How to Tell Someone You Don’t Like Their Gift

What do you do when someone gives you a gift you don’t like?

Every Christmas, we inevitably receive a bunch of gifts we don’t want to keep. Sometimes we receive a gift slip in the box, but usually, we have no way of returning the items we receive. Many times we don’t even know where the gift was purchased.

How to Tell Someone You Don’t Like Their Gift

When I was growing up, my mom had a rule about gift-giving. If she gave us a gift we didn’t like, she asked that we let her know. That way, she could return it.

She hated the idea of wasting money on unworn clothes or gifts that would eventually make their way to the donation center. Over the years, I’ve openly told her to take back anything that didn’t fit or wasn’t my style, and as an adult, I’ve adopted the same gift-giving strategy.

How do you tell someone you want to return their gift? Begin by thanking them for the gift. Always thank them first. Then ask if they’d mind if you returned it for a different size or color. If you’re hard to fit, let them know that too. I’m 6’1″ so a lot of clothes are simply too short for me.

How to Tell Your Parents You Don’t Like a Gift

My husband’s family doesn’t work this way. In his family, you never tell the gift giver that you don’t like something they purchased. Unfortunately, this often results in receiving the same unwanted item year after year. 

Of course, this is not the gift giver’s fault. If you accept their offers, they won’t know you don’t like their gifts. If you pretend to be excited, they may wish to see you excited again the following year.

But, should you tell your parents you don’t like a gift they’ve given? That depends on your relationship with your parents. Ask yourself how your parents might react if you don’t like their gift.

Can you tell your parents you don’t like their gift? Do you think your parents will feel upset or offended by your words? If so, it may be best to accept your parents’ gift graciously even if you don’t like it. 

How to Tell Your Husband You Don’t Like His Gift

What if your husband buys you a present you don’t like? How can you tell your husband you’d like to return a gift or exchange it for something else?

Start by asking yourself what you don’t like about his present. Is the gift too expensive? Will it prevent you from meeting other financial goals this month? Are you stressed about money and concerned the item will put you into debt? If you have financial concerns, address them in a kind and compassionate matter.

Say, “Thank you for this, but I’m concerned about the cost of it.” Then schedule a family financial meeting to discuss your finances. If you’re worried about your budget, consider creating a special savings account or saving money in a jar. Use the cash you save to pay for future presents and not a penny more.

If the gift feels cheap and thoughtless, remind your partner about the activities and hobbies you love. If they don’t get the hint, suggest skipping traditional presents in favor of experiences and activities you can enjoy together. But remember, that the price of a gift does not reflect its value. Some of the best gifts don’t cost much at all.

How to Avoid Receiving a Gift You Don’t Like

If you can’t openly talk to your parents, partner, or other gift-givers, try to lead by example. Begin by modeling the behavior you’d like to see. That begins by stating your gift-giving policy. Like my mom, you can say, “If you don’t like this gift, please let me know.”

My sister-in-law has a similar gift-giving strategy. Before we open her gifts, she always says, “I put a gift slip in the box if you need it.” It’s her way of saying, “You might not like this gift, so feel free to return it. I won’t be offended if you do.”

Discuss your gift-giving policy before an event. For example, before opening gifts on Christmas morning, say, “I want you to love your gifts. If you don’t, let me know so I can return them for you.” 

Or you can say, “I put receipts in all of the birthday gift bags. I bought everything at Target, and they have an amazing return policy.”

When you model this behavior, other family members may begin to do the same.

How to Tell Someone You Don’t Want Gifts

If your parents, family members, or friends are perpetually bad at giving gifts, take a proactive approach to end traditional gift-giving. Tell your family you want to skip physical presents this year in exchange for the gift of time.

It might feel difficult to tell someone not to buy you a gift, so plan what to say ahead of time. You might say, “Let’s skip presents this year and spend the day together instead. We can go shopping, watch a movie, take a class, hang out, go for a walk, or share a meal.”

This strategy is beneficial for those who want to buy and own less stuff. If you are trying to live with fewer possessions or declutter your house, you don’t have to let family members know you own too much already. Just focus on the positive aspects of spending time together doing something you all love to do.

Prevent Someone From Giving You a Gift You Don’t Like

If your family is open to gift lists, create one before holidays and birthdays. Let them know you are picked up a new hobby and need supplies or just started working out and could use new workout gear.

This advice is beneficial for parents who often buy their children toys and clothing they’ve outgrown. Make sure to share your new interests with your parents. Let them know what you like as well as what you don’t want anymore.

When Someone Gives You a Gift You Don’t Like

It would be best if you didn’t make comments to anyone about a gift unless you know the gift-giver will be receptive to it. (Like in the case of my mom.)

It’s often best not to comment on gifts you receive from classmates, friends, neighbors, etc. In those cases, you should undoubtedly smile and say thank you. I learned that lesson as a young child

If you are comfortable telling someone you don’t like their gift, make sure to speak kindly.

Say, “thank you for thinking of me” or “I love the shirt, but it’s a little too small for me.” That way, you won’t appear ungrateful for not liking a gift, but use your words carefully.

Is it Ungrateful to Not Like a Gift?

When thinking about the gift-giving process, remember that a physical gift is the last stage in a long sequence of events. Perhaps your parents, friends, or family members drove to the store and spent time walking the aisles, searching for a gift you might like. 

As they strolled, they thought about what you might like. Maybe the gift-giver contemplated your interests, reflected on past conversations, or thought about how you looked in specific shades and colors. Along the way, they picked up various items, ruled them out, put them down, and tried again.

Even if they shopped online, they undoubtedly reviewed more than one object before choosing the one they wrapped in a box and handed to you.

A present is not just in the physical box you open but also in the time spent searching for a gift you might appreciate and enjoy.

When considering gratitude, remember to reflect on the time and attention the gift-giver spent on you. This knowledge will help you feel grateful for a gift even when you don’t like it.

Is it rude to not like a gift? Of course not, but it is rude to appear ungrateful for the gift givers’ thoughtfulness and time.

What To Do When You Don’t Like a Gift

The gift itself is not an accurate representation of your parents, friends, or family members’ love. It is a material object placed in a box. The real gift is the understanding that someone spent time thinking about you.

With that idea in mind, it’s difficult to feel ungrateful for the gifts we receive, whether we like them or not.

The gift-giving process is the same, no matter who gives you a gift. It’s easier to feel grateful when receiving a gift from someone you love but remember to reflect on that same process when receiving a gift from someone you don’t like.

If the gift-giver spent time searching, buying, and wrapping a gift for you, then try to feel grateful for the present you received. Sometimes we receive thoughtless gifts, but more often than not, we receive thoughtful gifts from parents, friends, and family members who spend time thinking about our needs and desires. If you can’t feel grateful for the gift, try your best to feel thankful for the gift-giver’s time.

Receiving a Gift From Someone You Don’t Like

What should you do if you receive a gift from someone you don’t like? It depends on who that person is and why they are giving you a present.

Telling someone you don’t want their gift is never easy. If the gift symbolizes romantic intentions, let your admirer know you are grateful but not interested. Demonstrate your gratitude but let them know you do not wish to be romantically involved.

Be honest and respectful. If you receive a gift from someone you don’t like, thank that person for their kindness and politely decline their offering. To gracefully decline a gift, say, “Thank you. Your gift is very generous, but I cannot accept it.”

By giving back the present, you set boundaries and make your intentions clear. Make sure to be kind and compassionate in doing so. If you cannot reciprocate the gift-givers feelings, do not accept their gifts. State your reason for refusing their gift clearly and respectfully. 

17 thoughts on “How to Tell Someone You Don’t Like Their Gift”

  1. Give a gift card if you want insurance they’ll get what they want. I don’t like they lead to the most creative gifts but it’s something. I think knowing the recipient is what counts. I think it’s not so nice to tell someone you don’t like what they gave them but that’s just me.

    • Do you think it’s not nice to tell anyone? Like not your spouse, mom, etc. Should you stay silent with all gift givers?

      • We do secret santa every year with my spouse extended family. After the gift exchange one of his aunts who was my secret santa called me over to sit next to her to ask me where I got the gift from becuase she would like to exchange it because she does not like the color gold. It was a cross bag purse with very lil gold and small gold hair pins. I said I know it may not be your style but maybe you can find something to wear it with. Try something different. Again she proceeded to that she does not wear gold as of she is some how against it. It would be one thing if I bought her a pair of pants and becuase of religious convictions she does not wear pants but it was a purse and small hair pins. Any ways. She ask if I can send her the information to exchange it for something she does like so that it would not be just sitting at her home not being used. She tells me to please dont feel bad and I did not say this but my thoughts are why would I feel bad for mistakenly giving you a gift you do not like. I’m not offended. This is a reflection of her NOT ME. I will make a mental note and never give her gold again. But also if she is my secret santa again she may only get cash so that I’m not lectured in front of the family about her likes and dislikes again. After all it’s a gift.

        • Thank you for your comment. There is definitely a protocol for talking to people about gifts and telling you in front of the rest of the family is certainly not appropriate in my book. Some families do set rules before running Secret Santa gift exchanges. They ask up front for gift slips and let everyone know that exchanges are okay. If your group didn’t decide this upfront your aunt probably should’ve said, “Thank you,” and left it at that.

  2. I’ve thought about this a lot because as your kids get older, you have to teach them how to respond when they open gifts. We have taught our kids to always act like they like a gift and say Thank You immediately whether they like it or not. I understand your points but I think telling the gift giver that you don’t like a gift is almost impossible to do in a way that would not offend most people.

    • Tamara – I completely agree with your comment about what to teach your children. I should have clarified in my post. I’m specifically talking about close family members, not friends, extended family, classmates, etc. Would you want your children to tell you they don’t like a gift or just smile and pretend that they do?

      • I think that the system you have with your mom is great. She was clear on what she wants and you do that. But I don’t tell my mom that I don’t like gifts she gives me, because I think that would upset her. As for my kids, I think my husband and I are the only ones they should tell if they don’t like it, not other close family members.

        • I’m glad you returned to leave a follow up comment. Not everyone is receptive to comments about gifts they purchase and of course we all need to be understanding of that fact. In fact, I’m sure my mom is an exception to this rule. That’s what made me write this post in the first place. I do want my son to grow up with the same model. If he doesn’t like something I buy I would actually like him to tell me. Especially if it’s an expensive gift that will never be worn, used, etc. I suppose I want to follow in my mom’s footsteps in that regard. I do tell my niece, nephew, husband, brother and parents to do the same. Before they open a gift they know to tell me if they don’t like it. I don’t know if any of my family members have ever told me they don’t want something I bought them, but I always put that on the table just in case they don’t. In fact, maybe they don’t tell me because despite my words they think it would be impolite. Also, I want my son to say thank you regardless of whether or not he likes the gift. I always tell my mom thank you even when I decide to return something she bought me.

          Thanks again for commenting!

  3. In my family, we’ve always told each other, in a nice way, if we don’t like a gift we’ve received. But usually not right away (i.e., after opening a gift); we usually wait a week or two before saying something. It may be a little disappointing if someone didn’t like or need my gift, but I appreciate the honesty because it helps me pick out better gifts for that person in the future.

    • The thing that irritates me the most is that we receive the same gifts year after year. I’m totally with you on this one. If you are honest about the gifts you receive the gift giver can pick out something you’d like better the next time around! Oh I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • I am in my 50’s and my mom was the same as yours. I raised my children to only tell me if something was not liked and always kept it a secret to the giver if the gift was returned. However, for the past 25 years, I have received gifts from my husband that were 1. bought the night before, 2. expensive for our budget, 3. not something I would EVER use. (such as dressy jewelry or clothing that is no where near my style). I have asked, for every birthday since I can remember, for some sort of home improvement. I love my house and love to spruce it up. Whether it be flowers for the garden, house cleaner, new paint etc… I have returned gifts, given them away or just stored them away. I get more than disappointed every time. Even angry! So I guess my comment is, don’t tell, because if you do and it doesn’t resolve the continuous bad gift giving, it may cause angry and hurt feelings on YOUR part!

        • I love the honesty of this comment. It’s interesting how your disappointment turned into actual anger when the gift was not desired and the request to stop such gifts was completely ignored. I had not considered this feeling when I originally wrote this post, but it is certainly worth considering. It’s also very sad that a loving family member would not take the time to listen to your thoughts. It takes a joyous event, (gift giving), and turns it very sour. Thank you for the comment!

  4. I had come back from school when my mom told there is surprise for you…i thought it was a headphone as I was taking about it for a few weeks . I had recently found out an awesome Bluetooth headphones but what i got was some poor looking wired headphone. I wanted headphone so that I could not have to manage the wire and the headphone which i had shortlisted was shown to my sis the day before yet she chose the wrong headphones were cool looking byt this looks like hell.i want the one i expected not this one how do i tell

  5. I’m here because I searched “what do you do when, someone gives you a gift you dont like?”

    How I got here.
    Well my boyfriend that I’ve been with for about 9 years now, has gotten me a few terrible gifts.

    I’m thankful for the thought behind the gifts of course but they are usually are clothes that are not my style or not the correct size. Us being a couple as long as we have, he can tell when I dont like something or when I lie.

    He instantly gets angry with me before I even get the chance to even thank him for the gift.
    Or notices that i dont ever wear them and picks a fight with me over it.

    He said I’m ungrateful and that i dont ever like anything he gets me. I dont know what i should do without it causing a argument between us.

    • I think it’s incredibly difficult to buy women’s clothing. I have a hard time finding items for myself, let alone picking them out for someone else. It sounds like your boyfriend often buys you clothing. Could you suggest buying something other than clothing that is easier to pick out for someone else? Or possibly picking out gifts together? What if you both go to the store together, try the clothes on and then he presents them as a gift? Or maybe you could give him hints about the things you really like. Leave pictures out or magazine clippings so he can get a better sense of what you like. Do you think that would help?

  6. Oh my, loved reading these comments. I think I may have upset my mother in law by telling her a clothes gift she bought my son was unsuitable. He is 8 years old and has his own style. His grandma seems to just not of taken any notice of what he likes which is the most upsetting thing. I also don’t want her to keep wasting her money. I now wish I hadn’t said anything

    • Oh my, yes tread carefully when talking to in-laws about gifts. As I mentioned in this post I would never say anything to my mother-in-law. My husband’s family doesn’t want to know if you like a gift or not. I hope you can smooth things over. It might help to get your 8 year old son to point out what he likes instead of having you speak up 😉 I often tell my children to speak directly to their grandparents. Don’t ask them to say what they don’t like. At a non-gift giving time just have them point out the things they do enjoy. Good luck


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