Unwanted gifts. Whose life is it anyway?

How many items do you have in your home that you don’t really like but you keep because you don’t want to offend the person who gave them to you?

Unwanted gift

People often write to ask me what they can do about unwanted gifts, especially from family members, who are likely to take offense if they let the item go.

Unwanted gifts

I devoted a whole section to unwanted gifts in my Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui book and my advice is still the same. The best thing to do with unwanted gifts is to get rid of them. Things you really love have a strong, vibrant energy field around them, whereas unwanted items have uneasy, conflicting energies attached to them that drain you rather than energize you. They actually create an energetic gloom in your home. If you love an item, fine, but if you keep it out of fear and obligation, you are giving your power away. Every time you walk into a room and see it, your energy levels drop.

And don’t think that “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” will work. You can’t keep it in a cupboard or a storage unit and just bring it out when the person who gave it to you is due to visit. Your subconscious mind still knows you have it. If you have enough of these unwanted gifts around you, your energy network will look like a sieve, with vitality running out all over the place.

Remember, it’s the thought that counts. You can appreciate being given a gift without necessarily having to keep it. Try adopting a whole new philosophy: when you give something to someone, give it with love and let it go. Allow the recipient complete freedom to do whatever they want with it. If the thing they can most usefully do is put it straight in the trash or give it to someone else, fine (you wouldn’t want them to clutter up their space with unwanted gifts, would you?). Give others this freedom and you will begin to experience more freedom in your own life too.

A hilarious example of this was a beautiful cut crystal fruit bowl I once gave my mother when I was lightening my load in 1990 in order to move from the UK to Bali. I’d completely forgotten that it was she who gave it to me, many birthdays ago. Having read my book, rather than take offense, she was somewhat flattered to know I had liked it enough to keep it so long. The only comment she added was that it was a good thing that she only ever gave gifts of things she would like to receive herself.

Dare to be yourself

The bottom line with unwanted gifts is, ‘Whose life is it anyway?’ And the real issue beneath that, in most cases, is worrying too much what people think about you.

Here’s a liberating thought: What would you do differently in your life if you were to follow your own path instead of conforming to what you worry others may think? Would you have a different career? Would you dress differently? Would you live in a different place? Some people, when they ask themselves this question, discover they wouldn’t even be married to the person they married.

Remember, clutter is only a symptom. There are always deeper issues to look at beneath it, and this particular type can run very deep indeed. Letting go of a few things you’re storing to keep other people happy may seem like a small act in itself, but the ramifications can be huge. Being brave enough to work through it can open the door to wonderful new freedoms and a whole new life!

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2011, updated 2020


Related link
The tricky topic of unwanted gifts from parents

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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8 Responses to Unwanted gifts. Whose life is it anyway?

  1. Hi Karen, after almost 2 years since starting to clutter clear and also doing your fast track course, I now have a relatively clutter free house that I enjoy. It has also given me additional time to do other enjoyable things in my life. However I sometimes wonder if my house looks too minimal with no decorations. Even though it is convenient for me for practical reasons, I wonder if this could be reflecting a part of me that possibly needs to be addressed. I would love to hear your thoughts or possibly an article on minimal decorations/functional homes.

    1. Ha ha! Richard and I have this same problem in our new home here in the UK. After 4 years the only decorations we have been able to find that we like are a few large canvas prints we’ve hung in a couple of rooms, 3 items on the mantelpiece in our lounge, and a couple of ornaments in the hallway to welcome us when we arrive home. But to achieve this we had to deliberate go out looking for “clutter” to make our home feel less minimalist and more lived in. Some rugs on the floor really helped to warm it up too. We love the clean lines and how easy it is to keep our home clean, so if you like that too, just add a few items you really love that express who you are and where you are headed in life, and leave it at that.

  2. Oh thanks Karen! I’m going to try the ‘leaving the book where Mr. Constipated can find it’ technique. I’m getting ready to do my first space clearing in our home (after the full moon on Monday: Happy Moon Festival, by the way!) and I’m also hoping that the space clearing will get everyone in our home to rethink and let go of stuff we don’t need.

  3. What about gifts given to your spouse? My husband and I live in China, where people are constantly giving and receiving gifts, and my husband (who grew up in very poor circumstances) will not let anything go, down to the nice-looking ‘boxes’ a gift comes in (I’m staring at a row of these empty boxes on the top of a bookcase right now : ) I was part way through one of your books when I once threw away some of his old clothing (gifts from family) and had a very negative reaction from him. It was only afterwards that I saw in your book where you say never clear someone else’s clutter!! So should I just concentrate on dealing with my own gifts? One thing I have encouraged my husband to do is sell gifts he isn’t going to use or regift, and that works occasionally!

  4. Hello Karen!
    It has been over 9 years since I read your “Clutter” book and have given it to many friends. The storage cabinet information is just what I needed!! My partner and I sold our home/car/boat/etc. about 9 years ago and put all the belongings we could not give away in 3 storage cabinets. Since then we have traveled around the world – visiting your Bali hotel in fact! We spend about about a month or so every few years in “Murnie’s Houses”. We have continued to give furniture/things/books away over time yet we still have 2 full cabinets.

    Here’s my situation. I have worked with my partner to clear over 1500+ items from the cabinets and will continue, BUT I find it continues to be our or his “stuff” I am clearing out. MY stuff is lots of paper – notes on a “still unfinished book”, clothes, small stuff, but LOTS of it. I feel silly asking you about how to get started, however these notes/pictures/ old stuff seems to cling to me and now, from your blog, I can see that this unused STORAGE STUFF is draining and distracting, so I must start. I had said to all who asked how I lived from a storage cabinet that I feel like I live on planet Earth and just need a place to exchange clothes/keep papers, etc. But, in addition to my clothes for different locations, tax records, active records, only about a half to a third of it is really used.

    I am energized by your blog, and will soon be in the storage cabinet city, Chicago, for 6 weeks and want to really make the clearing happen then. However it makes me sad to think about doing it… SO, if you have any additional thoughts for me I would sure appreciate them! You have been with me in your monthly columns for many years, and continue to be an inspiration.

    Thank you Karen, Jody G.

  5. Thanks for the reply.

    Oddly enough I have applied those very suggestions to my “grown up” presents received. And I’ve long let people know that if the gift I’ve given is not useful to them to let it go and no hard feelings. Just the childhood gifts … hmm … I’m sure there’s something about needing to clear childhood issues there.

    Thanks again.

  6. Dear Karen,

    It has been 8 years since I read your wonderful book “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui”. Once I started to sort through my stuff I could never stop. I decluttered many things that were given to me by loving friends and family. Not once did anyone even notice the absence of a particular item, let alone comment on it. Most people do not even remember the gifts they made. Not even the small size of my possession triggers visitors to search for the presents they once made. People are busy with their own life and not your stuff.

    There was one person who made many negative comments regarding my constant reduction of worldly possession. That person was unhappy with his life, highly in consumer dept, not moving forward in his career, overweight, and constantly complaining about everything. He never gave me a gift but tried to belittle me for wanting less things in my life. Needless to say, that person is no longer a part of my life.

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