Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Making the most of that unwanted present

Now how many times have you opened a present only to think "What the heck am I going to do with that?"

Of course it's the thought that counts. Someone you hold dear has spent time thinking of you this Christmas and that's wonderful. But it doesn't mean that you have to keep the slippers that don't fit or the ornament that doesn't go with the decor and carry the burden that goes with it.

For someone to have spent good money on buying a gift, simply for it to be kept in a cupboard would be a real waste, even if it isn't going straight to landfill. So what can you do about it?

Here are a few easy-to-follow steps, that might help.

1. SHOW GRATITUDE. No matter what the circumstances, the first thing you should do is to accept the gift graciously and show appreciation for the time and thought put into the present.

2. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. Once you've demonstrated your gratitude, if you are still convinced the gift isn't up to the mark your next job is to manage expectations. This is always easier said than done, especially if the person who bought you the gift is a close friend or relative. Stuffing the item in a cupboard may just lead to a truck load of arguments further down the line, so it is best to be as truthful as possible from the outset. However you don't want to hurt their feelings unecessarily.

If it's not possible to take it back to the shop and you are truly worried about hurting the person's feelings, you could always have a little comment tucked up your sleeve to help you out:

*"That'll come in handy for our holiday" to yet another gift pack of smellies.

*"It'll be perfect when we've redecorated" to all sorts of things for the home;

or how about...

*"That's lovely. We must make sure we put it out of reach of the kids as we'd hate them to break it", to anything that's just a tad too "delicate" to put up around the home.

There are all sorts of ways of managing expectations kindly and I prefer the polite and gentle approach. Unfortunately some of my family use sarcasm to get their message over, others are simply silent if they receive something that doesn't suit and my husband screws up his nose in a quizzical fashion.

However my mother's comment "So you think I stink do you?" has led to me never buying her bathroom gifts ever again.

3. SET YOUR UNWANTED GIFTS FREE . Don't just hide your gift away or even worse, dump it in the bin. Find someone else who needs the gift more than you, to ensure that its value is maximised. This could involve anything from returning it, selling it, bartering it, giving it away, regifting it to someone else or donating it to charity.

Return it! If the gift is not your colour, or your size, or indeed broken, ask whether you can exchange it for a replacement or something more suitable. The bearer of the gift might be very happy for you to have the receipt, especially if it's faulty.

Even if you can't get hold of the receipt and the item is obviously from a recognisable store, try to exchange it for credit note. Stores have different policies about exchanges and although they are not obliged to provide a refund under such circumstances, many offer a credit note as an act of goodwill.

However, if your gift has been discounted in the sales, without a receipt you are likely to only get the value of the latest ticket price. If you need to return something, whether to a retail outlet or online store, it's worth finding out more about your consumer rights, in which case you may find the following article from the Guaridian helpful: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2009/dec/27/returning-christmas-gifts-consumer-rights

Sell It! If you can't take it back, make a decision to sell your gift along with other items in your home that you haven't used. Set yourself a target figure of what you'd hope to earn and how you'd spend any money that arises from your sales.

The online auction house eBay is a good place to start and if you've been daunted by dipping your toes in the water so far, you'll find some useful advice at www.about.com. CDs, DVDs and books can also be sold at more specific online sites, such as Amazon. The Which guide, provides a good overview of selling CDs online, with a particular focus on MusicMagpie.

Of course, Car Boot sales are also good for earning income and the website www.carbootjunction.co.uk is great for finding events close to you. Even though the cold winter weather might not be the most appealing time for you to be touting your stuff right now, you can always set a target date for the spring and start boxing up your unwanted items over the next few weeks.

Make New Friends! Now might be a great opportunity to take your unwanted items to your local bartering club, such as a LETS group, which allows members to barter surplus goods as well as favours, using a rewards system of points. I've belonged to a LETS group for eight years and late winter is often a busy time for trading unwanted gifts. It's a great way of meeting new friends, as well as discovering opportunities to learn new skills. My local group is Bury LETS in West Suffolk, but other groups operate right across the UK and throughout the rest of the world. For more information check out www.letslinkuk.net or www.lets-linkup.com.

Save money! Another way to enjoy the value of your unwanted gift is to package it up and regift it to someone else at the earliest opportunity, making the most of the item and saving you some cash too. I am convinced many presents travel around the world for this purpose alone. There are probably items that have been in circulation longer than decimal currency, that have enjoyed a whole range of celebrations being unwrapped, then wrapped up again, before finding their final resting place on the tombola circuit. The only word of caution is to be careful to whom you regift the item in question. After all, as well as avoiding offending the recipient by sending it back to them, you'll also want to avoid it being regifted back like a boomerang. For lots of ideas about regifting, check out the fabulous website Present Sense.

Boost your Karma! If you're feeling particularly generous, and prefer to receive good karma rather than cash, you could always give away your unwanted gift. As well as donating to your favourite charity shops, there is always the option of simply passing the item onto your family or friends, or even handing it over to complete strangers.

Of course, I'm not recommending that you just approach people on the street, touting your stuff around for free. You might get some funny looks or even worse be arrested for disturbing the peace. There are much more sensible alternatives, that help you retain a sense of fun as well as pride.

BookCrossing is a lovely way of surprising strangers with free books. The idea is to register your book online for free and leave it in a place where someone else can pick it up. If all readers join in, you can see how far your book has actually travelled.

Local community sites such as Freecycle are also popular for giving things away and the benefit of such groups is that recipients usually collect items from you, so you don't even have to organise postage or delivery. There are increasing numbers of similar communities growing throughout the UK, including Freegle, SnaffleUp, MySkip and vSkips. They are particularly useful for getting rid of things that are sometimes in too poor a condition to sell but are also too good to throw out to landfill. However, many items advertised on these sites are often in really good condition and some sites such as SwapCycle, iSwap and SwapZ actually encourage direct swaps, so you can get something back in return.

Raise money for a good cause! Donating your items to a local charity shop is a great way of using your gift to help others, which also increases your karma too. Even if your favourite charity doesn't actually have a physical shop, you can still help them raise funds through a relatively new service called Jumble Aid.

Jumble Aid is a non-profit website that allows you to advertise your unwanted items, stating a price that you would like the lucky recipient to then give to charity. You can select the cause that you would like to benefit from the sale of your item and the funds raised goes directly to their account. It's great for organisations such as schools and other small charities who want to raise extra money through the online community, but don't necessarily have the space or indeed time to organise table-top sales or car boots sales.


According to the international charity Practical Action, £2 billion pounds gets spent in the UK on unwanted gifts. That's a lot of money going to waste, along with the resources used to manufacture, package and transport the goods in the first place, just to be discarded.

There'll always be the odd unwanted present knocking around. It's simply part of life, demonstrating the diversity of us beings who walk this earth. However wouldn't it be great if next year we could help lessen the burden somehow, whether it's by finding a good use for the stuff we actually don't want or even better, by taking steps to avoid it in the first place.

If you really do find yourself in the regular awkward position of receiving unwanted gifts, then it might be worth taking the bull by the horns and preparing a strategy for next year. Here are just some things you could try.

*Devise a personal project now! Think about something that you would like to save for and spread the news around your family and friends about how important it is to you. If you drop enough hints throughout the year, those close to you may be willing to help you achieve your goal by offering money as a present or buying something that will help you on your way, such as components, equipment or paying for a course.

*Reduce your Christmas List.
If your children receive too many presents that you're left with no space to swing a cat, regardless of whether they are suitable or not, now might be the time to suggest to a small number of people that you you stop swapping presents. I did this three years ago and cut our present list by ten. All my friends were relieved and between us we saved on 20 presents (ten incoming and ten outgoing). It's one step towards a simpler, less frazzled Christmas as well as the opportunity to reduce the amount of unwanted gifts that are in circulation.

Set up a wishlist. It may seem rather practical, but more and more people are now creating wishlists for birthdays and Christmas and this is fast becoming a popular feature on Amazon. BBC Radio Suffolk presenter James Hazell also told me last year about a website he created for his family enabling all members could register their gift ideas. It certainly beats second-guessing and is a fabulous system for reducing waste. Even though it is possible to write lists on paper, somehow registering ideas on the internet seems less cheeky and less direct. And you can be generous with your ideas too, by asking for donations to charities that are close to your heart. Alternatively you could consider joint activities with your friends such as a visit to a cinema, the theatre or going out for dinner.

I hope you've found today's links and tips useful. And if you're wondering why I've not included a photo of my unwanted gifts at the top of this blogpost, well the great news is that is for the first time ever, I haven't got any..

....well perhaps there is one possible questionable item that I'm currently pondering upon but it would be too rude of me to show that now...especially as one never knows who's looking in and I am still very positive I can find a home for it.........in a charity shop in Ipswich perhaps? Although I am still convinced I can find a place for it in my own home.

So instead, I'll leave you with a photo of me with BBC Radio Suffolk's Rob Dunger from my visit to the studio yesterday, where he helped me finish of the leftovers of my Christmas cake while we were talking about... yes you guessed it....leftovers! You'll catch me back on the show later this morning, somewhere around at 11:10am. It would be great if you get a chance to listen in.



Steve Hearn said...

Wow there's some great advice there! My wife and I often buy each other a joke present. This year she got me a bag of Splenda Brown Sugar, which I will use in my coffee!

san said...

What a brilliant list. Thanks for putting this together. It has been starred in my reader!

Almost Mrs Average said...

Haha, Hi Steve and thank you. I love that idea...unexpected groceries for Christmas and birthdays...ow that's a great way of avoiding waste :-D

Thanks Sandy, that's great to hear. Wait till you see what's coming up tomorrow. It's another big one, but hopefully worth it :-D

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