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What Do You Do With Bad Decor Gifts??

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I don’t talk about this much, but I have a great aunt named Katherine who lives in Amish Country right on the outskirts of Lancaster, PA. I see her once or twice a year tops — only for the holidays — and in true millennial fashion, I normally spend the entire trip complaining. My time at her house is usually spent up on a ladder, reattaching the gutters, cleaning the 9 basement litterboxes for the hordes of feral barn cats she’s welcomed into her home, or carrying around bails of hay. Y’all, there is a reason I moved to a big city 11 years ago and it’s because this LTE-less farm life is NOT my thing. 

But every time I’m at Katherine’s, right when it’s time to head back to my regular life, she hits me with a present. Sometimes they’re holiday-related, sometimes they’re a belated birthday gift, sometimes it’s an “I saw this and thought of you” pick. They’re almost always thoughtful and timely — snowmen at Christmas, fake flowers for an upcoming spring, pumpkins to celebrate the fall, an embroidered pillow — but they’re so not my style that I dread getting them every time. 

AHH. Does this happen to you, too? What do you do with decor gifts that are just not right for you, especially if there’s love behind the giving process?  

We ended up talking about this on a recent EHD Zoom and EVERYONE from the team had examples. There were bookends from a loving nana, depression-era goblets from a great grandmother, tiny figurines from a sentimental mom, quilts from a thoughtful sister…and collectively, we are stumped. If this is a universal struggle, how do you handle it in your home? 

Katherine can’t travel (and she doesn’t have the internet, which is why I feel a little better about airing my grievances so publicly), so all of my gifts from her currently sit in a closet in my living room. Y’all, it looks like a Magnolia outpost in there. I HAVE SO MANY THINGS MADE OUT OF WOOD. It’s truly like a secret Narnia farmhouse, which sits in stark contrast to my 80s black and white striped sofa and leopard print Jaymar chair. I know the etiquette is that I’d have to style these things like they always take up real estate in my home if she were ever to visit, but since that’s not an option, they just sit untouched until I will inevitably re-pack them up and schlep them to my next home. 

My favorite gift I’ve ever gotten from Katherine was a sponge holder, like this, which my mom forced her to get me for my 25th or 26th birthday. My mom says she protested — “this isn’t nice!!! It’s not good enough!!! It’s only $6!!!” — but it’s the only gift I’ve ever actually used (and loved! I highly recommend a sponge holder like that!). But it’s been a couple years, and we’re back on the painted barn wood gift train — even my mom’s nudging that maybe I’d prefer something a bit more practical didn’t sink in long-term.

So if you can’t necessarily hint at the things you’d like (and you have enough social awareness to know that telling your 80-something year old great aunt that you dislike her taste would be AWFUL) and you have to accept these gifts, where do you go from here? Is donating ever an option? 

For the past couple years, it’s been cool to have less, but the world has shifted a bit. (LOL. A BIT.) Like, do my unnamed coworker’s (you know I wouldn’t put anyone on blast!) old goblets spark joy? No. Do they work with her decor? NO. Buuuut, would they be kind of nice to have now that she’s home all the time and dishwasher-less? Maybe! I think I struggle with my decor because it can’t serve this functional purpose — my hanging wooden Halloween ghost is off-brand (for me) and it’s just taking up space. But can I donate it without guilt? I’m not sure! (Right now, though, it’s a firm no! She’s old and spent her limited income on getting something for me, so I have to keep it forever, right? SOS! Someone, tell me if it’s weird or not to be having a moral crisis over this! I want a closet back!)

And it just gets more complicated when you jump into the family heirloom space. What happens when you’re not dealing with just decor — what if it’s a bigger piece, like a vintage chaise or an antique hutch? How do you tell your family that you’re just not interested in bringing something with history and sentimental ties into your home, knowing that it’ll cause hurt feelings? Do you think you’ll ever regret not having your grandmother’s extremely ornate bedroom set? Is it worth it just to store it somewhere, or do you just cut your losses and send it to Goodwill? The whole thing is just DICEY, y’all. 

So please, I’m curious if you’re having the same dilemmas: do you also have a spot for that gifted decor that’s just not right for your house? Do you suck it up and present it anyway, because you love the history and gift-giver? Have you donated a gift? Do you lay things out when your relatives come over, only to return them to their more permanent home in your closet or basement? Have you donated something and then regretted it? Are you not sentimental at all and do you think I’m a goof for writing this whole post? LET’S CHAT ABOUT IT.  

Opening Photo Credits: Photo by Bethany Nauert | From: Lisa’s House: Living Room

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Yes, I can totally relate. That’s what the free section of Craigslist is for 🙂
No guilt on my part because someone that legitimately wants/need the item gets to keep it and love it.
I get to feel good about giving to someone that wants/needs it.
If the giver were to come over and ask about it, I would just look around my cluttered space and say it’s around here somewhere but I just have so much stuff, I can’t remember where I put it for safe-keeping. Or blame the kids.

Rusty

Yes! Then people who like it, get it. 👍

I’m pro regifting for this reason. No, *I* don’t like it, but someone else will and you did save me from having to buy a gift for that person so – win win!

Christie

Random crap? Donate or regift (only if the giftee would actually like/use/need) ASAP. Get it out of the house. I don’t even let it in past the garage if I know that I won’t use. (My family gifts in abundance and otherwise it is just overwhelming. They won’t stop, despite requests and ME stop gifting, so I don’t feel bad.) Husband’s family only gifts more expensive items that sometimes aren’t my taste but they get mad if I try to tactfully exchange. I’ve started gifting some of those items as well as no clue how to handle. They have gotten better after a hot pink giant plastic purse (I wear all neutrals and not plastic lol) that I ended up dedicating it as a beach bag despite it being a more expensive purse, ha. Now family heirlooms? Usually I LOVE them. I’m the hoarder of them in my family and display them, and they bring me and my history buff husband joy. In part because I am asked about the item in advance, and if I decline it goes to someone else with no hurt feelings. I only take what I’ll use. BUT, my husband’s family is the reverse. We… Read more »

Devon

This post made me smile because most of us have been there 🙂
My view on this is to donate, donate, donate!
Particularly in your case where it doesn’t sound as if your dear Aunt will be visiting and necessitating a quick ‘put the items out and make them look like they’re taking pride of place’ addition to your decor.

I say this because donating brings twofold benefits – I’m of the firm opinion that items should be used/admired and cherished and if you’re not the person to do this, there’ll be someone out there who will be (if your Aunt liked it enough to get it for you and present it as a special gift, there must be others out there who it’ll appeal to also). So donating allows someone else to enjoy and also frees up that much needed closet space. A win win all around.

Anyway just my two cents, and thanks for a fun (but relevant) piece.

Kori

Yes, someone out there will love it! I was given this weird bunny figurine for my birthday, which usually falls around easter, from my husband’s grandmother. She never comes to visit us so I felt safe wrapping it up for a quirky white elephant gift exchange and it became THE hot item for the women over 50 who were participating in the exchange. It was stolen so many times, and the woman who won it in the end said it perfectly matched another one she already owned. 🙂

Jill Kelly

Ugh, I feel this so much. My elderly cousin loves to give the strangest gifts from craft fairs (my personal favorite – a keychain with MINK BALLS hanging from it). They go directly to the next white elephant party or are donated. I hate the whole thing, though. It’s a disaster from an environmental perspective, and to me, it shows that she doesn’t pay much attention to who she’s giving the gift to. Still, she doesn’t have a family of her own, and she’s supporting local artisans. I accept with a smile and a thank you. Things did get a little better when I started off the season saying that I really didn’t need anything and storage is at a premium at our house, but we are saving up for XYZ. So sometimes she’ll get XYZ for me (money is not an issue for her). When it comes to heirlooms, sometimes I give things to my sister who likes that sort of thing more than me. But I really don’t think people should be burdened by stuff. The main thing is to ALWAYS be appreciative and loving to the gift giver. What they are trying to say is “I love… Read more »

Alice

Marie Kondo says the gift served its purpose when it was given, and it’s now yours to do with as you please. I know it’s not that simple, but in the case of a relative who is never going to know if you keep the items or not, it IS simple. Just donate them.

Having relatives around who will be in your house asking about the items is so much worse. I’ll never forget how my MIL had a sister who gave her carefully crafted, gigantic Mr. and Mrs. Claus dolls. These things were as big as 4 year old kids. My MIL had to store them and display them every Christmas to avoid hurt feelings.

isabelle

If the gift-giver is not going to visit your home, I think donating or giving the items away is a no brainer. Goodwill, Craigslist, Buy Nothing groups – you’d be surprised how many people are willing to take random crap off your hands.

Erin

Donate them. It is your home and you should do what makes you happy. It sounds so grumpy, but I really don’t like gifts. I have a very specific aesthetic and find that most gifts don’t fit that. I have noticed that most of the things I donate were given to me as gifts. I appreciate the thought but just ask for gift cards now.

Kate

When I first got married I felt like I had to keep all the stuff from his family. They love to shop and give stuff but don’t actually know me very well so while nothing was truly hideous most of it didn’t work in our house. After a few years I got more comfortable? stopped caring? Idk exactly what but now it all gets donated.

LKB

I feel the same way. But now they give stuff to my kids, just to give a present (or MANY presents). Most of it is junk and there’s just so much. And my boys remember it, so it’s harder to get rid of. My MIL likes to make them blankets, but they’re not especially nice (two pieces of fabric together with some batting in between); it’d be different, probably, if they were pieced together quilts. So we’re drowning in blankets, few of which I like. The worst are the Halloween blankets that she brought last year: not useful for most of the year, but there’s no way I can sneak them away to donate. Sigh. I keep telling myself that in 10 years, the boys will be older and I can purge the house.

Kate

It probably won’t take 10 years. We started at 4 with my daughter talking about donating her old clothes to another little girl who could enjoy using them. Now at 8 it’s all old hat to her. Idk how old your boys are but maybe try to tie donations to something by that would resonate with them. For example the blankets could go to an animal shelter for the homeless puppies.

Jasmine

Ugh, this is me too! We’ve tried dropping hints, and are sometimes even very blunt. Sometimes we will get a short break, but the stuff eventually starts coming into the house again. The junky plastic toys drive me especially crazy from an environmental standpoint because they don’t even last long enough to pass on to another kid.

Barbara

Exactly that! We get so much junk from the in laws. At Christmas they have turned up with a huge suitcase with rolls to transport the things. I can‘t even accept graciously any more. I have asked so many times to limit the „gifts“. Sometimes they forget what they brought the year before and buy the same thing again. And of course they expect us (having a fully furnished house) to take their furniture (they call them heirlooms, but they are not) when they downsize. I see hurt ferlings and upset in the near future 😫.
It‘s good to see/read I am not alone. I will take everything we don‘t like straight to the goodwill shop. I am talking about a huge box after Christmas and a small box full of gear after a normal visit through the year.

Andrea

One thing that helped us is that for Christmas we instituted the rule that only Santa brings toys. That let my husband & I control that aspect. We gave them fair warning that any toys given at Christmas would be donated. But you both have to be on board. For birthdays we set a limit- 1 toy max & encouraged them to give experiences- take the kids to a movie or pay for a class.

Susie Q.

What if you encouraged them to donate to your kids’ college fund instead?

Molly

This is a great idea, but in my experience the grandparents really want to give my kids gifts that they open and get excited about. So that’s toys, toys, toys and not a boring envelope with a check in it. However, asking for some of the $ they spend to go towards college helps cut down on the gift buying a bit.

LKB

Same here. I’ve suggested experiences or even one of the once-a-month box things, but it never goes anywhere. They just want to purchase things that can be wrapped/opened with immediate gratification. I get it, but I hate it. So much junk. And I also hate that my boys (5 and 8) associate their visit with presents–that’s not what the focus should be.

LKB

Oh, I feel you here. The furniture! They bring big stuff every time they visit, and I just gape. I think my husband vets a lot now, but things still sneak in. And once in the house, it’s hard for me to get rid of because he says, “we could use a bedside table, right?” (yes, but I want to pick out my own, in my style) or “we might be able to do something cool with it.” We have the top of a roll-top desk (no legs!) that we’ve moved from Boston to PA to Idaho, through multiple houses. Sure, it might be a neat project piece someday, but it’s been 10 years. Can we let it go yet?

Andrea

For kids I found the easiest way to limit is put a number on it. Tell them to pick their 3 favorite blankets & donate the rest. When MIL asks say something like “we couldn’t be selfish enough to keep all the blankets when so many people are in need. The boys picked their favorite/most special to keep” Same with everything from too many toys or clothes. Even for myself when decluttering it’s so much easier to say “I’m Keeping my 10 favorite tops” vs “I need to get rid of 10 tops”

Kara

That’s a lovely way to put it!!

Patti

Just donate. Someone will enjoy them.

Anna

Donate it. Don’t even question it.

After spending the first decade of my marriage storing weird Victorian holiday figurines from my mother-in-law in the garage, I decided to donate them all and start getting rid of newcomers as soon as they were given to me. Her love language is gifting; it makes her happy to give me these things. I understand that the gift is really more about her than it is about me. I simply do not want these things, so I am grateful for the thought behind them and simultaneously feel very little guilt for passing them on. Just do it. You won’t miss these things and your aunt will never know.

Rebecca

Here’s my solution for heirlooms: offer it up to your family.

I wrote a message like this not long ago:

Hey family!

I’ve got some really fun golf themed wine glasses from Nanny & Poppa in my house and I wanted to see if any of you would like to add them to your collection!

I wear the earrings Nanny gave me almost every day and one of Poppa’s curling pins in hanging on my fridge — I so enjoy the reminders of them.

Would these glasses spark that kind of joy for any of you?

–> This message shares that I care and If no one claims them, I donate without any guilt at all.

Victoria

So great! I love how you call attention to the things from them you do love 😀

Rusty

I’ve offered up things to family members too.
I even asked my brother if he’d like any of the xyz he’d given me, because I’m having a major clear out…he said he’d like a couple of pieces….yaaay!

Beth

I don’t really have a problem donating an item I receive that’s just not me- but I AM careful to donate it to a place the gift-giver isn’t likely to see it (I live in a small town, so this is occasionally difficult). If there’s sentimental value, I might keep it.
My family is currently sifting through my grandparents’ entire belongings now that my grandma is living full-time with my uncle and will never be able to live alone again. I really think that when it comes to heirlooms it’s better if family members get together and choose the things they’d actually like. Since we’re having to go through the whole house and we live across the country, we’ve been doing this virtually with a private Facebook group. I’ve been posting pictures of EVERYTHING and recording who wants what, then sorting it. It’s a LOT of work (in some ways even more so virtually), but everyone is getting the items they want/love instead of items that aren’t really “them”.

Beth

Oh, and a funny sidenote- my great-grandmother labeled everything she received as gifts over the last few decades of her life with the name of the person that gave it to her. When she moved into a nursing home, she dictated that everything that was labeled had to go back to the person who gave it to her!

Rusty

A lady down the road that I used to checkin on, recently moved from a huge house of 55 yrs. She has 8 grown children and they chosestuff, then she asked me. I was sooo flattered, but said I’d like a, b or c. She said she was still keeping them, but has stuck my name on the bottom with mask8ng tape and has told her eldest son, they go to me at the end of the day. I. Fee. So. Honoured.
She let me choose!!! Beautiful soul. 😇

Kate

Yeah, I love the ease of FREEcycle on FB for giving away most stuff but if they’re gifts from family I do something else.

Cindy

Sorry, but I stopped reading after your Magnolia diss…

Gabriella

So as a site, you’ve spent a good part of the past two months talking about racism and white privilege, but then you post an article like this? While your sentiment isn’t novel or something to necessarily be ashamed of, it’s your discourse (and perhaps internal dialogue) that’s offensive. Firstly, you think it’s ok to ridicule someone (who was merely trying to do something kind for you) because you can do so behind their back? That’s cowardly and shallow. Not only are you making fun of your great aunt, you’re also making fun of her community and the ideals that it holds. Perhaps in your circle, you value poorly-made junk from Target, but within her community, maybe, they value durability, craftsmanship, and understated elegance. Secondly, do you have any idea how shamelessly, ungrateful you sound? And not necessarily ungrateful to the giver, it’s ungrateful to the millions of people who would be elated just to have received a gift. If doing the obvious thing, donating the unwanted items to e.g., Goodwill, isn’t your first inclination, why not box them up, wait until the vaccine arrives, and then pass your unneeded presents out to children in an under-served hospital? Watch the… Read more »

Lisette

This is why all my favorite blogs do not blog anymore….every little blog or article is scrutinized and every mention of brand is called out and every. little. thing…..can’t you just read an entry for what it is or move on?

I think Emily and her team do an amazing blog with ideas so I thank them for all the hard work and inspiration!

Elissa

WOWEE this is so angry and harsh! I guess you read the tone of this quite differently than I did. She neither sounded ungrateful nor did she ridicule her great-aunt. (Humor is not necessarily ridicule.) She was very clear that she knew these gifts were given with love, and that their style appealed to others. That was the very reason she wrote the article – because she didn’t like or need them for herself, and felt bad that they didn’t have a place in her home. (And I think the assumption that these gifts have “craftsmanship and understated elegance” is quite the leap- but the issue is not the skill of their making, but in the functionality for her personally.) The dilemma of the article is what you seem to have missed. The author loves her aunt, therefore she feels guilt that she doesn’t love the gifts. And the solution is to give them to others who would use them and enjoy them. What is wrong with that?

LouAnn

Not really seeing how the connection here to white privilege.

And I didn’t think she sounded “shamelessly, ungrateful.” She just sounded like the literally millions of us who have received gifts we don’t like and then we feel bad about giving them away.

Sheesh. Chill.

Maria

Hahahaha, why would children appreciate these objects?! And yeah, I don’t see the connection with white privilege.

(Also, I mistakenly voted this comment up when I meant to hit Reply.)

L

I agree with Gabriella–this post seemed to be unnecessarily written at Aunt Katherine’s expense. The tone read very harsh to me, and with an implication that enlightened design bloggers from the west coast *obviously* have superior taste to that of their backwater relatives. The fact that the post even says that they wouldn’t share these things if Katherine might read the blog belies that the EHD team knows this joke is not harmless.

I think the general topic (what to do with gifted decor) is fine for this blog, but the level of detail about a real person and not-so-subtle jabs at people with different tastes (including anyone who doesn’t shutter at even the mention of Magnolia stuff) left me feeling uncomfortable with this post. I used to love Emily’s Design Mistakes posts, even the ones that came under fire for being too critical, but this felt different to me.

J

I agree 100%, L. Normally when this site publishes “jabs,” it’s the author making fun of themselves (I think of Emily’s post about her makeshift office desk). This post just felt mean-spirited.

Lancaster

I completely agree. Donate it to others that will better appreciate it – don’t complain. PS am I the only one who thinks the sign off on other posts of “Love you, mean it” comes across as…well, not meaning it? Ever time I read it it’s like nails on a chalk board!!

Alix

You are not alone! “Love you, mean it” drives me nuts as it implies the complete opposite. I thought it was just me – thank you for saying something.

Robin

The love you, mean it is SUCH a turn off to me. You, in fact, don’t love me. You don’t know me. So how can you mean it??? It’s such a small thing but this but if insincerity at the end of every post you write, totally negates the sincerity of everything you wrote in the post. It l’as ways leaves me with such a bad taste in my mouth. How about just « signing off ». If you are seeing to be authentic, be authentic.

Alice

Let me get this straight. Caitlin is supposed to tiptoe around so as not to offend anyone at all, but you are free to lash out with accusations like cowardly, shallow, shameless, ungrateful, vapid, and selfish. I hope you realize that just because you are offended, doesn’t mean you’re right, and it doesn’t mean you are speaking for all of us.

LE

I think people are saying it could be offensive to her aunt, whose feelings are the only person’s who really matter in regards to this post. And maybe that should have been tiptoed around. Caitlin seemed to be more concerned with how her aunt might feel if she got rid of a gift rather than how her aunt would feel if she read this post. The beginning felt very cringy to me, not only complaining about her gifts but also about spending time with her aunt in general. It just seemed overly harsh and hurtful. The topic itself is fine, and something we’ve probably at dealt with to some degree, but it seemed unnecessary to go into so much detail about her family.

Lancaster

Also, we are not complaining to be mean or make someone feel bad. Probably everyone that posted something is also a loyal reader, and we hope the team takes into account how certain posts come across to PART (not all) of their audience, so they can think differently in the future, if they so choose. I’m not trying to hurt anyone or troll anything. I post because hopefully the feedback is constructive criticism to make the website better and more successful. I want to still want coming back here!

Jessica

I suspect the author was also “not complaining to be mean or make someone feel bad” and “not trying to hurt anyone or troll anything”

I do agree that it was probably more personal detail than necessary to set up the topic.

Jane

Gabriella, You addressed this post much better than I could have. From the first sentence I was angry. A gift is given in appreciation and with love. The act is what matters, not the “off brand” trinkets.

This comment seemed pretty harsh to me and I really disagree with the folks suggesting there’s any sort of sense of superiority in the article. Unless you literally have no one in your life that ever gives you gifts (certainly can be a real-life situation), it’s pretty common to receive gifts you don’t like that then just take up stuff. Many many many more people can buy (or even make) things than there are people who are really good at deciding on something for a recipient that the recipient loves. I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to talk about “among friends” which is the tone of the blog. I guess I can see taking offense if you feel like this was the equivalent of taking out a full page ad in the New York Times that you hate your great-aunt’s taste. I did chuckle a bit at the Magnolia reference and maybe it could’ve been caveated a little more with “good for her, not for me” but it also drags on my patience to read writing that’s full of caveats to avoid offending people. Anyway, it’s hard to handle disconnects between people whose love languages is physical objects for… Read more »

S

I think this could have been written without any mention of a specific family member or gift that was given. I would imagine just about everyone has received a gift that didn’t suit them or inherited something they don’t want.
The topic itself could have been presented without specific details into anyone’s family.

Ashley

I’m going to chime in and say this post came off as…ungrateful and whiny. Sorry.

Veronica

Community values are present in a variety of cultures in the U.S.–so many I can’t even think of them all or know of them all! Community values can look different in different cultures, too.
Some people have a struggle between community values and values of independence and self expression through home decor. Labeling the article as “white privilege,” negates the experiences of those who struggle between values of community, self-expression, and independence. I don’t think it was your intention to do so, though, just as I don’t think it was the author’s intention to engage in selfishness and/or white oppression–if the person did at all.
Re: the article question, I take pictures of items that I don’t have room for–or whatever reason–and scrapbook about it and then donate the item to Goodwill or another charity. My loved ones wouldn’t want me to agonize over what to do with gifts or keep items I don’t have room for–for whatever reason. Other values my family has are independent thought/behavior and self expression through art. Those reflect my family’s community values. I understand different families have different perspectives, though.

Erica

This happens all the time in my family. My grandmother used to shop exclusively at the Cracker Barrel gift shop for Christmas gifts, and my mom is always pushing random household things or decor on me. I’m a sentimental person and cherish some of the family heirlooms I’ve received, but the giving of a gift is about the act, not the item. If you don’t love it, donate it. I have never once visited someone and searched for or asked about a gift I gave them. Do people really do that? Seems rather a tacky thing to do, in my opinion. And if someone did do it, I’d probably gently tell them the truth and maybe then that person would think twice before choosing another off-brand gift.

Jessica

We haven’t have a big problem with this – I trained my family not to give me gifts a long time ago, and his family listens to subtle feedback. Moving into a 325 sq ft apartment went a long way in getting people to gift us experiences or consumables instead of stuff.

Does your great aunt make killer cookies or something? Some hints that stuff like family recipes or local Amish foods are your favorite things to receive might reduce the clutter.

Do you experience a twinge of uncomfortableness when you interact with that closet of stuff? Would you no longer experience those unpleasant feelings if the things weren’t there? Would your aunt WANT you to experience unpleasant feelings, especially in relation to her? Maybe you should donate the stuff and see if you can try feeling grateful that your aunt wants to show you love and someone else in the community will get to benefit from her generosity

Rachel

Yes! It’s taken years and effort but I have finally come to an agreement with the family (and basically everyone else I know) either no gifts or make them consumables.

For my relatives who love gift giving finding an amazing jam or weird pickle is just as much fun as finding stuff. And we follow suite – my family love getting baked goods or a treat to a family outing from us – back when we could we loved taking my MIL out to the symphony or a gallery.

Gift giving is directed out of love so you just need to be open and talk about the best way to redirect that love so it works for the giver and the receiver.

I’m on the donate wagon. But I’d also add to not do this to OTHER people! My husband says it best, he doesn’t want people to decorate our house so we shouldn’t decorate theirs! We have a longstanding tradition to always try to gift things that are consumable and hope the people get the message and do the same thing.

April

I had a great-aunt with whom I was very close. I thought of her like a third grandmother but she had terrible taste! And she gave some odd gifts. Once she gave me (I am married with two children) one peach and lace bath, one hand towel and one washcloth. I think generally you should give towels in pairs unless it is a gift registry item. Honestly, if they had been a different color and not lacy, I probably would have used them. But I gave them away and I don’t feel guilty. But another time she gave me a decorative Christmas item that was not my taste at all. For a couple of years I didn’t put it up but I kept it. Finally, I embraced it and proudly displayed it each year. That was probably easier since it was just a month or so. It broke two years ago and my aunt passed a few years before that and I was genuinely sad that it broke. I have a pretty eclectic decorating style so I feel like I can incorporate things that might not be my specific style sometimes. I wouldn’t be able to give away handmade items… Read more »

Olivia

I’m always amazed at what gets snapped up on my neighborhood listserv. If something’s in good condition, it might delight someone else, and what’s better than that? If it’s in poor condition, it’s not serving anyone and it’s fine to toss.

I also have gotten much better about not bringing things into my house in the first place. It’s not as easy with actual gifts, but I’m amazed at how often a loved one is going through things and says, “this made me think of you!” If I’ll use it (Mema’s candlesticks and a great aunt’s beautiful double boiler), I take it. If I won’t (an aunt’s beautiful quilt that just isn’t my taste), I say it’s beautiful but not me. My sister is always trying to foist stuff on me, and because we’re siblings, I can laugh and say, “You don’t want it either!”

But in general, if it doesn’t serve you, you aren’t doing anyone favors by keeping it around.

guys, maybe this is the actual secret to monica gellar’s hall closet that was bursting at the seams.

LouAnn

My late grandmother LOVED to make crafts. Sometimes they were wonderful (quilts, afghans, birdhouses) and then there was that whole ceramics phase. It went on for decade. I mean how many pastel ceramic rabbits, squirrels, eggs, Christmas trees, and nativity sets does one person need?

I kept the green ceramic nativity set (!) but all of those other ceramic creatures and knick-knacks went on a little trip to Goodwill where I’m sure they found a good home. 😉

Maybe I am just way less sensitive and emotional than most but I have no guilt giving away items that I do not love. If things do not serve you, you do not need to keep them. I also do not sugar coat to the givers – they know I am a minimalist so I really do not apologize for it. I realize I sound like a b***h but I have gotten very clear with what does and does not come into my house.

Kristine C.

I would suggest donating the least appealing of the gifts, but keeping one or two items that just might appeal to you in the future. She won’t be around forever, and those gifts will be a nice heartwarming reminder of your great-aunt. Plus remember, your style tastes will change over time and it’d be cool to pull those out then.

Unimpressed

This could have been a thoughtful and helpful post since this is a common issue, but the whole thing came off as whiny, entitled, and obnoxious. Caitlin is so often tone deaf.

Lee

Well your comment sounds pretty whiny, entitled, and obnoxious, too. You could have practiced what you preached but instead you chose to make a personal attack.

J

Agree! Would have loved some practical tips on this. A wasted opportunity.

Erm…you know that there’s a real person behind the article, who probably has to read your words as part of her job to engage with the community? Do you normally talk to people about them to their face like that? Wow.

Samantha

My approach is to re-gift if I know someone else would appreciate it. Worst case scenario is to donate and I try to be thoughtful as to where I donate. As a Lancastrian (yes that’s a word) our little town is pretty great. You just need to get out of the countryside/conservative part. Next time you are in Lancaster; I’d be happy to show you the less country, more cool parts of the area. I’ve linked a few articles to give you an idea.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/23/dining/lancaster-pennsylvania-restaurants.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/annabel/2018/02/26/the-10-coolest-u-s-cities-to-visit-in-2018/#7ff1f59663b5

https://www.npr.org/2019/11/27/783223364/pennsylvania-county-welcomes-refugees-with-open-arms

Lena

If someone comes to visit and looks for the gifts I would keep a few in a box/drawer and display them when they come over but donate the rest, and if they comment, I would say that I have so many generous friends and relatives that I can’t keep all of their gifts and just keep a few favoured ones and point out the ones I displayed. Since your aunt is however never going to visit I would look through the gifts once more and consider if there is one I could somehow transform into something I like. Maybe I also would make a short photo session (taking a pic can help to let something go) and then donate or sell it. If she spends her hard earned money on it, surely it would be better for the thing to get used by someone (or getting you a bit money) then getting dusty in a cupboard? Maybe you could also say something like, that with the high rents in LA you don’t have a lot of leftover storage space and give her hints for things she might enjoy buying you but you actually would like.

R Remington

When I get gifts that aren’t to my style (often holiday-related), I offer them to my kids. They LOVE being able to decorate their own rooms and playroom. It’s cool to see them develop their own style. Their decor bandwidth is wide and creative! They are so enthusiastic when they get a new item to incorporate. My kids are hard on decor items, so most don’t last, but they bring much joy. And if they don’t like a particular item, they aren’t shy about declining it 🙂 It’s great to be able to tell the gift-giver, “That (item) you gave me, my child loved it so much that it has a special place in his/her room.”

Colleen

If I really don’t like the item, I usually hold on to it for 3-6 months or so (usually in storage of some sort) and then donate. For the maybes, normally keep a year or two and then donate if I’ve still never used it. For the yes items, I hold on to/use them until they no longer suit me. I learned long ago that people are not the things they give you, if you’re too worried, take a picture to remember it and let it go. There may be someone else out there who could use/like/want/need it. Moving across the country helped with that. Then again, I was also the nine-year-old that when my mother said the “you may want this someday” line a few too many times cleaning out a storage closet one day, looked at her and said “I don’t want this someday, and he (brother) won’t want it either, so would you rather get rid of it now or have us wait until after you die and then get rid of it?” She now genuinely gets a kick out of telling everyone else they when they pull the “but your kids may want this” line and… Read more »

Genevieve

This post made me cringe. I understand the dilemma, but the article’s language comes across ungrateful and tactless. The same message could have been communicated without trashing the giver or the gifts. The point is merely that the items aren’t your style, you don’t want them, but they were thoughtfully given by someone you care about, right? Why call the relative out by name?

Katie

I really agree. I generally try to avoid comment sections unless it’s to praise or suggest things (I am not one who wants to tone police and often can click away if something isn’t for me), but this was really uncomfortable to read. It was not kind to Aunt Katherine. Aunt Katherine could absolutely read this some day; she sounds like someone who really cares about her niece and could get curious about what she does at her job when she has the opportunity to use the internet. Or even if she doesn’t, it’s still not right to speak of her behind her back this way.

I really don’t want to stifle the young voices on this blog lately with negativity – they’re young – everyone makes judgment mistakes when you’re young! But this post is a judgment mistake. This blog could really use a strong editor right now to elevate the written content of the young authors. Keep trying things and keep getting better!

Caitlin

We received some wedding gifts that put us in this spot. A close family friend gave us a large collage style frame with quotes and our wedding date engraved on it. Not exactly our style and it was customized so we couldn’t donate. She also gave us a large cross with a bible verse and our wedding date engraved and we aren’t religious. She meant well but I threw them away..I knew they would sit in a closet for years. I’m also not a sentimental person.

Allison L

When I moved into my house, there was a super tacky “wine o’clock” sign/ wine rack. I saved it until the holidays and gifted it to a family member I’m not fond of. She loved it. That same year, another family member (different side) gave me s hideous wooden palette snowman family…yep, saved it and gave it to my aunt!

krkrkrkr

My dad is your great aunt. What I found best is to graciously accept gifts and then send a photo a few days later of yourself with the gift thanking them for it. My dad loves the photos and I love that he does. That becomes the gift to me. I then donate or stash the things and display the photo instead.

For other relatives, I’ve started asking for food things as gifts, like local or home made jams or chocolates. When they do, I also send a photo of the food things plated nicely and lavish praise on how delicious they are. I really do enjoy those gifts and it takes the pressure off my extended family to find things they think I will like.

Wow thats too funny.
Definitely get ya. Unfortunately I hoard and just end up keeping everything ever given to me. WAY too sentimental for my own good.

XX Angelica
https://eraenvogue.com

Suzanne

I’ve donated and regifted gifts. It helps that my husband initiated this for gifts from his family members. In fact, he once did it without me knowing, and I was so happy. Just because I like margaritas doesn’t mean I want framed artwork of margaritas. I think it’s fine to say that you don’t have the space for things. I also think if you keep a gift for a year, you no longer have any obligation to the giver. I recommend reading “The Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”. It encourages people to leave only heirlooms that someone truly wants. For our loved ones who survive us, we need to part with things, so we don’t leave that burden on others.

omg. yes! swedish death cleaning! my parents aren’t dead, thank goodness, but i’m kind of dealing with this now. my mom just had to move to assisted living and i’m helping my dad go through all of their stuff so that he can sell their house. omg. they are def not hoarders or close or anything, but man is it a lot of work. every time i go over there to help, i want to come home and start clearing out all of our stuff. i def don’t want to have to do it once i’m older. ayi ayi ayi. so much stuff in people’s homes and in the world.

Cris S.

Whenever things are getting piled up in our home I put on Hoarders and 10 minutes of watching gets me up and cleaning things OUT.

Trly

We actually did that when my husband’s father died unexpectedly. After emptying out his apartment, we decided that we didn’t want put that burden upon anyone else. We immediately went up in the attic and started removing things that had been stored out of sight for years.

Since it has been a few years, its probably time to do it again.

Zach Mitchell

Pass it on to someone who will actually love and use it. If it’s a family heirloom, give first dibs to the rest of the family before donating. If it’s a gift from someone like your aunt who spent her limited income on something for you, sell the item and use the money you make from it to buy her a gift in return.

Kari

Yes! This is my suggestion, too. Once you have an assortment of things, sell them and use the money (or pool it with other monies) to buy what you really want. THAT item becomes the gift from your relative.

Vee

I too have this problem and feel very blessed to have it. What I have tried to do is keep one or two items I like the most and donate the rest. That way, when the said family member comes to visit, they see something from them. For my kids, I request experiences like zoo or museum tickets, a trip for ice cream. I prefer they spend time together instead of getting things. No more toys, please. We have too many. Also, others suggested requesting food items, cookies, jam, pickles. That is a wonderful idea.

ah yes, for gifts for kids’ birthdays i always try to tell people, gifts are not expected, but if you feel like you want to give them a gift, please make it an experience gift. one year, i copied what one of my friends does for her kids’ birthdays and i loved doing it. her kids get great birthday parties and in lieu of gifts, she asks for a bag of groceries for the food pantry. her kid gets to bring all of those groceries to the food pantry and feel like a hero. it’s awesome.
but yes, kid crap adds up fast. no thank you!

Teresa

My cousin contacted me a year ago wanting to know if I would like a antique doll that belonged to his mother (my great aunt by marriage). She kept me as a small girl while my parents worked and I always thought the world of her. I remembered the doll very well and I knew how much it meant to her. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I accepted it but now I feel guilty because the doll is rather large and not my taste. Its in a glass case and I put in one of my guest bedrooms but it gave me a rather creepy feeling vibe for some reason. Now it sits in the guest bedroom closet. I know he will never visit but I do feel badly that I ever accepted it. He told me he offered it to one of his granddaughters and she declined. Moral of the story, don’t let guilt do your thinking. I should have just said I really appreciate your thinking of me but I really don’t have a place for it. I am 61 and like many baby boomers we are downsizing our collections. I dont want our son to go… Read more »

Mary

Remembering how difficult it is to purge other’s belongings after they pass away is a huge motivator to me. After doing this for my mother, and being faced with doing the same at some point for my in-laws (who keep every. little. thing.), I realized that it is a huge undertaking. Going through my mother’s belongings has taken multiple passes over the years. It is difficult, emotional work each time. I do not want anyone else having that burden from me. This motivates me to a) think more carefully before I buy something and b) let go of things that no longer serve me – whether they were given as gifts, or not. Life is too short to feel guilty about getting rid of something, when you also feel guilty about keeping it and not using it. It’s a lose-lose prospect. To the points others have made, I am also always surprised by what gets interest on Fbook Marketplace or Craigslist. It is definitely worth a shot. I know this is slightly different than gifts received, but one tradition in my family has been to reach out to close family friends or extended family to choose something from a person’s… Read more »

Renee

I usually display the item for 6 months to a year (somewhere that I don’t have to look at it every day, like a guest room.) Whenever I see the item, I send a little thank you prayer to the giver for her good-hearted gesture and and then, guilt-free, donate it. It also helps to take a picture of the item in your house so that you can show it to her if you feel so inclined. But don’t feel that you need to keep something forever.

Barr

I like this suggestion. To take it one step further, once you have laid everything out, choose one or two items that you like the best that you reasonably have room for. Keep them, give thanks and be grateful that your aunt loves you. When you look at them you will hopefully feel something good. Then donate the rest and bless them on their journey.

Nicolette

Gifts I say are okay to donate, especially if they serve no purpose. Luckily most people in my life only get my things they know I want or need. (Yes I am 32 years old, married and still make a birthday and Christmas wish list.) HOWEVER it is MUCH harder for me to get rid of inherited things. My entire dad’s side of the family is gone and everything went to my younger brother and I. We have our dad’s stuff, his brother’s stuff, my grandparent’s stuff and my dad’s uncle and aunt’s stuff. It’s a lot of stuff y’all. We sold my dad’s property that had a barn that held all the stuff, have done two sweeps of the stuff to donate or sell and we still have a 10×40 storage unit FULL of stuff. Why is getting rid of dead people’s stuff so damn hard!!

A

Hi Caitlin!!

I feel like people are weirdly picking on you in this comment section so I wanted to say that I love your voice and reading your writing always makes me feel like I’m talking to a funny friend! I LOVE some of the weird sh*t my family gifts me (thanks for the ceramic pitcher with a skinny cat for a handle, great uncle!!), but I cracked up hearing about your closet full of wholesome folksy holiday decor. The whole point of style is that NOT EVERYONE SHARES it, otherwise the world would be boring!!

(Last note: always gift cash, lol.)

L

I agree–I like a lot of Caitlin’s posts and have always come to this blog for amazing design + humorous copy. It’s definitely relatable to receive gifts that you wouldn’t buy for yourself that end up in a weird closet-shrine! I just don’t agree that jokes making fun of other people are funny, and that’s where this post missed the mark for me.

Joe

@L

I mean, if she’d made fun of her aunt that’d be one thing, but she didn’t. Instead the tone was more like, “I love this person but our tastes don’t align and there’s good way to tell them!” Which seems true and fair.

Alex

Echoing the comments to give away or donate the gifts (guilt-free).
The only comment I would add is to look into donating to women’s shelters, outreach programs and housing for LGBTQ+ youth, and/or under served public schools, as oppose to dropping off at a Goodwill.
These places rarely get home goods or decor items donated. It makes a world of difference to a person to see Christmas decorations, artwork, funny cat mugs, whatever it might be! These items make these places feel closer to a “home”.
My MIL sends us themed presents for holidays throughout the year and I drop them off at the shelter the next day – no bad feelings on my part!

I feeel this. My younger cousin made me gifts for a few years there, and it was so tough. Sometimes, if it was a knit scarf or something I could at least use, I would hold onto it, but one time she make me this ‘shabby chic’ hanging shelf which was the total opposite of my style. What was worse was that there was a “Merry Christmas!” note on the back (nothing sentimental) and I didn’t know if I could donate it. Then a very second-hand savvy friend told me that the little note just makes it more interesting for the next person who finds (and hopefully, loves it). So off it went.

Heirlooms though, still completely stuck on that one.

Beth

Just – what should you do with gifts you can’t use – would have been sufficient. I have been noticing as Emily is writing less articles I am less interested in the content. I’m Emily’s age and it seems she hires much younger contributors who write about topics more specific to their age. Which is totally fine if that’s the demographic you’re going for, but for me it’s switched mid blog from a high end design discussion to a first time home owners type of blog/20s something blog. Again, which is fine if that is what this blog is. Not trying to be hateful, just an observation. I am just confused on what is going to show up every day.

Renee

I agree completely

Chloe Chapman

I live in Lancaster, PA! Usually I keep the these presents stashed out of sight. Then when I decided to clean out my room or move I donate the stuff to goodwill. By that time who ever gave me the gift has probably forgotten about and I don’t feel gulity about passing it on to someone else who may love it and give a good home.

Janean

Sometimes people just like to shop and the bought items reflect *their choices. Just because someone gives you a gift doesn’t necessarily mean “it made me think of you” because listening to and learning about a person is the only way to give things that are actually thoughtful. Your work is to help loved ones understand your taste and needs. I feel if gifts are repeatedly unliked, there needs to be more communication and transparency.

In short: donate.

Elizabeth

If a gift isn’t to the taste and personality of the recipient than not much thought or care went into selecting the gift. Aunt Katherine was told what type of gifts her niece would prefer and chooses to ignore that information – there is no love in that type of gift. Donate it!

Mary

It always made me feel so bad that my relatives and friends spent their time and limited resources on gifts I didn’t really like or need. Finally, I just confronted the problem and suggested we only exchange cards or food gifts. Some were relieved (maybe my choices of gifts weren’t great either) others were dragged along kicking but are now on board. I have one who says she doesn’t have anyone else to exchange with (guilt again); so we still do. Donate, donate. I now no longer have a closet designated for unwanted gifts and no “gifts to give” closet either.

Emily

I am 100% on team give it away / leave it on the curb for someone else to take home. It’s just not worth having the physical and metal clutter in your space if it’s not made up of things you love!

Emma

I’m cracking up. Today I am every bit a very sentimental hoarder and will rescue pretty much any family tchotchke an elder relative is getting rid of (with some limitations, of course). But when I was younger, every time my beloved grandma from Florida would come up to visit, my mom would head into the attic and pull down – I kid you not – life size, porcelain baby dolls whose faces were painted as VINTAGE CLOWNS that grandma had gifted to me at birth. My mom would dutifully place them atop my bookshelf, as if they’d been there the whole time, and for however long grandma was visiting I would have to sleep in my brother’s room because I was so terrified.

We very tearfully donated the dolls after she passed away, but now I’m sad I don’t have them to scare the shit out of my own kids with! So donate donate donate, but do try to pick one or two items that really remind you of your aunt to hold on to!

Michelle

My Grandmother LOVES lawn ornaments/garden decor, and probably has more ornaments than actual plants. She also loves to GIVE lawn ornaments/garden decor, therefor my lawn-less garden-less apartment is home to some lovely lawn fairies and gnomes. They are usually tucked behind something, and I always get enjoyment when someone discovers it on a shelf and has the guts to say “is that a gnome?!” Why yes, I wonder how he got there!

EM

I’m moving to a house with a real dining room (yay!) and was gifted an older maple turned-wood style hutch from my aunt, who informed me that my grandma will be so happy that her beloved hutch is still in the family. I took it because I thought it would look good painted black. But now I’ve found out that Grandma has a sentimental attachment to the hutch (though not enough to keep it herself?), and would be offended if I were to paint it. I’m on a tight budget, so I can’t just refuse free furniture and go buy my dream piece…I think I’m stuck trying to fit my style around this piece AS IS for the rest of Grandma’s life. What did I get myself into???

S

it is yours now, so it is your decision what to do with it. spin it to grandma that you are giving it new life

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