Gift giving is a lost art that’s most needed these days. Unfortunately, not everyone is proficient in the art of gifting. It’s one of the most awkward moments when you receive a gift you already have or even didn’t want. You don’t know what to do with it! Perhaps, one of the biggest challenges is deciphering the intent behind the gift.
When someone gives you a gift you already have, the best course of action is to accept it gracefully. As a general rule, always assume sincere intent. Next, give a thank you gift that sends a message. Later, you may donate your gift to somebody who really wants it.
Don’t sweat it, though. When you’re on the receiving end of an unwanted gift, there’s a lot of wiggle room. In fact, it’s easy to reverse that bad taste in your mouth when you receive more of the same.
What To Do With An Unwanted Gift
In short, giving a gift requires a lot of thought. Before you give a gift, you must think about the recipient first. A gift is all about the recipient.
The least you can do is “research” the person on social media. Know their personality, likes and dislikes, personal taste. Maybe they have an Amazon wishlist that can inspire you…
At any rate, it’s not your mistake if you receive a gift you already have. If they didn’t take the time to put some thought into the gift, it’s on them. But you still need to express gratitude as the gift receiver.
Still, you must deal with their oversight in your own way. You get to keep, return, or donate your gift.
When it’s a small gift, just store it somewhere and forget about it. When you want to return it, make sure you don’t come across as an ungrateful person. When you want to donate it, choose someone who really needs it, like a charity.
Alternatively, you might get rid of the old item you have and use your new gift. When you love your old item, you may want to sell your gift on classified websites.
Should you return a gift, you already have? Etiquette expert Albert Gilbert doesn’t recommend returning a gift you already have. In that case, you’ll become the unthoughtful one. But when you know the gift giver well, you can ask politely to return the gift and get something you really want.
Perhaps, the gift giver is a relative or bestie. Even in that case, the gift loses its thrill for the giver. And they’ll feel “betrayed” if you “refuse” their gift. “Returning the gift will do more harm than good even when you know the person well,” according to Albert.
Three Types Of Unwanted Gifts
Unwanted gifts fall into three categories:
- Unthoughtful gifts from friends
- Joke gifts from family members
- Dangerous gifts from business associates (more on that later)
It’s rare to receive a gift from a total stranger. The people who give you a gift know you to some extent. They either know what you want or don’t.
If the person gives you an unthoughtful gift (like described above), you already know what to do with it. It’s your “burden” to thank them and even give them a thank you gift in some cases. You don’t always have to return the gift, as will be clarified later.
The second category is when the person is close to you. Perhaps, a family member. In that case, they know you already have it. And they’re giving you a bad gift on purpose. They get a sick kick from your confusion.
Then, they harbor malicious intent. So, it’s really a hairy situation, especially when you’re thoughtful with your gifts for them. But you have some wiggle room. Humor them. Thank them loudly for everyone to hear, and pretend you loved the gift. It’ll turn the confusion on them. Why? Because they expect you’ll get confused.
Next, turn their joke on them by getting them an even more obnoxious gift. They’ll get a hint and stop giving you unwanted gifts. They may also “declare war” and keep giving you unwanted gifts.
You can either take the gift, thank them loudly, and give it away. Or keep humoring them by exchanging stupid gifts. Sell the gift they give you, and buy them more gifts they don’t want. Eventually, they’ll think twice about giving you unwanted gifts. If they didn’t stop, then you might want to question their loyalty to you.
Don’t Send A Thank You Gift When…
As a general etiquette rule, you want to “give back” and “return the favor.” When someone gives you a gift you already have, you might respond by giving them something they do want. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gift. A thank you note is more than enough, especially when you can’t buy something of equal monetary value. Try saying something like:
- I appreciate your gift.
- Thanks for your gift.
- Your gift made my day.
- I love the gift wrapping.
- Your gift means a lot to me.
- Wish I can give something back.
- The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
- That’s so thoughtful of you.
If you choose to give them something back, make sure to put some thought into it. The unthoughtful people might be coming from a good place but didn’t know you already have what they gave.
There’s some chance to give them a clue without hurting their feelings. All is not lost. If you play your cards well, you’ll get a better gift next time. Perhaps, they’ll get the memo and offer to take your unwanted gift. They’ll be careful in the future.
If that didn’t work, you might as well drop the issue entirely. At this point, it’s not worth losing your sleep about it. But if you want to go down that route, you’ll need to be sensitive to their feelings. Assuming they’re someone important in your life, you don’t want to lose them over an unwanted gift.
Even if you don’t see yourself in a relationship with them, it’s worth treading carefully. You’ll never know when you really need them in the future. It’s always best to end things on a positive note.
Don’t get angry or defensive. Admit it was an honest mistake, and avoid bringing up the situation again. If they ignored your attempt for reconciliation, then it’s your turn to let it go. You’ll feel less guilty about selling the gift or giving it to a charity.
By the way, there’s also the issue of big gifts that require big commitments—things like home furniture, travel tickets, or pets. Unfortunately, you’ll have to rely on your common sense in those cases.
For example, relatives invite you to spend your honeymoon in their hotel, but you already booked another hotel at your favorite spot. Or a friend of the family made that very beautiful and heavy kitchen cabinet for you. A friend gives you a pet bunny on Easter.
All of these scenarios and more will need investment from you, both in time and money. So, there’s no way out except to turn them down as politely as possible. Once you turn them down in those extreme cases, there’s no way back to where things used to be—C’est La Vie.
Sometimes, you don’t get what you want and lose what you do want.
When To Refuse An Unwanted Gift
No matter how you put it, there’s no safe way to turn someone down. Either way, you’ll hurt their pride. And they’ll always resent you for refusing them. So, which burden will you choose?
The burden of refusing the gift and damaging the relationship, or the responsibility of living with an unwanted gift?
That said, there are cases where you want to be upfront with refusing a gift. The last and most dangerous kind of gift is the ones you receive from business associates. If you were a public servant, entrepreneur, or government official, you should be cautious accepting gifts from strangers.
Usually, those gifts come with strings attached. In fact, they’re bribes disguised as gifts. For example, you might receive a diamond watch, expensive cars, invitations to exclusive events. And it’s best to refuse these gifts from the get-go.
The person giving you a gift based on your employment connection is almost certainly tricking you into doing their bidding. It’s not worth the trouble. You should return the gift promptly. And even alert the authorities as you see fit.
These gifts are time bombs that you don’t want to deal with. Give it back without asking questions or feeling guilty about it.
Many people lost their careers and reputation for accepting these “innocent gifts.” They didn’t know any better, and they paid dearly for this mistake.
No doubt receiving a gift you already have is getting between the devil and the deep blue sea. But with some emotional intelligence and social tact, you might save face for everyone involved.