The Possible Pitfalls Of Giving Things Away To Friends & Family & How To Avoid Them

June 24, 2014

It wasn’t that long ago that we discussed the dos and don’ts of decluttering as concerns giving things away to friends and family. That post was important, and this one, equally so.

Let’s establish the known: when you can give things away to people you know, whom you know would appreciate them, that feels marvelous. As in, feels better to most of you than parting with your belongings to strangers.

There are, however, 3 reasons why this habit can become problematic, and we should positively delve into those now.

A must read for anyone trying to declutter and simplify their lives. Great motivation & advice about what to do with what you no longer need.

Reason # 1

It is chiefly important to develop and refine your relationship with stuff, and to get to a place where you can–with clarity of perspective and priorities–part with things no longer serving you freely and easily.

That means: giving things away without being overly concerned as to their ultimate fate (a desire to recycle what you can, or to seek out stellar charitable organizations for your goods not included).

Your giving things away to friends and family may merely be a mechanism for you to avoid the reality of really letting things go. In that case, it is even more imperative that you do donate your goods anonymously to the world, rather than to your loved ones.

Only when you have gained the skills needed to release your attachments to stuff can you be trusted to make decisions about where to allocate your goods.


A must read for anyone trying to declutter and simplify their lives. Great motivation & advice about what to do with what you no longer need.

Reason # 2

It’s one thing if you know someone who is legitimately struggling financially, or whom you know has specific need of the thing or kinds of things you’re getting rid of.

But you know what? If your aunt or granny or best friend forever or husband’s colleague’s wife or mailman is like most people–I promise you–they have enough stuff of their own already.

It is essential that in your quest to simplify you remember that pretty much everyone else is aimed at doing the same. Don’t be responsible for setting anyone else back in their progress.


A must read for anyone trying to declutter and simplify their lives. Great motivation & advice about what to do with what you no longer need.

Reason # 3 

Giving once-prized, especially valuable things away to friends and family can ultimately damage your relationships. That assertion sounds like a bit of local nightly news melodrama (Brushing your teeth is actually giving you cancer! Your children’s playground is leaching toxic chemicals especially the slide your kid slid down earlier this afternoon the yellow one he might die! Plus, why water is worse for us than we all ever thought! Tonight at 11.) but it’s absolutely true.

When you give things away to the larger world through charities etc., you also release your attachments to them. You might think of them once in the week afterwards, but most likely, never again. You won’t spend your time thinking, “That person who bought my globe from the Salvation Army better be taking good care of it.” If you do, we’ve got some other conversations that need having.

On the other hand, when you give things away to people you know, those items remain in your life. You haven’t actually carried out a break up, but entered a joint custody situation.

You aren’t necessarily saying, “Goodbye, and whatever shall happen to you shall happen,” but rather passing something along to someone else with an unspoken expectation of how that person should receive and integrate the thing into their lives.

This is where the trouble ensues. If that item is not cared for or utilized in the manner or extent to which you deem appropriate, you may begin to resent your loved one. 

I see and hear about this every day:

Do you know I gave that person a motorcycle and she never rides it?

I once gave her a gorgeous antique side table and it’s in shambles now because her dog’s chewed on it.

Even my first-grade client the other day told me with all the seriousness in the world: “Mummy wants me to give the clothes that don’t fit me to my friend but I’ve given her things before and she never even said thank you.”


A must read for anyone trying to declutter and simplify their lives. Great motivation & advice about what to do with what you no longer need.

So what’s a person to do?

1. Get good at giving things away period. Get comfortable with the idea that you as soon as you relinquish a thing you cannot control it or anything about it.

2. Get better at ascertaining whether people or in your life actually need what you have to give. Get better at recognizing when your wanting to pass various things to loved ones is more about you than it is about them (i.e. more about your inability to let something go/desire to appear generous or abundant than it is about their need for it).

Ask them more than just “do you want this?”

Ask them:

“Can you really see yourself using this? If not, I know a fantastic charity that I know would desperately love to have it.”

Take care of them by taking the time to find out whether your giving things to them is more helpful or more burdensome.

3. Do not give anything away to anyone you know unless you mentally sever all ties to that thing.

Accept that you have no way of predicting how another person will care for or value an item.

Feel free to inform the person you’re gifting an item to of the item’s notable value (if it has one), in order to suggest that if and when they don’t want or need it they may want to consider selling it. Feel free to convey the history an item has had with you or your family, or relay the story of its procurement.

Then release any expectation for that person to abide by or consider a single thing you’ve told them. Everyone has unique priorities and that is the bottom line to just about every plausible resulting scenario.


Image credits: Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier via Vogue, Anthropologie catalogue July 2011, LoveJoyCreate, via Elements


Annie Traurig was born with the ability to see order through clutter. As a child, she spent playdates organizing friends’ closets and packing their duffle bags for summer camp.

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  1. […] (More on this whole issue here and here.) […]

  2. […] Besides, giving things away to friends and family comes with its own headaches. […]

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