Minimalist Holiday: Declutter-Gifts

For many aspiring minimalists, a certain temptation arises at this time of year. On the one hand, you have the urge to purge your household of unwanted things; and on the other, you may be expected to produce gifts for friends and family. It seems like the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; but can declutter-gifting really be pulled off with panache?

It’s tricky, but I think it can be done—as long as the declutter-gift meets one of the following standards:

It’s an heirloom. And by heirloom, I don’t mean the velvet Elvis that’s been sitting in your basement for the last twenty years. It must be something that a family member would actually want: like a special piece of jewelry, an ancestor’s (interesting) journal, or that antique Tiffany lamp.

It’s an extravagance. Your teenage nephew is not going to appreciate old sweaters or socks. But if you’ve been inspired to go TV-free, it’s a good bet your 52-inch flat screen will make his holiday. Similarly, a friend or relative may be overjoyed to receive the old iPod, laptop, or other electronic device you’ve recently replaced.

It’s a rarity. If it’s a desirable item you can’t find in a store—an out-of-print book, a work of art, a vintage Gibson guitar—it’s certainly appropriate for gift-giving. It doesn’t even have to be particularly valuable; a vintage purse, for example, may make the perfect present for a niece with a unique sense of style.

It matches their interests. If you have something to give that matches the interests of the recipient—whether it’s a set of Kung Fu DVDs, a collection of architecture books, or a stash of knitting supplies—it’s sure to be appreciated.

It fills a true need. If you have a young adult on your gift list who’s trying to furnish an apartment on the cheap, it’s a great opportunity to declutter-gift a hand-me-down couch, old set of cookware, or other household necessities.

That’s not to say that you can’t declutter-gift more generic items, like a scarf, candleholder, or picture frame. In fact, they can make fine presents for acquaintances or co-workers—as long as the item looks brand new, and is similar to what you would have bought them in a store.

The most important point to remember: declutter-gifting isn’t an excuse to dump your junk on someone else. Rather, think of it as an opportunity to pass on special (or valuable) items that you know the recipient would want, and you’d have difficulty parting with otherwise. Sometimes it makes all the difference knowing they’re going to a good home, and the presentation of such a “treasure” can make the occasion all the more memorable.

(Note: don’t try this for the minimalist or fellow declutterer on your gift list; it’s only appropriate for those who want, or expect, a physical gift!)

What do you think of declutter-gifting? Do you have any other tips for doing it with style?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

44 comments to Minimalist Holiday: Declutter-Gifts

  • Anne

    I love declutter-gifting. I also like to receive declutter-gifts.

    The best are those of which you know that people like them, because they saw and showed real interest in them at your place.
    That way I gave away liqueur glasses, candle holders, paintings, potted plants, books etc.

    I also received many lovely things from others, especially craft supplies and kitchenware, which I love and use, but which was clutter to other persons.

  • My friend did this today, he said he felt like a cheapskate, but he doesn’t have a lot of money, so why not ? He is a kind and thoughtful fella x

  • I think this is brilliant. I never considered this as a possibility. I don’t really have that much I could give away, I don’t think. But I bet if I looked a little closer, there are some things. I probably have a book or two on Japanese phrases my anime-mad younger brother would love!

  • This could actually be a fun way to do things in the family instead of buying regular gifts. Everyone could pick a name and we could come up with something we already have that the person would like, not just a white elephant thing. It could save everyone money and we could have fun seeing what they came up with.

  • Absolutely! I do agree though that it’s good to be judicious about what gifts get “re-gifted.” People often don’t like re-gifted items. But, if people have admired something in the past, they just might be okay if it shows up in their stocking!

    I’m giving my dad the fancy internet radio that friends gave us (I never use it). He admired it last time he was over, so I don’t think he’ll mind this re-gifted gift!

  • Barbara

    Many years ago I went to a Christmas party. We were told to bring something we cherished, and would be a little difficult to give away. I had made a mohair teddybear that was fraught with HOURS of work and care, and I had it sitting in a prominent place of honor in my home; proud as punch.

    So, during the month before the party, I thought long and hard about what to bring. I decided it was painful to bring that gift with me to the party. I knew the woman having the party would love this item, as she is a collector of fine teddybears and dolls.

    I brought the gift to the party. Other people brought gifts, some that you could tell were not difficult to give away, and some did bring gifts that were difficult to give away. We all played a white elephant style of game (good items). After I let the item go, I felt really good about it, because the woman that “won” it (the hostess) was so overjoyed by it, and couldn’t stop gushing. And, it was only a short while later that I didn’t care in the least about the teddybear anymore. (Although the memory of giving it, is still among one of my best memories.)

    Although technically not a minimalist idea or game, because I came back home with something (I ended up with a blanket that I still use today and enjoy 15 years later), it was a great lesson in giving. And, giving of my meaningful posessions. I discovered that no object, even those very cherished items, are really all that tragic to part with, and the joy that comes from giving them, far outweighs the joy of owning them.

    • TessaH

      Beautiful story, Barbara. What a great idea to give something that is difficult to give away. Not only does it help us release our attachment to things, but it involves sacrifice. Two great lessons!

    • K

      I love this story! Thank you. :)
      Every year I think I’ll dread preparing holiday cards, and every year I have a blast creating them. I feel so happy placing them in the mailbox and picturing them on their way to friends and family. Extending myself (with a pure heart) always seems to create unexpected joy.

  • Elizabeth

    A friend of mine had a huge collection of vintage cookie jars and started giving those away. It is a great idea. However, I received one and I don’t quite know what to do with it, because I’m trying to purge, not collect. Like Francine said, make sure it fits a need/deisre of the recipient first.

  • i love giving and receiving second hand items… but not particularly for christmas. i can’t pinpoint why exactly, perhaps because i can’t think of anything in my house that i want to get rid of that would be useful to anyone on my list.

  • Edith

    This is already my Christmas giving plan this year. My great-aunt’s crystal goblets for a niece. A lladro vase to my brother who already expressed a desire for it. A camera for my son (I have two cameras) who needs a camera. A duplicate food processor for my daughter who will welcome not having to grate and chop food by hand. A refinished(by me) bench for my son and his new wife furnishing their apartment. The list goes on. I think my declutter-gifting plan meets all your criteria and it’s been a fun process!

  • Rae

    I’m starting using eco bags and scarves as giftwrap.

  • Ariel

    I was going through an old jewelry box, and had some gold chains I didn’t use. The girls I nanny for had sandals with metal fish charms on them, that had both come off during an active summer. I kept the charms, added the chains, and am giving each of them a necklace for Christmas. It felt good to use the chains and not throw away the fish! It would have also felt good to give them a free gift, except that I can’t help myself when it comes to kids, and bought them a bunch of other stuff too! ;)

  • Grace

    This is a little off topic, but a green and stress free idea.
    A practice of my cousin’s, a mother of five, is to use a pillow case for wrapping gifts. Each gift is brought out one at a time and placed in the bag to be revealed by the reciever. The real benefit is it teaches patience, and consideration of others to the kids as they take turns. For the more crafty you can decorate the pillowcase so it’s festive.

  • Secret Squirrel

    This is a great post. I haven’t decluttered and gifted for Christmas particularly, but in the process of decluttering last year, I did offer and them give several items to people who had liked them, with the proviso that they could pass them on to others at any time. It felt so good to be giving my unwanted things a ‘good home’.

  • I have not done this for holiday gifts but every time I declutter, I bring in a bag of stuff to work that I know co-workers will love, it’s a great feeling. So the same would make sense for holiday gifts as well!
    Love the tips and the approach,

  • I think literally everyone I know would be at least somewhat offended if I gave them something I previously owned as a Christmas or birthday gift. Giving them no gift, or something edible, and then giving them the used item some other time of year would be preferable in my opinion.

  • Cynthia

    I love recieving and giving second things but I have never felt good about giving them for Christmas or a special occassions. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s supposed to be new and it shows I cared enough? I don’t know. Maybe because there is a little voice in my head that yells “tacky”. I would have to be careful and make sure the person really would LOVE the item otherwise I might offend them. Also, this year, similar to Rae, I’ve really been thinking of substituting gift wrap paper with usable textiles so I don’t have to keep rolls of gift wrap paper stored in the house for eons until it’s used up. Your also killing 2 birds with 1 stone. Perhaps a baby recieving blanket for a baby gift, a pillow case as mentioned above, etc. If anyone has any suggestions of other items that can be used as “wrapping paper” I would be grateful and I plan on starting this next year.

  • Amanda

    With regards to #5, my advice would be to make sure they actually want and/or need an item before declutter-gifting something.

    I can’t tell you the amount of kitchen junk or random household knick-knacks I took to the goodwill after it was gifted to me when I moved into my first apartment. I love my family and I love that they were supportive and willing to give me some of the things I desperately needed, but probably 75% of the stuff they gave me was not useful to me and just ended up being a burden (first when I tried to store it, and then when I had to haul it all to the thrift store). One relative in particular gave me 2 trash bags of fake greenery and 4 corkscrews. Erm, thanks? Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I want ALL your junk ;)

    I guess that was covered by the “don’t see it as an opportunity to unload all your junk” clause though, haha.

  • Nicole

    My husband had a huge collection of Terry Pratchett books. My friend has a son who is now 16 and loves a good read. Over the past three years he has received 4 books each birthday and Christmas for the collection. And this Christmas I broke from tradition and am giving him two movie vouchers. He’s happy and so is our bookshelf :)

  • I LOVE receiving declutter-gifts! It’s probably how we have quite a bit of what we do. Sometimes I do feel bad because I feel like I give my mother a reason to shop and replace items. However, just because I mention I like something does NOT equate to me asking her to go buy a new one and give me her old one.

  • Lulu

    I recycle gift cards (unused of course). I have tons of them that I received as wedding, baby shower, birthday, holiday, and office gifts. I simply never needed to use all of them. (One year, I was able to get gifts fr my 50+ large family using only gift cards that I had received. And I still had tons left over!) No one has ever seemed to mind receiving gift cards in this economy.

  • Ali

    As far as giving possessions as holiday gifts, I would have to say that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. Even though I want to get rid of things, I prefer to do it spontaneously, as a small gesture – that way the recipient won’t feel as though it is something THEY now have to keep.

    As an experiment this year, I suggested to my (small, immediate) family that we forgo gifts this year (there are no small children), and I was surprised when everyone happily agreed. It has been a blissful season so far. I am experiencing no pressure, no stress, and I am saving a bunch of time and money. Instead of gifts, I’m looking forward to cooking, baking, drinking and eating, and playing games with my family.

    • Kurkela

      Same here. If I have something I know some other person would like to have, and I don’t need it anymore, I can and will give it to this person any time, but NOT for Christmas. One exception would be art or family jewelry – of which I have none, or some antique thing of those I know that person collects. Otherwise – no way. Not for Christmas. It would seem like an unspoken message of “you don’t deserve anything better than my handouts”. No gift at all would be better than this.

  • GreyQueen

    I think it was Judith Levine’s book “Not Buying It” which had a lovely version of re-gifting in it. Judith needed a gift for her beloved neice and was in a self-imposed fast from shopping. She did have a piece of jewellery, a family heirloom, which she knew the neice would love. Firstly she checked with her own mother (who had given her the jewellery) that she wouldn’t be offended if she passed it the neice (not in the slightest). Then she had the catch mended, polished it beautifully and made it a gift bag and box and presented it with a little note about it’s history in the ownership of other relatives. The young woman was thrilled. I thought it was an enchanting and thoughtful idea. I myself don’t mind re-gifted or home-made items in the least but I would be very upset if I thought a relative or friend had purchased something new for me which they could ill-afford or been caused great stress and aggravation in the hunt for the illusive perfect new gift.

    • mrs Brady Old Lady

      Yes I remember reading that (I’ve got the book too), and I thought it was lovely, especially since Judith had taken such care to have it mended and polished.

  • hah, this is what I’ve been doing the whole evening! I decided to give some of my books to my grandmother, because she is a great book-lover and she lives in a small city that only have one poor library. but it’s not a new thing, we’ve been doing this for some time, books always change owners in my family:)
    and I like to get old cloths from my friends, but they always ask me if I want something. so actually I don’t have to buy cloths and I never get anything that I don’t like.

    this is my first comment here. I’ve been reading Your blog since last year:) Thanks for writing!

  • I think carefully done (and Francine has highlighted this) that regifting is a great idea. I know that I would love to receive vintage books, for example, no matter if they came from a friend or family member’s collection rather than having been purchased from a secondhand bookshop. I also have a couple of vintage books put away for when my daughter is old enough to enjoy them. Well-chosen and thoughtful gifts are always appreciated.

  • Ha ha makes me think of Xmas 09 when a then boyfriend in Queensland received a Top Gear DVD of motorbiking through vietnam, both elements of which he had no interest in, which then he attempted to offload on me.
    Coincidentally that year my brother in South Australia 2000km away went on a motobike ride around vietnam.
    Come Xmas 10 guess who got him the most thoughtful gift which he adored. I was the golden girl all thanks to regifting from afar!

  • M

    This isn’t specially related to this post, but there is a new TV show about minimalism! I happened to catch it yesterday and I thought of you instantly. It’s called “Consumed”. They truck every nonessential item out of the family’s home and have them live without their stuff for a month. After the month is up, the family has to decide if they want to invite their stuff back in or continue living simply. I’d love to see you do a blog post about this show! They use a lot of similar strategies that I’ve learned here and from your book.

  • Shannon! I love that episode of Top Gear. Hahahaha!

    And to the woman who mentioned getting bags of crap from relatives: my family’s strategy after years of trying to help my grandparents declutter was to welcome their bags of crap to our house. We would wait a month and then my dad would take it to Goodwill.

    I just “re-gifted” a box of items to the kids I used to babysit. I told them they didn’t have to keep any of it. But they liked it all, especially some Harry Potter ornaments I’ve had around for years. It was a win-win.

  • Anna

    I don’t understand re-gifting. If you do this, do you then pretend that you went out and bought it – chose it – for the recipient? Or if it belonged to you previously, do you tell them? I couldn’t lie to anyone….

    I always end up giving items to charity.

  • There are really two kinds of re-gifting. The kind we usually think of is passing on useless gifts to people we aren’t close to–acquaintances, co-workers, etc. This just led to me receiving more clutter, which I then had to pass on. Instead, I donated the useless gifts and made a donation in everyone’s name, for their gift. Interestingly, this led to an end to the gift-giving, except for home made goodies. Which was fine by me.

    The other kind, the kind that I think she is talking about in this post, is deliberately passing on something that you think the other person will value. In this kind of re-gifting, it would be more appropriate to tell the other person that they are getting a used item. It’s very thoughtful, and very practical. I think it’s a great idea!

  • Lara

    I just discovered this post now but had to comment since I gave personal belongings that I don’t use for most of the gifts this year. Everyone loved their gifts and it felt great giving away things that I’ve collected and saved over the years. I’m done with buying and saving objects just because they are beautiful to look at and x-mas was the best time to let them go.

  • Tina

    I just found this post. We pass things around all the time. I gave my daughter some silver earrings I knew she would love that I was tired of wearing. My daughter gave me a beautiful mug someone had given her that wasn’t her style. I give things to friends that I think they will like.

  • […] perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone,” says Miss Minimalist in her article Minimalist Holiday: Declutter-Gifts. Now repeat after me: not “regifting,” but decluttering. It sounds odd, and it might […]

  • Jennifer Wallington

    I give my childrens books to my brothers much younger children as gifts, obviously in immaculate condition and classic stories. My brother lives in Belgium and I live in London so he loves receiving English story books for his girls. This year I gifted Mog at Christmas to them.

  • A cousin was moving and gave me some large houseplants in varieties I had never seen. I have quite a display for my balcony this summer. Then I will take cuttings, pot them up, and give them to other plant lovers I know.

  • We went to a birthday party years ago. The honoree got a painting she had admired at someone else’s house among other gifts. I once gave my daughter in law a purse by her favorite designer. It was not my style, but she loves it.

  • Tina

    We went to a party given by a true minimalist. I brought her an article about an artist who uses old encyclopedias to sculpt into villages. It was the only gift she got, was recyclable and had a link to a website with more information. She loved it.

  • Tina

    My DIL likes linen towels. I found 4 brand new ones at the bottom of a drawer. Then I found an old cameo set in silver for my other DIL. I have never worn it. A cousin got 2 pairs of earrings by an artist I collect. My niece is getting a tiny gold pin from my mother I had never seen. My brother is getting some ugly tchotkes he asked about. I am also giving my friend a big sharp knife we never use because I can’t remember the last time we used it. I try to fill at least 2 bags a week with things to give away. Most weeks there are more than two big bags.

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