The Stuff Gifts are Made of

‘Tis the season, not just when the amount of catalogs coming to Our Little House increases, but the amount of boxes and cards that show up do as well.

In addition to friends and family wishing us well and sending us gifts for Christmas, I celebrate a birthday in this month also, so we typically get more cards and boxes in December than we see throughout the rest of the entire year.

The issue of dealing with gifts becomes even more of a tricky thing when one lives in such a small home.

The first year or so we lived here, I don’t think our friends and family understood just how limited 480-square foot can be when it comes to stuff.

A well-meaning friend I love dearly even sent me a full sized sofa picture of a black bear. While the painting matches our décor, there is absolutely no wall in Our Little House that will accommodate such a large picture.

I was raised to be appreciative of any gift.

“Gifts,” my mother would say, “are not mandatory for anyone. It means someone cares enough to think of you.”

Therefore, we were never allowed to say we didn’t like something or return it. We were to thank our benefactors – period.

It’s a mantra I’ve carried through my life. No gift, no matter whether I loved it or didn’t exactly think it was my style, was ever sent back.

It may not have always been practical to keep something I didn’t want or need, but I think it also instilled the meaning of appreciation in me.

I truly enjoy the hunt of finding someone I care about that perfect “something” I think they may love too. Really, I enjoy giving more than receiving.

We are truly appreciative of anything we still receive; it’s just that in this small of a home, we sometimes absolutely cannot use it.

So, the question becomes, do we go against everything we were taught and ask for a receipt so we can return something we cannot use, or simply donate or re-gift it without saying anything?

This is a question I’ve struggled with since moving to Our Little House. Most of our friends and family now understand how small of a home we have by reading the blog or staying in touch with me on the Facebook page.

Our closest friends and family have actually been here and see the limited space we have for stuff – and have seen the stuff we still have in our storage building – so they are careful about what they send.

But, inevitably, every year, I get a notice from our rural postman that there is a box so large our big, rural mailbox will not hold it and when we go to pick it up, we wonder where we will put the contents of said box.

Oh, and that sofa picture? I knew it was a hostess gift my dear friend worked really hard to earn for me, there was no way to return it, so it still sits, in its’ box in the storage building. I’m still trying to decide what I can do with it.

How do you deal with gifts and things giving to you that you don’t have room for or cannot use? I would like to hear your ideas.

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40 Responses

  1. Merr says:

    I also love love love giving an experience – doing an art project together, going for tea or coffee, making homemake baked goods or a meal, doing a progressive dinner with friends, a potluck, to an author reading, a play, the bookstore, garden, planting a garden, etc.

  2. I also agree with those who said that if it doesn’t work for them, it’s tossed out. I’ve done this on many occasions, either because it’s way too big for our small house or it just doesn’t fit with our sensibilities. Gifts I really like to give and get include gift cards to movies and day spas. In New York, it’s very practical.

  3. Jane Boursaw says:

    Great food for thought. I don’t like returning things either, though do sometimes pass along gifts to folks who I know will enjoy and use them. I think of it as a recycle/re-use concept rather than a re-gift concept. I figure someone might as well use them rather than have them sit in my storage area collecting dust.

  4. This has been a problem with me for years – I HATE getting gifts. I really do! I understand the impulse behind gift-giving but it seems so useless and wasteful. I end up giving away most everything I’m gifted, but (IMHO) it’s just perpetuating the waste cycle to send things to Goodwill or other thrift stores. And I give homemade gifts as a way to send a message to others, but it’s not getting through. Arrgh!

    • Kerri says:

      Maybe we should all take a more direct approach. Although I don’t see repurposing to Goodwill stores adding to the waste cycle. I think, at least, it finds a good home with someone who wants it.

  5. Maybe you can re-purpose your gift as a giveaway on your blog?

    Gifts are such a touchy subject. We’ve trimmed the gift giving in both my family and my hsuband’s we each give to only one sibling and my parents have said they ‘don’t need anything’ so we try to keep their presents small–handmade trinkets from the kids and a picture of our family.

  6. Sheryl M says:

    I now try to give gifts that I know people can use: this holiday season I gave my coworkers gift cards to their favorite restaurants. In past years, I’ve gotten gifts that I have no use for, and rather than throw them out, they’ve been recycled / given to another person – either as a gift still in the box. In the event I can’t think of someone who might want it, I’ve donated it to Goodwill.
    I do realize that once I give a gift, the recipient is the one who decides what to do with it. I have friends who think that if they give a gift, they should also have a say as to what gets done with the gift… that seems rather backwards of the whole GIVING idea, doesn’t it?
    I personally think the Christmas season has become the retail season, and most of us have gone way overboard with shopping. A friend today said they’d like the Christmas season a whole lot better if all the gift giving was taken away, and all we had were the Celebration, decorations, and get togethers.

    • Kerri says:

      Yes, I think giving a gift and then having a say on what happens to that gift is a little backwards, Sheryl. I agree with the overboard thing. I think it would be nice if all of us who has what we need/want, would instead give to those who do not.

  7. I actually just did some cleaning today and pulled out a giant coffee table book (I don’t have a coffee table) and decided to take it to the library for their book sale. It’s a lovely book; there’s nothing wrong with it. I just don’t see the sense in hanging on to it.

    As a rule, I tend to just say thanks and then donate the item elsewhere.

  8. I think this is where gifts of experiences come in handy … doing something together, going for a massage, etc.

  9. Alexandra says:

    I like the idea of homemade goods, too. This year I’m giving my kids, all 3, a cookbook that offers green tips. That way I figure my granddaughter will grow up with a cookbook in her house that her two aunts can know well and recommend recipes from, as her own mom isn’t much for cooking. I also offered her the chance to pick which option from Heifer to give, and she chose bees. Are you familiar with Heifer International?

  10. Frugal Kiwi says:

    This is one reason I like to give the few people I give gifts homemade consumables-baked goods, vanilla extract, bath products like solid lotion bars or soap. I also let them know that if the gift isn’t their cup of tea they are absolutely welcome to pass them on as it is a gift of love, not obligation to hoard.

    • Kerri says:

      I love homemade gifts, Frugal. I love getting homemade soaps, lotions and goodies to eat. I think it’s great though that you tell them to pass it along if it’s not for them. The ultimate act of giving!

  11. Marla says:

    If it fits your decor and you really like it, you can take a good picture of it(use a good camara) and make it a size that fits a tiny house. I live in one that is 200 sq. feet and it happens a lot. Then send the original to a charity event.

  12. Jodee says:

    This one takes a lot of patience! I remember my grandma regifting one of her gifts she had actually used for many years. She gave it to the daughter of the person who gave it to her for a wedding gift with a note saying how much she had enjoyed it hoping that the new bride would find the joy that her mom had given her many years ago.

    • Kerri says:

      As long as it was something that had plenty of years of good use left in it, I see no issues with that sort of regifting! I actually think that is pretty cool.

  13. I think it’s perfectly justifiable to give away something that just can’t work in your home, or maybe isn’t your style or for whatever reason, just needs to be given away (or sold and money donated as Allie suggested- great idea.)

    For years we exchanged gifts with family members of my husband who live in California. They are very well off, so it was already a challenge to find things that we felt comfortable giving them, especially since they always gave us very nice gifts.

    When we visited one year, I saw a hand tooled copper bird feeder I’d given them after they moved to a new house with backyard, discarded in their garage under a pile of stuff. I know I wasn’t meant to see that and truly was not offended, but realized that we were probably wasting money every year giving them things they didn’t need or want. It just bothered me to think about all that money being spent for nothing.

    After that, we started sending gift baskets of food, Kansas City barbeque or other specialty food items. At least that way, I knew they’d either eat it or serve it at a party, but it wouldn’t go to waste. However, they started doing the same thing and we got huge baskets of fudge, cookies, cheese, sausages etc. Delicious, but I really try to avoid that sort of thing, especially at the holidays when it seems to already be everywhere tempting me. Finally, I talked it over with my husband and we decided to talk to them and graciously suggest that we go to exchanging only cards at Christmas. I think they were probably also relieved to let go of a tradition that was only benefiting retailers.

    I have a few dear friends that I exchange gifts with and who I love to send something special to (you know who you are 😉 at Christmas and on birthdays, but we have pared our list of gift giving down to a very small number of people. And, if I give something to someone, it goes with no strings attached. It’s meant as an expression of love and affection but what they do with it is their business and it wouldn’t bother me at all to know they re-gifted or sold it. In fact, that would bother me much less than thinking it sat discarded in a garage where nobody at all gets any use out of it.

    • Kerri says:

      There’s been two instances in which I knew a gift I had given ended up being regifted. The first I saw. The other one was a gift I had given that really created a hunt for me. A friend saw something in a store one summer and said she loved it and would love to have one. By the time Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t find said item and had to hunt until I found it online. I was so proud I found it and thought I was giving something she would truly enjoy. A month later, Dale saw it in her daughter’s house and I have to admit, it really hurt my feelings (there’s no way this was a case of she gave the same thing. I was dog themed and her daughter doesn’t even like dogs, she’s a cat person). We’ve cut our giving list way down as well, Kathleen. Most people just don’t need more stuff and unless you really know what they would truly enjoy, you’re wasting your money anyway. I would really much rather just enjoy the good company of friends and loved ones. I have, though, come to the conclusion that if we do give a gift and end up seeing it in someone’s else’s home, it was the recipients to do what they please with it. I try not to take it as personally. 🙂

      • Oh, I can certainly understand why that was hurtful, under those circumstances. You went to a lot of trouble to find something very special. I guess it’s important that if you DO re-gift something, make sure it goes to someone who won’t be parading it front of the original giver!

        • Kerri says:

          Well, to be fair, it’s something we would have never saw had my friend’s husband not asked Dale to help him move a washer or fridge or something over at her house. We had never been in the house before or since, so it was a fluke. When Dale saw it hurt my feelings, he was even sorry he told me about it. The other one was the same, I had never been in my sister’s friends house. I saw a gift I had given my sister and said, “I gave Janet one just like that,” and the friend looked at me a bit puzzled and said, “That’s who gave it to me!” Oops. 😉

  14. Teleia says:

    I think I’m with Vida. I am effusive with the thanks, and then if I can’t use it, out it goes! But I do think that the fact that you worry about it says a lot about who you are — and that’s a good thing! 🙂

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks, Teleia. I do worry as I know how much thought people put into giving. And as with the sofa picture, I think my friend had this home party and worked just to get this gift for me. I can always find a home someplace for the small things (1 in, 1 out rule), but something as huge as a sofa picture just doesn’t go in such a small home. I gave away a sofa picture I loved to another friend when we moved here. She always admired it, so she got it as I knew I wouldn’t have room for it. And my mother had one she loved as well, but there’s just no room.

  15. Laure says:

    If you love the painting, maybe you could take a photo of it and size the photo to something you could display? Then rehome the original.

    • Kerri says:

      A very good idea, Laure. That’s a process I’ve been going through in letting my mother’s things go. I take a photo first!

  16. Lynn says:

    You know Kerri
    If you haven’t used and no someone else could or would get use of it I would re-gift… but someone IS going to love it and or have space for it. If you like something enough you may find you want it and make room by getting rid of something you can do without..I see nothing wrong with saying thank you for something even if you know you cant use or have space..In all you are saying thank you for helping me make someone else happy, Like they say it is the thought that counts.. Love Vidas idea about the picture to depends on what it is of..may be able to crop I do it all the time.haha (Scrapbooker) have a great Christmas dear

  17. sherri says:

    Could you hang it on the ceiling? For real….. if not I would love to take it off your hands. But the ceiling!! Kind of Alice in Wonderland stuff. 🙂

    • Kerri says:

      Ha, Sherri, I might consider that, but it’s a little too “Alice in Wonderland” for the husband, I’m afraid. He doesn’t like anything on the walls and it is a sticky point for us. I can’t imagine what he would think if I suggested we start hanging things on the ceilings! 🙂 Creative idea, though.

  18. Allie says:

    Unfortunately, there are some people for whom giving a gift is a statement of love, and when we don’t keep their gifts, they feel rejected.

    Then, there are those of us who feel that a gift is the recipients to do with as he or she chooses. If you can’t enjoy the painting, it would be far better off seeing the light of day in someone else’s home or business. Or, sell it, or donate it to a charity auction.

    Personally, I believe it’s the thought that counts. The giver thought enough of you to give a gift, and you thought enough of the giver to be thankful.

    • Kerri says:

      Good points, Allie. A charity auction would actually be a really good idea. Since the giver and I both love animals, I think one for an animal related charity is awesome!

  19. Vida says:

    Hi Kerri,

    I’m ruthless. If I can’t use it or give it away, I throw it out! I often repurpose stuff, though. Of course we always thank very politely and never mention that we can’t use the gift!

    Agree with you, I love surprising people with good gifts. I can tell that I’ve hit the mark when they tell me “It’s something that I’ve always wanted but never gotten for (whatever) reason”. Sometimes the gifts can be very frivolous, like a pair of super soft, perfect, RED leather gloves for a friend who likes to dress up.

    How big is the sofa picture? Perhaps you can reframe it smaller by some judicious cropping? Or even divide into several smaller pics, could be cool…

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for the idea, Vida. No, it is huge as are the images in the picture. I’m afraid I will just have to find another home for it.