Wow! You shouldn’t have. No seriously, you really shouldn’t have.

Who among us hasn’t received a gift that couldn’t have been more wrong?

While your initial urge might be to dispose of an unwanted gift, chances are you won’t. More than 57 percent of Americans have kept a gift they received from someone because they felt guilty getting rid of it, according to a survey recently conducted by SpareFoot for National Moving Day.

Talk about a painful situation: That means that instead of just disposing of it once and for all, we’re allowing the negativity to linger every time we see it.

Seems it is often harder to receive than to give. We turned to the experts to unwrap some of that gift guilt – how to get rid of it once and for all (and that bad blouse while we’re at it), and even more importantly, how to be the change.

Angry girlfriend rejecting a gift sitting on a couch at home.

Gift Guilt: The Struggle is Real

Believe it or not, our gift guilt is actually rooted in a positive emotion: We feel guilty because somebody special spent effort and money choosing something they thought would bring us joy, says Sarah Giller Nelson, owner of Less is More Organizing. If we believe that it’s the thought that counts, then we feel like if we get rid of the gift, we will seem ungrateful.

But in reality your friend or family member wouldn’t want you to keep something if they knew it bothered you or you didn’t like it. And that in itself is the clue to how to overcome the guilt.

“By removing the emotion from the gift, we realize that it is just ‘a thing’ and doesn’t represent the relationship,” Nelson said.

Donate, Regift or Sell?

Once you’ve done the tough work of realizing you are never going to wear the sweater from Aunt Hilda or admitting that the china angels from mom don’t jibe with your modern apartment, the question then becomes how to “dispose” of the gift.

It’s better to donate rather than sell an unwanted gift, believes etiquette consultant Rachel Wagner.

“Since sites like Craigslist are universally popular, a donation is less likely to circle back into your network of friends or family, than if you offered it for sale,” Wagner said.

If your mom is super into china angels herself, she just might be trolling the local sites looking for a deal.

a man is unpleased with his gift

Regift With Caution

Wagner says regifting can work under certain circumstances. A gift that is inherently useful, even if you can’t personally use it, can be put aside for someone whom you know would appreciate it.

Before you regift though, make sure it passes the test of whether you would actually buy that item for that person, Wagner says. If so, regift away, cautiously.

“Attach a sticky note to the item designating who gave it to you and the date, which prevents the embarrassment of re-gifting to the same person or even to someone in the same circle of friends,” said Wagner.

The SpareFoot survey found that about one in five Americans are keeping stuff they don’t use or need because they plan to give it to someone as a gift.

Not everything is a suitable regifting option, including perishable items, personal items like fragrances and toiletries or any items near their expiration date.

A man opening Christmas presents to discover he got a Christmas themed jumper to go along with the usual socks and tie.

Be the Gift Giver You Wish Your Friend Was

Now let’s turn the tables and look at the gifting part of the equation. Very simply: Don’t be part of the clutter problem; be part of the solution by thinking carefully before you give a gift.

It’s actually relatively easy to be a fantastic gift giver when you remember that it is all about the receiver’s personal interests and likes, not yours. For example, don’t waste an expensive bottle of bourbon on a teetotaler.

And beware the gag or “cute” gift that calls to you in a moment of weakness at the mall.

“Most people I know are very busy and don’t need one more item to dust or take up space. So, avoid the temptation to give a ‘clutter’ item might that might have seemed ‘just right’ at the moment you saw it, but realistically may end up in the donation box or even trashed,” said Wagner.

If you must buy it, she suggests looking at the item a day or two later and see if you still think it’s right for that person.

young happy excited man opening red gift box

10 Awesome Non-Clutter Gift Ideas

 So what to give? You can’t go wrong with a gift that offers time savings, pampering or convenience, says Wagner. Here are some ideas:

  1. An experience, such as tickets to the movies, a concert or a sporting event
  2. A family gift such as a board game or croquet set
  3. A museum or zoo membership
  4. A gift certificate for a favorite restaurant or coffee place
  5. A gift card for a pampering service such as a salon service, manicure or massage
  6. A donation in the person’s name to a cause that interests them (and not just a cause that interests you!)
  7. A voucher for house cleaning
  8. A gas card
  9. A magazine subscription
  10. Something related to their hobby or interest

The Bottom Line?

“More than anything, remember that it’s not the value of the gift that’s important; it’s the thought that went into it to make it personal to someone’s interest or lifestyle,” Wagner said.

And while you are at it, don’t forget to include a gift receipt.

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Cathie Ericson
  • Melinda Mitchell

    Excellent article!! Gift guilt is the worst!