How To Handle Unwanted Gifts

There are many social traps of awkwardness a parent learns to wade through during their parenting journey and one of the first, is handling gifts they did not ask for.

No one wants to be the jerk who seems ungrateful when they’re opening their EIGHTH pretty, pink, fluffy, ruffly dress when they specifically asked for anything BUT PINK and had several items on their registry that were obviously completely ignored by shower attendants… but c’mon, at what point do we say, “thanks but really, this is exactly what I said I didn’t need” and how do we have that conversation?  Do we even bother?  Is it appropriate?

If not, how can we get what we DO need and how can we stop this sort of unnecessary buying from our friends and family and gently, compassionately steer them in the right direction without hurting anyone’s feelings?

Every mother I’ve spoken to, especially mothers of girls- experienced this in spades.  Everyone wants to buy girls new clothes and bows and socks and blankets and pretty stuff.  But rarely do people consider that there is a true reason why there is a diaper genii on the registry or a simple set of newborn towels or DIAPERS.  “Please don’t hesitate to gift diapers!” -we always say it, but that’s not “fun” is it?  That’s not “cute enough” for the new baby princess… so everyone says, “well, there was nothing on the list I liked, so I just got what I wanted and thought was cute”.

Mothers of boys, just the same- “Well, I saw that there on your list, but I figured, every boy gets that and I thought it would be a boring gift- I wanted to get him something different”.  Or, “boys are easy to shop for because they are so basic” I was told once- so here’s ten thousand blue and green towels, 6 packs of peepee teepees and 75 blue onsies with brown pants, all in 0-3 months with plains, trains and cars on them. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it did kind of feel like that!)

First,I think it’s important to recognize that there are two issues going on here- Gift givers not wanting to buy what’s on the registry and parents unwilling to make a fuss by asking for what they really want and need.How to avoid unnecessary and unwanted gifts-

1- Get involved in your baby shower. Many new mamas think it’s not their right to have a say about the goings on during a baby shower.  There’s some old school etiquette that says if someone is throwing you a party, you accept what you’re given and don’t interfere.  You’re just supposed to sit back and appreciate it, even if it’s not what you want. This is ridiculous and I couldn’t disagree more.  It’s YOUR baby and your needs that your loved ones are coming to help provide for, so why shouldn’t you be involved??  Make sure the invitations show registry information and if it’s especially important to you, add “nursery colors will be red and gold, with a Lightening McQueen/Cars theme!”  This way, everyone knows exactly what to look for and what colors you will want for blankets and nursery gear and clothing.  If you’re concerned that some of the “big ticket” items, usually from grandmas and aunties, are not going to be exactly what you had in mind, be honest and straight forward before hand.  Show them pictures, send them links- “these are the exact items I’m looking for” and be specific as possible.

2- Talk to people before the shower about what you want/need and why and do it BEFORE the registry list is given out and gifts are purchased.  This will help them to understand that your needs, as seen on your registry, are ACTUALLY things you need and not just “nice to have”.  People forget that a registry is a list of needs and not just fun stuff you think is cool.  A registry is NOT a wish list.  A wish list is a list of a bunch of cool things you want because it would be cool to have them.  Registry lists are lists of items you are asking for help in purchasing because babies are expensive and you need things. People who don’t have kids especially don’t realize this and may not even take the time to look because they think they found something “really cool”.  Really cool is awesome, but it doesn’t fill the void of a missing, necessary item.  I’ve seen notices on showers that read something to the effect of; “mommy and daddy to be are starting out new and need everything important!  Please check out their registry for a list of items they would be grateful to receive!”

3- Don’t be afraid to speak up about what you do not want or need.  If you or your shower host creates a Facebook invite or an Evite for the shower that can be updated periodically, you can get in there and post quick updates like; “We were blessed with a wonderful crib and changing table by so and so! We will be focusing the room decor around those pieces, here is a picture of what they look like!”  Or; “we are so grateful to have already received a baby swing and co-sleeper bassinet in our nursery colors; chocolate brown and baby pink!” And; “We have chosen this paint and fabric for curtains!  So excited to get the nursery started in these colors with a castle theme!”  This way you are sharing the items you already have, you’re stating the colors people need to coordinate with and you are doing it without it sounding ungrateful or like you’re a crazy high maintenance mama with nit-picky ideas who is going to be inconvenienced if someone wanted to get you something that didn’t match.

4- Just because you have a child or multiple children does not mean you won’t need anything new for the new baby.  A shower is absolutely appropriate for a new addition to the family, especially if the new baby is a different gender than previous siblings!  Make sure your needs are clear so people don’t assume, “oh they don’t need anything important because they already have a baby so we can just get them toys and fun stuff!”  This is a HUGE misconception and in order to avoid it, you will have to make sure people know that isn’t the case.  Many don’t realize the need for baby gear is still there even if you already have some of those things for the other child.  Things wear out, things get old and obsolete.  Things expire and need to be updated with new models for safety reasons and sometimes it’s just really nice to have more than one.  Diaper Genii’s, changing table pads, crib sheets, nursing pillows, etc. are all things that you will want more than one of once you have another baby.5- Be realistic.  Most people these days go to Target, Wal-Mart or their favorite baby store on their way to a shower and buy whatever they can find that is in their price range. If you don’t want to end up with seven Disney animal trains or 4 ring towers to return when you’re eight months pregnant, you will probably need to appoint someone close to you to do the returns on your behalf.  It’s perfectly acceptable to do this and not say “oh I’ll do it myself after the baby is born”, because, lets be honest… are you really going to do that with a newborn and however many other children you have?  I received 47 receiving blankets when my son was born, had no one to return them and felt lazy for asking for help so I ended up keeping them all because I just didn’t have the time to take the whole brood out to the store.  I was happy in the end, because I was able to gift them to people who needed them and kept 8 for myself, but it still would have probably made more sense to appoint someone to return the items for me and buy a few boxes of diapers with that money instead.6- If you are an environmentally conscious parent or you are concerned about synthetic materials, dyes and chemicals, or allergies, be sure your guests know that on the invite with a kind reminder that your environmental ethics and attention to artificial/synthetic materials are important as you bring your new baby into the world.  Sometimes this can be off-putting to people who don’t share your perspectives, so a gentle way to encourage this, is by saying something like the following; “We are so excited to bring our new baby into this beautiful world and to surround them with safe, natural products free of synthetics and artificial fragrances.  Please see below for a list of companies we support for their ethical practices and safely made products!”

7- Last piece of advice; If someone asks you what you need- TELL THEM.  They are asking because they actually want to give you something beneficial and not something you’ll just pop on a shelf and never look at again or toss into a drawer with 17 other versions of the same item.  They want to know- so tell them.  Be specific and clear about exactly what you are needing and give them a few options at different price points.  Tell them, “we would love to get a set of soft black/white/red baby books, we could use a new crib sheet set in light green and we are still on the look out for a gender-neutral pack & play.”  If you know brands, characters, colors, tell them and be specific.  They will be grateful to know what they’re shopping for and you’ll be grateful to receive exactly what you need.

So it’s after the whirlwind of a shower… beautiful pastel cakes and treats and tissue paper mountains and now you have a load of things, only some you need and a few you REALLY don’t.  What do you do now??  Is it appropriate to return them?  Do you worry about hurt feelings?  How can you appropriately handle this issue without making people feel guilty or sad that their gifts were not needed?

Most parents encounter this at some point- the gift they really had absolutely no need for.  Multiple items, such as two high-chairs or multiple pack & play yards, multiple diaper genii’s and seriously, how many wipe warmers can one person really use?  So you have too many things and you need to decide what to do next.  Here are a few ideas;

Donate them. Local charity organizations would be honored to receive brand new items for their many new mamas looking for their nursery needs at low cost.  Make sure you receive a receipt for your taxes!

Consign them.  Consignment stores and seasonal community sales LOVE to accept brand new items and these can be price-marked at or very near full retail, giving you a better return on your percentage of income.

Know anyone else about to have a baby?  No one will complain at getting a re-gifted item when it’s something they need!  I have a few special mamas and we all are on tight budgets, so we are always passing forward items to each other when we have too many or enough to spare and it’s been amazing to know we have one another to lift us up and full in support when we are short on money.

What if you really just want to return the item to the store for a credit or refund, but it doesn’t have a receipt to return or you don’t know what store the item comes from?  Here’s a great way to manage that – WHEN YOU ARE OPENING GIFTS- always ask, “this is nice, where did you find it?”  Make sure the shower attendant responsible for record keeping writes that down anytime you ask and you’ll have all the info you need!

Most stores will accept returns for at least credit when you explain the item was a gift and you were not given the receipt.  You can almost always find an exchange item or just bank the merchandise credit for another day.  Many stores will even accept items that are not guaranteed to come from their store- Target and Wal-Mart both have allowed me to return items even as I tell them. “I am not 100% sure this item came from your store, but it was a gift and I don’t need it- I think it was from here…” They always stop me short and say it’s no problem but they can only offer me store credit.  Which is fine, because I can ALWAYS use store credit to Target!

Remember that most people completely understand that their items may be returned and it’s unlikely they will be offended if you need to go that route.  If you are concerned about hurt feelings when you return an item, here’s a suggestion; Explain in your thank you card that you’ve returned the gift.  Okay, I know that sounds tacky, but not if it’s written like this-  “We were so thrilled to have you with us on our special day celebrating the arrival of our new baby! The gift you gave us was fantastic and because we were given more than one, (great minds think alike!) we were able to exchange one for xxx item! We appreciate the thought you put into our gift and hope you can come by to see the baby soon once he is here!”

You know your loved ones best, so if you are sure they won’t take it well, my advice is to suck it up, say a heart-felt thank you and keep the item around for a while, or forever- even if you don’t need it.  If it’s appropriate and you can do so without hurting the giver’s feelings, gift it to someone in need when the novelty wears off and the loved one won’t be upset that you no longer have it.

Above all, always remember that the gift came from love, even if you didn’t really like it or need it, so appreciate the thought and the person who gave it to you and if you need to, for their sake, keep it and use it alongside the duplicates.  A little inconvenience with a double or unnecessary item may be worth keeping if it saves you from unwanted drama down the road.      



  1. I think it’s important to remember that nobody is obligated to give a gift to new parents, even parents just starting out. There are some people (mostly of an older generation) who still think gift registries are sort of a rude thing to have – *telling* people what to get you! How demanding! (Not being of an older generation myself, I think gift registries are pretty awesome! But not every person thinks that way.) If a mom is so picky about her gifts that she’s going to be thrown off kilter by non-sustainable/organic items, or stuff that isn’t her style, maybe she should consider having a very small shower and inviting only the people who know her well enough to get the right things.

    When I get a gift I really hate, I usually keep it around for awhile unused, and then donate it (although I’m considering consignment too). Local pregnancy crisis centers are a great place to donate extra receiving blankets, infant hats, onesies, and those kinds of things! I had TONS of extra blankets and still do…I’m the kind of person who likes to use just 1 or 2 favorites of anything, so many of them have not even been used to lay a baby on, let alone packed in a diaper bag or used at bedtime. I am doing a big closet purge this year – at least that’s the plan! – and lots of blankets and less-than-favorite baby clothes and accessories are going to go bye-bye. (Newbornhood is too short to dress them in clothes you don’t like!) I feel better about donating or selling things once it’s been so long that I forget who gave them to me. 😛 I figure most people will never even come to my house, or at least not often enough to notice that I never use that one blanket they gave me, or whatever.

  2. That’s very interesting, Bethany! I hadn’t considered including a section on the issue of even having a registry in the first place, or it being seen as inappropriate!

    My inspiration for writing this post was a series of blogs and parent questions I saw recently from mothers who didn’t know what to do with their unwanted shower items and were confused about etiquette. They were most often venting about how they felt bad because no one got them what they actually needed and not sure how to handle exchanging or returning items without making people feel bad. It made me think a few suggestions on how to prevent those situations in the first place, with a few ideas of how to handle them when they did, might be useful for people. 🙂

    In cases like this, I like to refer to the trusted standards of established etiquette.

    Emily Post recommends if a registry is being used, to include the information on a separate sheet of paper alongside the invitation, but never ON the invite itself and if you do include one, never expect a guest to actually use it and honor your guests by respecting and appreciating all gifts, even those unwanted items.

    Their site states that while it is absolutely acceptable and welcome to most guests to have a registry, “Guests should always feel free to choose whatever gifts they think are best, and half the fun of giving and receiving presents is the element of surprise” and while I believe this is true, I also believe it’s just as good etiquette to honor the honoree’s wishes.

    Just as a point of respect, and perhaps this is a strictly modern idea- I believe a guest should always remember that the shower, or any other gift-giving opportunity, is for the honoree- to celebrate with them, support them and if the guest chooses to honor them with a gift, while it should be something the guest WANTS to give, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask that the gift be something the recipient will appreciate and actually use.

    I can’t imagine gifting someone an item I liked, knowing they might not. It wouldn’t be about having to deal with a picky mom who was going to be judgy about the gifts I gave them because they weren’t organic and made of re-purposed wood built in the US by a local artist… it would be about the reality that the gift is for them, not me. It may not be an issue to me if the plastic toy from China has BPA in it, but if that is important to them, I want to honor that and show my respect for their choices through my choice of gifts for them. Even then, I would still include a gift receipt so they could return it if they wanted to and know I was not going to be offended if they did.

  3. I was an 8 month pregnant lady returning stuff for store credit 🙂 i received doubles of some items and 35 blankets, most of them from my MIL. shhh don’t tell her i returned them, she only ever asked about one and I told her i exchanged it for some bath stuff and a hair brush. if they asked i told them, if they didn’t i didn’t mention it. I am guilty of buying people stuff not on their registry. for example my cousin is having a baby and i got her a wipe warmer (which was on her registry) and i made her a car seat cover, which was not. but its cute and i made it 🙂

    1. Personally, I think handmade gifts are in a different class altogether. Honestly- even if the recipient doesn’t like it, the giver took the time and effort to create an item for them and to reject it or be angry that it wasn’t the store-bought item on their list would be in incredibly poor taste. I treasure every single handmade item anyone has ever given me- it didn’t matter if I NEEDED it. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s