Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Decluttering tip #7: Stop keeping gifts you don't like just becausethey were gifts

Everyone has gotten gifts they didn't like. Many of us have felt like we have to keep the gift simply because it was a gift, or because we're afraid we'll be "in trouble" if the gift-giver suddenly shows up at our home and inquires about the gift. Before you let yourself be fooled into this line of thinking like I have, ask yourself these questions:

Is the gift-giver likely to show up at your home? (and by this I mean, are they likely to show up frequently and in the near future, not 5 years from now?)

Are they likely to ask about the gift if they stop by? 

In many cases, the realistic answer is "probably not." Don't get caught up on the "probably." Get rid of the gift!

For many of us it's not that easy. We are concerned that Aunt Norma will show up and ask about that ugly, fragile cake plate she gifted you at your wedding or the florescent orange onesie she gave you for your newborn son.

A friend of mine had a great solution to this problem: take a picture of you using the object. Put junior in the hideous onesie, snap a photo and mail it off to Aunt Norma. Then give the onesie to goodwill. Aunt Norma feels loved and you don't have something in your house you hate. And in case she goes asking, you can always say that the object met an unfortunate fate at some point in time.

There are other gifts though that just sit around simply because they were gifts. I got this very pretty perfume bottle from my ex-aunt almost 20 years ago. I've never used it once. But I held on to it because it was a gift and because it was pretty.

How do you know if you should keep a gift? Ask yourself, Do you use it? Do you love it? Would you have bought it for yourself if you had the money to? Is it sturdy enough to be kept easily without special care? If the answers are a resounding no, no, and no, then be rid of it and your guilt.
Today's decluttered object is #38, a fancy perfume bottle. 

~The Reckoning~

Original Cost: Free, a gift.

What convinced me to get rid of it: I only liked it because it was purple (so no, I didn't love it), I would never have bought it for myself, I don't use it, and it's so fragile I'm perpetually afraid of breaking it.

Fate: Left it in the "free for the taking" area in the basement of our apartment building.

Total $ wasted on junk so far this year: $203.


  1. Good choice on getting rid of the purfume bottle. I'm into form and function and it just didn't meet enough function criteria to keep...

    I helped a hoarder this year pack and move her place. I was so excited to help her shed her junk but discovered that there was much more emotion in it for her than I had originally thought. I just gave up and helped her pack loads of junk/crap into her boxes.

    So, I worry about my own stuff and downsizing and that's all I can do. Good luck...looking forward to see what you shed this coming year!

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for the comment! It's inspiring to hear that you've been able to thoroughly settle into being concerned with your stuff and only your stuff. It must've been hard to get there. I know I'll get there too, someday! Please do let me know if you have any other suggestions. I need all the help I can get!

  3. You have a great website! Good tips on how to deal with hoarders in the family and how to declutter one's own premises. I have never been a true hoarder, but like any American consumer, I have given in to the temptation to buy things I didn't need and often simply never used. I have lived in the same one-bedroom apartment for over 30 years; naturally, I never had much room for stuff, but nevertheless things did accumulate, though I never obstructed my living space. Nonetheless, when I retired, I decided that my first project would be to reduce my possessions, partly on the theory that someday I might want or have to move (how much longer can I lug groceries up those stairs to my apartment?), plus I didn't want my heir to have to sort through my stuff after I'm gone. I reduced my kitchen ware and dishes to what I regularly use; I took books related to my profession to the used book store and traded them in for vouchers that I can give as gifts to my reading friends; I gathered together old paperwork, work-related articles and materials, and so forth and took them to be shredded; I sorted through family-related documents and photos,kept a few for myself, and mailed the rest to my siblings; I even had my old diaries and letters shredded--partly because they were of the past and no longer of genuine interest, and partly because they were confidential and I didn't want them read by others after I died. It was a great transitioning experience to clear out so much and kind of mark the beginning of a new phase of my life. Now I continue to evaluate things on the basis of whether or not I want/can use them and whether or not my heir would want them. When I finish reading a new book, rather than stack it on a shelf (I do have plenty of built-in bookcases), I put it in a paper bag, and when the bag is full, I take it to the used book store. Anything they won't take goes to the nearby Goodwill store. (Perhaps I should also mention that all this is also part of my protest against the materialism of contemporary society, my statement, so to speak, that I won't be taken in by the constant stream of messages that blare "Buy, buy, buy!")

  4. Hi Bill, thanks for your comment! I'm really impressed that you were able to downsize and change your ways of living after finishing a career! Could I ask how long the process took you? What advice would you give to someone just starting to declutter?

  5. It took about six months. I knew better than to work on it all day every day, so I took it a bit at a time. I also worked a space at a time and went on to the next space only when the first space was done. It is also important to be realistic about the value of one's things. What you think of as a valuable heirloom is probably of little value or interest to anyone else. True hoarders, of course, tend to overvalue everything, even the most ordinary manufactured knick knacks. They say a new car loses much of its value the moment you drive it off the lot. The same is true of consumer items, only perhaps more so--retail prices (even with a "discount") are heavily padded with profits, markups, handling and transportation costs, etc., all of which evaporate when the consumer buys them. The core value (remaining value) is a small fraction of the retail. Keep this fact in mind as you sort through your goodies--also keep it in mind when you shop. Don't add more depreciated stuff to your life!

  6. Ah, but what if the gift giver lives with you??? I have "stuff" I really, REALLY, don't want but was given to me by ahem, DH, DD, .... First is the annoyance that they "should have known better", but then ?what?

    1. Definitely tricky. I figure, if Katy Perry could make Russel Brand exchange her engagement ring for something she liked, then maybe we can get the courage to say, "Hey, this isn't really me. Would you mind if I sell it and get something we'll both like?" instead.

      Then again, easier said then done (and look what happened to Katy's marriage...that' didn't turn out so well!)


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