What To Do When Well-Meaning People Buy You Things You Don’t Want

Every generation has different preferences when it comes to worldly possessions. Even within a single generation, the opinions on what constitutes something valuable and what seems worthless vary widely. I’ve realized this over and over as well-meaning, kind, and wonderful people in my life gift me things that I don’t want. 

This is not a call-out to particular people in my life, since I understand that picking gifts is a finely honed skill, and I personally am not all that good at it. However, there are a few categories of things that, when they are gifted to me, feel like more of a burden than like a positive treasure. Your categories may be different, I assume, but mine include tech items, items I already own, and rapidly-disposable items.

Categorizing unwanted gifts

Tech items are a pet peeve related to my reluctance to own a ton of technology or to ever be up on the latest trends. I figure one surefire way to avoid some major technological snafu on the order of I, Robot is to be five-ish years behind the times on technology. So when a friend who lived with us for a while purchased a digital assistant speaker for us, a really generous move, I was grateful, certainly, for the thoughtful gift. But I also wanted to unplug the thing at all times, on the off-chance that it was telling our robot overlords about everything we said.

Items I already own is an awkward but clearly on-the-right-track category. After all, I bothered to own that thing, so they must have me pretty well pegged! However, there are times when, say, a friend visits my home for a longer stay, and they purchase something that I already own because they don’t see me using one. I get particularly prickly when this relates to purses. Sure, I generally stuff my pockets to the gills rather than pouring all that stuff into a satchel of some kind, but that doesn’t mean you need to buy me a purse. I have them already. Again, all very well-meaning, but now I own something I didn’t want to own twice.

The biggest category by far is items I think of as “rapidly disposable.” These are items that are not actually disposable, but they are low enough in quality that they will get dilapidated and junky quite quickly. I can hear 23-year-old me scoffing at 30-year-old me, saying, “what a ridiculous pet peeve, to think that people shouldn’t give you lower-quality items than you desire!” And yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. However, knowing that you are going to use something that cost resources and time and have to throw it away all too soon is just…something that bothers me, even if I should be overwhelmed with gratitude instead.

So, given those are my personal pet peeve categories for things I don’t want but receive as gifts, how do I handle them? In a few different ways, as it turns out.

What I do with unwanted gifts

1. While the item is still in perfect condition, many of these things go straight into a box I keep for regifting. 

Yep, I’m unabashedly a regifter. I would actually feel better if one of these items that someone got me was actually the result of a past gift exchange, so I am at least not hypocritical in this respect. I don’t want people wasting their hard-earned cash on things I don’t need or want. I do keep track of who gives me what, and I make sure I never, ever regift into the same social circle or family gathering. I promise I appreciate their gestures and want to be sincerely grateful, even as I find a better home for the things. 

2. I write thank-you notes. 

Physical thank-you notes aren’t that popular these days for anything but the big events, like wedding gifts, but I find that they help me reframe. I fully register how privileged a position it is to be receiving more gifts than I can use. That’s why I want to have an attitude of gratitude for their generosity, and the notes help me get there. It feels a bit like the way that smiling actually makes you feel a little tiny bit happier.

3. I notice who tends to give gifts I’m not going to enjoy that much, and suggest new traditions between us. 

If someone tends to give us tech items, for instance, I might suggest that we “give” each other an outing to an amusement park or an evening out on the town instead of stuff. I fully admit that it is my problem that there is too much stuff in our house, so if I can create a reason to not make physical gift-giving a “thing,” I do it. I want to show appreciation in ways that make sense to those around me, but there’s no reason why I can’t head off some gift-giving at the pass.

Remember your own gifting etiquette 

Overall, some of these things work themselves out: after all, anything with a gift receipt can be painlessly returned, and something else can be selected. I also try to be a good “gifting citizen,” in the sense that, if I give you a book or a movie or something else, I won’t badger you to tell me how good it was since maybe you’ve already regifted it or donated it somewhere. Overall, figuring out how to avoid, regift, or just appreciate the gifts that I don’t want seems like a very practical strategy in a culture that prizes gifts and makes a lot of occasions for us to exchange them.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. 

Image via Unsplash

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