The Burden of Gifts

null (1)“You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.” Of all the witticisms, one-liners, and pearls of wisdom that Sheldon Cooper* has uttered, that gem about gift giving is one of my favorites. He spoke those words in regards to the implied reciprocity of gifting. Granted it may be taxing to some people to determine an equally exciting gift of commensurate value to give to the gifter. For me, though, the real headache lies in determining what to do with a gift. More specifically, are we obligated to keep the gifts we receive not because they offer utility or add fulfillment to ours lives, but simply because they have been given to us by someone else? 

In a word, no. But let’s back up. Recently, I joined a decluttering/minimalism group on Facebook. Virtual pandemonium ensued when a women posted that she was going to donate a necklace that her mother-in-law had gifted to her. It was not a family heirloom nor anything of great expense (I believe it still had a Goodwill tag on it!). But she might as well have said she was selling her grandmother. The assaults on this woman’s character were vicious. No wonder you have a strained relationship with her. She’s showing you affection the only way she knows how. How ungrateful. All of sudden, the same people that advocated getting rid of beloved children’s toys that were no longer played with and favorite books that were no longer read wanted to get sentimental and lampoon someone else for not doing the same. While that “ungrateful” woman and I may be equally horrible people, I maintain that once a gift is given, it up to that individual to do what he or she would like with it.

If you give someone a frame, do you tell them where to hang it? If you buy someone an outfit that doesn’t quite fit, should he or she gain or lose weight? If you send someone cookies, do you tell them how to eat them? These questions are all absurd. The entire notion of a gift receipt is predicated on the fact that sometimes people have different tastes or need different sizes. I can no longer think of a single store that doesn’t have a “gift card mall” in it. Never mind choosing a gift card for the store you’re shopping at, choose a gift card to any store in a fifty-mile radius. I’m fairly one of the reasons why gift cards have become so popular is the belief that receivers will be able to choose something they really love. Why, then, do we feel so obligated to keep things that were given to us?

I’m not suggesting that every gift you receive should be exchanged, sold, or donated. If it means something to you, treasure it. If you’ll use it, be my guest. I do, however, think that if a gift does not bring joy or usefulness to you, it is perfectly reasonable to part with it. Be grateful and sincerely appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture. Then donate away.

*If you don’t know who Sheldon Cooper is, I’m giving you a big gift. Add some Big Bang Theory to your life. You’re welcome.

So Tell Me…Am I an ogre? Have you ever felt a sense of obligation to keep something? Would you be offended if someone returned or exchanged a gift you gave them?


The Burden of Gifts

13 thoughts on “The Burden of Gifts

  1. Ugh. Gift-giving is such a nuisance to me. Not only do I not enjoy the obligation of having to buy gifts, but I don’t even really care to receive them. I’m very much on board with Sheldon’s way of thinking. I’m not sure if this is more a result of my priorities when it comes to buying things or that this isn’t one of my “Love Languages” (as I discuss in one of my older posts:, but if we all just stopped giving physical gifts for birthdays and holidays, I’d be a lot less stressed and no less happy. Just last year I received a sweater and necklace from my mother-in-law. They were beautiful gifts, but nothing that I would ever wear (I’m rather picky – not her fault at all). And, since she was obviously nervous about getting me something I’d like, I decided to keep at least one of the gifts so as not to hurt her feelings. I hated asking her for the gift receipt for the sweater and I try to wear the necklace, at least around her, even though I really don’t need it. While I love that people are thoughtful enough to get me things they think I’d like, I hope that by telling more and more people that we hope to continually get rid of more “stuff,” the urge for others to buy us “stuff” will begin to wane.

    1. It’s such a delicate balance to not hurt people’s feelings. I like to think I am about incredibly gracious with thank you cards and whatnot. But I also think the only thing worse that realizing you bought something someone didn’t really like is realizing that they don’t care for something and are only keeping it out of guilt. I’m all for giving the gift of experiences – money towards something, Southwest gift cards – or edibles like chocolates, wine, beer, etc. I hope the more I give like that, the more other people will do the same!

  2. I’m totally on board with you and Mrs. Fi. Christmas is the worst time of year for me. Loved ones always ask what I want for Christmas, and I always tell them “Nothing.” This is because if I need or want something, I go out and get it for myself. But I can tell them “nothing” until I’m blue in the face, and because it’s Christmas they feel an obligation to get me something anyway. This is why I have 53 sets of barbecue utensils, and multiple copies of whatever books and music happen to be in vogue during any given Christmas season. For the love of the Christ Child, stop, people, please! If you want to give me something for Christmas, make a donation in my honor to the charity of your choice. That’s the way I look at it.

    1. Yes! I’d much prefer an experience like movie tickets or a donation on my behalf. And that’s not to say that I dislike all “stuff” – it’s just that I really don’t see how people can be upset with what someone does with a gift.

  3. I am totally with you on this. Gift giving can be such a burden sometimes, but it can also be really wonderful. I’m with Michael and Mrs. FI, the holidays are the worst. I am all for wanting to give meaningful gifts, but in the US especially we have this notion that we must give gifts for the sake of giving gifts.

    I agree with you Penny on it’s ok to donate or get rid of something that was a gift if it doesn’t spark joy or if it’s not useful. For me, it’s a case by case basis. I recently put a book in a donation pile that was a gift from one of my best friends in college. I didn’t really have a use for the book anymore but as I was pulling it off the shelf I noticed that she included a really sweet note. I donated the book but kept the note.

  4. Interesting take on things. It is a little crazy how judgmental people can get about what happens to gifts. When I had planned on getting married, I didn’t want a registry- I just wanted people to donate to the charity of my choice. Most gifts are just things, and helping a cause is more important to me. There’s less drama that way, too!

  5. I’m completely with you! No need to keep gifts. And I’m even fine with regifting if you think someone else will genuinely like or use something you’ve received but don’t want/need/like. I just wrote a post on this that will pop up this week, but we’re trying to shift our families to think about giving experiences instead of stuff, and it’s going well so far! Some of this is just retraining ourselves to think about gifts differently…

    1. Yes! Experiences or donations 🙂 There are a select few people in my life who we will still buy “things” for, but that’s mostly kiddos who make birthday lists or whatnot. If people want stuff, I’m not here to judge. But I also don’t think people are obligated to keep anything.

  6. If people absolutely insist that they want to get me a gift, I ask for wine or a couple of nice craft beers….. But overall I think the family Christmas is a LOT LESS “stressed” than it used to be. There used to be this undercurrent of gift giving anxiety, it’s a lot more relaxed now with no expectations and just enjoying the day and meal together.

  7. My mom had a rule for gifts: as long as it doesn’t have to be dusted!

    I agree with giving experiences and time over giving stuff. We take our nieces out on big adventure days (without siblings) for their birthdays. We go to waterparks, hike, go out to eat, bake a dessert, maybe watch a movie, and send them home exhausted and happy.

    My husband and I just dedicate a vacation that we were going to take anyway to each big holiday. We honeymooned at Yellowstone, so we try to do another National Parks trip each year around our anniversary.

  8. Yes! This is exactly what I was trying to tell people who insisted on getting us things for our wedding. Thank you, I appreciate the thought, but I would prefer you just gave me your company for the evening.

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