decluttering · minimalism


Since getting into the minimalist mindset, one of the most bamboozling dilemmas I have come across is what to do with gifts. Once you adopt minimalism as a lifestyle, gifts seem to go from being one of life’s little pleasures to being the bane of one’s existence. Suddenly, there seem to be so many of them, and they’re all just so useless! Get them away from me! On the other hand, though, there is the emotional side of things to consider. What about the person’s feelings? Is it a betrayal of sorts if I don’t keep it? And what about the time and money they invested in its purchase?

At the end of the day, we are faced with two options, really: accept the gift, or refuse it. The latter is the stance adopted by zero-waste guru Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home. In this blog post, she alludes to her unequivocal refusal of a gift from a public official on her fifth international tour. Here I quote directly from the post linked above, to give you an idea of how it went down:

“What I did not know is that I’d be about to face one of my most delicate refusals yet. That night, at the end of my talk in Sollies-Pont, the mayor came to the microphone. As he reached in his pocket, I knew that he was about to hand me a something. I quickly jumped in to say that I do not accept material gifts. This is not the first time that I refuse a gift in public, but the tough part here was making a top elected official uncomfortable in front of his people, and turning something down that’s considered a sign of honor in a political setting.”

Wow! At this point in my journey into minimalism and green living, I’m not sure I’m ready to turn down a gift, but I’m in awe of Bea’s stance. If you are like me and are still on your way to going gift-free, here is my advice for dealing with presents in a way that balances minimalism with diplomacy:

1. Don’t feel guilty about finding the gift a new home. Ask others if it could be of use to them, or donate it. This is a perspective I adopted after reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe way she sees it, what is important is the impact the gift made on you at the time of receipt, not the object itself. We all know how warm and fuzzy it feels when someone goes to the trouble of making us feel special, and that’s what we really take away from the experience of receiving. So, just pass it along – it doesn’t negate the emotions associated with the gift. And I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, by the way!

2. Be open about your stance on gifts. I guess this is some kind of bridge between accepting and refusing material gifts. The more you make it known that you are not interested in material goods, the less they will be purchased on your behalf. If your friends, colleagues and loved ones are not familiar with your preferences, start introducing minimalism into your conversations. You’ll be surprised how many people are curious and want to know more. I have had a lot of very positive experiences in this regard with people who are close to me as well as strangers!

3. Give the kind of gifts you would like to receive. Don’t fall into the trap of the ‘do as I say, don’t do as I do’ kind of stance, as if you follow this path, the gifts will most likely keep coming your way. The way I see it, each time we invest our money in the purchase of an item, we are supporting that mode of production. So, if you purchase for others useless items that will end up in landfill, you are telling them ‘I support the production of items that will end up in landfill!’ If, on the other hand, you give others homemade goodies or donations on their behalf, for example, as gifts, they’ll soon catch on that these are things that you value.

I’m curious to know: have you ever turned down a gift? If you haven’t, would you consider doing it?


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