On Accepting Gifts with Grace and Joy

Mother's Day is on the horizon, and it's an obligatory gift-giving occasion in the U.S.

I've gone through a long period of not giving gifts at all, except to my grandsons and for new babies and marriages.  I always pick something from the new parents' or couple's registry, because I don't want to give anything that would burden the receiver.  After seeing many people who struggle to declutter gifts that they don't like or use, plus the guilt and the arguments that sometimes ensue, I don't want to potentially add something that would fall into that category.

So I send greeting cards, and if I do give a gift, I limit it to impermanent things like flowers, food, or a gift card.

I also avoid accumulating unnecessary items, so family and friends know not to buy me anything for special occasions.  Sometimes they give me some nice chocolate, a scented hand lotion, or a special tea blend, but most often I'm happy when they give a gift in my honor to one of the charities I care about.

mother and child

Has minimalism made me feel guilty?

I'm not sure that "guilt" is the right word to describe my feelings.  I know that I haven't wanted to find a use or a place for extra possessions.  And when it's time to give someone a gift for an important event in their lives, I worry about causing them trouble instead of focusing on my desire to add to their happiness.

Tidying guru Marie Kondo has written about how some people tease her when a gift-giving occasion arises.  "I bet when you get a gift, you thank it for the joy of receiving it and then throw it away."  But she says there's just one rule for receiving gifts:  "Unwrap them, remove them from the box, and start using them as soon as you receive them."

This seems a bit un-minimalist, doesn't it?  But maybe I've forgotten that accepting a gift can actually be a gift to the person who presented it to me.  They're giving me something because they want to.  The gift is from the heart.  Even if I don't particularly like it at first, Kondo suggests I should be gracious enough to try to use or display whatever it is.

Maybe the real issue is my lack of graciousness.  Have I been sending the message that I'm perfectly self-sufficient and don't need or want what anyone has to give?  Maybe instead of being non-materialistic, I'm being picky and unkind.

Maybe I've been looking at gifts the wrong way.

Minimalism shouldn't make you heartless and hard to please.  Perhaps I've been focusing on me and my preferences instead of on the giver.  I am so blessed to have people in my life who want to give me gifts!  Isn't that the important thing to acknowledge and remember?

That doesn't mean that a gift has to remain in my possession forever.  At some point, I can decide to let it go, guilt-free and with gratitude for the giver.

Mother's Day gifts
But in the meantime, why shouldn't I try something new and see if I can enjoy something different?  The gift might not be to my taste, but it reveals something about the giver.  If that person is important to me, it's worth learning a bit more about them.

Learning to graciously accept the kindness of others is important.  Think of how much you enjoy being helpful or useful to someone, or how excited you are when you find what you think is the perfect gift for them.  Now imagine that they have exactly the same feelings.  Why should you deny them the opportunity to have the same positive experience you enjoy?

To be honest, I've only recently started thinking this way.  I realized that I was negatively judging other people's gift choices, even though I think my choices are probably tasteful and right on target.  What an ungrateful snob I've been!

The benefits of receiving a gift

Receiving and making use of gifts has several benefits beyond acquiring something new.

  • It helps me relax my preconceived ideas.
  • It helps me take advantage of opportunities that come my way.
  • It makes me open to new possibilities.  Exploring them – or using what I've been given – can lead to an unexpected bonus.

And most importantly, it makes me appreciate the love and kindness I've been given.

Ready for some good news?  It's possible to find a sense of purpose and direction every day.  It's possible to find a life of meaning and joy.  My book Simply Happy (part of my best-selling Minimalist Basics series) aspires to help you do just that.  I hope to enlighten, encourage, and even goad you into choosing more joy.

Just as you gain skill at maintaining your uncluttered home, schedule, and budget, you can get better at maintaining inner serenity and peace.  We can't control all the circumstances of our lives, but we have some control over our responses to them.  And we can mold our habits and even our brains toward positivity and happiness.

Simply Happy will show you how to change the way you look at the world – and then you're free to pursue your joy.


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