a minimalist during the holidays.

First and foremost you’ve got to have an open and honest conversation with the people who want to buy you gifts and tell them what it is that you would like from them. Maybe you want no gifts at all or just no physical gifts. Or perhaps you just only want gifts from a pre written list of items.

Make sure you can explain why it is you’re asking your loved ones to change their gift giving habits. If you aren’t able to communicate that this request is about your own personal desire to change your lifestyle and not about other people your requests may raise insecurities. Loved ones may jump to conclusions and think you’re ungrateful for past gifts, think you’re having this conversation with them because they’ve given bad gifts in the past, feel that you are judging their consumerist or cluttered habits, or they might be worried that you’re joining some type of minimalist cult.

Especially if people in your life have gift giving as a love language, they may also just be disappointed that they are missing out on the joy of giving and also have concerns about how else they can express their affection for you. Even if it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to you, there are a ton of reasons people might react poorly. So having a well thought explanation ahead of time can help curb miscommunications and combat people leaping to conclusions.

In the case that many people in your life have gift giving as a love language I think it’s best to not tell these folks that they can’t get you anything at all, even if you’d prefer that. Especially when it comes to family, I think everything is about compromise and it isn’t in the true spirit of minimalism to take that joy of gift giving away from others if it’s important to them.

That being said, sometimes people are just plain stubborn about changing their ways and their insistence on buying you a gift doesn’t have as wholesome an explanation as love languages behind it. I know some families can be petty and insistence on giving you a gift against your wishes is more about a passive aggressive power trip or disrespecting you. And if that’s the case than it ain’t really about the gifts and y’all got problems beyond the scope of this blog post.

But in general, what do you do if you end up with gifts you don’t want? Minimalist or not this a pretty common and hard to avoid occurrence. Maybe people just didn’t listen to your wishes, or you forgot to tell someone, or you just ended up with some random gag gift from an office party or yankee swap.

Option one, you can give the gift back or refuse it. However, I’d be pretty cautious with this method and make sure that you really know your audience. Personally, I only do this with people I’m very close to who respect my life choices and I know would rather get their money back if I’m not going to use the thing they got me. Additionally, I’d make sure you’re aware of potential cultural differences, for example, I was a summer camp counselor for Taiwanese students this year. Gift giving is a really important part of their culture and the kids had pre-packed souvenirs from Taiwan to give to the counselors at the end of their trip. I didn’t really want most of the things, but I knew refusing the gifts would have been insulting and upsetting to the kids and that just wasn’t worth it to me.

I accepted all the gifts, and with the rest I employed option number two which is re-gifting or giving away. Once again, be careful with this strategy, you generally don’t want people to know you’re regifting what they got you. I handle this by just making sure I don’t regift into the same social group I received from, so if you don’t have many separate social groups this may not work for you. Additionally, don’t just regift things instead of actually buying people unique gifts.

Much more often than I regift I give away, I just text my friends saying “Hey, I have x, y, and z things I don’t want do you want any of this?” Personally, I don’t find it immoral to regift or give away gifts. No one benefits from you holding onto something you don’t want, and personally I feel I am honoring and appreciating a gift more if I am able to find joy in giving it to someone else rather than being annoyed everytime I see it in my closet.

Options three, four, and five are to return the gift, sell the gift, or donate the item to charity.

Personally, my preference is for people to purchase gifts from a list I’ve written or just have a conversation with me to make sure they’re getting me something I’ll like. If I still get something I don’t want I usually just regift it or give it away. Even though I’m a minimalist I do still enjoy both giving and receiving gifts.

In general, try not to stress out too much about receiving gifts on the holiday. There are many ways for you to get rid of something if you don’t want it and prevent it from becoming clutter in your life. Plus, at the end of the day it’s a pretty privileged worry to have, it means a significant number of people in your life want and are able to buy you things! Which is actually a pretty comforting thought.

How do you handle gifts as a minimalist? Have your minimalist wishes ever caused conflict among your loved ones? Let me know in the comments below.

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