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Ways to Pare Down Your Stuff—Before It Gets in Your Door

by Helen Houston

Can you nicely refuse unwanted things others try to foist upon you? What can you say when relatives don’t see the gifts they have given you proudly displayed on the mantel? And how can you win the battle with your own mind as you try to shove yet another item from the Target décor section into your shopping cart? The following tips can help you navigate these sticky situations, leaving your home unburdened by things you don’t use—and keeping your friendships intact.

Just say “No, thank you” to Free Stuff
Do you really, honestly want that free t-shirt, corporate mug, plastic sippy cup, or, fill in the blank? If not, just smile, say, “No, thank you,” and move on. Do not fool yourself into thinking it’s not a big deal to take it—once it makes it through your front door, it becomes harder to get rid of.

Give Yourself a Shopping Mantra
What to do when you are the one causing most of the clutter build-up in your home? Know where your weak spots are (Target décor aisle, Overstock, TJ Maxx, eBay) and prepare yourself to be strong when you face them. It can help to come up with a brief but powerful word or phrase that gets to the heart of how you want your home to feel, such as “clean and spacious.” Repeat these words to yourself while you are shopping. Is that metallic gold horse sculpture you just plunked in your cart going to help your home be clean and spacious? If not, put it back.

Politely Discourage Gift Giving
If your home is small or you are trying to pare back and simplify your life, share this information with your family and friends. When they know more about the goals you are striving for, and how important they are to you, they are far more likely to keep them in mind when choosing gifts for you.

Set a Good Example
You set the tone for the type and amount of gifts that others give you. If you are always giving tons of presents, your friends and family members may feel that’s what you expect from them, too. If you want to receive fewer gifts, scale back your own giving first. Start a tradition of giving experiences, consumables, and donations to charitable organizations close to your heart. These options can be fully enjoyed without having to be displayed in the home.

Here are some examples:

  • Instead of kitchen gear, give homemade preserves or cooking lessons.
  • Instead of toys, give a membership to a local children’s museum.
  • Instead of clothing or jewelry, give a gift certificate to a salon or spa.
  • Instead of art, give a trip to go gallery hopping.
  • Instead of décor, give a donation to the Salvation Army.

Always Express Your Heartfelt Thanks for the Sentiment Behind a Gift But Don’t Beat Yourself Up About Giving it Away
When someone gives you a gift, the appropriate response is a heartfelt thank you. What you are really thanking the giver for is thinking of you and taking the time to shop for, select, and wrap a present just for you. The confusion comes when we start thinking we must always love the item itself. That’s simply not the case. If you warmly received the gift, your end of the deal is complete. It is not your responsibility to store, display, and care for the item forever. If this sounds a bit harsh, remember the person who gave you the gift cares about you and wants to bring you happiness. If the gift is causing feelings of guilt and resentment, it is far better to donate it to charity so someone will be able to appreciate it.

Writers Note: There are times when it may be more important to keep the gift: Family heirlooms, art, hand-knitted items, and quilts come to mind.

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