5 ways to prevent unwanted gifts

In the member forum, Andy asked:

How do you deal with loved ones who, as an expression of their love, want to buy you stuff?” How do you get them to “cut it out without hurting them”?

Ever had a flier pressed into your hand as you walk down the street? Whether it’s a coupon for a buy-one-get-one-free toaster or a pamphlet forecasting the end of the world, it’s as though the person is saying: “Here, please throw this away for me.”

Andy raised a similar but far more interesting question. It’s different from the question of what to do with stuff you already own that you don’t need (the subject of a future post). And it’s more difficult one to manage, because it’s not just you who needs to take action; you’re trying to change someone else’s habits.

And habits can be tremendously hard to change. Plus, who could file a grievance against someone who just wants to take care of others? It’s a tough case to make.

But for the sake of argument, let’s go a little over the line with our analogies: If, as they say, one is not an alcoholic when they’re drinking with others, then one is not a shopaholic when they’re shopping for others. Take away the “others,” and all that’s left is a bad habit.

If that bad habit is giving you grief, as it does for Andy, try managing it in these five stages:

1. (Polite) Denial: “Sometimes it’s as easy as, ‘Please don’t buy me anything,’ and that’s the end of it,” Chris responded to Andy’s question in the OWM member forum. It worked on his dad, who used to bring him home t-shirts from events he attended. It could work on your loved one, too. But…

2. Bargaining: Asking politely doesn’t work on everyone, and that’s when it’s time to start negotiating. Try the sandwich approach—delivering the “meat” of your argument between two positive slices.

• Thank them: “I love you. I appreciate you care enough about me to buy me this.”

• Be blunt: “When I sell or donate this, it’s not personal.”

• Make a better offer: “The best gift is spending time with you. Next time, let’s take the money you would have spent on [insert gift here] and sit down over a fancy cup of coffee.”

3. How About Some Light Anger: Negotiation doesn’t always work. “My mom has always been the gift-giver, and she’s very motivated to try to ‘outsmart’ my minimalism to buy me something I didn’t even know I wanted,” Chris writes. “My conversation with her is ongoing, but I’ve had to employ tough love at times.” Just don’t be too tough. In fact, it’s safer to skip this stage.

4. Depression: If the above fails, you might be tempted to resign yourself to doing nothing. It’s no use staying in this stage long, though. Sure, you couldn’t change their behavior, but there’s still one thing you can change…  

5. Acceptance: You can change your own mindset, by accepting the fact that it just might bring someone as much joy to hunt for things and pay for them as it does to actually give them to you. If that’s the case, then you might try giving up on trying to change them and “live and let live.” In which they give you stuff and you give it away—giving as little effort and feeling as little anxiety as possible. Hopefully that doesn’t mean throwing it away. Sell it. Give it to a friend. Drop it off at Goodwill. And feel good about it.

Whether anything you try will work, as Chris wrote, “it depends on the loved one.” It also depends on you.