Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Earth Globe in Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon

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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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information, spark conversation, and convince people to take action to keep earth habitable for all. She believes our individual actions do matter—it all adds up.

2 thoughts on “Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts”

  1. I hear what you are saying. I also ask myself if someone else may benefit by the chance to own/love it, why would I keep it?
    It helps me pass on even the most lovely things that I’m not using/wearing.

    1. Yes, I believe that, too. Thinking of how someone else might benefit enabled me to finally divest myself of the last pieces of my corporate wardrobe that I no longer need.

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