Thursday, December 27, 2007

What to do with those unwanted holiday gifts

[I'm enjoying the company of family this week as well as trying to take some time to relax, so I know my posting's a little light.  In the meantime, here's a rerun of a post from last year.  The goal of having "less stuff" in your home and in the world doesn't end with the gifts you give-- it also means figuring out how to make good use of the unwanted stuff you receive, which would otherwise be pure waste and clutter.]

'Tis the season to be staring at a pile of gifts that make you go "Huh?" or "Ugh!" If you're like me, they're usually destined to end up in a bag or box or the top shelf of some closet getting dusty, to be forgotten or ignored save a cursory look-through in Decembers to come. But this year I'm trying to be proactive, so I'm thinking through the best ways to deal with unwanted gifts:
  • Return them. The lines may be long, but if you know where your gift came from, you can trade in that odd-looking sweater for one you'll actually wear, or switch the 4-in-1 gadget for something you might use. And if you have a gift receipt (or get lucky at a store with a generous return policy) you can even get cold, hard cash in return. Just be careful to check the return policy at the store in question-- it's tempting to wait and skip the post-holiday returns rush, but there may only be a limited window in which returns will be accepted (especially if you don't have a receipt).
  • Regift them. Ah, re-gifting, a frugal favorite. But unless you have a wonderful memory, now is the time to write down who gave you what this year! It's sad but true that in a year's time, when you're sorting through your regift stash and thinking, "Oh, this doohickey is just Cousin So-and-So's taste, she'd love it," it's probably because Cousin So-and-So was the one who picked it out for you. If you mark the names down-- use Post-Its, make a list, whatever-- then you'll know not to give the gift back from whence it came, and you don't have to deal with either a) the embarrassment of a mistake or b) the nervous brain-wracking-- "Did Grandma give this to me or was it Jane, or Chris?"-- that holds you back from regifting the items to anyone at all.
  • Sell them. I've never tried this myself, and I'd hate to get caught by the giver, but I hear that there's a growing trend of selling unwanted gifts on eBay or other auction sites.
  • Donate them. Instead of or along with the above, there are of course many fine charities that will appreciate many of the things you'd like to get off your hands. For example, I don't know if I'm the only one who gets endless bath-and-body sets at the holidays, but there are many girls and women out there who'll get much more pleasure and use out of them than I will, so I can direct them towards low-income families, imprisoned women, domestic violence shelters, or elsewhere. Maybe the decorative tchotchkes could brighten up a shelter or the home of a dislocated person. Clothing is always a great donation, especially when it's brand new. And places like Goodwill will take all sorts of things.
(Of course, ideally you should stop the problem before it starts by talking to repeat offenders about ending your gift exchanges altogether, or communicating your preferences and tastes more clearly. But you probably agree that it's a lot easier said than done!)

What do you do with unwanted gifts? Do you have any good tips on trying to avoid getting the darn things in the first place? And if you have any funny stories about terrible gifts or regifting gaffes, leave them in the comments and we'll all enjoy them!

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