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The mission of Home On Purpose is to help you make your home as easy to manage as possible. I want you to feel comfortable and confident when you walk through your door.

Although I’m not a minimalist per se, the fact remains that too much extra, unnecessary, and unused stuff inevitably makes a home harder to manage.

That is why I regularly advise my clients to avoid clutter and excess in the first place.

Unfortunately, there is a major source of clutter that we have little control over . . . gifts.

What do with all the presents that we know we won’t use? Are we obligated to keep them? Forever? Are we being ungrateful if we exchange or return them? Would that be bad etiquette?

Is there some kind of unspoken rule about all this?

As we head into the Christmas season, it would be wise to think this through before the gifts come pouring in. If we can free ourselves from “exchange-anxiety,” we will have a far better chance of enjoying the holiday no matter what we receive.

First thing’s first: There is no universal rule.

If you feel in the dark about this, you’re in good company! This topic is tricky. Each unique gift coming from a unique giver to a unique receiver merits a unique decision.

In this article, I would simply like to share a few thoughts that might help make each individual decision a little easier.

Thought #1: It’s ultimately your choice.

What your aunt gives to you on December 25th doesn’t usually affect her very much. You’re the one who lives with the consequences, so you should be the one who gets to decide what to do with it. That means (generally speaking) your mother does not get to vote on whether or not you keep your aunt’s gift.

Can you think of one person in your family circle who would disagree with that statement? Me too! So let’s keep going . . . 

Thought #2: The only outside opinion that really matters is the giver.

Let’s say your aunt gives you a jacket that isn’t really your style. What do you do?

The answer actually depends quite a bit on your aunt.

What if she is a relative you rarely see from the other side of the country? What if she jumped online and tried to find something she thought you might like? What if you know she wouldn’t be upset by an exchange? Then go ahead and return the jacket!

On the other hand, if you visit her regularly, if she went to three different stores to find you what she thought would be the perfect jacket, and she is a sensitive soul who would be hurt if you didn’t enjoy her gift . . . that would be a very different story!

In that case, I would argue that your aunt’s happiness is more important than the little bit of clutter in your closet.

There is also a third option available . . .

Thought #3: The decision does not have to be permanent.

You could choose to keep the jacket, but maybe only for a year or two. Wear it a couple of times even though it’s not your style and let it take up space in your closet for a while. As time passes, if you no longer worry that your aunt’s feelings would be hurt, you can give it to someone who would appreciate it more.

This solution offers a nice middle ground that ultimately protects your home from excessive clutter while still honoring the gift.

Thought #4: Make your perspective known as a giver.

When I give a gift, I always make it clear that I am okay with the recipient exchanging what I gave them. In the card, I will include a little P.S. that says something like, “I hope you like it and I hope it fits, but here’s the gift receipt just in case.”

By expressing to others that you are okay with their gift exchanges, you are (in a way) giving yourself permission to do the same.

When it’s all said and done, gifts are a gamble.

We make our best guess at what others would like, but we rarely hit the nail on the head. Personally, I would much rather the recipient exchange that jacket for one they will actually wear, rather than have it sit in their closet taking up space. I’d like to think most people feel the same way. (Do you agree? Let us know what you think in the comments!)

Put it all together and here’s what you get:

Be considerate of other people’s feelings, but in the end this is your house, this is your stuff, and you have both the freedom and the responsibility to manage it well.

I hope this helps relieve a little of your exchange-anxiety.

Merry Christmas!

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