Well before the over-commercialization of holidays and society, gift-giving was practiced. It is a tradition as old as time itself.
Gifts can be given for the purpose of expressing love, showing appreciation, gaining favor, smoothing over a disagreement, or even manipulating for personal gain. Because of these varied motivations, our approach to decluttering gifts and handling holiday clutter can get complicated—especially if the motivations behind gift-giving are selfish in nature.
Before considering how to declutter gifts, it is important to articulate these motivations so we can recognize them and proceed appropriately.
Personally, I respect gift-giving as a love language and do not want to rob my family members of that joy. If this is their motivation, we prefer quality over quantity, needs over wants, experiences over products, and provide gift wish-lists whenever possible. For the kids, we reevaluate toy boxes and closet space a few months after the holidays to determine if there are items (new or old) to remove. The philosophy is simple, straight-forward, and easy to manage.
But, if the motivation behind gift-giving is manipulative in nature, I have other opinions. Gifts given with an hidden agenda are less appreciated. These can be difficult to recognize at first, but over time, givers with these manipulative habits will identify themselves. It is important to address your concern with this type of gift-giver—and this does not have to be done in a confrontational manner, it can still be accomplished with respect and tact.
Of course, the most difficult gift-giver to address is the one who should be motivated by love, but is motivated by selfish gain instead. It is important to be aware and assertive in these circumstances. Find a private moment to ask the giver if they are expecting anything in return for the gift. Allowing them to audibly declare “no” will be a helpful step for you and them. If the problem persists, it is within your right to not accept a gift. If this is the only way for the giver to recognize the severity of their problem, you may actually be giving them a gift by saying no.
For the sake of this conversation, let’s seek to address the genuine gift-giving process. Holidays, birthdays, and special circumstances seem to stack on top of one another. And given our culture’s propensity to commercialize any and every festival and celebration, the receiving of gifts and the subsequent clutter is most certainly on your mind.
How can we create space to both humbly accept gifts and remain clutterfree? What specific steps can we take to successfully overcome holiday gift clutter?
1. Begin with fewer possessions. We have celebrated numerous gift-giving holidays and special occasions since deciding to become minimalist. Each time, I am reminded one benefit of minimalism is that there is “room to add.” Because we have kept our personal belongings and kids’ toys down to a minimum through regular sorting and purging, there is room in our home for new things to enter. Although adding new things may seem counter-productive to the pursuit of minimalism, it is in fact, one good reason to consider it.
2. Make your gift requests known early. Though it does not always work out this way, gift-givers should desire to match their gifts with the receiver’s wishes. Creating gift lists and providing them to family members well in advance of holidays and celebrations can be a very helpful tool in limiting the clutter collection. Work hard to provide a wide-range of gift ideas varying in prices. Again, follow this formula: request quality over quantity, needs over wants, and experiences over products.
3. Make a memorable statement. Issue this Holiday Gift Exemption Certificate.
4. Be patient with your family. If living with less is a new pursuit for you, do not expect everyone else in your family to understand the first time around (especially if you are known for going through various phases in the past). Eventually, years down the road, they will begin to understand this is a lifestyle you are seeking to embrace for the long term and their gift-giving habits will likely evolve.
5. Humbly accept they may indeed have a good idea. Pride is always costly. It prevents us from seeing important life changes and other people’s points of view (among other things). This is important to remember when accepting gifts—especially from thoughtful gift-givers. When accepting gifts, embrace the idea that they may indeed know something that will add value to your life and benefit you in the long run. Be open to receiving their gifts and input. It would be foolish and proud for us to assume we know all the good things that could be added to our lives.
6. Purge guilt-free. It may take some time for you and your family to sort out which holiday gifts add value to your home and which only add clutter. With kids, it can often take months to determine which toys are a passing fad and which will become truly loved. Give it some time. But as the value of the gifts begin to reveal themselves, purge guilt-free. The gifts were given to you or your children (ideally with no strings attached). And, if they will find more use given to someone else, then please don’t hesitate to give them away. Rare is the gift-giver who wants their gift to be a burden on you or your home.
7. Reciprocate your request. You hope, desire, and expect other people to give gifts that align with your desires. Return the sentiment when you give gifts to others. Just because you make a desperate plea for experiences over products does not mean your brother, sister, father, or mother is requesting the same. If they would like new shoes, consider buying them new shoes. If they make it clear they desire a department store gift card for their birthday, at the very least, consider giving them a department store gift card. Giving gifts is an opportunity to show your love and appreciation. You can make your case for anti-consumerism at a different time.
Winston Churchill once wrote, “We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.” There are countless benefits to living with less. One of the greatest benefits is the newfound freedom to pursue generosity with our money, our time, and talents.
May we, as those who seek to live intentional lives, break free from the selfish tendencies of consumerism. And instead, choose to err on the side of generosity. May it be expressed in our gift-giving—and may we be generous in our gift-receiving as well.