Although I often don’t have the money to do much of it, I’m someone who loves gift giving. I like taking the time to select something that I hope the other person will enjoy. I also like to receive gifts! Both I believe to be pretty common traits among people. I feel the need to preface this post with this message: I am very thankful for all the gifts I’ve received in the past. I understand that they represent love and generosity and the implied strings are either imagined by me or something you didn’t do maliciously. I also appreciate everything that’s been given to my children, at times gifts have been some of the most helpful things in our times of need. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The trouble with gifts is they’re not just a gift. You’re also giving someone:
There is a perceived “gift debt” or obligation of reciprocity when someone gives you something. Many times I’ve received something and felt awful because I didn’t know we were exchanging gifts. How many times have you lied and said “oh sorry I forgot yours at home” before running to the store? Even if you don’t expect anything in return it’s hard not to feel this obligation.
What the gift giver can do: Stop giving “because I think I should” gifts to unsuspecting coworkers or neighbours. If you do really want to give someone a gift, try and let them know you just like giving and don’t expect anything in return. Mean it.
What the receiver can do: Tell the giver that you didn’t know they were exchanging gifts this year and don’t have anything for them. Thank them. Move on. If not reciprocating a gift damages your relationship with a person it wasn’t a strong relationship to begin with.
When you give someone a physical object all you see is the opening and the smile. You don’t see them trying to find a place for it in their home, you don’t see them moving it around to clean, you don’t see them picking it up 200 times (in the case of things for my kids,) and if they don’t like it then you don’t see it taking up space that would be better suited to something else.
What the giver can do: Choose gifts that don’t take up space in a person’s home. Opt for food, tickets, gift cards, activities, and so on. For kids, try disposable items to check out my clutter free gift ideas.
What the receiver can do: There isn’t a lot you can do in this situation but accept the gift and explain that you don’t have much space or will have to try and find room. If you’re not able to keep it, donating to a charity might help soften the blow of that awkward conversation later.
Even if a gift is not sentimental to the receiver they will likely still feel an obligation to hang on to the object because “so-and-so got it for my on their trip” or “family member paid a lot of money for it”. This is especially difficult when a person or family needs either the free space, extra money, is moving, and so on. I have been told, on more than one occasion, “I hope you didn’t get rid of that thing I got you” or “don’t sell that thing I got!”
What the giver can do: Don’t make your gifts come with strings. You may have an emotional attachment to the gift but that doesn’t mean the person who received it will. If you paid a lot of money for something and they don’t want it it can seem like an insult but that’s something you need to work on. It’s not realistic to expect someone to keep a belonging just because it matters to you.
What the receiver can do: If you know the person has expectations of you to care for the gift, offer it back. Explain to them that you will not be accepting gifts that have strings attached. If they refuse to accept it back, be clear about your intentions. It may cause issues at first but it’s better than hurt and resentment later.
This is especially true in the case of giving gifts to children. Even if there obviously aren’t any other string attached and you just wanted to bring the child a small gift it can be extremely stressful for the family. Children are tiny hoarders and want to keep everything. Most families already have a lot of toys and select carefully what they’re children are allowed to play with for a variety of personal reasons. When it comes time to get rid of the gift the child may be far more upset than they were happy.
What the giver can do: Bring the child a non-stuff gift or ask the parent what would be something the child would both like and need. It’s a good idea to check with the parents before bringing anything, especially food. Some stuff myself and my kids would appreciate more than a small toy include: bubbles, bubble bath, chalk (in summer), small quantities of craft supplies or craft kits, or even small amounts of money (my kids are thrilled with $1!)
What the receiver can do: Unfortunately if they give the gift right to the child there’s no much you can do but explain to the child later that you can keep it for x amount of days or wait until they’re no longer interested, get rid of it, and hope their strange savant memory for missing toys doesn’t kick in.
Chances are if someone is receiving a gift that falls into the above criteria they’re going to be someone disappointed by your choices. If the gift was something that doesn’t appeal to them at all (my mom bought me a purse for Christmas, no joke, then tried to argue with me that I carried one when I was 16) it can be really hurtful that they don’t know you. If it’s something that doesn’t fit into their home or values it can be upsetting that you haven’t learned or don’t respect their life choices.
What the giver can do: Really consider who you’re giving the gift to. If you don’t know, ask them what they’d like or what they can use. Ask around. Look at their wishlists or their Pinterest. Write down ideas throughout the year when they say they want something. Don’t give something just because you like it or want them to be a certain way.
What the receiver can do: Don’t expect everyone to understand or respect you. Sometimes it’s hard for people to comprehend if your views or personality is a lot different to them or if you’ve changed over the years. Forgive and do not expect perfection. You don’t have to pretend to like something but show your appreciation for the fact that they tried.
Quick tips that any gift giver can use:
- Look for wishlists and ask for ideas
- Go for practical, disposable, or activity
- Don’t buy gifts too far in advance as interests and lifestyles change
- Include a gift receipt whenever possible
- When giving to kids, check with the parents first
- Never expect anything in return
- Don’t attach obligation or expectations to the gift
- Listen to what people say and don’t impose your beliefs on others via gifts
- Don’t feel you have to give something to anyone
- Learn if your love language is gift giving and understand it’s not the same for everyone
In no way am I saying people shouldn’t give gifts, even physical ones. I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of very useful and valuable items in my home from others. I also was shocked when I started cleaning out everything to move how much of the clutter was gifts, the guilt I felt as I disposed of them, and the added pressure of family watching me sell the gifts. Going forward, I’m going to be more stickler about what comes through my doors – gifts included.
This article was based entirely on my personal experiences (all of which I’ve dealt with personally.) What experiences do YOU have giving or receiving gifts?