How to Tactfully Decline Hand-Me-Downs & Gifts

Inside: Here you’ll find 6 tips to help you decline hand-me-downs and random gifts while working to live a life free of clutter and excess.


Hand-me-downs! They can be both an incredible blessing as well as an unbearable burden. When working to get uncluttered and clear the excess stuff from your home, nothing feels more counterproductive than the moment a friend, sister or parent drops a spontaneous bag of generosity off on your front porch.

Now, if you’re reading this right now and thinking to yourself, “Wow. She sounds incredibly ungrateful,” let’s have a little chat shall we.

I get asked all.the.time “How do I say no to hand-me-downs and random gifts without appearing ungrateful and upsetting the giver?” It’s a common question from kind-hearted people, looking to keep peace at the expense of their own sanity. However, it isn’t ingratitude they are struggling with at all. They’re simply struggling to prioritize their own needs and the needs of their family, over the feelings of others. If you think about it, it’s really a rather noble question.decline hand-me-downs

I’m not writing this article to appease the gift givers, I’m here for the mom still working to squeeze the last bag of hand-me-downs into their kids’ dresser, nodding her head and shouting, “Yes!! For the love. Please stop the stuff train!

Before we get into a few strategies for declining stuff you don’t need, let’s talk about why it is people get offended when you don’t accept their gifts.

Gift Giving Induced Conflict

First, many people view gift giving as a love language. For them, it’s a way to express love and appreciation. When a gift, whether new or second-hand, is then declined, it may feel to them like a personal rejection. If you suspect this to be the case, I’d suggest addressing it head on. Let them know how loved and appreciated you feel simply by the offer, while also explaining why it is you don’t need more toddler socks, another waffle maker or bag of hand towels.

Second, sometimes it’s because they’re struggling to let go. They’re looking to shield themselves from the difficulty of letting go by giving it to someone still within arms reach. I see this very thing play out with my daughters all of the time. The older one knows she’s done with a toy, but rather than trash it or donate it, she offers it to her baby sister. This way it’s not really gone.

If the giver is struggling to let go in the first place, they’re more likely to project their own internal struggle onto you. You are not responsible for carrying that for them.

decline hand-me-downs

Lastly, consider if it’s just you, afraid you’ll be accused of ingratitude when in fact, nobody would care all that much if you just said, “No, thank you. We’re all good.” Give it a try. You may be surprised by how little conflict actually arises when you do.

After taking those three factors in consideration, let’s talk about a few practical strategies we can implement in order to kindly decline excess stuff.

6 Tips to Help You Gently, yet Confidently, Decline Hand-Me-Downs

1. You teach people how to treat you.

If you keep taking stuff, they’re going to keep giving you more stuff! You teach people how to treat you. It may feel a little awkward when you first begin to decline the hand-me-downs and random gifts. However, in time, you’ll grow more confident in your ability to say no, and the giver will grow more familiar with your typical response. If you keep allowing excess stuff into your home simply because you’re too afraid to say no, it’s never going to stop.

decline hand-me-downs

2. It Doesn’t Have to Be All or Nothing.

If your sister brings by a bin of hand-me-downs your nephew has outgrown, you don’t have to take the whole box. Sift through the bin for the long sleeve T’s your kiddo needs and then send her home with the rest. If your mom drops off a bag of kitchen towels and gadgets she found at a garage sale for you, take what you need and send her home with the rest. You don’t have to accept it all and you don’t have to decline it all.

Immediately upon receiving an out-of-the-blue bag of goodies, say these words: “Do you want me to give you back what we don’t end up needing or just donate the rest for you?” This way they know you likely won’t be keeping it all. and gives them control over where it goes from here.

3. “We have all we need right now.”

If there is simply nothing you actually need right now, use this line to let them know:

“Thanks, but we’re good. We have all the ____ we need.”

4. Offer a Suggestion.

If you don’t need any more 5T girl clothes, perhaps you know another family who could. Most of the time, people just want to know their extra stuff is getting used by someone who needs it. Provide them with an alternate family who may be able to benefit from their generosity.

Just last week a friend offered me her extra canning jars. I’ve long abandoned the notion of becoming a girl who grows and cans her own food, but I know somebody who does it, and does it well. I played middleman and in return got myself a jar of homemade salsa out of the deal. Boom!

decline hand-me-downs

5. Donate Something Else from Your Home.

If all else fails and you just can’t seem to stop that stuff train, consider the “one-in-one-out” rule. If grandma sends your kids home with three new coloring books and a new board game, look around your home for something you can let go of in its place.

This isn’t ideal, but ultimately, you’ve got to decide which hills are worth dying on and which are worth letting be.

6. It’s Yours Now.

Lastly, it’s yours now. Whatever you’ve been given has now become your personal property. Therefore, how long it remains a part of your home is up to you.

If I find a gift, whether that be a spontaneous hand-me-down or even a Christmas present, isn’t serving my real life, I’ll give it an arbitrary time limit for how long I’ll keep it. Depending on the item, after perhaps, one to six months, I’ll donate it. It’s not a perfect strategy, but it works. It helps me feel as though I’m honoring the giver, while ultimately avoiding the accumulation of stuff I don’t need or love.

I wish I could tell you this system was a fool proof method for mitigating all “stuff induced” relational issues from here on out. The reality is, when you live a countercultural lifestyle, you’re going to ruffle some feathers from time to time.

Just know this, you aren’t obligated to live a cluttered life in order to love others well.  


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