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Save Your Sanity and the Planet by Letting Go of Unwanted Gifts

By Meg Hathaway

The post-holiday season is a time when many of us find ourselves stuck with at least one gift from a well-meaning friend or relative that just doesn’t have a place in our life. Maybe it’s a too-small sweater, a decorative candle you can’t stand the smell of, or in one memorable Christmas of my own, a ceramic rabbit statue the size of a Labrador retriever. It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll be on the receiving end of a gift that wasn’t exactly on your list. The irony is that when someone cares about you, the last thing they want to do is burden you with an object that you hate but feel obligated to keep.

No one sets out to give an unwanted gift, but I’m sure I’ve given some duds over the years. Unless your friends and family are very different from mine, they’re not mind readers. This isn’t a post about being ungrateful; it’s about being realistic and recognizing that objects sometimes come into your life that don’t fit who you are or want to become. When that’s the case, it’s important to acknowledge it and let the item go.

It can be hard to decide what to do with a gift you dislike when it’s connected to a beloved person in your mind. You love someone, and a gift is an expression of their love for you, so isn’t rejecting a gift on some level a rejection of their love? Here’s my advice to you: get rid of the gift. Now. Sell it, re-gift it to someone who will appreciate it more than you, donate it to Goodwill, recycle it, throw it away, whatever. Holding on to gifts that you have conflicting emotions about just clutters up your life and leaves less room for things that actually bring you happiness. Furthermore, by keeping an object you don’t value, you could be preventing that object from being useful to someone else, creating demand for more of the planet’s resources to be used to make a new version of your perfectly good item.

Okay. By now you’ve hopefully started guiltily thinking about a few things in your place that you know you should get rid of. Great! If you’re thinking of trash or something that you want to donate to charity, I trust you to take things from here. If you’d like to sell an unwanted item, some extra effort is necessary. Here are a few pointers:

1. Be realistic about the current condition of the item and whether it’s worth your time to attempt selling it. No one else cares that your used wallet was a gift from your super-cool Aunt Tilly on last year’s fun ski trip.

2. Consider the best platform to sell your item.


ebay lorax sold

b. eBay is perfect for small and easily shippable collectables, but can take a while to get used to if you haven’t sold items with the website before. My number one tip is to search for similar listing items and select the “completed” filter on the left-hand search bar. Simply viewing what others are listing is not enough – you want to know what buyers are actually willing to pay for your item.


craigslist gallery view with circle

3. Photos make a sale. Take lots of pictures of your item, being sure to honestly highlight any flaws.

4. If you’re on the fence about selling something, photographing the item can help keep associated memories alive, freeing you to dispose of the object itself. For more information on why we keep certain objects and how to let go, read Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much.

Happy clutter clearing!

Meg Hathaway is a Chemical Review Manager for the Office of Pesticide Programs in the US Environmental Protection Agency. She enjoys contra and swing dancing, studying international environmental policy, flipping merchandise online, and telling herself she practices guitar every day. She’s also on the DC EcoWomen executive board. 

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