How to give and receive gifts as a minimalist

This past weekend I hosted a baby shower for my sister who’s expecting her first little bundle this summer! It was loads of fun and, let’s face it, everything baby related is inherently adorable!

But, it did remind me just how much STUFF comes with having a baby, and with these types of events in general. As someone who’s trying to keep my life minimal, it made me nervous for when my time comes!

How do I keep all my well-meaning friends and family from giving me all the things I don’t need or want? And what do I do if they do it anyway?

When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, there is often an unspoken etiquette at play, be it societal or just within your closer circle. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to unwrite some of those rules.

Here are my thoughts and tips on ways to better navigate the whole gift-giving landscape if you’re trying to live a more minimal and intentional life.

Ask for what you want

Perhaps the best way to prevent unwanted or unnecessary gifts is to let people know what things you WOULD appreciate and find value in.

It’s all well and good to say “don’t get me anything”, but this is often hard for people. They might enjoy giving gifts or, based on the above etiquette, feel that they need to.

Giving suggestions isn’t rude. In fact, they’ll probably appreciate not having to come up with something on their own, so it’s a win-win for both of you! I keep a running list in my phone anytime I think of something that I might want or could use. That way I’m always prepared should someone ask!

How to communicate your wants

In the case of a wedding or baby shower like I mentioned above, gift registries are ideal. You could ask whoever is hosting to include a simple note in the invitation to please stick to the registry as much as possible.

If it’s not a registry type of event, say just your birthday or Christmas, and you KNOW your mom or best friend are going to get you something regardless, feel free to send out an email or text.

It could say something along the lines of: “Y’all know how I feel about STUFF (assuming you’ve expressed your sentiments around clutter before), so please don’t feel obligated to get me anything. But if you were planning to anyway, here are some things I’ve been considering getting myself…”

My other tip here is to set expectations well in advance.

Don’t wait until December 14th to tell people what you do or don’t want for Christmas. By setting the expectation two or three months in advance, you’ll help avoid the last minute scramble to just buy SOMETHING. This inevitably ends with a cute, but often wholly unnecessary, physical item making its way into your space.

If you truly can’t think of anything, you could ask for them to donate to a cause you’re passionate about. Or consider one of the other options listed below.

Experiences over things

This is a notion that’s frequently talked about in the minimalist community, but it’s such a great one that I can’t not mention it!

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, experience gifts are a great way to not only keep clutter at bay, but also to bolster your connection with the other person.

Think tickets to a concert or event you can attend together. Treating them to dinner or dessert out. Seasons passes to the zoo for kids. You get the idea.

Research shows that experiences contribute far more to our happiness than physical items do. And, they create lasting memories, whereas that sweater will likely eventually make it to the donate pile some years down the line.


This category includes anything that can be enjoyed but, ultimately, used up. (It’s a great one for the foodie in your life!)

Things like a specialty bar of chocolate or a really nice bottle of wine. Even a candle if you know the other person will actually burn it and not just let it sit on the shelf.

Gift cards

Gift cards sometimes get a bad rap. I know some people feel that they’re a bit of a cop-out – as though you couldn’t be bothered to put any real thought into your gift and just bought a card instead. But I disagree.

Gift cards allow the recipient to choose something they truly need or love. And if you have someone in your life that you know is unlikely to return or exchange a gift they’re not crazy about purely out of guilt, a gift card could actually be MORE thoughtful than a physical item.

Include gift receipts

Whenever possible, ask for and include a gift receipt. This is like an insurance policy on your gift. To me it says, “Hey I really hope you love this gift, but if you don’t, I’m totally okay with you returning it! No hard feelings.”

Always stay gracious

Maybe you’ve received something you don’t really love or you know you’re unlikely to use. Or maybe your in-laws keep buying hoards of toys for your kids despite your protests.

It can be frustrating to deal with the never-ending inflow of things when you’re trying so hard to stay minimal.

In these scenarios I find it helpful to try to keep the sentiment of gift-giving in the forefront of your mind. Ultimately, the gift-giver is acting out of love and generosity and their intentions are good.

Take a moment to be grateful for having these people in your life and for the thought behind the gift. Express a sincere thank-you, coming from that place, regardless of your plans for the gift itself.

Let go of the guilt

As I said above, the true spirit of gift-giving is in the intention behind the gift, not the gift itself. The goal is generally to add to the happiness of the person receiving it.

A couple of years ago my mom and I went to hear Courtney Carver speak as part of her Tiny Wardrobe Tour. (If you’ve not heard of Courtney you can check out her message here).

During the Q&A portion of the talk, she said something that really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing here but essentially it was, “Just because someone gave you an item, does not mean you’re obligated to babysit it for the next 30 years”.

Do you think the person who gave it to you would want you to feel guilty every time you look at that unworn item in your closet? My guess is that’s a big fat no! So if a gift doesn’t add value to your life, let go of the guilt and pass the item on. Period.

So there are some of my thoughts around giving and receiving gifts! I hope you found it helpful. If you have any tips I didn’t cover, feel free to leave them in comments below! Until next time…



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