Minimize Me: A former Hoarder’s Journey into a Life of Minimalism-Part 5: All Aboard the Gift Guilt-Trip Train

This is part 5 of a series documenting my journey into a life of minimalism. The highs, the lows, the wins, and losses of minimizing the amount of stuff in my life.If you’re just jumping in, may I suggest reading the introduction, part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. Having a hard time keeping up? May I also suggest subscribing at the bottom of this page to receive updates. You’ll never miss a post and be one cool cat.

What does a new baby, a bar mitzvah, and a wedding all have in common? Besides being things I have yet to experience…Brown paper packages tied up with string. The pile of crumpled tinsel colored paper on the floor after Christmas. Bags of tissue paper. Those clothing boxes you don’t know what to do with afterwards. I’m talking about presents people. Gift giving.

A few weeks ago, a gal pal of mine approached me at church about my Minimalist series. She asked me a question along the lines of this: “What do you do with gifts?” Ah, a very good question indeed. This has been something I have struggled with since the dawning of grandmas. I leave you with four words: Matching bedazzled cat sweaters, and not the good kind.

Oh sometimes you get lucky and you get an envelope full of cash or a gift card to a store you actually like. Then there are times when you get things you just don’t know what to do with. Perfectly good, brand spanking new things that you just do not like. You know what I’m talking about. The people who went rogue off of your wedding registry and bought you that hideous vase you’ve hidden under the sink and bring out only when they come to town. Or maybe that jacket your mother got you that you’ve left the tags on reminding you just how much she spent on something you don’t wear. That [insert whatever family heirloom that has been bequeathed to you] and is now collecting dust at the back of the closet. Before you know it, you’re hoarding perfectly good stock that you don’t even like.

Why is it that we keep gifts that we don’t care for, things that make us grit our teeth or roll our eyes? Well, for myself, it comes from a few gross feelings: Obligation. Guilt. Anxiety. Fear. These are hardly good feelings my friends and, may I point out, not of the Spirit. When I keep things because of these negative thoughts, I’m doing a few things to myself:

  1. I’m being dishonest with myself and the person who gifted me said gift.
  2. I’m allowing fear to dominant my relationship rather than the assurance of the other person’s maturity.
  3. I’m avoiding conflict in order to maintain some perceived peace.

For some people, gift giving is their love language and when you reject a gift, it’s like rejecting their love. My mom often buys me stuff and will send it to me. We don’t live close to one another so it’s nice to know that she’s thinking of me even when she’s in the sales section at Target. But I’ve had to gently tell her that I don’t need stuff. Even before all of this minimalism business, I had to learn that’s it’s okay to tell her when something isn’t my favorite. And guess what? My mom totally understands, which is partly due to the fact that she is one super cool mature and understanding lady. But even if she reacted badly, I cannot control that. All I can control is how gentle I am about it, how honest I am about it, and how loving I am about it.

We keep things because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. What if my mother-in-law found out I’ve been giving away those nice new baby clothes to my other friends? Or if my best friend really knew that I didn’t wear that top she got me for my birthday? The reality is, we get crap that we don’t like and, whether or not someone else’s feelings might get hurt, doesn’t change how we feel about the item. And how we feel about certain gifts does not directly translate how we feel about the person who gave it to us. Believe me, it’s more loving to be honest with someone, even if it might hurt their feelings, rather than keeping something you don’t like for their sake. Assume the best.

If you’re keeping anything because you feel obligated to, guilty if you didn’t, anxious if you do, fearful if you don’t, then I would say get rid of it. Objects and things should not make you experience such ugly and gross feelings. If they do, you’re putting too much stock into your stuff and possibly hinging relationships on things or assumptions.

So what am I doing about gifts this year? I’ve politely asked my friends and family to forgo the gifting this year and if they have to, a Trader Joe’s gift card will do nicely. Shout out to the mystery raccoon who slyly gifted me one in the mail. You know who you are and no it wasn’t a real raccoon slipping one through the mail slot, though I wish. Maybe I’ll even suggest one or two nonprofits they can kindly donate to instead.

Don’t be afraid to use that gift receipt, or to ask for one. OR even to tell a certain someone that you have enough pickle forks and hand towels. Keep stuff because you like it, not because you feel obligated to.

Thoughts, questions, concerns? Tell me what you think! Let’s discuss! Leave a comment below. Get a little heated. Agree. Disagree. Throw your opinion out there. Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. It doesn’t really matter, I’m just glad you decided to join the conversation.