3 Ways To Accept A Gift Graciously (Even When You Don’t Love It)

From the wrong sizes to useless clutter, tips for responding to unwanted, unlovable presents.

December 15, 2016
tiny present
Ben White/unsplash

No one wants to admit it because it makes them sound like an ungrateful jerk, but here’s the truth: Getting a gift that you don’t want is annoying.

For starters, you’ve become the proud owner of an object you couldn’t care less about. And now, you have to figure out what the heck to do with it. Should you go through the hassle of making a return? (And you bet, it’s always a hassle.) Or if that’s not an option, should you just try to live with it? Donate it? Stuff it in your already overflowing closet and forget about it?

Practicalities aside, you might also feel sort of hurt, or even angry. A gift is an opportunity for someone to show that they get you—that they have an idea about what makes you happy, says Gail Saltz, clinical psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different. So when your sister gives you a gag-inducing sweater that’s the complete opposite of anything you would ever wear, that little voice in your head starts saying, Doesn’t she know me at all?

In short, there can be a lot of feelings stuffed into that pretty box. Here’s how to unpack them and focus on the good—no matter how bad the gift might be. 

(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

christmas present
1/3 Ben White/unsplash
Focus on what the gift really means

Barring any passive-aggressive attempts on the part of the giver to send some kind of message (like your mom getting you another pair of personalized oven mitts—just in case you ever decide to start cooking, honey!), remember: Your giver, though clueless, meant well. They gave you something because they care about you!

Think about that instead of fuming over the stupid snow globe. Because whether you hate a gift or love it, in the end, it’s never really about the thing in the package anyway. “A gift represents a loving gesture. It’s a person’s statement of your importance to them,” Saltz says.

Related: How To Tell Your Family You Don't Want Any Presents This Year

presents under the tree
2/3 Andrew Neel/unsplash
Speak up—maybe

Maybe your boss gave you a gift card to a store you never shop at. Or your brother’s new girlfriend gave you a candle with a scent that makes you feel physically ill (should have gone with these lovely stovetop scents instead!). When you don’t have a close personal relationship with the giver, it’s best to just thank them and move on. (More on how to do that later.) Ditto if the giver is someone who’s going through a tough time—you don’t need to add to their stress, Saltz says.

But if it’s someone in your inner circle? It’s worth saying something, especially if they repeatedly give you things you don’t want, says Saltz. After all, pretending to love those ugly cat socks only sets you up for getting another pair next year. Plus, you’ll start to feel angry—like the person gives zero craps about your actual likes and dislikes.

So be honest—nicely. Thank the giver for making the effort, then break the news about why the gift isn’t working for you. Try this: “I’m…

  • …trying not to turn into a crazy cat lady, ha!”
  • …so tight on space and trying to keep things minimal. Let's try experiential gifts next time; maybe we could go ice skating together?”

Related: If You're Horrified By All The Holiday Gift-Giving, This Idea's For You

thank you
3/3 matt jones/unsplash
Always say thank you

Your gift-giver tried to do something nice for you, so show some love. You don’t have to gush or act like it’s the most amazing thing in the world—that would be disingenuous, says Saltz. Something like, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate that you thought of me in this way.” That Christmas wreath might be ugly as sin, but remember, it’s still a sign of their affection. Appreciate it. (Besides, you can always make your own pretty succulent wreath like this one!)