How to graciously and gratefully accept gifts

unwanted gifts



It’s that lime green sweater your mother in law gave you this Christmas. It’s the wedding gift you have not opened after 30 years of marriage. It’s the purple purse your husband purchased for your birthday. For those awful items, do you use it, display it or regift it? It’s all these gifts that keep you wondering what to do when gifts have been given in the true spirit of giving. How do we graciously and gratefully accept gifts,especially if it’s a matter of “what were they thinking”?

Authentic gratitude

Be sure we have been graciously grateful .  A hug, thoughtful note, email or phone call can be the best way to be sure you have shared with the giver your appreciation.

Letting go

It’s a matter of time. Some gifts can be easily given away as donations to charity. There can be returns to the store with a receipt. Little by little you can start to let go of stuff. There is no dishonor in not keeping a gift as long as your gratitude has been conveyed.

Keeping gifts

There are many reasons to keep the most unwanted gifts. Gifts given can be harder to let go of if the family member is deceased. Clients of mine have chosen to keep gifts as keepsakes long after the function and value of the gift has declined. An item can bring a smile to your face or a warm memory. When you find an item that is especially meaningful, be sure to keep it in a place you honor it.


Setting the expectation

Communicate what’s really important to you as you approach a birthday, big event or holiday. It’s not easy to do. Some people will still want to share gifts. Be authentic to who you are about stuff. Be authentic about your gratitude about the gift and why you are not accepting gifts. It’s not an easy conversation and it can start with a gracious thank you first to ensure that the giver knows how much you appreciate the thoughtfulness.


It’s a perspective of practicality, functionality and sentimentality. Give yourself permission to do what is best for you keeping in mind gratitude and gracious living.  In the case of “what were they thinking?”, think about the big picture and gratitude.


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4 replies
  1. Seana Turner
    Seana Turner says:

    Love your emphasis on gratitude. Also, if someone tends to repeatedly give you a gift you don’t want, they may be doing it because they think you do! Sometimes using the “network” of family or friends to communicate a message can be a good idea.

  2. Autumn Leopold
    Autumn Leopold says:

    I love this post Ellen because it is a dilemma we are all faced with! What I have been doing lately is if the item is noce I will take it to my favorite consignment shop and when it sells I pick up the money and get the person a small gift I think they would enjoy with some of the money from the sale. If it’s not sell-able then I try to donate it to a local thrift store that supports a worthy cause. Sometimes I will even ask the person if they would like to have it back after a length of time. Funny thing is they never want it back! Wonder what that means! lol

  3. Janet Barclay
    Janet Barclay says:

    “Clients of mine have chosen to keep gifts as keepsakes long after the function and value of the gift has declined.” reminded me of visiting a recently married friend, with stereo components (remember those?) stacked up in a spare room. She told me she had to keep the system because her parents gave it to her for her 16th birthday. Hopefully she let it go before they decided to move across the country!

  4. Ellen Delap
    Ellen Delap says:

    Thanks for sharing your ideas Seana and Autumn. There are lots of creative ways to be grateful and accept an unwanted gift.

    Yes, Janet, I am often surprised by the keepsakes my clients hold dear. It’s often a sense of obligation that fuels this emotion. I hope your friend feels like she can let go of this item.

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