Returning A Gift To The Giver: Everything You Need To Know

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We’ve all been there…you tear open the beautiful wrapping paper, open up the box, and there it is – a gift that you would never have chosen for yourself. It might be that it’s just not your taste, that it’s the wrong size, or that you just plain don’t like it. But, we also don’t want to hurt the giver’s feelings. How do we deal with receiving a gift we don’t want? Here at Gift Glide, we did some research to find out all about returning a gift to the giver and how to do it so no one walks away upset.

Is it ok to return a gift to the giver?

This question brings a multitude of answers; some people say absolutely not, while others say yes you certainly can return a gift. So, which is the right answer? At the end of the day, the right answer really depends on a few factors, such as your relationship with the giver, your own comfort level, and how much you really dislike the gift. We will elaborate a little on these questions to help you determine your own answer.

What is your relationship with the giver?

Are you close with the person who gave you the unwanted gift? Do you have a comfortable relationship with open and honest communication? If so, then you might feel comfortable enough to let them know that while you appreciate the thoughtfulness of their gift, it is not quite right for you. No matter what type of relationship you have with the giver, you would always want to tread carefully and avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. If you do decide to tell them that you do not want the gift, you want to do it in a nice way, while also saying how much you appreciate the thought behind the gift. According to world-renowned etiquette expert Emily Post, returning a gift should not dismiss the thought and spirit behind the gift-giving, but rather the giver should want the recipient to be happy and not put their own choice upon them. 

What is your comfort level with tricky conversations?

How comfortable do you feel when having to approach someone with a tricky topic such as not wanting their gift? Some people really shy away from confrontations like that, while others do not seem phased by them at all. You have to decide how comfortable you are with approaching the giver about this and letting them know that you do not want the gift. If the thought of having this type of conversation makes you squirm and cringe, then perhaps it’s just not worth doing. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer not to hide how you feel and would rather get it off your chest, then approach the conversation with kindness and grace, thank them for their thoughtfulness, and politely decline the gift.

How much do you really dislike the gift?

Sometimes this can be the deciding factor on whether or not to tell the giver that you don’t want the gift. If we hang onto a gift for a little while, sometimes we begin to see it in a new light and begin to appreciate it more. Whether it’s a piece of clothing that you thought was “just not your style”, an ornament that you thought doesn’t go with your decor, or anything else that you just thought you didn’t want. Give it a bit of time and see if perhaps your feelings change. If the feelings don’t change and it’s just something you really don’t want, then you can make a decision about whether or not to return it to the give or do something else with it (we give you some ideas on that later on).

How to return a gift without hurting anyone’s feelings

The most important thing to remember when returning a gift to the giver is that honesty is always the best policy. Don’t make up some crazy excuse as to why you don’t want the gift, just tell them the truth.

For example, if it’s a style of clothing that you just don’t feel comfortable wearing – tell them that. Thank them for their kind gift and gently explain that the clothing is just not your style, and then ask them if they would mind if you picked out something a little more to your taste. Or, if it’s a client who gave you a gift and your company does not condone accepting gifts from clients, you can simply tell them that. Thank them for the gift and let them know that it is your company’s policy to not accept gifts. If you are kind and honest in how you handle it, then there shouldn’t be any hurt feelings.

The main thing is that you show appreciation and gratitude for their gift, so that their feelings aren’t hurt and they see that you appreciate their intentions. You don’t want to just return the gift to them without a ‘thank you’ or an explanation.

At the end of the day though, if you think that it is going to cause more hurt than anything, you might want to rethink giving the gift back. Go back to the questions listed above and decide whether or not giving the gift back is the best course of action.

Why you shouldn’t feel bad for returning a gift

The thing to remember about gift giving is that it is not really about the actual gift, but rather the thoughtful gesture behind the gift. Therefore, if handled correctly, you should not feel bad about giving a gift back that isn’t to your taste. If the giver is genuine and cares about you, then they would want you to be happy regardless, so if you choose to return the gift or exchange it for something else, it should not cause them to feel hurt. Here are some reasons why you might not feel bad about returning a gift.

The gift came with a gift receipt

This is always my favorite situation, as it indicates that the giver recognized that you may prefer something different, so they provided you with the gift receipt for an easy exchange. In this situation, you should not feel bad at all for taking them up on their offer to exchange it. 

You are being honest

This one has to be handled carefully, because there’s a difference between being honest and being rude or ungrateful. As mentioned before, if you approach this situation with kindness and grace, then the giver should come away feeling appreciated while you still get to return the gift. You are being honest with them and letting them know exactly why the gift isn’t to your taste, all the while thanking them for their kindness. 

The new item is still a gift

Even if you exchange it for something else, the new thing that you get will still be a gift to you, which you can still appreciate and thank them for. I find this to be especially true when it comes to receiving clothing as a gift. My mom still buys me clothes at Christmas time (I think in an effort to get me to dress a tad more professional!), and usually her taste is spot-on. But, sometimes she goes for something that just isn’t my style or the right size for me. I just let her know that, and exchange it for something else that is more my style. She is just happy that I get something that I’ll actually wear, rather than having it collect dust in my closet.

You would want someone to do the same with you

If you gave a gift that someone didn’t want, wouldn’t you want to know about it? I know I would. It costs money to buy gifts, or it takes time to make something yourself. Either way, money and time are both in short order these days, so I would want to know if someone didn’t want a gift that I gave them. As long as they told me in a nice way, I wouldn’t mind at all if they exchanged it for something they would get more use out of. I’d much rather that than someone hanging onto it for no reason and not getting any use out of it. 

How to respond if someone returns a gift to you

It might catch you off guard if someone returns a gift to you, however etiquette dictates that you accept the gift back and do not make a big fuss about it. Of course, it depends on how the recipient gives the gift back to you, and hopefully it will be done in a tactful way while still thanking you for your kindness. Regardless though, there is not a whole lot you can do other than accept it back. You could always inquire as to why they wish to return the gift, but then after that, you really do need to just let it go. Here are some reasons as to why they might be wanting to return the gift to you.

It doesn’t fit

Again, this goes back to the clothing gifts, and it’s another reason why clothing can sometimes be a tricky choice of gift. If you’ve purchased something that doesn’t fit them, then of course they’re going to ask to return it for a different size. No big deal, give them the receipt and let them return it for the proper size.

The gift is a duplicate

If they already have the item, then that was just an accidental duplicate. You likely didn’t know they already had one, and it shows that you’ve got good taste picking something they already picked for themselves! So, no biggie, give them the receipt and let them choose something different for themselves. Or, take it back yourself and try for another gift that they hopefully don’t already have.

They are not interested in you

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but if you were giving a gift as a romantic gesture, and the person returned it to you, unfortunately it might mean that they are not interested in you. Hopefully they are kind about it and thank you for your thoughtfulness, but really there is nothing you can do about this situation. Accept the gift back, recognize that the person is not into you, and put your energy into finding someone who is!

The gift is viewed as inappropriate

This might happen for a variety of reasons, and it can’t always be predicted ahead of time. The gift itself might be seen as inappropriate if you went for something that is overly brash, funny, or teasing. While you thought they might get a laugh out of it, it might have been a little too “out there”. Lesson learned, tone it down next time, and let them pick out a different gift that is more appropriate. 

If it’s the actual act of giving the gift that the recipient feels is inappropriate, then you’ll just have to accept the gift back and recognize that that isn’t how to show your appreciation for them. It might be because they don’t feel you two are close enough to be exchanging gifts, or because they are in an authoritative or subordinate role from you at work and they don’t feel it’s appropriate to receive a gift from you.

Returning a gift after a break up

Now, this particular situation can get really messy, and it really depends on the two people in the relationship and how the relationship ended. Everyone tends to feel differently about this concept as well, so again you really just need to decide what works best for you. Here are a few thoughts to consider, in order to help with your decision.

Giving gifts back will provide closure on the relationship

Some people feel that giving back the gifts that were exchanged during a relationship will provide some sort of closure on the relationship ending. People don’t always want the reminders of a previous relationship, especially if it ended on a sour note. Keep in mind, however, that returning the gifts can also be quite hurtful to the giver, so unless you’re trying to add more salt to the wound, tread carefully and handle the return with kindness. 

Consider if the gift was something sentimental

If the gift was something that was important to them or sentimental in some way, then perhaps they might appreciate getting the gift back. I know when my high school boyfriend and I went our separate ways, I made sure he got his favorite sweater back, because it was special to him. I didn’t need it anymore, and I didn’t want him to be without it simply because he gave it to me while we were together, so I returned it to him. He appreciated getting it back and told me that he didn’t think I’d return it to him but he hadn’t wanted to ask for it back. So, I knew I had done the right thing. 

When it comes to other sentimental gifts like an engagement ring, however, you might want to think about whether or not to return that. While some will say that it is alright to return such a gift, most people feel that something that large and sentimental should not be returned. It is a sign of a relationship that was at some point very serious, so returning a gift like that would only cause additional hurt.

What does returning the gift achieve?

In the end, the best question to ask yourself is what does returning the gift achieve? Are you wanting to hurt the giver even more because you’re still hurting? If yes, then consider letting your emotions cool for a while before deciding on whether or not to return the gift. 

Do you wish to return it because you know they would want it back? Then explain that to them when you return it; they will likely appreciate the fact that you considered their feelings and decided to return the item.

Gift return etiquette

Here are some of the key points to remember when returning a gift to the giver.

Be honest

Tell them the real reason you don’t want the gift. Honestly is always the best policy, and you don’t want to be making up crazy excuses that could come out later on as being lies. Just tell them the truth; they will appreciate your honesty.

Be grateful

Gift giving is a special act and one that is done out of kindness, so we want to recognize that and show proper appreciation. Don’t be rude or unkind about it, and let them know that although the gift isn’t the right choice for you, that you appreciate the gesture just the same.

Consider the emotional impact

If returning a gift is going to cause a lot of drama and upset, then you might want to reconsider it. It really boils down to the relationship between you and the giver, and only you can decide how to best move forward. If it’s an unwanted gift from your mother-in-law, for example, and you know that returning it will just cause a wealth of family upset, then perhaps it’s best to explore a different option, such as regifting it, donating it, or just getting used to it taking up space on your shelf!

What to do with gifts you do not want

There are a few things you can do if you decide that the gift is just not for you. If you decide not to return it to the giver, here are some other options.

Return it to the store

Sometimes stores will accept an item back even without a receipt. You might not get your cash back, but they might give you store credit instead. This way, you could pick out something different from the store. Just be careful that the giver doesn’t inquire about where their gift is, otherwise you might be up against another tricky conversation. 

Re-gift it

This is one of my favorite things to do with unwanted gifts, especially if they are small gifts that the giver would not think to inquire about. I wouldn’t do this with a large gift, as I’d expect the giver to eventually inquire about its whereabouts. But little items that I’ve received from acquaintances or colleagues over the years that I just won’t use are perfect to regift. 

What I tend to do though is regift it in a different circle of friends. For example, if I received something from a colleague that I didn’t want, I wouldn’t re-gift it to another colleague, as the original giver might find out. Instead, I might re-gift that to my child’s teacher or another acquaintance in a different social circle.

Trade it with someone

While this isn’t something that I have done before, it is something my friends and I have talked about doing one day. Have a trading party where everyone brings a gift that they didn’t want, and we swap them with another unwanted gift. This would be a fun way to exchange a gift we don’t want while getting to choose something that we do want. 

Sell it to someone else

If you receive a gift that you just don’t want, but you’re not comfortable returning it to the giver, consider selling it to someone else. You could do this by popping it onto an online Marketplace to sell, or just put it out at your next garage sale. Just be careful though that the giver wouldn’t catch wind of this, or they might be upset that you sold the item. It wouldn’t be a good idea to post it in an online Marketplace group that you know they frequent. 

Let someone else benefit from the giver’s kindness and donate the item to someone less fortunate. There are many organizations who would gladly take your unwanted items to pass them along. Especially in terms of clothing, kitchen items, bedding, or useful household items – these things are always in high need, so donating them would be a nice way to continue the kindness and help someone else out.

In conclusion

In the end, this tricky question really boils down to your relationship with the giver, your level of comfort in having awkward conversations, and how badly you dislike the gift. If you have a positive, honest relationship with the giver, then consider telling them the truth and returning the gift. If it’s just too awkward of a conversation, then perhaps choose one of the solutions listed above as an alternate way of getting rid of the gift. No matter what solution you choose, be sure to handle the situation with kindness and honesty, let the person know that you appreciate their thoughtfulness, and perhaps provide some clearer gift ideas for the next time!