Gifts and Guilt: How to Let Go of Both

Gift Guilt. The struggle is real. Whenever you’re going through items to declutter, or even if you’re just dealing with the after effects of opening a gift that just isn’t a forever-keeper for you, guilt becomes a big factor.  It attaches like gravity to the item, and makes it sooooooo muuuuuuch harder to let go of, doesn’t it?

gifts and guilt

Think of how you feel when you select and give a gift.  Best case scenario, you put a lot of thought and effort into finding and giving the gift, because you wanted the receiver to feel loved and valued. It was a gesture of your feelings for them.  It was not your ACTUAL feelings for them, but a gesture.  Or, maybe you kind of phoned it in; you had some generic gifts ready to give, or you went and got something that could work for just about anyone, because you wanted, or felt like you had to, provide a gesture. Either way, when you went through the process, you probably weren’t thinking, “I hope this makes this person feel guilty, and that she or he ends up struggling with whether to keep now, or a long time from now.  I hope this gift ends up being a burden on them. I hope they feel bad every time they see it. I hope they keep shoving it in a drawer or a cabinet, or put it on a shelf to dust for years, purely because they’d rather not upset me.”  

And, most likely, neither were your gift givers. So, why are you creating this imaginary conversation in your head with them that assumes they were?  (okay, I’ll acknowledge that there are people who give some “loaded” gifts, and you feeling guilty might just be okay with them, but we’re not here to talk about them, really…)  

I want to help you understand and untangle the guilt, reframe the conversation in your head, let go of the gift that is holding you back, and prepare for the conversation you might be dreading with the gift giver. Sound good? 

What causes the Guilt? What are those voices in our head saying that is making it hard for us to let go of the time? Sometimes, it’s about the gift, and sometimes, it is about the giver: 

The Gift:

  • It’s not my style, but the person who gave it to me thought I’d like it
  • It used to be my style, but isn’t any more, and the person who gave it to me thought it still was…
  • It makes me feel judged or badly about myself
  • It’s great and all, but I just don’t have the room
  • It’s great and all, but will require me to spend money to upkeep and maintain it (and I don’t have that money, or, if I did, I wouldn’t spend it on this)
  • It was a wedding gift. I registered for it. Someone got it for us because we said we wanted it.
  • The gift clearly means more to the gift giver for me to have it than it does to me
  • It was obviously expensive, and the gift giver doesn’t have a lot of money, so I know this set that person back a bit to give it. 
  • It was expensive, and it has value. I feel like I’m making a bad choice when I’m letting go of something that was expensive. 
  • And, probably another dozen answers….


The Givers:

  • I love and respect the giver, and don’t want to hurt anyone by rejecting or letting go of a gift that came from a good gesture, even if I don’t want it
  • I’m not actually a huge fan of the gift giver, and looking at the gift reminds me of that, and brings up negativity
  • It was a surprise to receive a gift from the giver; Receiving it was pleasing and humbling
  • The giver has passed away, and it feels disrespectful to let something got that they gave me
  • The giver has passed away, and I feel better and closer to them because you have a thing that they gave me, even if the item itself isn’t important
  • I’d rather keep the thing than have a difficult conversation with that gift giver about why I don’t have it any more.  I’ll just live with disappointment and avoid confrontation or making them feel bad.

So, some of those are things that sound familiar, I’m sure.  But, your imaginary conversation in your head is strong, and you need to stand up to that voice in your head. Here are some retorts that can work: 

  • I can be grateful for the thought (after all, it’s the thought that counts). I can be grateful for the gift giver.  That doesn’t mean I must ALSO be grateful for, and obligated to permanently honor the gift itself. 
  • The gift giver never intended to give me a gift that feels like a burden, or causes a problem for me and my home. They did it because they wanted to share a gesture of something positive, and would hate knowing that it did the opposite
  • I, and not the gift giver, gets to decide what I keep in my home, where, and for how long
  • Not all gifts land perfectly.  I’m sure I’ve given some things that just were “meh”, too.  I wouldn’t want someone holding onto a gift they didn’t love, just because they think it would upset me if they didn’t. 
  • The value of gifts can expire.  I enjoyed it at the time. I really did.  I’m thankful to the gift giver for that.  But I just don’t get out of it what I did then, and it’s okay to move it along
  • Someone else will love this item way more than I do.  Why am I holding onto it, without getting anything positive in my life from it, when someone else would be thrilled to have it? 
  • Honestly, I could return this or sell this and get something I truly DO love, which I expect is what the gift giver really wanted to have happen
  • This is an heirloom piece, and I know that someone else in my family would love the opportunity to have this for a while. 

Great! You’ve won your imaginary argument, and you are convinced! You’ve moved the item to the donate box, or to the “give to someone else I know” box, or the “I’m returning or selling this” pile or maybe even the circular “no one is going to want this” receptacle…   But you’re still wary of the conversation with the gift giver.  Whether it’s proactive (like, you need to ask for a gift receipt or you want to give the gift giver right of first refusal on taking it back) or reactive (like, when they ask “whatever happened to that chafing dish I gave you?”), finding the right and most respectful words is important.  You’ll find your own words, I’m sure, but maybe these will help

  • Mom, I’ve had Aunt Jane’s tea set for many years, but I just don’t use it like she’d probably hoped I would.  I think someone else in the family would enjoy having it more than I do right now.  Do you have any thoughts on who would love keeping watch of this heirloom next?

  • I loved having this in my home when I had more space, but now, I’m in a position to make some difficult decisions. It’s time for me to let it go on to someone who will love it as much as I did when I first received it.  I wanted to make sure, though, that, if you wanted it for yourself, that I offered it to you.  Would you like it?

  • “What a thoughtful gift that was!  It means a lot to me that you thought of me during the holidays. Unfortunately, it’s just not what I’m wearing/using/listening to these days.  Would you be okay with my exchanging it for something I had my heart set on?

  • I love that you remembered how much I have always enjoyed __________.  I have fond memories of it too, but it’s just not as big a part of my life as it once was.  You’re so thoughtful to have given me this, and I’ve decided to pass it along, just as thoughtfully, to someone else who will be thrilled to have it.

  • Where is the ______ you got us?  I recently went through so many things, in an effort to get my life more calm and enjoyable, and remove the things that were causing me stress.  I found that I had a lot of items I was holding onto that I didn’t love or use any more, and I was holding onto them just because I loved the person who gave it to me.  I finally came to my senses and realized that I wouldn’t want someone I loved to hold onto things, just because they loved me back.  So, a lot of things went, and that ____ was one of them.  I enjoyed having it for the time I did, and I’m glad to know someone else is probably enjoying it even more right now.


That wasn’t so painful now, was it? It may have stung a little, but remember, this is about preserving the way you want to live in your home, and what you wanted to be surrounded with when you’re there.

And, while you’re at it, model good behavior:

  • Be a better gift giver.  Give experiences, give gifts that you know are needed and wanted, give gifts that aren’t going to become clutter.
  • Whenever possible, include gift receipts, and maybe a little note that says “If this gift doesn’t surprise and delight you, make sure you get yourself something that does.” 
  • Teach your kids how to be grateful, gracious, but not to associate the value of the gift with the value of the giver. Guilt is an emotion that we start to learn at an early age!
  •  Don’t ask others what they did with YOUR gift… “hey… do you still have that Bass-o-matic I got you for your wedding?”  




  1. Seana Turner

    Love the suggested conversations you posted. That can help people – this truly is a difficult subject. I remind clients that most people would feel badly if they thought you cringed every time you looked at something they gave you.

  2. clevergirlorg

    Thanks so much, Seana! It’s so difficult, but I really find the “what would they think if they knew you felt this way?” method to be such an eye-opener!

  3. Sabrina Quairoli

    Great suggested conversations. A while back I had a client that said she wanted to photograph everything so she could get rid of the stuff from her mom who had passed away. I thought that was a great idea and shared it with others who have struggles when it comes to giving away items that were given to them. Thanks for sharing.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks for adding that great “how-to” tip!!

  4. Ellen Delap

    Great conversation to have with gift givers. Modeling good gift giving and gift accepting is the first step for all of us. Sharing gratitude is an important part of the giving process.

  5. clevergirlorg

    Thanks, Ellen! I love the addition of your point about gratitude!

  6. Buffy

    I love your blog and down to earth style. You offer vaild suggestions for a common and (perceived) difficult situation. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks so much, Buffy! I appreciate your note… glad you found me!

  7. Janet Barclay

    Wow, so much guilt can be associated with both giving and receiving gifts! No wonder some families have ditched the idea of exchanging gifts (among adults, at least – it’s way different with kids!)

    • clevergirlorg

      Completely agree… I know MY life is much easier since we got out of the presents-game with adult family! Thanks for reading!

  8. Olive Wagar

    I especially appreciated your perspective that the value of gifts can expire.
    You really don’t have to keep something forever just because a loved one gave it to you. I prefer to give experience gifts, like tickets to classes, movies, or concerts. But I do enjoy finding special things for my sweetie-pie grandchildren!! I just set a limit. Thanks for posting to POBC.



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