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The One To Zen Organizing Blog

Breathe in Calm, Breathe out Clutter

  • Writer's pictureJill Katz

Gift Giving & Receiving: 5 Tips To Stay Organized and Avoid “Gift Clutter”

‘Tis the season for gift giving and receiving. Are you ready?

There are plenty of articles out there about giving the perfect gift. That’s not what this blog post is about. Instead, I would like to focus on how to avoid "gift clutter." As an organizer I see a lot of old gifts collecting in people's spaces. I see the gifts you forgot to give in the back of your closet. I see the presents you are never going to use but feel too guilty to confront piled in your guest room. What can you do about it? With a little mindfulness and a few rules, you can avoid this “gift” clutter.



To set the tone, I would like to share this gifting story with you. Once upon a time there was a sweet and loving family of five. The Mom in this story was constantly receiving endless gifts from her in-laws. Some gifts were for her and her husband. Most of the gifts were for the children. As time went on, the children were drowning in toys. The Mom politely asked her in-laws to stop sending gifts, but the gifts kept coming.

Now maybe you can relate to this story which unfolds more often than you think. Or maybe gifts enter your life in other ways but you are still challenged by gift clutter.


Gift clutter, holiday presents
The gifts are piling up

On the flip side, I would like to share another story with you. There was a very generous man who expressed his caring through gift giving. Whenever he stepped into a store, he grabbed “a few extra things” that he thought his friends and family might like. If he was buying clothing online and there was a sale, he would purchase more items because they would make great gifts. Soon, his spare closet was stuffed to the gills with gifts. But he continued to purchase more items and expanded his storage into the basement. Occasionally, some of these gifts would make their way out of his home but more purchases were coming in than going out.

Do you know anyone like this? Before you dismiss this story, consider where you lie on this gift-purchasing spectrum: Do you have any gifts in your closet that were never gifted?

The Tips

The stories above illustrate challenging situations that can arise during the holidays . Stick with these simple rules and glide through the holidays without any gift clutter:

1. Receive the gift graciously

Your job as the Gift Receiver is to acknowledge all cards and gifts with true gratitude. Someone took the time to choose, wrap and give/send you a present and you want to let them know this is appreciated. Showing appreciation might mean writing a thank you card or saying a heartfelt thank you in person. This is your only obligation when it comes to receiving a gift.

2. Create rules in advance surrounding gifts and cards

Once you have received your gift, you can do whatever you want with it without guilt. (Say that at least 3 times until you know it to be true.) That means you get to decide if you want to keep it or not. Thinking about how you and your family would like to handle gifts before a holiday or birthday will help you control gift clutter in a timely manner. For example, you might elect to give any gift you don’t want or need to a certain charity. Or you might choose to admire the gift for a week before you decide whether or not it stays or goes. Don’t forget to extend these rules to cards that also tend to collect around the house.

3. Avoid stocking up on gifts

The best gifts are thoughtfully chosen for the receiver. Stocking up on gifts rarely yields a gift that says “I bought this specifically for you.” Instead, create a holiday list or spreadsheet with names and gift ideas. Give yourself enough time to mindfully brainstorm gift ideas and follow through with purchasing and sending. The only exception to this rule is children’s birthday parties. Having a gift closet with a few potential gifts for the Preschool, Kindergarten, and Elementary School set is key to navigating the multiple birthday parties that pop up throughout the year.

4. State your boundaries

Sometimes we forget that we have a right to state our boundaries. We can exercise our boundaries by relating our wants and needs and by making requests of other people. Here are some examples:

  • Institute a “no gift” policy for your child’s birthday party. Explain that any gifts given will be donated to the local children’s shelter.

  • Create a registry of gifts and request that any gifts be purchased through this registry.

  • Explain that you are trying to reduce clutter, and request gift cards or “experiences" instead of physical gifts.

Not everyone will understand or agree with your boundaries. But you still have every right to assert them.

5. Exercise compassion

We all have different backgrounds and experiences. So it makes sense that gift giving has a different meaning to each person. Leaning on empathy over judgement will help us keep the peace while navigating the holiday season.


This year, enjoy a lighter, freer holiday season with family and friends. That is my gift to you.

Do you have a story or strategy to share about gift giving or receiving? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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