Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Are you trying to minimize the amount stuff you own? Is dealing with gifts making you feel guilty and stressed out? I got over the guilt and you can, too.

The first time I placed a gift item someone had given me into my minimalism donation box I was surprised by the crushing guilt I felt. That gave me pause. I was putting a thing in the box, not a person. I remember thinking, “Wow, getting rid of stuff other people have given me is going to be way more complicated and emotional than I had anticipated.”

If you are serious about living happily with fewer material goods, you are probably going to have to address the gifts you own now and evaluate your philosophy about exchanging gifts in the future. This is not easy, but once you have done it you may be pleasantly surprised by feelings of relief and freedom.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, occasionally. What bothers me, a lot, is the rampant consumerism and the sense of obligation that surrounds exchanging gifts in our society (in my opinion). To me, a gift is something that one person gives to another freely and with no strings attached.

Why Do You Need To Let Go of Gifts?

A reasonable question to ask is “Why do I need to divest myself of gifts I already own?” This is a very personal question that only you can answer. I will share my reasons for letting go of gifts. Then you can ponder your own reasons and decide what you want to do.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon FootprintMinimizing my possessions is a way for me to say no to consumerism and to live more lightly on Earth.

I believe that the constant push for economic growth in the United States and the ever-present message that we need to acquire more stuff to be happy is harming people and Earth.

I want my children, your children, and everyone else’s children to have a habitable planet to live on so I think we need to stop making and buying stuff at our current level. That includes gifts.

For me, an essential part of transforming my relationship with possessions and learning to live happily with less stuff was divesting myself of things that I already owned but that I did not need, use, or want anymore. Items I had received as gifts or inherited were belongings so I decided not to exclude them from evaluation.

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

A gift could be almost anything. A few possible gifts that immediately come to mind are clothes, jewelry, handmade goods, kitchenware, electronics, tools, decorative items, souvenirs, toys, heirlooms, furniture, and books.

A question for minimalists or for anyone for that matter is which gifts contribute the most to your happiness? It could be many things or a just a few. If you say all, then you probably need to revisit the reason you are trying to minimize your possessions.

Different gifts will elicit different feelings. Be prepared for emotional encounters with some or possibly all of your gift items. I tried to keep three thoughts foremost in my mind while I was traipsing down memory lane, “I want to live more lightly on Earth with fewer material belongings.” “These are my things so it is my decision whether to retain them or not.” and “I can keep whatever I want.”

Chances are that handmade gifts and heirlooms will be the most emotionally charged gifts. If you are a “tackle the hard job first” type of person, then start here and the process will get easier and easier. I am a momentum kind of gal, meaning that once I get started I am more apt to continue so I started with the easier stuff first.

How do you define easy? You will know by your willingness to put the item aside without spending a lot of time thinking about it. It could be an ugly coffee mug a coworker gave you for a secret Santa gift exchange, an extra second-hand skillet a friend gave you, or an unused crystal bowl you received as a wedding present. If you find yourself agonizing over a crocheted scarf that you never wore because you just do not like it but you kept it because it was made by your grandmother, then move on and come back to it later.

Take as long as you need to complete this portion of minimizing your possessions. I am fourteen months into my quest to live happily with less stuff and I still have a few gift items awaiting a “keep” or “no keep” decision.

Once you have set aside gift items that you will not be keeping, I suggest removing them from your home sooner rather than later by donating, selling, re-gifting, and in some cases putting them in the trash or recycle bin.

Dealing with Guilt

A person gives you a gift because they like or love you and think you will enjoy it, right? I think so.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and BowDoes that obligate you to keep the gift even if you do not like it, do not need it, or will not use it? If it was just what you wanted at the time, do you have to keep it forever? If you choose to let go of a gift, regardless of whether you liked it or not, does that mean you do not care about the other person or their feelings?

These are just a few of the feelings I grappled with while evaluating gifts. I kept reminding myself of my reasons for living with less stuff and that a thing is not a person.

This helped me push back on feelings of guilt.

Also, it is likely that my gift givers are probably in the same boat as me having received gifts that they do not like or no longer want, perhaps including gifts I have given them. I believe they are free to do want they want with gifts they have received so that should apply to me, too.

My love and friendship for people in my life do not require exchanging gifts or keeping them.

Every once in a while I still feel a twinge guilt or find myself wanting to justify my actions, but then I remember why I am doing this and I feel at peace.

Future Gift Exchanging

Once you complete your initial divestment of stuff, or even during this time, you will embark on the life-long minimalism phase of living happily with fewer possessions. That means you will need to minimize acquiring stuff in the future. This may or may not mean you need to change your gift exchanging philosophy. It is up to you.

Fortunately, at least for me, I got a head start on minimizing gifts several years ago when my spouse and I decided to opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts and shared our feelings with our family and friends. Happily, I now receive very few material gifts. This feels right for me.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe in a Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon – Photo Credit iStock/adventtr

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Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy

Don’t look now but stuff is sneaking back into your minimalist house.

If you are serious about living more lightly on Earth with less stuff, getting a grip on your shopping and buying habits is crucial.

Otherwise, while you are divesting yourself of things that are not necessary to your life, more stuff could be creeping back into your house without you noticing it until you realize you need to declutter, again. Sigh.

The way to own less stuff may seem simple. Stop buying stuff. However, you and I have been honing our shopping and buying practices over years or decades so they are ingrained habits that may take some effort to change.

Shopping and Buying are Habits

Desiring to own less stuff does not magically morph you into a different person who shops only when you really, really need something. I did not automatically cut up my credit cards, banish window-shopping from my life, or delete my online shopping accounts (but if you did, do tell).

I would say I am a careful and mindful shopper, at least most of the time. You may feel you are too. The thing is that making individual mindful purchases can add up to a lot of stuff. By evaluating your purchases over some length of time, you may be surprised at how much stuff you do actually buy even though you do not think you do.

Understanding your habits so you can determine what changes you need to make means answering some questions for yourself like “What am I buying and why? How much money am I spending on stuff? Do I buy more things in stores or online? Do I make impulse buys? What and/or who influences my decision to buy something or not?”

If you are ready to get started assessing your shopping and buying habits, you are going to need some data.

Shopping and Buying Data Collection Ideas

I suggest doing an assessment after you at least begin minimizing your material belongings because you will already be motivated to buy less.

Pick a timeframe that is long enough so that you have ample data to sink your teeth into but short enough that you will actually do an assessment. I am nine months into the yearlong period I chose.

Factual information like what you bought, where, when, and how much it cost is available on receipts, credit card statements, online banking downloads, checkbook registers, and personal finance software reports.

Determining why you bought what you did and what/who influenced your buying decisions are subjective. We, humans, excel at justifying our behavior so you may have to ask yourself these questions multiple times to drill down to the actual answers.

After pondering a way to collect my own data, I decided to record items as I bought them. I am a fan of spreadsheets because they make it easy to slice and dice your data so I created a journal using a spreadsheet program (see example below).

If you rolled your eyes at the word spreadsheet, there are other ways to gain insight into your shopping and buying habits. For instance, you can toss your receipts into a bowl or basket after each shopping trip and go through them once a month contemplating why you bought the items you did. Or you can snap a photo with your smartphone of each item you buy and post it on social media with the reason you bought it. Be creative and please share ideas for other spreadsheet adverse readers.

My “Buy, No Buy” Journal Assessment

My initial idea was to record the things that I bought as well as the things I thought about buying but did not. I also chose to include purchases I made for our home or that were for the family’s use but to identify which was which.

I ran into trouble with my “no buy” items right away. For instance, just before going on vacation, I eyed a travel size Waterpik for several minutes at a store but did not buy it. I realized that since you do not get a receipt for items you do not buy, I would have to record information while I was in a store or on a shopping website. Besides what about all the stuff I would look at briefly and not buy. I decided it was not worth devoting time to this activity but it did reinforce my appreciation for the ubiquity of stuff available for buying.

Below is an excerpt from my journal showing how I set it up followed by a few insights I gained about myself.

Buy Journal Excerpt

Need is Subjective

Although I think I needed many of the items I bought, I recognize that need is a subjective term that we must each define for ourselves.

For instance, I owned a pair of tennis shoes with a variety of rips and tears and worn out tread. Technically the shoes were still wearable but I felt their useful life was over so I threw them in the trash and bought a new pair.

Several months ago, I bought a pair of gardening gloves made from bamboo. I already had gardening gloves so I did not need them. When I was completing my journal entry, I admitted to myself that I bought them because I was curious about material made from bamboo.

Fitbit One Wireless Fitness TrackerHere is a recent example. Just last week, I lost my fitness activity tracker when it fell out of my pocket during the day. Do I actually need a fitness activity tracker? Counting steps, stairs, and distance is part of my daily routine and it helps me with being fit and active. I felt I needed a replacement so I bought one (which is now safely clipped onto my pocket).

Insight: If I ask myself why I really, really want to buy something while I am at the store or on a shopping website, I can avoid making purchases I later regret.

Shopping on Vacation

I suppose it makes sense that you would take your more free-spirited self on vacation. After all, the point of taking a vacation is to have fun, see the sights, and enjoy time with your friends and family.

I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation.
I pulled these 14 books from my bookcase to represent the books I bought on vacation.

Apparently, my free-spirited vacation self also takes a freer approach to shopping. This year I discovered that it was not souvenir buying that tripped me up; it was other shopping. For example, even though I have unread books at home, I bought 14 books (new and used).

The books would not fit in my luggage so I shipped them to myself from a post office before I got on the train to come home (the joke is on me because they were lost in transit).

Insight: I decided that it would help me curtail my vacation shopping if I set limits for myself before I leave home.

Buying Stuff for Insurance

Part of my minimizing strategy was to evaluate all of my own stuff and as much of our household and jointly owned stuff as my spouse could handle. This process led to some interesting scenarios one of which involved our dishes.

We have been eating off of the same Mikasa dishes for decades. Some pieces have been broken and our pattern was discontinued long ago. Although I have toyed with the idea of getting new dishes off and on, once we completed our dishes review I gave up that idea forever.

When the reality hit me that I am now committed to using the same dishes for the rest of my life, it occurred to me that inevitably more pieces will be broken in the future and at some point, we might need replacements. As a kind of insurance against ending up with mismatched dishes in the future, I decided to buy some extra pieces now while they are available and relatively affordable.

Author's Dishes, Glasses, and Flatware after Vinegar Cleaning
I also spruced up our existing dishes, glasses, and flatware with a vinegar bath. Voilà, our dishes look almost new.

After surfing the web in search of new and used pieces, I bought 6 dinner plates, 4 salad plates, 4 soup bowls, 3 fruit bowls, 1 serving bowl, a replacement sugar bowl (I had the lid), and a replacement salt and pepper shaker set. I did show a modicum of restraint by not buying more teacups, saucers, or a replacement butter dish.

During my assessment, I had to acknowledge to myself that I bought the equivalent of about five place settings because having matching dishes is important to me. Now, we need to be really careful so they will last for the next thirty years or so.

Insight: Each one of us must define what living happily with fewer possessions means to us. I also realize that I need to beware of situations that encourage me to buy things for insurance.

Summary

Even though I feel like I am hyper-vigilant about shopping and buying stuff, I did indeed buy stuff over the past nine months. Reviewing my purchases resulted in a few laughs and some valuable insights that I hope will help me in my quest to transform my relationship with belongings.

Of course, your insights will likely be different from mine but I hope you see the benefit of doing your own shopping and buying habits assessment.

Featured Image at Top: Green Buy Button on Computer Keyboard – Photo Credit Dreamstime/Alisa Karpova

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