This website is made possible by readers. I may earn a small commission when you buy through the links in this article at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

Have you ever gotten a gift you knew you didn't need from the moment you open up the wrapping? And then subsequently worry about what to do with gifts you don't want? I have. You just know that the hamburger-shaped cooking timer, while endearing, is going to sit at the back of your kitchen cabinet. It doesn't match your carefully put together Scandinavian-style decor and you use your phone as a timer anyway.

“Wow, what a great gift!”, you smile politely. At the same time, you get anxious thinking of ways to make use of it somehow, or how to get rid of it without them ever finding out.

This has happened to all of us, minimalist or not. There is no way all your friends and family would know what you want exactly for Christmas each time.

As a small warning, before I proceed to tell you the things you can do to reduce the chance of owning something that just adds no value to your life, you have to know that some of these ways are highly dependent on the personality and your relationship with the gift giver. You need to exercise some discretion why going about these.

1. Tell them the exact thing you would like as a gift

I thought I'd start out with one that demonstrates my forewarning. Obviously, it's highly obnoxious to be posting on Facebook with a list of things you want for your birthday. But being straightforward about what you want might be the easiest way to get what you want.

This works only with people you have special relationships with, like a significant other or close family friends. Those that understand that you want to be able to receive something you would cherish and use for a long time. This does spoil the element of surprise. I, personally, don't like being surprised. I know that might sound boring to some, but that's ideal for me.

When telling them what you would like, be sure you don't come across as demanding a specific thing. Instead, tell them the reason you are telling them exactly what you want. Also, offer them different options at different price points and be okay with not getting anything at all.

2. Ask to shop together

If you guys have a special kind of relationship, you can suggest to shop for presents for each other. This way, you'll both get the exact thing that you want. And as a bonus, you get to spend more time together and deepen the relationship.

3. Opt for experiences instead of things

For many minimalists, the best gifts are not things at all. Gift cards or even cash might seem insincere to some, are the best type of gifts for me. In Chinese culture, we get red packets during New Year, so getting cash might be easier in some cultures.

For other cultures, I've found that if you give gifts of experience, others might reciprocate in the future. Gifts like concert tickets or, even a plane ticket, are great experiences to give. So, instead of asking for an object, ask for an experience you've been wanting to go. Even going for a movie or asking to have a meal instead of receiving an object is an experience, so it doesn't have to be expensive.

This used to be an ad.

But no one likes ads, so I got rid of them. If my articles helped you, I ask for your support so I can continue to provide unbiased reviews and recommendations. Every cent donated through Patreon will go into improving the quality of this site.

4. Return it

If the gift doesn't come with a receipt, you can ask for one and tell them you want it for warranty.

Simply bring it back to the store they got it from. This might be a little tricky with online purchases but contact the customer support representative and tell them the situation. At worst, you'll get store credits which you can pick up something you really want.

5. Pass it on

One of the most important lessons I came across in minimalism is this, “When you are given a gift, your job is to receive it. What you do with it after is up to you.”

You are not obligated to use it, or report to the gift giver the status of the gift. You can always give it to someone who appreciates it more than you and tell them the truth. Make them understand that there is more joy to see something being used by someone who really needs it.

If possible, try not to regive it (in a wrapped up gift) to someone else. You should instead offer it to those you think need it and only pass it on once they accept.

For me, the easiest way was to list it on a merchant app for just the cost of delivery and you should get takers instantly.

6. Toss it

Before you think I'm completely heartless asking you to toss that tacky shirt your mom got you in the trash, hear me out.

If you think about it, a gift isn't actually free. Once you get it, it takes up time and money to maintain, space in your home you pay rent or mortgage for. Not to mention the mental energy in thinking of what to do with gifts you don't want. Even if negligible, the time taken up would add up and eventually take you away from the things that matter.

I designed a thing.
Responsive image

I found a 100 year old company that would create these heirloom quality canisters for me. They are handmade and will keep your tea leaves, coffee beans or anything that you need dry for years to come.

or read review

Of course, you should try to pass it on before resorting to tossing it.

Once you've done the deed, this doesn't mean you should go out of your way to hurt their feelings and tell them you toss their stuff into the trash. Simply do it discreetly and if they ask, you can always say it broke.

7. Refuse the gift

I'll admit, this one is pretty advanced. But, I've done this before and it's possible depending on the depth of your relationship. I simply thank them sincerely for the gift and tell them I've accepted the gift with my feelings in full. And that since I won't use it, they should give it to someone who would need it more to respect the belonging.

This might sound a little rude to some. But here's why I think it's okay.

Friends and I mean real friends would understand and respect you. Of course, you should make sure to explain the situation and what you are trying to achieve with minimalism very clearly. If they insist on you taking something you clearly don't want, then maybe they aren't the kind of friends you need. If you think about it, it's similar to if your “friends” force you to eat donuts when you are on a diet.

I've actually done this with my mom, but each time, very tactfully explaining the reason and why minimalism is important for me. I told her to take me out for a meal instead and this has become the norm since, which lets me spend more time with her.


Have a situation that doesn't get solved by any other above ways? Let me know in the comments below and I'll add to the list.

Tagged minimalism