Homemade Gifts — Do We Have to Keep Them Forever?

by Katy on November 8, 2011 · 86 comments

The Non-Consumer Advocate got a thought provoking comment from Allison the other day in response to the Moving Away From BigBox Fashion post, which was:

“One thing I have noticed when buying from resale stores and from thrift stores is the number of handmade items for so cheap! I am a knitter and it breaks my heart so see the number of gorgeous hand knit sweaters, hats, vests for babies and kids that sell for less than the yarn cost the maker. It is dispiriting to see items I would classify as heirlooms and in brand new condition for sale for $1 or $2. Do people really not value items made with love anymore?

This was my response:

“That’s a hard one. Especially for knit items that are made to fit a certain size, it doesn’t always make sense to hold onto them after they have served their purpose. (Like keeping babies warm.) It’s hard to think about how things that have been made with love do not hold the same emotional attachment to the recipient.

However, since you seem to be aware of the value of good yarn, maybe you could buy the occasional garment to unravel and reknit into something brand new.”

I write this response as both a non-crafter and as a person who has worked long and hard to declutter my house. (Still not done with this task.) When I give a handmade gift, it’s going to be consumable 90% of the time; and that other 10% the item was so poorly constructed, that I’d be happy to hear that the recipient felt comfortable giving it to Goodwill. And I am that person who is able to get past the guilt involved with getting rid of gifts I’ve received. Not always, not every gift, but I do not feel the compulsion to curate a collection of every gift I’ve ever recieved. Even if it was handmade.

How do you feel? Should people hold onto every handmade gift they’ve ever received in order to spare the feelings of the giver?

Is it wrong to let go of no longer useful items to get them in the hands of someone who could use it, even if it was “made with love?”

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Megyn @Minimalist Mommi November 8, 2011 at 9:51 am

I can’t wait to read what others say as I have a REALLY hard time with this! The Hubs’ grandparents ALWAYS give us homemade goods, like hand stitched items and handmade wood toys and wood plaques of animals, etc. It’s hard because we live really close by relatives, so they can see what we keep/put up and what we don’t. Generally, I keep the handmade wood toys as I prefer wood toys. Otherwise, I’ve given the wood plaque animals to my mom to put in her nursery for the boys. As for the hand-stitched things, I keep the ones in the memory box that are important (like the one for our wedding or for the boys’ births). Otherwise, the rest go to Goodwill. I always feel like I’m being ungrateful, but at the same point, I hate stuff in my house that is not my taste and that I only keep out of guilt. Also, how do you tell people to STOP with all the gifts?! As much as we love the wood toys, we really don’t have a need for more or want anymore wood plaques/hand-stitched items.

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Katy November 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

That’s hard, and there’s no easy answer. Most of the handmade gifts that I receive are knitted and crocheted, so can be easily set aside, and are mostly useful. Wooden plaques sound awful, and are meant to be displayed — ack!

I have no answer for you.

Katy

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Kris2 November 8, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Can you re-direct them to make wooden toys for another cause, like a charity? My mil is a beautiful knitter. She has been my mil for 23 years but I only ever really knew she knitted when she took it back up 5 years ago. Now she is a knitting fool and it can get overwhelming.

My dh and I lost our first child as an infant and the entire two weeks of her life were spent in the NICU. One of the things that was, and still is so special to us, was the baby bag we were given by the “NICU Ladies”(a church group) who handed each parent(s) a hand-stitch little quilted bag to hold the keepsakes like the hospital bands and in the bag, among other things, was a set of hand knitted booties and cap.

Because my mil was reminded of how special that is to the parents and how necessary it is for babies, she started knitting booties and caps and donating them to the giant children’s hospital in her area.

her group donates hundreds of sets each year, from infants to older children and have now branched out to nursing home patients.

It doesn’t leave her time to knit a ton of stuff to send around ( 😉 ), but it does have her knit one really beautiful item to each of the our families every year. She knitted me a sweater last year that I thought came from a high end boutique. She is so talented.

Perhaps you can direct their energy and love of giving towards children in need? Wooden toys are such wonderful things, and how many hospitals, daycares, shelters, etc would love toys made with love? Maybe they could branch out to making shelves instead of plaques and they can be handed out for nursing home residents rooms?

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Abby November 8, 2011 at 9:52 am

I wrestled with this after I received a lovely handmade scarf from a friend to mark an event. I wore it a few times, but it just wasn’t the kind of thing I’d normally wear – it was heavy, and uncomfortable for me – so yes, it did eventually go to Goodwill. But I still have the card that came with the gift – the most meaningful part wasn’t the sweater, it really was the thought! I hope it is keeping someone warm who loves it.

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Elspeth @ paper armour November 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

As a knitter myself, I try to put a lot of love and care into the things I make for other people, but I agree with one particular thing you suggested.

“to let go of no longer useful items to get them in the hands of someone who could use it, even if it was ‘made with love?'”

If the recipient doesn’t like what I made them or can’t use it anymore, by all means, give it to someone who can use it! Please don’t, however, throw it away. Just, if you’re going to pass it on, pick a person who you know will use it or like it more than you.

(But for the sake of perspective, there are plenty of things that I made for myself that I didn’t like or need anymore and have given away.)

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Sue November 8, 2011 at 10:03 am

If I don’t want it I give it away. I don’t believe in filling my house up with clutter however beautifully made.

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Rachel November 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

Ahhh I struggle with this too, and was actually just talking to my boyfriend about it the other day… I still have a zipper fleece jacket in my closet that my grandma made me for Christmas several years ago (like probably 8 years). Totally too short for me and way too short in the sleeves at this point, and I’ve thought of bringing it to Goodwill just about every time I’ve cleaned out my closet, but the tag says “Made with love by Grandma” and for some reason that makes me totally unable to bear the thought of giving it away (or of someone seeing it on a rack and thinking I don’t appreciate my Grandma!) Silly I know. And she’s even still alive, but she is my only living grandparent and I do appreciate her, and feel guilty that I don’t get to see her that often since I moved across the country! Plus I figure it’s just one jacket and I have the closet space. But if I was getting bombarded with useless homemade gifts, I’m sure I’d feel differently.

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Katy November 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

What if you asked your Grandma? She might say to pass it along and thus free you from your angst. I highly doubt she wants you to hold onto garments that no longer fit.

Katy

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Marianne November 8, 2011 at 10:28 am

And maybe youll get something better with the grandma signature!

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Ann November 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

What if you removed the tag and kept the tag in a keepsake box. The memory would be triggered by the tag…

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Margaret November 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Love the idea of removing the tag and keeping that. Another suggestion is to find someone in your life whom it would fit and who would like it. For example, a niece, cousin, friend’s daughter, etc.

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Rachel November 9, 2011 at 10:25 am

You guys are awesome… great ideas, all!

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psmflowerlady/Tammy November 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

As a knitter, I put a lot of time and love into the gifts I make for others and $$ too. If someone doesn’t like it, I’d prefer they offered it back to me when they were done, outgrew or would no longer use. Then I could do with it what I want. I do a lot of charity crafting and I would rather have a blanket returned that I could donate to a homeless shelter than have it in someone’s closet or donated to Goodwill or sold for a fraction of the cost of what I have in the yarn. For things that I have received that might be considered “heirlooms”, if I no longer wan them, I offer them back to the giver. Maybe Grandparents are tired of making wood plaques and would gladly re-gift them to a neighbor or other family member that would use them. And when I’ve done this, I usually keep at least one of the items for “handing down” so that people don’t think I didn’t appreciate the thought and the memories associated with it. It’s usually something like, “I’ve been cleaning out Little Angels room and I saved the horriblanket you made her for her 1st birthday. Just looking at it reminded me of how she chewed it the shreds and plugged the toilet trying to flush it. It has so many great memories for her. I’ve put it in her special childhood memory tote so I can share those memories with her daughter someday. You’ve made so many wonderful memories for her over the years and so many loving horriblankets – I can’t keep them all, but wondered if you’d like them back to gift to someone else in the family or some other child who might need a snugggly? I hate to see your handiwork “saved” away safely – someone ought to get some use out of it. If you don’thave any additional need for them, since they are in such great shape, would you mind if I donated them to a reputable organization who can pass them on where they can continue to be used?”

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Katy November 8, 2011 at 10:21 am

I think I am love with your new word “horriblanket.”

Thank you from the horribottom of my heart.

Katy

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Carla November 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I love this word ‘horriblanket’, it fills a niche in my life! I have 3 kids, each has received several homemade blankets. The first two kids EACH received 3 knitted blankets from one grandma ! really, how many blankets can a baby need? Right now, they are playblankets, they use them to make forts, babyslings, to pretend they are an ocean, etc. but a few years from now… what will we do with these things?

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Wendy January 18, 2021 at 8:01 pm

Hopefully, by the time they are finished using them, the things will be played to death. That’s the greatest tribute you can give a handmade baby blanket or toy. Wear them out!

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Chris November 8, 2011 at 10:20 am

Chris,
I make a lot of the gifts I give. Some of them I don’t mind at all if the recipient gives away. Like the PJs I made everyone for Christmas one year..when the kids outgrow them by all means pass them along or send them to Goodwill. Other items like the wedding quilt I’m making my for my sister I hope she keeps forever. I’m putting a lot of time and effort into it, it’s being made from fabric left over from altering her dress and all the bridesmaid dresses, and she’s had a lot of input into the design so I know she’ll like it. So basically I think you should keep items from special occasions or have an extra special connection. Everyday items I don’t feel you have to keep forever.

One think you might consider is to take photos of homemade gifts such as your child wearing the dress or playing with the wooden block and nice detailed pics of the items themselves. Then you could start a scrapbook of all the gifts (or just a photo box or digital album if you don’t scrapbook). As your kids grow up they’ll be able to see all the things made for them and it’ll show the gift giver that you appreciated the item even after the kids outgrow it or get tired of playing with it.

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Courtney November 8, 2011 at 10:36 am

I like the idea of taking photos of the gift rather than keeping the gift itself. I think I will use that.

My mother is going to make me a memory quilt of special baby clothes and blankets, etc in a few years with items that have been special to me. Right now I just have them all shoved in a box. It will mean so much more to me as a quilt I can display and use. Plus the fact that my mom made it for me will make it that much more special 🙂

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Kim @ HousetoHomestead November 8, 2011 at 10:27 am

I don’t have any problem donating handmade gifts. The reality is that, no matter how much love went into making something, it’s still just an object. I’m able to have warm feelings about things and still not want them in my house. My husband deals with this issue differently – he documents things with photographs, then donates them.

On the flip side, I am a crafty type, and I generally limit my handmade gifts to others to food unless someone I really care about makes a specific request. In that case, I discuss it with them extensively to make sure that I make them exactly what they want (not what I want)!

In the case of the “Made with love by Grandma” fleece, I would probably just remove the tag and keep that, if it was sentimental, and donate the jacket!

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Courtney November 8, 2011 at 10:31 am

That’s a really hard question. I walk past afghans at the Salvation Army and it breaks my heart to see countless hours of work being sold for a couple dollars. I have been really fortunate to get all of our baby clothes for our newest baby from a friend’s hand-me downs. In the bins have been several hand knit sweaters and hats and other accessories that I know were knit by her mother in law. As a knitter it kind of upset me that they didn’t keep these. I mentioned this to my husband and his response was “well, what are they going to do just put them in a box stick it somewhere.” He said I’m sure she (the woman who makes the items) would rather see them being worn, especially by someone who appreciates them. He’s right. We can’t have items just sitting around because they are handmade. Clutter is clutter whether its handmade or not.

There is no easy answer but if you are going to give a handmade gift and are going to be upset if the recipient doesn’t keep it make sure they are going to appreciate it. So many times we give people things because we want them to have it not because they want it.

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Megyn @Minimalist Mommi November 8, 2011 at 10:43 am

I really think that’s it!

The Hubs’ grandparents make EVERYONE in the family items for holidays (and that’s a good 40+ people)…and I think they do it because it gives them something to do rather than thinking all 40+ of us could use it. They make to make, not out of necessity.

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Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land November 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Amen! I think, sometimes, people make things because they like to, not because we need something else.

My vote is, get rid of stuff when it’s no longer useful to you. If you make someone mad (or they simply get the idea, without getting mad), they’ll stop giving you stuff. A giver means it to be a blessing, not a curse, and if it curses you by contributing clutter, lovingly pass it along.

When you donate to Goodwill, because someone will have to spend money on it, you know it will go to someone who wants it, too, so there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Elaine November 9, 2011 at 8:49 am

“A giver means it to be a blessing, not a curse, and if it curses you by contributing clutter, lovingly pass it along.”

I could not agree more! When my dad died (about 15 years ago), I somehow got his CCC jacket (he was a Civilian Conservation Corps alumnus, and they had a 50th anniversary reunion where he bought this jacket). I wore it a few times, but it’s mostly just been hanging in my closet. I’m on a downsizing kick, and I emailed my entire family to see if anyone wanted this. My oldest nephew jumped at the chance to have Grandpa’s jacket. I sent it, along with a few other souvenirs from that time in my dad’s life and my nephew was thrilled with it all. And it’s out of my house, so I’m happy, too.

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Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land November 10, 2011 at 7:23 am

That is the best possible outcome! It feels sad to get rid of things like that, but having it kick around the house doesn’t really solve the problem. Finding a loving home for it certainly does!

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Linda H. November 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

This is a difficult one. I have knitted and crocheted many a gift. On one hand, if I made someone a gift and they didn’t like it, I would much rather have them donate it or give it away to someone who did like it than stuff it in a closet or throw it away. I would never scope around their house to see if it was used or displayed or ever ask what became of it. On the other hand, I feel like many people have no concept of how long it takes to make something by hand or the cost of the materials involved. I have several people on my list that I don’t waste my time handmaking something for because I know they do not appreciate handmade items. Maybe keep that in mind also.

Horriblanket. Heh, heh, heh. I made some Horri-hats once. Somehow that doesn’t sound the same.

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Becky November 8, 2011 at 10:50 am

I feel strongly that gifts should not have strings attached. Once given, they should belong entirely to the recipient, who is allowed to do anything they want with them.

Otherwise, a gift is not a freely given token of love, but a token of the recipient’s obligation. While healthy relationships do involve reciprocity, that isn’t the kind of reciprocity I want from my loved ones.

The Inuit have a proverb, “by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.” The context of this proverb is fascinating – I encourage people to check out this little blurb: http://www.delanceyplace.com/view_archives.php?1800

I make my loved ones things I think they’ll like, but if I make a mistake about their taste or needs, I sure hope they don’t compound my error by keeping the darn thing forever. The thing is not the love it was made with.

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Martha November 8, 2011 at 10:57 am

“The thing is not the love it was made with.” awesome!

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Laure November 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

I agree with this fully – the only obligation a gift recipient has is to say “thank you”.
Of course, I understand the hours and blood/sweat/tears that can go into a handmande gift. I have tried – unsuccessfully – to learn to knit and crochet. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t feel comfortable offering a handmande item back to the giver as someone suggested above, anymore than I would offer them back any other gift…I’d feel like I was rejecting it.
I have seen – within my own family – a very talented knitter simply ask family members whether they “would like an afghan for a Christmas gift, or something else?” This allows the would-be recipient who hates afghans to say, “oh, we have quite a few throws, perhaps something else” and thus avert the entire situation. It seems as if the crafter who is making the bridal-related quilt did this successfully as well.

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CB November 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I love this sentiment. This is also how I feel about giving gifts. Mine usually come from the store and always have a gift reciept attached.

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Cee November 8, 2011 at 11:09 am

I was thinking about this last night after reading the original comment. I think it’s possible to appreciate the love and work that went into creating a gift without actually liking or having a use for the item itself. Just because someone donated the item doesn’t mean they didn’t have any regard for the sentiment behind the gift.

As a crafter, I’d much rather have an unwanted gift passed on to someone who would appreciate it than have it stuffed in a closet, causing feelings of guilt or resentment every time the recipient saw it.

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Queen Lucia November 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

I have a childhood friend who I’m not particularly close to, but who is an avid crafter and has gifted many things to me over the years, none of them things I’ve liked. I’ve chosen to pass on almost everything, including a cross-stitched table cloth to my mom, who now uses it every Mother’s Day for our annual family tea party. By this association the tablecloth now has sentimental meaning for me. But I don’t feel bad about passing things on – I figure my friend enjoyed making it, and that’s enough.

I think it’s hard to remember that what is meaningful to one person is not necessarily meaningful to someone else. We can’t know what’s going to resonate with someone – it’s not always the thing we think it should be. I think it’s best to make no assumptions, ever, about what someone should or will keep, whether it’s handmade or not.

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Candi @ min hus November 8, 2011 at 11:11 am

I heartily agree with what Becky said
(and could not have said it as well). Gifts should not have strings attached. If someone no longer loves or uses a gift, then I think donating it is the right thing to do. I would feel more awkward asking the giver if they wanted the gift back.

Do people really look for gifts they given to others when visiting their house? I sure as heck don’t. I hope people enjoy the gifts I’ve given, but if they don’t, I’d rather they get rid of it than keep it out of obligation.

I think since the majority of us in America at least have more than enough stuff, and can buy the things we really need/want, gifts do not always have the meaning they once did. I think if gifts were more rare they would have more meaning.

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Sue G. November 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm

RE: Do people really look for gifts they given to others when visiting their house?

Yes. They really, really do. And if they don’t visit, they ask, “Where is it displayed in your home?” or “What does your [spouse/parent/friend/neighbor] think of it?” And in fact, they want to send you more so you can have a collection. I wish I was kidding.

Thank goodness, not everyone does this, but I’ve had several people in my life that do. It happens less now when I’ve explained I gave away their gift; they were upset and assume I can’t properly appreciate anything (even though I’m one of the only people I know who still mails handwritten thank you notes for every gift I receive). Sigh.

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Marla November 8, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Take heart, I write a hand written thank you for every gift I receive, as do my children. You are not alone!

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Carolyn November 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

A lot of folks really resonate with this post. As a professional organizer, I often tell my clients and seminar attendees that once a gift is given, the receiver can do whatever they want with it. For all those folks with people giving them stuff they do not want, I think it is more polite to accept things graciously and pass them on to someone who will appreciate it. It’s all good karma in the end.

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Laure November 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

Also, anytime I see handmade items in a thrift store (which is only while traveling, as there are none by me), I always romantically wonder the back story, rather than sadly. Like did the afghans comfort an older person who since died? Were the baby clothes used by a family who has since moved abroad, taking nothing? Or by people who live in a studio apartment who don’t have an ounce of extra space, but have a talent for crocheting and made their own beautiful baby clothes for merely the cost of yarn? And how nice that someone took the time to donate them, so someone else might enjoy them, rather than simply throwing them away. I know quite a few people who think donating is too much trouble and simply throw away anything they no longer want.

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CB November 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm

“I know quite a few people who think donating is too much trouble and simply throw away anything they no longer want.”

Wow, I can’t imagine ever doing that. I will admit that I produce way too much garbage, but turning something that’s useful into garbage is a major hot button for me. It’s unconscionable.

Where I live donating is so easy – there are those donation drop bins all over the place and in the suburbs you are CONSTANTLY getting calls from all the different organizations that will literally come by and pick up a box of donations from your door step.

As a kid, we always kept a box in the front closet, and whenever you came upon something you wanted to get rid of you just dropped it in the box. The next time the Diabetes Association (or whoever else) was coming by you put the box outside on the designated day. So easy.

Now that I live in an apartment I have donation bins practically across the street, and sometimes I just bring the stuff by the thrift store on the way home from work.

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Laure November 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

It actually is very difficult to donate things where I live, deep in the urban jungle. There were outdoor bins near me but people left donations all around them and so they were removed. As I have mentioned earlier, there aren’t any thrift stores near me, so for folks without cars (which is many people), it’s very difficult. Sad.
My parents live in the suburbs – with the contstant calls from charities for donations, as you say – so I simply save up all my donations and give them to my parents. I have offered to friends to take their donations as well, so as to (1) allow someone less fortunate to get use out of the discards and (2) keep them out of the landfill.
Definitely room for any charity who would like to solicit donations from our urban area!

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Jenny November 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

I recently made my friend a crocheted baby blanket to commemorate the birth of her son. I was especially proud of it (since it’s the first blanket I’ve ever finished) and I think I would be pretty upset if I found out she donated it, though judging by her reaction to the gift this is unlikely. If, however, down the road she decided to regift it to another new baby, I would be okay with that. There’s just something so lonely about handing off such items at the local Goodwill. That being said, my grandmother has crocheted me many an afghan, a couple of which I probably won’t keep indefinitely. I’ll probably still try to find someone to give them to that will love it rather than donating them.

This year during the gift-giving season I’m trying to be more conscientious ALL of the gifts I’m giving, wether homemade or store bought. This means I’m making a lot of edible gifts for people, or some other type of consumable item so I’m not burdening people with more stuff to fill their homes with.

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Sue G. November 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

Ugh, this is such a hard thing for me.

I have MANY people in my life that believe I should have their special handmade thing… and so many of them are decorative, not functional. First, let me be clear – I am a crafter. I knit & sew. I have given many handmade gifts before, so I understand the love, money, time, blood, sweat and tears that can go into handmade items. But let’s face it, some of our endeavors are akin to the dog’s breakfast. Just because someone worked really hard doesn’t mean I’ll love it aesthetically and want to use it or display it in my home. Attachment to objects (aesthetic or functional) is highly subjective.

Right now, handmade “should keep” items are my number one clutter population–hands down. And it makes me mad that I hang onto these things I don’t like. But I care about the people who gave them to me AND they follow up and pester me about them (boo!).

I’ve tried telling them I live in a small apartment and I just don’t have room to display things, or that I’m trying to de-clutter, etc. But they don’t get it, because clearly -their- gifts can’t be The Clutter. And, I’ve thrown up the white flag and bluntly said, STOP!”

I’ve gotten rid of many things and lied about it to save their feelings. Sorry, but I asked them to stop. Still some things remain and the guilt of wanting to purge them is killing me.

That’s why whenever I give gifts now, homemade or not, I explicitly tell people, “keep it, don’t keep it, that’s okay. I will never check up to see what you’ve done with it.” because I know the heavy expectations others have placed upon me with their well-intentioned gifts.

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Jennifer November 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I am a handmade gift maker, in fact I am deep in the throes of “elving” right now, making robes for my children and all my nieces and nephew. I am under no illusion that my gifts are always appreciated or even used. If they liked and used it all the better, but sometimes for whatever reason, that just doesn’t happen. When the children are much younger they really do love the things I make, expecially the warm snuggly hats. But they outgrow them and I hope instead of them being made a bed for mice that they are donated and another child can get some good use out of them. I also think that we are forgetting what the making of the gift does for the giver. I love the process of making something from “nothing”. I love honing my crafting skills and having a real excuse to make things and be more creative. I enjoy the challenge. But most of all when my kids and neices and nephews are older I want them to remember that my husband and I took the time to make something just for them every year. I hope they will see the love, time and thought put into these gifts and realize how much we truly love them.

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Becky November 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I don’t care how cheap it is selling for – I would be flattered that someone thrift shopping would see something I made and want to buy it! Now if they took it home to tear apart for materials (like I do) I would die a little inside, but since there would be no way I could know the outcome it doesn’t really matter. And far worse to have something I made end up in a landfill. Then not only would I be a bad gift giver, I would be a horrible human being.

Thought provoking post and comments everyone!

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Anne Cross November 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I agree — if it goes to Goodwill and someone loves it (or uses the materials to make something else they love), then at least the object is being used/appreciated/loved. Much better than it being a weighty guilty thing sitting in a drawer somewhere.

I happily redistribute gifts I can’t use or don’t want — much better to have someone else appreciate them, in my opinion.

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CB November 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I am also someone who does not want to have to hang on to things indefinetly, even if they were gifts. I try not to bring too many sentimental items into my life because I do find it very difficult to part with them (aside from stashing them at my mom’s house which I am guilty of).

I have a few suggestions for dealing with these kinds of things:
– If you are a knitter, you could ask the person to give you back the garmet or item after they are done with it (out grow it’s size or purpose) and then you could use the yarn to fashion something new for them or for someone else.
– If you have a sentimental item that you no longer want, do a photoshot. Wait until you’ve got a day with good outdoor light and then take some quality pictures of the item. You can then keep the pictures in a memory folder and can sell/donate the item so that it can continue it’s useful life.
– Consign your old clothes rather than donating them, when appropriate. It hurts my heart to send my beautiful clothes to the thrift store just to be treated like junk, but I’m very happy to send them to the consignment store where they are treated nicely, priced appropriately, and picked up by someone who will hopefully value them.
– Turn sentimental items into artwork. Some of your sentimental items might work well as framed pieces. For example, I have a blue print that my grandpa made as a large framed piece in my home. Other flat things like letters, children’s drawings, etc work well, as well as semi flat items like clothes, shoes, dolls, dry flowers, that can be shadow boxed inexpenisvely. Doesn’t work for everything, but it is sometimes a great option and will make your space more personalized! Plus, no need to spend money on generic, store-bought artwork.

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Linda November 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I purchase most of my clothes from thrift stores. I love and appreciate every thing I have. I can’t see that paying more for it at a consignment shop would change my appriecation level.

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Jenni November 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm

What a great dialog going on here!
I’m particularly interested in this topic because I run a handmade small business. I attend a lot of craft and artisan fairs and the knitted and crocheted items are always so appealing!
I have found that I need to use my own personal discretion when it comes to what type of handmade gift to give. I really try to consider the recipient. Most people in my gift giving circle love edibles, so that’s an easy one. Some folks, just don’t place a value on handmade goods, no matter the type. I’m not so secretly trying to convert them, with tasty treats and such, but I do not offer them pieces of my own handmade collections because of knowing they would not appreciate it. So, long story short. Consider the recipient and place value on your own feelings so that everyone comes out satisfied.

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Megyn @Minimalist Mommi November 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I think sometimes it’s not that people don’t appreciate handmade, it’s that the handmade item does not fit their aesthetic. I LOVE a good piece of artwork or cool handmade item, but ONLY keep it if it fits my tastes. I know that the people who make the items do so out of love (and a lot of time on their hands), but I don’t display anything on our walls I don’t love (and thus is why we only have 2 paintings from my brother & 3 from the kiddos…not even a family picture in sight). Maybe you could ask them what it is they are looking for, and maybe you could make something that they really want, even if it’s not your taste?

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Linda November 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I have hand knit and crocheted items from when my daughters were younger. I have receiving blankets, sweaters and booties. I have packed them away to give to them when they have children. I think they will appreciate these gifts back. There are so many items that are commercial that can be discarded, the few items that are handmade do not take up too much space.

I have a friend who knits me a sweater each year. If I did not fit in them anymore, I would give them to a close person who I know would appreciate them. I would not give them to a thrift store.

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Renee November 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Wow. Lots of great comments. I struggle with this issue from the other side (gift maker instead of gift receiver). I love to crochet and love the challenge of making doilies, following the pattern, blocking, etc. Also cross stitch and other crochet items. All the supplies sit in a drawer because (speaking to self in my own head) ” Who cares?” I have been trying to downsize, minimize, and everyone has so much stuff I don’t want to add to their clutter. Good grief, who wants doilies these days? I feel like I should give it up, but I miss it, it’s kind of depressing at times. I recently crocheted a small stuffed animal for my granddaughter and their dog chewed on it that afternoon. Glad to see others views here.

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Becky November 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Someone loves doilies! I worked at a farmer’s market this year with a lady who made small crocheted items – bookmarks, doilies, scarves. She had to close up shop halfway through the summer because she sold her entire backlog of crafts. Her pretty, delicate friendship bracelets were especially popular with girls and young women.

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Katy November 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Ironic doilies for hipters? Love it!

Katy

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Marla November 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I love doilies, too!

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Linda November 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Love them! Don’t give them up and teach others to do it also!

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Jackie November 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I struggle with this too. When I moved into my boyfriend’s house we counted 5 afgans and 1 quilt along with several mass-produced blankets. We only have 1 bed and 1 sofa, so we had to goodwill somethings. We started by donating blanket that wasn’t handmade. Still didn’t have enough space. Then we donated the ones that I made. We still have one horriblanket taking up a whole shelf in the linen cabinet. My Grandma made it for me when I was a kid and she died 2 years ago.

In general I always cringe when I hear people, especially non-clutter, non-consumer types talk about handmade gifts. Some people just don’t have handicraft skills but feel like we’re so so so bombarded with “green people only give handmade gifts” that people feel like that have to make something, anything, even if it’s just going to become clutter.

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Jackie November 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Wow, total grammar and spelling fail in that comment. Sorry, I had to hit submit really quick before rereading.

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Jude November 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm

My grandmother used to knit clothing for my infant daughter, now 30. I saved the red-hooded coat, the gold hat my daughter wore home from the hospital, a couple of dresses and sweaters. My grandmother’s gone now, but the hand-knit clothing keeps her alive for me. The gold hat my son wore home from the hospital 15 years after his sister did. That one I’ll keep as a memento forever. The other items I hope to pass on to a granddaughter one day.

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Madeline November 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I have 2 afghans made by my mother in law and my grandma, I use them all winter, would never ever give them away.All other handmade gifts– well, if they are truly useful I keep them if not I don’t.

Best gift for me and my family: Give us food. A cake, a pie, chocolates,any kind of food..we will eat it.Even if it is high calories, high fat, junky, or otherwise not on the the food pyramid, we promise to eat it, since it is a gift. And best of all:nothing to throw away or re-gift.

Food. there ya go– the perfect gift!

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Barb November 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I am a professional quilter (sometimes, LOL) who with a couple exceptions give only handmade gifts. I try to tailor gifts for recipeints. (I dont make handmade gifts because I have time on my hands but rather I have supplies and this is what I can afford). I make it clear to people that my gifts are to be used,not necessarily hung on walls. quilts are meant to be slept with and hugged and if the dog lays on them its not the end of the world. I would hope that if someone received a gift from me that they could use, they gave it to someone who would appreciateit, rather than use a thrift store or tear it apart.

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Indigo November 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I have to say it all depends.

I do a lot of ceramic work and I’ve had family members and friends ask for a handmade teapot and the like. I don’t imagine that they suddenly gave up drinking tea, so yes, I would be upset if they just put it in the goodwill box. If I was a knitter I could understand they outgrew and item and it is better if i is keeping someone stylishly warm rather than being eaten up by moths in the attic for “safe keeping” until someone could fit it.

I try to keep handmade gifts like teapots, paintings, and the like limited to those who have expressed interest in having them. I also limit how many I give any one person. Most gifts I keep consumable. I know that a tin of home made chocolates will get eaten, even if the recipient decided to share with coworkers or the like, that they will enjoy them, and that is the point.

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Debbie C November 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm

This doesn’t actually address the question but it reminded me of this hilarious cartoon Franklin Habit (a talented knitter) posted on his blog: http://the-panopticon.blogspot.com/2010/11/animated-discussion.html

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Renee November 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Very funny!

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Laure November 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Funny!

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Kimberly in So Cal November 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Ah, the old emotional/financial attachment to objects. I find that I really can’t have either type of attachment to something I am giving as a gift (or as stated above it creates an obligation for the recipient), and if it is something I receive the attachment must be carefully examined. Having been the person responsible for going through my deceased grandmother’s remaining belongings I understand how easy it can be to want to grab on to everything we can. Heck, she was so attached to most of what I went though that she moved it down in boxes even though she was in assisted living and could never use it again. I donated afghans that she had crocheted because I simply don’t need or have room for more than a dozen and no one else in the family wanted them.

As one who creates, I acknowledge that the recipient of my efforts may not like what I gave them. It doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the effort. I would *never* ask for something back if they no longer wanted it. Yes, I see lovely handmade things at thrift stores; I used to shake my head at the idea of the time and cost of yarn that went into some things and then I realized that it isn’t my job to rescue all handmade objects sent to thrift stores (just as I finally realized that it isn’t my job to rescue all vintage Pyrex donated to thrifts).

Having done the handcrafted thing for decades I have learned a few things. One, I don’t make things that cost a lot of money unless the person I am making it for is in on the design process. If my sister would like a hand-knit cashmere scarf she is going to be in on choosing the yarn and pattern. Otherwise I make things that costs under $10 (they cost me my time, of course, but I usually enjoy that, and when I come to a place where I don’t I stop making things). I make simple, generally useful things such as hats and dish cloths, or else things that are meant to be used such as soaps. I don’t make hats for someone every year unless that is something they want (my dad counts on getting his warm hat each Christmas). I don’t care if the people I give the hats or dish cloths or soaps or whatever don’t ever use them (although I really wish they would use the soaps rather than leaving them to collect dust in their bathrooms).

In reality, giving giving in our culture is fraught with issues. Most of us feel we must follow the unspoken gift rules: give to everyone who gives to you, give gifts of equal value, etc. It’s really hard to step away from that, but for me it is the only way to hold onto my sanity. My rule is handmade gifts or money. If I have the time or inclination I give a handmade gift, if I don’t, I give money. I make exceptions for little children whom I feel shouldn’t have to be burdened with choosing their own gifts (a 5YO in Toys R Us with a $20 gift card is my idea of hell). I stopped giving to adults in the extended family and to the children other than my own nieces and nephews. We give to parents and their partners, siblings and their partners, nieces and nephews, and our own children. Occasionally we receive a gift from someone we didn’t expect it from; we say thank you and don’t reciprocate, period (otherwise is starts a gift spiral).

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Nicole November 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

This could get long enough to be a whole post if I let myself.
I am a knitter. I make (some) money from my knitting, through my etsy shop, at craft shows, and people just knowing that I knit, and asking me to make something specific.
If I even think about knitting a gift for anyone, I have a whole series of questions I ask myself first.
Will they appreciate it? Will they follow washing instructions? Will their dog chew on it? Will they wear/use it?
If there is a no in any of those, they will get dishcloths. No scarves, no hats, nothing but dishcloths.

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MelissaZ November 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I love getting knit dishclothes! They work so much better than other ones.

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Cate November 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Love this post and the discussion.

I have been the recipient of many, many handmade gifts…some great, some BAD. And without fail, the great ones have been things where the giver has really paid attention to what I would actually like versus what they want to make. My mom is an avid quilter…she taught quilting classes for many years, etc. Some of my most treasured possessions are quilts she has made for me. My mother-in-law crochets, my father-in-law builds wooden furniture and toys, and many of my friends are crafty, too. But then again, my husband has an aunt who gives us some terrible things. We love her, but most of her gifts aren’t to our taste or just aren’t things we’ll use…and they often go to Goodwill.

I agree that when you’re giving a gift, it should come with no strings attached. When I make things for people, I first try to suss out whether they will actually LIKE what I’m planning to make for them. For example, I’m pretty sure my teenage sister has no interest in receiving a cross-stitch to hang on her wall. My dad has no use for a rag rug. Our diabetic family friend would be insulted if we gave him a jar of super-sugary jam. I feel that as a gift giver/maker, it’s my duty to tailor gifts to the recipient as best as I can. And it’s none of my business what they do with the gift after I give it to them.

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jen November 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm

My daughter has outgrown most of the beautifully crocheted baby items that were made for her. The best way I’ve found to honor the person who made the item and also preserve our memory of their gift is to put photos of the baby using/wearing it on my baby blog and let the creator know. Then I usually swap my baby stuff via ThredUp (http://www.thredup.com/165278) and get really nice usable stuff in return.
PS–That’s my referral link, everyone. Feel free to go directly to their page instead (I get a ‘reward’ for referring people). It’s really a great site, though, so I highly recommend anyone with young children check it out. Also, Katy, I understand if you want to remove the link from my comment. 🙂

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Shannon November 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I keep a small memory box for myself and one for my husband and one for baby memory things, including a handmade blanket and the like. For the most part though, even handmade stuff will get donated or passed along to someone else, especially all that baby stuff. I’d rather have it be used by five more kids than collect dust in my basement. If I made something for someone I’d feel the same.

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Bauunny November 8, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I struggle with this too. Although I appreciate the sentiment and time that goes in to hand-crafted items, 90% of the time they are simply not to my taste. They end up sitting in the linen closet until the time comes when I am ruthlessly decluttering. I recently mitigated my guilt by giving two quilts to my sister and told her to do what she wished with them. That way I could feel less guilty because I gave them to someone else and could ignore the fact that she probably donated them to a nice charity. If someone is going to make something for me, I would prefer it be consumable.

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Carla November 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I give stuff away that doesn’t work for us, although if handmade I try to find someone to give them to. I give consumables, I do lots of canning and I often give jams, salsas, etc. as a hosting gift or other random occassions.

My struggle is regarding selling stuff that has been given to me. Is this bad karma? Is it good resource stewardship? Is it bad? I figure that since the amounts of items I sell and (re)gift/donate is roughly equivalent to the amounts I buy and receive as gifts it all sort of works out. But, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing whichever decision I make regading selling/regifting.

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Coral Clarke November 19, 2020 at 9:25 pm

I love fine bone china, I love cut crystal. Fine fabrics an pastel colours. Hand woven placemats and pottery goblets? Having decluttered my home, and lovibg the result, I,too, appreciate the time and money spent on hand crafted items, and know the giver looks to see them in use. I have so little space, but still haven’t found a way of passing them on that won’t hurt the givers feelings.i have asked for mo gifts/ donations/consumables, pleading a scarcity of space, but continue to receive gifts I find very unattractive from people I love!

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Marla November 8, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I had two lovely quilts that I just didn’t want. They had never been used. I talked to some people at work who said they would love a hand made quilt, so we set up a lottery. $5 per ticket. The money raised was donated to the food bank. If people didn’t want to participate, they were free not to, but with over 100 people in the office, 42 bought a ticket. I felt good, I think the quilt maker would have felt good, and the 2 people who each got a quilt seemed happy.

Our local hospice also takes quilt donations. Again, I think the folks who made the quilts I have given hospice (I have a lot of family who quilt) would feel honored to think their creation gave comfort to someone dying or the family member who might be using it to cover up as they slept on the recliner next to the dying person.

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Megan November 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm

This is tough. I really think it depends on who is giving… Some people would be really hurt if the item was passed on, and others are happy that they are able to give a gift to someone, even if it isn’t the first person that it was given to.

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Linda November 8, 2011 at 9:10 pm

What a great discussion.
I often make gifts. Once while shopping at a second hand store I saw an art piece I had made. Initially I was crushed. Since I had given the same type of gift to several people I didn’t know who had donated it (though I have my suspicions). As I thought it over though I began to get a different perspective. I found it at the 2nd-hand store several years after I made it. Hopefully that means it was enjoyed for a while and then decorating tastes changed and it was passed on for others to enjoy. When I was younger I tended to make one size fits all gifts but now I try to really think about each recipients style, tastes and lifestyle and create a gift that fits them.

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Terri November 8, 2011 at 11:23 pm

My Xmas gifts to others include a handmade gift and one store bought gift per family member. Everything is useful and practical to that person. My handmade gifts are well received most years. I get requests for certain items. It is amazing how many people (non craft types) love handknit socks and dishcloths. Those same people would not appreciate any overly decorative item that may or may not be their style.

As far as unwanted items, I would rather they pass things along than toss them. If that is via a thrift donation, a charity, or family member, I don’t care. Once a gift is out of my possession, I have no say over it.

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Liz November 9, 2011 at 6:39 am

Ihave been the beneficiary of many handmade gifts made by family. Most of them are still on display; a set of pen-and-ink drawings and several wooden toys. All of them are loved and remind me of their creators.

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karen November 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I’m fortunate to have a small family & we arent required to give gifts. We are all at a point in life where we pretty much have what we need, & gifts are given at random during the year. “I thought of you when I saw this at the thrift shop– enjoy!” is acceptable in our circle of family/friends. I’m that thrift shopper that will gleefully purchase that hand made doily for $1 knowing the hours of work that went into creating it to take home & cherish. I err on practicality in gift giving & strive not to give potential clutter. If I want to create a gift, I first consult the recipient “would you like a ____? do you have a favorite color? etc” & keep it on a small scale of time/money invested. When asked what gift I might like, I offer the giver a couple organizations that I would like a donation to be made in my honor instead of an object, etc. To me that is a win/ win/ win as most places welcome any donation, no matter how large or small. That can be decided by the giver & I dont need to know the amount, just the token acknowledgement that something was given in honor of me.

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Alice November 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Such a great thread! Personally, I have some homemade items I enjoy and treasure, but I flat-out reject the idea that I’m obligated to do anything beyond thank someone (sincerely) for a gift I receive. If I can’t use it, or it’s something that really isn’t my style, it goes to goodwill, the homeless shelter, or out as a regift IF it fits the new recipient.

After all, we’re talking about what to do with things that are NOT being enjoyed by the original recipients, and which are cluttering up their homes. Giving them to a thrift store, where someone who appreciates it can find it, means that the item will create joy, rather than stress. Even if it’s not the path the creator would have chosen for the item, the possibility of bringing someone else joy is WAY better than the reality of causing someone (whom the creator cares about enough to give presents to) to feel guilty.

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Alice November 9, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Just thought of one caveat to my rather absolutist stance above – my mother has given me some items that were *really* not to my taste. Since we do gifts every year, though, it’s always turned out best when we talked about it, so that we don’t end up in a sequence of problematic gifts.

Silent regifting works for some items, but being able to convey ‘I never wear shawls’ in a non-remonstrative way to a compulsive shawl-maker will tend to make everyone happier.

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Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire November 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

I used to feel a bit sad when I’d see an obviously handmade baby blanket in the thrift store. But now that I have a baby of my own, I understand it. My son is only 7 weeks old, and he’s already received 5 handmade blankets, and a 6th is on its way. (And I think maybe a 7th…) And then there are the personalized blankets that someone made and the giver purchased. I think we have something like 10 blankets for one tiny baby. It’s crazy! I cannot possibly keep all of them once he’s outgrown them. And we’ve only used 3 of them thus far. Handmade is wonderful, but there’s only so much of it one can use and eventually keep…

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lotus November 12, 2011 at 2:25 am

i have read that….i respect all who have given thoughts..i am art lover,sometimes artist and sometimes do craft on wood..some spicial creation ,stuffs,gifts leave meamories on heart. we keep in care,cant loose….we watch when forget present and think about past memories..that is relation between a thing to human,,,,,,,,,none of seen god but we worship of statues ,photos of god ,and holy books..all thing depend on our nature.mostly emosnal person keep that kind of intrest in that…as me.
thanks

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greenstrivings January 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Once again I show up a year later to comment, but this post is timely. You have another post about keeping or giving away gifts that helped free me from my sense of duty to the bedspread my (now deceased) grandmother crocheted for me 20+ years ago. Yes, it’s string doilies all attached. Very much not my style, but I recognized the love and time that it symbolized and I felt guilty about getting rid of it, though I never used it. A week ago I looked at it in its box and realized that I am never going to use it. It went to the Goodwill, and I hope someone can find a use for it in their own home.

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made with love by mom June 7, 2017 at 12:38 pm

My grown daughter asked me, the other day, why I don’t make handmade gifts and items anymore. I hand sewed or handmade practically everything for my home. I made my three children’s clothing, toys, blankets, curtains… You name it… I made handmade gifts as well, especially for the glut of birthday parties my kids were invited to. Or the weddings my husband and I were invited to. I am a stay at home mom and did this out of financial necessity. (Occasionally, some parents would tell me how much their kids loved the pillowcases or soft dolls or doll blankets I made. Knowing that these gifts were appreciated, made all the difference to me). One mom told me that the train themed pillowcase, her son was receiving from my daughter, did not match the rooms decor and I should take it back. I told her that it was a gift from my daughter, to her son, and not to her. She could do with it as she pleased after we left. A little bit of me died that day. In today’s age, people have a lot of “things” and if it doesn’t fit or match ones lifestyle, it is undervalued. I think the item should find a home with another person who will use it and cherish it. By all means discreetly give it to a thrift store if it’s not a good fit. Just a simple thank you would have been appropriate. Now I don’t bother because so many people never bothered with a thank you.
Eventually I fear that “handmade with love by grandma” will become extinct. Replaced by “made in China” by a stranger.

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John - BestShapewears April 10, 2020 at 6:31 pm

On the flip side, I am a crafty type, and I generally limit my handmade gifts to others to food unless someone I really care about makes a specific request. In that case, I discuss it with them extensively to make sure that I make them exactly what they want (not what I want)!

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Teresa January 6, 2021 at 5:35 pm

Hoarder of special handmade gifts here…for some reason I keep them. When I retire maybe I will be able to look at them one last time and pass them on before the moths eat them up. I even have the plastic box for nothing that my son made me when he was around 6. He is 47 now. lol.

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Kv12 August 15, 2023 at 3:28 pm

Hello great article though just a suggestion . Maybe give the gift back to your friend instead of throwing it away . Or you can give the gift away to someone who really wants it .

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