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Unwanted Gifts: What to Do With Them?

Old-fashioned needlepoint book

Have you spent time during the last many weeks organizing your home? I bet you are unearthing unwanted gifts from the back of closets, the attic or the basement. What are you doing with these things? If I had to guess, I would say that you still do not want them.

What are you going to do with them now that you have found them? Are they donations? The consignment stores and thrift stores like Goodwill are not open right now. So, what is a person to do?

As it happens, a friend of mine inadvertently provided me with a possible solution that I want to share with you.

A Gift

The other day I received a package in the mail from this friend in Connecticut. I was both surprised and perplexed. It is true my birthday is coming up, but we do not ordinarily exchange gifts. Being curious, I opened the package.

Inside was a lovely old-fashioned book on Needlework; all different kinds of needlework. I do lots of needlepoint and always have a project going. This book intrigued me. I wondered what prompted my friend to send it to me.

A Note

There was a note inside the book which told me the story. This book had belonged to my friend’s grandmother.  When her mother was cleaning out the grandmother’s house, she passed the book to my friend. She kept it because it was her grandmother’s. But now, she no longer feels a need to keep it. She did not want to donate it to a thrift store, so she sent it to me because she knows I do a lot of needlepoint.

The note went on to say that if this was an unwanted gift, if I did not want the book, I should feel free to donate it or even toss it. It was a lovely gesture. This note gave me permission to either keep, donate, or toss the book. It let me know that I should not feel obligated to keep it just because my friend gave it to me.

There are several lessons to learn here.

Pass It On

The first lesson is that when someone gives you something if it is an unwanted gift, something you do not want or that you will not use, pass it on. If you keep it, you are only adding to the clutter in your home. The person doing the giving has done their part. They gave you a gift. You have done your part in receiving the gift. Once you thank the person for the gift, your job is done. Even Marie Kondo agrees. Read her advice on what to do with unwanted gifts that do not spark joy.

Make a Decision

When you receive an unwanted gift it is up to you to decide what to do with it. You can stuff it in the back of a closet, in the attic, in the basement or in the garage. You can donate it to an organization you support, or you can give it to someone you think may like it.

Stuffing an unwanted gift in an out of the way place in your home is a delayed decision. It may make you feel better in the short term, but you will have to deal with it at some point.

Tackling the Tough Stuff

I think this is what many of us are doing now that physical distancing has lasted this long. Most of us have probably gone through and organized the areas in our home that we frequent often.  We have pulled out and placed in a donation bag the things that we do not want and tossed the things that are broken.

We are starting to tackle the tough stuff. The things about which we have delayed making a decision; all those unwanted gifts that we stashed. Then there are the things that belonged to relatives that perhaps we did not truly want but which we feel guilted into keeping because it belonged to someone we loved.

Take another look at those unwanted gifts. Is there someone you know who might love them? If there is, consider putting one or more of them in a box and sending it to them.

Give Permission

Here is the second lesson. Put a note in the box giving the person permission to pass the gift on, if it is something they do not want. When you let someone know they are free to pass something on, you are relieving them of any guilt they may feel by taking that action. The last thing you want to do is guilt someone into keeping something only to add clutter to someone else’s home.

Are you struggling to make decisions about the things you have stashed in the back of your closet? Give me a call. I would be honored to help you figure it out.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization.


  • Thanks for this great advice – I’m sure we’ve all received gifts that we didn’t want! It’s hard to get rid of them right away though; even unwanted, I feel like I should keep them for a little while at least, which is really pretty silly.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you for commenting, Janet. I don’t think it’s silly to keep gifts for a little while. I think that’s what most of us do.

  • Unwanted gifts can be tricky. I’ve experienced this for myself and with clients. There is often guilt around receiving a present (given with love) that we don’t like, need, or want. In the best cases, the giver qualifies the gift, as your friend did. How lovely to give permission NOT to keep something. My husband and I have an understanding that is said each time we gift the other person something. We let them know that if they don’t like it or prefer to exchange it, that’s OK. We do our best to give each other things we think the other person will enjoy. And for the most part, we’re pretty good at it, but we still give an out and/or a gift return receipt.

    I’m pretty good at letting go of the gifts I won’t use. However, I know that there are times I practice some “social distancing” before I let them go. I might keep them for a while, even if I’m not going to use them. And once some time has passed, I’m more able to let go. Perhaps I’m giving the gift a chance for me to change my mind before sending it on its way.

    And lastly, as the receiver of a gift, I also believe that you are the owner. As the owner, you have total rights to decide its fate, no matter who gave you the present.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Yes! Unwanted gifts are tricky. I understand holding on to things for a little while – just to make sure they are indeed unwanted. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Linda

  • Julie Stobbe says:

    I love the lesson about giving people permission to do what they please with an item I give them. So many people have trouble believing that when you receive something it is now yours. You may do what you want with it. Giving permission makes it so much easier especially for sentimental people. I also try to match items that are being given away to people who can use them. Thanks for your lovely blog post.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Julie. I love the way you talk about matching items being given away to people who can use them. It makes the giving away that much easier.

  • Seana Turner says:

    I absolutely LOVE the idea of putting a note in with a gift that “gives permission” to the recipient to do whatever he/she choose with the item. This really should be understood, but it often is not. We can carry a lot of guilt, so it is quite freeing to have the giver articulate their desire that you feel no guilt and do what you please. Terrific idea!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I loved opening the book and reading the history (that it originally belonged to my friend’s grandmother) and then having permission to not keep it. As it happens, I will use this book. But, it was truly freeing to have her permission. Thank you for joining the conversation, Seana.

  • I tend to either use the gift or donate it. I love the idea of giving permission to pass it forward. It’s so nice to share something with someone who may actually use the item.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      I agree, Sabrina. It’s always nice to give something to someone who actually wants it.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    This advice really resonates with me. I’ve never understood that feeling of obligation to keep something. In the days before Amazon wish lists, my family sometimes gave gifts that just didn’t work. For a number of years, because I’d admired a sweater of my sister’s, she kept giving me similar sweaters, but I admired how the color and style looked on her! Eventually, I explained that I appreciated the thought, but that the gift wasn’t right for me, returned that year’s item, and from then on, never felt obligated to keep something that wasn’t a good match. I absolutely love the idea of giving people outright permission to move something along to a better home.

    It’s the thought that counts, so I think that as long as we show gratitude for the thought, the item itself can continue on its journey.