Ask Done and Done: Why Can’t I Give Away Gifts?

Charitable Thinking, Want to Get Organized?

gift bags with tissue paper


The Gift Giving Dilemma

Dear Done and Done,

As the holidays approach, I desperately need your help with a particular problem I have.

It’s going to sound crazy, but I have an entire closet full of gifts to give away. Hostess gifts, birthday presents, baby clothes, Hanukah presents, even dog toys for new puppies.

My closet is also filled with wrapping paper and all the trimmings; ribbon, tape, tags, cards, etc.

neutral colored gift tags on white background

Photo: rawpixel

This may all make me sound like a very prepared and generous person, but unfortunately, it’s the exact opposite.

I have the best of intentions and I love nothing more than shopping for friends and family. But when the time comes to actually give the gift…I show up empty handed.

Ironically, I fear my reputation is that I am miserly and indifferent when the exact opposite is true. I’m constantly thinking of others, I just have trouble letting go of all the gifts I’ve bought.

I have no idea why I’m this way, but that closet is becoming a huge problem for me! Not only is it weighing on my mind, it’s becoming a problem of space. Things are starting to spill out and take over the room, and I know with the holidays approaching, I won’t have a place to put new gifts!

Please advise me Done And Done!!!


Gretchen the Wanna Be Gift Giver

Photo: rawpixel

Dear Gretchen,

If I’d read your question before years of helping people declutter, it would’ve sounded strange to me. My first thought would have been, “What’s the problem? Just give the gifts away.”

But with all of my experience, I now know this is a fairly common problem. I can’t think of a situation where a person would willingly say, “I buy gifts but when the time comes to give them away, I just don’t want to. I keep them for myself.” Nobody would say that because a present for a baby when you don’t have kids, or a man’s sweater that isn’t in your size hardly seem like gifts for yourself.

Your Best Most Generous Self

What I’ve learned is that gifts are kept because they represent your best, most generous self. Those presents (though not given) say, “I’m thinking of you, my friend!” or “I love you, Mom!”.  And truly the gifts were purchased with either a specific person or a specific event in mind. Maybe you intended to give your daughter’s friends pretty earrings for graduation to celebrate the end of an era. But maybe deep down you don’t feel like rewarding them for moving on and leaving you for greener pastures. Maybe you’ll miss the fun and laughter that a bunch of teenagers brought into your life.

Photo: Becca Tapert

Not giving gifts is a way of saying, “I’m not thrilled with what’s happening here.” When those same high school girls grow up and get married and start having children you will, of course, be happy for them. On one level. You’ll buy shower gifts and wedding presents but not send them. Why? Because we all know that young people growing up reminds us that we aren’t as young as we once were and who wants to celebrate that? Screw it. The gift stays in the gift closet so some part of you can pretend that you still have your whole life ahead of you.

Coming To Terms

Does this all sound like grand psychobabble? Well, perhaps it is. But until you’ve spent days and days talking to clients about what those gifts are, who they were purchased for, and why they were never sent, you can’t know how fully loaded that closet truly is.

And you can’t get rid of those gifts and the stress they create until you come to terms with what you’re actually feeling.

We humans are marvelous, mostly good, complex characters but we do some crazy stuff. The best way to uncrazy this situation is to give yourself one entire day to empty out that closet. Separate the presents for potential recipients into groups; baby gifts with baby gifts, scarves with scarves, hostess gifts all go together in one group and books in another.

Now clean the closet. Wipe down the shelves and vacuum the carpet and make sure it’s looking good. Time for the fun part! Shop your piles and choose one item from each category – maybe two of the really good stuff – and put those items back into the closet.

Photo: Nathan Dumlao

Take a break. Go have a cup of tea or call a friend. Come back to the piles with fresh eyes. Rational thought won’t help you let go of these things. Don’t tell yourself what you should get rid of and why. Just sit with these items and feel how hopeful and generous you can be. It doesn’t matter that the gifts didn’t end up with the intended person at the intended time. It was your intention to be generous and it was pure and highbrow in the moment, but then a less good part of your nature held on to the gift. Oh well.

A Gift For Yourself

Now you can give yourself the gift of letting this stuff go and releasing the guilt and shame about it. Bag it up and take it to the nearest donation center. Don’t get bogged down in thinking about how good the stuff is or how much it cost. We’ve learned about sunk cost on this blog but more than that, it’s a burden to you.

Lastly, this is your gift to the universe so the fact that you’re offering up some good stuff is wonderful.

Always remember that somebody, somewhere is desperate for the things you don’t use, need or want and the better shape the item is in, the truer the statement.

Good luck and let us know how it goes. I’m happy to help if you get stuck!



Photo: Chris Moore