How To Get Relatives On Board With Clutter-Free Gifting

Last month, after I published this post on the beauty of practical clutter-free gift giving, I received the following question from a reader: “I love this post and wonder about your thoughts on encouraging family members to get on board with this. Each year we express that our kids prefer experiential gifts for b-day and Christmas but family members can't get past having them have something to ‘open.’ Not only do we not want all the stuff, but our kids don't use it and we end up donating or selling it later. Would love ideas on how to encourage college fund donations or experience gifts without sounding like a gift giving micro manager.”

This is such a great question. I mean, seriously great. And also challenging. So as part of my ongoing partnership with Fidelity/MEFA, I figured it would be the perfect time to share ideas for how to get relatives on board with clutter-free gifting.

1. Share your perspective (especially the reality of where their gift may go)

I’m all about direct communication, and this reader definitely has made attempts to express their wishes, which is fantastic. The one part I’m unsure about, though, is whether they have shared the part about gifts received being sold or donated later. I have a feeling if they shared that part, it might move the needle a little, so I suggest that as a first step. The desire to give gifts is coming from a good place and I suspect relatives would much rather have their gift be put to use instead of donated.

2. Express your appreciation

I recommend starting the conversation with, “I really appreciate that you want to do something for [insert name of your kid(s)].” Starting a conversation with gratitude -- versus an adversarial stance -- goes a long way in shaping the conversation.

3. Make specific clutter-free gifting recommendations hinged directly to your kids’ interests

One of the best ways you can get the clutter-free message across is sharing very specific ideas -- differentiating based on your kids’ interests so relatives can see the personal connection. For example, if you have a kid who is obsessed with pandas, suggest a donation so your kid can adopt a panda through an organization like the World Wildlife Foundation. Or if you have kid who is actively thinking about college, share how meaningful a 529 contribution would be to that kid, knowing that the relative contributed to their college experience. Or if you have a kid who loves the performing arts, encourage a gift to see a concert or play together. Basically, the more specifically you can drive home how much your kid would dig a particular thing, the better!

4. Attach a clutter-free gift to a modest sure-fire hit

One thing I have learned in 12 years of parenting is that sometimes the smallest, simplest things are the biggest hit. We have had years where our girls have received all manner of fancy gifts and then literally, it’s the bag of M&Ms that makes them go bonkers. So, my suggestion would be to recommend to relatives to attach a clutter-free gift to an inexpensive (ideally consumable) winner, like, uh, candy. Or marshmallows. I just realized that if I got my kids a bag of marshmallows for Christmas, I could likely not bother getting anything else!

5. Add a little something that is related

A counterpoint to idea #4 is to gift the clutter-free item with a little something that’s related. For example, last Christmas, Jon's aunt and uncle purchased Heifer bees and chicks in the girls' names and they gifted the cards with little stuffed bee and chick keychains that could go on their backpacks. It was so cute and the girls loved it.

6. Box it up

As this reader indicated, a lot of people get hung up over the fact that an envelope looks boring under the tree. Solve that problem by putting the item in a box and wrapping it up. We’ve seen this approach in action numerous times to excellent effect!

7. Be flexible and strike a compromise

My closing recommendation is to be flexible and strike a compromise if necessary. For example, my mom is typically all about the Korean flat envelope but I have realized that for her, 529 contributions have a sense of importance best suited for birthdays (where she wants to give a gift of higher value) whereas at Christmas she wants to be able to get them something fun, silly, or sparkly. So we roll with that. Another way to strike a compromise would be to split the value that the relative wants to spend between a small gift and a 529 contribution.

I hope these ideas are helpful! If you have other strategies that have worked with encouraging relatives towards clutter-free gifting, feel free to share via the comments below!

Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Fidelity/MEFA. All opinions about the awesomeness of clutter-free gifting and the value of 529s are, of course, my own. To learn more about the 529, hop over to the MEFA website.