No Excuses series (part 3): "It was a gift"

19 April 2018

This is the third in a three-part series of posts debunking the three excuses I hear most frequently from clients for wanting to keep items they no longer use or love. The series originally ran in January and February 2017. Click here to see the other articles in the series.

The third common excuse I hear for keeping an unloved or unused item is that it was a gift. This is a tough one. People tend to have a difficult time parting with items that were given to them. (As an aside, this has completely changed how I give gifts, knowing that my gift may some day become clutter for the recipient.)

What do I say to clients who tell me they can’t let go of something because it was a gift? The first question I ask is:

  • Do you think the gift giver would really want you to keep something you don’t use, just because they gave it to you? If they knew you were investing time and money in paring down your belongings and getting organized, would they care if you let it go?

Usually that’s enough to help the client release it. If that doesn’t do the trick, I might ask:

  • Is there another family member you can pass this on to who would love it?

That can be very helpful, especially when the gift giver has passed away. (I’m the thrilled recipient of some paintings that my grandmother created, given to me by her nieces when they were decluttering.)

Really, what I find is that the client just needs permission to let gifts go. So let me do that for you right now: You are not obligated to keep an item you don’t use or love just because it was a gift. I give you permission to re-gift it or donate it. Don’t stash it in a closet. And try not to worry that the giver will ever ask about it. Chances are they won’t.

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I’m a subscriber to your genealogy organization blog and wanted to check out your “other blog” referenced in the newest g.o. post. As a self-confessed hoarder who has recently had to handle the clearing of two family estates, I’m trying to get on board with clearing my own clutter for my family’s sake. (there’s A LOT of junk here) I found the No Excuses series and had to laugh at two of your statements: “If you decide to let it go and you do find you need it, are you able to get another one?” – My experience? I ALWAYS find I need it a week after it is irreparably irretrievable and it was a one of a kind (document, pattern, etc,) and I will NEVER find another one. The other statement? “And try not to worry that the giver will ever ask you about it.” Unless it’s your Mother-in-Law…or maiden aunt…or Grandmother. They will ALWAYS ask you about it. Usually after you have gone to great lengths to donate it three towns away to be sure they won’t find it! I love both your blogs. Thanks for your hard work!!

Diana Mackey 07/13/2018 02:49 PM

Diana, your comment made me laugh. You and I clearly have different experiences. I do caution clients to think twice about donating truly irreplaceable items. But I think most of us survive the pang of regret when we do find we need something that we have let go of a week before. :)

Janine Adams 07/13/2018 03:11 PM

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About Janine

Janine Adams

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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