How to deal with a gift you don’t want

We’ve all been there. That dreaded moment when you realize that your loved one is serious. This hideous item that you have no interest in, was meant, with all sincerity, as a gift! Whether it was your Mother-in-Law deliberately trying to pick a fight, or your beloved Nanna who doesn’t know better, how do you deal with receiving a terrible gift without coming across as a terrible person? We have the tips you need to be a gracious receiver of even the worst gift. Of course, if you make use of No Bad Surprises, then you will likely not even need these tips. 

It doesn’t hurt to be kind, but kindness has limits 

Receiving a gift that’s simply wrong on all levels feels almost violating. How does this person you love and care for know so little about you? The last thing you feel like is ‘performing joy’ when you get sucker punched by a horrible gift. 

Unwanted gifts feel impersonal. You feel unseen and unheard. You probably feel annoyed and done in. It can feel like the gift-giver is doing it for themself, and not for you. 

Your feelings are valid but put them aside for a moment. Do you believe the intentions behind the gift were as poor as the gift itself; or did the other party genuinely want to bring you joy despite missing the mark? 

If so, then try to focus on that sentiment instead of the gift. Here are a few things to consider: 

  • Not all bad gifts are equal: meh gift from a colleague is not insulting on the same level as a terrible one from your partner of many years. Keep perspective. 
  • Not everyone values gift-giving…and that’s ok! Even if you’re big into picking the perfect gift for the people you love, not everyone feels the same way. People show love differently. 
  • The thought does count: If someone honestly, genuinely tried, even if the gift missed the mark by miles, that’s showing you they cared. Of course, this works in reverse, too. Often, the reason a bad gift upsets us isn’t the gift itself, it’s the pain caused by mattering so little to someone we care about. That’s what you are going to have to address. It is not about the gift at all. 

How do I be nice about this? 

If the gift is a little cringy or wrong for you, but it comes from a place of love, try to be gracious. Home in on that sentiment and honour it, rather than the gift. A smile and a thank you are all that is needed unless the gift comes with the expectation of performance. 

Is it some corny dog jacket, baby romper, or a couple’s t-shirt you have received? Are they going to expect to see it being used? Here you need to decide if you are going to squeeze out one photo to keep the peace, or get direct- “I appreciate the gift, but it’s just not me. I love that you thought of me, though!” 

What if the gift is an obvious snub? Well, you just learned a valuable lesson about the giver. For the most part, take it and file the lesson under ‘good to know’. If it is genuinely meant to humiliate or embarrass however, don’t be afraid to call that out as long as you aren’t giving them exactly the reaction they hope for. No need to play into a bully’s hands. 

It is a big deal and that’s ok 

It’s ok to feel down about a bad gift. 

When it is from extended family or acquaintances, understand it may be an ‘obligation gift’. The sort which is given between people who have a connection that has never been nurtured. You talk to your cousins once a year, but everyone must give gifts at the big Christmas party. It’s not a great situation, but nor is it a big deal. If it is persistent and really bugs you, the answer may be reaching out to them more and trying to build a real connection instead of the facts that have powered the relationship so far. In turn, you’ll become a better gift-giver for them, too. After all, you don’t want to be ‘that cousin’ to them, do you? At the end of the day, however, these sorts of gifts are no big deal and don’t need to be treated as such. 

What about when it is a big deal? An awful gift from someone you love who should know better needs to be addressed, not stewed on. That does not mean going in with a hammer though. Spend some time considering what went wrong. Do you both fail to communicate well? Is this a case of someone doing the best with a bad budget? Is this part of an overall pattern of you not being heard? 

If it’s a bad gift from a good place, be both gentle and honest about why it’s bad. Acknowledge their sentiment and underlying love. No need to get nasty. If it’s a pattern of carelessness though, it’s time to address what’s actually going on. That may be hard, but it will be worth it in the end. 

What do I do with it? 

As for what you do with the gift, the answer is easy- get rid of it. If it’s useful but not you, pass it on to charity. Otherwise, sell it, exchange it, recycle it, or just toss it in the bin. Re-gifting is tricky, so we’d skip this one unless someone you know would genuinely love the item. In that case, be clear about its origin. “I got these as a gift but have no use for them, will they help you?”. That way they can say no and you’re not passing the bad gifting burden on! 

Very few of us are upset at the bad gift itself. It’s the underlying emotions it represents that hurt. And while those emotions are very valid, there is only one solution at the end of the day. Deciding when it is worth laughing it off, and when it’s time to have a serious talk about what went wrong. Sometimes, the biggest gift of all is knowing where you really stand with people, but don’t forget – most of the time it really is the thought that counts!