How To Declutter Gifts Instead Of Shoving Them Into A Closet

We all know how hard it can be to figure out how to declutter gifts — especially when the guilt kicks in and you start to feel bad about it. But the truth is that if you don’t declutter them, the clutter and the guilt will only get worse later.

Decluttering those unwanted presents now means you’ll have less stuff cluttering your home and more space for the things that really matter to you. I’ve got plenty of declutter tips to help you with the entire journey, and here are some specific ideas to make decluttering gifts easier… 

Woman wearing a black and white striped shirt and expressing disbelief at the contents of an open red gift box.

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I could say that decluttering presents is simple… just get rid of them immediately.

But we all know that’s not realistic.

Let’s talk about:

  • Practical reasons to let that stuff go
  • Dealing with the guilt we feel when we declutter a gift
  • What to do with those old gifts
  • How to (mostly) prevent getting more unwanted presents

Why We Need To Practice Gift Decluttering

When we first begin to practice letting go of those gifts we never really wanted, it’s tough. Often, no matter how bad that gift really is, our emotions and guilt overwhelm us.

Still, we know that keeping every gift we receive simply isn’t practical.

Sometimes it’s a matter of health. If we get presents that trigger allergies, migraines, or other health problems, then it’s imperative to learn how to not accept those things at all, or to get rid of them immediately.

Along with that, keeping gifts that don’t fit our bodies, our decor style, or align with our personal life philosophies really doesn’t make any sense.

Finally, we all know what happens when we end up with too many unwanted gifts.

No matter how much you think you should keep those things, if you don’t use them and keep them clean, then they become clutter. And clutter will only attract more clutter and take over your space.

We end up turning into The Keeper Of The Things, allowing ourselves to become burdened by too many things that don’t bring us any kind of joy or happy memories.

‘Okay, sounds great,’ you say. ‘But I still feel SO GUILTY about decluttering gifts.’

Believe me, I understand! I kept a lot of things far too long before getting brave enough to let go. Here are some thoughts that may help…

How Do You Deal With Guilt From Getting Rid Of Gifts?

Guilt is a powerful emotion that kills all motivation for decluttering gifts, even when we never really wanted them in the first place. This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to declutter at all.

Here’s a simple truth that we all need to learn:

The whole point of giving is to show love from one person to another.

Text how to declutter unwanted gifts on white background over image of woman with long dark hair staring in disbelief into an open red gift box.

Accepting the gift and expressing gratitude for the thoughtfulness behind it means that the gift has fulfilled its purpose! The gift is then yours to do with as you choose, and there’s no sense in hanging on to it if it isn’t adding value to your life.

You are not being selfish or rude by letting go of the object.

However, we tend to allow our brains to tell us something different. And then the feelings of guilt kick in and it becomes just as difficult to unclutter unwanted gifts as when we’re decluttering sentimental items.

Because most of us have a kind heart, we worry about how the gift-giver would feel — even if we’ve lost touch or the person has passed on.

It can be extremely difficult to separate feelings and memories from THINGS. But it is possible to accomplish, and it becomes easier with practice.

Doing the work of confronting the guilt

1. Begin with the ‘easier’ gifts

You shouldn’t even think twice about items like those mentioned earlier that may threaten the health of you or your family. They simply need to go!

2. Ask yourself why the person gave you a gift

Did they know something about what would make you happy or did they just give a gift out of obligation?

If the person who gave you an unwanted-but-guilt-ridden gift is available, it may be time for an honest conversation. Yes, this is hard!

But you may be surprised to find out they don’t even remember the object that’s causing you to feel so much guilt.

Sometimes you don’t have a way to talk to the people who gave you certain gifts. If that’s the case, PLEASE assume that the gift-giver would never want to burden you.

It’s okay to let things go when they no longer fit into your mental or physical capacity!

3. Set a decluttering limit

If you know the guilt of gift decluttering comes on quickly, limit how many gifts you declutter at any one time. This way you only deal with as much as feels manageable for you.

This is a slow declutter, which I have found to be the best and easiest way to declutter. The speed doesn’t really matter, because you’re building the right skills and NOT getting overwhelmed.

I can’t promise a completely guilt-free process for decluttering unwanted presents, but keeping these things in mind and following the next suggestions should help make it easier.

What To Do With Unwanted Gifts

Woman holding up a straw purse while deciding how to declutter this unwanted gift.

Storing and ignoring is a poor choice for anything you don’t need, so never feel guilty about passing along useful items to those who will appreciate them. Allowing others to enjoy and use those things is actually showing great respect for the items.

1. Declutter and donate

This is always my first choice.

Those overly scented grooming products you can’t use are always welcome at shelters.

For more ideas, I have a post about where to donate your stuff after decluttering.

2. Save for a white elephant gift or other regifting

Those really bad gifts are perfect for white elephant exchanges at family reunions or office parties.

Be thoughtful about regifting. If you’re not SURE the person will love and use the gift, don’t do it.

Don’t fall into the trap of saving everything. If you’re going to keep anything for later, make a strict limit and stick to it.

3. Return or exchange at the store

If your gift came with a receipt, then the gift-giver probably had an inkling that it wasn’t the perfect gift for you.

Don’t feel guilty at all for taking it back and getting something that works better for you… or even just returning it to the store so you have less clutter.

4. Sell online

I don’t usually recommend this due to the effort involved. Plus, I prefer to pass gifts along instead of profiting. But, if you really need the cash… *shrugs*

5. Return to the gift-giver

This comes back to having a potentially difficult conversation, so consider carefully.

Also, think about whether or not the person really needs or wants that item. If they have clutter tendencies, it may not be a good idea.

Is There A ‘Waiting Period’ Before It’s Okay To Declutter New Gifts?

Nope! You can release that gift the very same day.

That said… if you’re new to this process and feel overwhelming guilt at the idea of letting things go immediately, you can take it a little more slowly.

Put the items in a donation box and write a date on the outside, anywhere from 1 to 6 months away is fine. Set a reminder on your phone and when the day comes, drop off the box without even looking inside.

What To Do With Cards And Handmade Gifts?

So you’re finally ready to let go of that huge box of cards you saved for years? Awesome!

Recycling is a fine choice.

If you still think the cards are ‘really special and pretty,’ you can always donate them to facilities that utilize them for crafting or making into new cards for various charities.

Usually, these places only want the front part of the card. For your own privacy, it’s best to not donate sections of cards that have personal notes, names, etc.

Handmade gifts and homemade gifts are just like any other gift… you simply can’t keep everything. And the guilt is often strong with these types of gifts.

If the gift-giver is someone like a close friend or family member, then it might be a kind gesture to display their gift for a set amount of time, and then make it quietly disappear when you update your seasonal decor.

When you feel that you simply MUST keep some of these things, place a strict limit. I like to use this type of plastic storage bin as the perfect size limit.

How To Prevent Getting Unwanted Gifts

Woman with long dark hair staring in disbelief into an open red gift box.

Stopping the flow of unwanted gifts is just as important as learning how to let go of the ones you already have.

1. Speak up

Make your preferences known. Tell people you’re moving toward a minimalist lifestyle, or you want to be kinder to the environment, or you’re dealing with some allergies, or that you just don’t want more stuff as it conflicts with your ideal simple life.

Be vocal, be firm, but don’t lie. Make sure what you tell people is true.

2. Call for change

You’re probably not the only one dealing with this issue. Perhaps it’s time to float the idea of ending gift exchanges within your circles of family and friends, or doing only clutter-free gifts.

Instead, you could collectively donate to your charities of choice, help a local family in need, etc.

Another great option is ‘experience gifts’ like movie tickets or concert tickets, a massage appointment, or a day at a spa.

Consumable gifts are a potential idea if there is awareness and respect for those with allergies. However, this could set you up to get food and personal care items you may not want, so use caution with this idea.

3. Get a little passive-aggressive

This is a suggestion I heard a while back — unfortunately, I can’t remember where.

It won’t work for everyone. It’s a little ‘out there,’ but you might be surprised at what happens.

Start writing thank-you notes.

The twist is that inside the note, you tell the gift-giver about how you’ve passed the gift on to someone you felt would get much better use out of the item. Be sure to let the gift-giver know how much the gift was appreciated by the new recipient.

Honestly, not sure I could do this one. But if it fits your personality and you have a thoughtful way with words, it could work.

More Decluttering Resources and Inspiration

4 Action Tips for How To Declutter When Overwhelmed

10 Takeaways From Swedish Death Cleaning That Will Inspire You To Declutter

Feeling Sad After Decluttering? It’s a Real Thing… and Here’s How to Deal With It

7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Impact of Clutter – Organizing Moms

62 Things to Declutter That You Won’t Miss at All

Bringing it All Together to Cleanse Your Home of Old Presents and Clutter

In the end, decluttering gifts is a win-win.

The skills you practice when letting go of unwanted gifts will serve you well in decluttering any other areas of your home that need attention.

Start now, start slow, keep going, and all those unwanted gifts will eventually be gone, which means you’ll have more space for the things that really matter to you.

You’ve got this!

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3 thoughts on “How To Declutter Gifts Instead Of Shoving Them Into A Closet”

  1. I love reading your articles. Alot of them are exactly what I’m going through. I’m glad you are getting your health back. Prayers for you Julie. Sincerely, Bonnie

  2. I am loving your article also,but most especially the one with dealing with things from family.i always felt that one should hold on to all these family memento. and after reading your post about that,I am feeling so much better and can continue my downsizing. thank you!! PS, you too are amazing!!

  3. Good ideas! I am 84 years old, and really, really do not need anymore “stuff”. I have started announcing before a holiday like Mothers Day, my Birthday, Christmas that I really do not need anything since I am actively getting rid of things so my family doesn’t have to when something happens to me. I much prefer they offer to do some chore for me that maybe I can’t do by myself and I let them know that. Since I have kids, many grands and several great-grands, and have always given gifts to them, some are reluctant to stop giving to me, but they have listened and will do favors for me or give gift cards to restaurants or take me to a movie, so it is working. Also I no longer burden most of them with gifts either. Since I have 4 grown children, who have mates, 16 grands and 6 great- grands, I stop giving gifts when they age- out (18). That leaves only the great-grands who still get gifts. The others all get to choose their favorite home baked treat, and get a handmade gard from me. They love it! Hope some of this gives others ideas.

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