Etiquette and the gift closet

By Mir
July 2, 2009

Crossing over into July means Want Not has passed a big milestone: This site is now just over three years old! I can’t believe it’s been so long. How to best mark three years? I shall mail each and every one of you a cupcake and a tantrum as soon as possible. Check your mailboxes.

There have been some common refrains here, over that time, and one of them is (as longtime readers know) my love of a well-stocked gift closet. It means you’re prepared for (nearly) anything, that you’ll never have to run out and shop at the last minute, and that you’ll save gobs of money because you’re always getting the best deals.

Lovely Jaime has a gift closet quandary, though:

I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now, filing away lots of good ideas about gift closets. I haven’t needed to create a huge one yet, as my kids were still little. Earlier this spring, however, when I was shopping for a birthday party, I picked up a few versions of the same doll because they were on clearance & marked pretty low.

It was no big deal to attach a gift receipt to the first doll; we gave the present w/in a week. However, when it came time to give a later doll, a) I couldn’t find the gift receipt (my fault for not taping it on like I usually do), but b) the dolls were from Target, and the gift receipts have expiration dates, and the date would have passed anyway.

So how does one reconcile a gift closet with the fact that some people may not like the gift & wish to exchange it? I know some of this depends on you knowing the recipient, but what if your gift happens to be a duplicate? To go one step further, what if your gift closet is created by online shopping deals and probably can’t be returned by the recipient?

My frugalness is fighting with my etiquetteness, and I’m not sure how to appease them both.

I know you’re on vacation, and certainly don’t expect an answer anytime soon. If ever, cause I suspect this question may be more philosophical than answerable…

I am still on vacation, but I love this question so much I wanted to answer it right away.

First off, let me just say that I would like Jaime to be my friend, because gift receipts are marvelous things that most people don’t include with gifts. The fact that Jaime likes to include them means I want her around come the holidays.

Second, here’s my personal philosophy on the gift receipt: They’re very, very nice to include. They are also not necessary. A gift is a gift. The notion of handing over a gift that someone can turn around and return is a relatively new concept, and—again—although it’s very nice to have the option to do so, it has nothing at all to do with etiquette. It’s not bad etiquette to give a gift without a gift receipt.

I do occasionally give gifts with receipts; typically I do so when the gift is something costly.

The things I tend to tuck into the gift closet, though, are children’s birthday party items, teacher gifts, and other small miscellaneous things (hostess gifts, Yankee Swap items, etc.). They’re items that weren’t terribly costly to begin with, and as I usually procure them for 50% off or even less, the exchange value would be minimal. I do not give them with gift receipts, obviously.

So. What happens if what I give is a duplicate or something otherwise unwanted? Well, that’s up to the recipient, I suppose. When I or my children receive such a thing, we politely thank the giver—because it’s the thought that counts and it’s good manners to do so, of course—and then the item… goes into the gift closet. It either gets regifted at some point in the future (though I do tuck received gifts into the closet with a note as to its origin, to avoid accidentally giving it back either to the original gifter or, say, another child who was at that same party), or it goes to charity when we do our annual holiday donations.

I guess what I’m saying, Jaime, is that you can forget the guilt. Giving a gift sans receipt is hardly a breach of etiquette. (It’s lovely to include the receipt, but saying it’s inappropriate to skip it is sort of like saying any gift that isn’t topped off with a bow is a major faux pas.) If it bothers you personally, I’d say just keep the items in your gift closet 1) cheap and 2) relatively impersonal, to ease any potential angst.

Readers? What do you think?


  1. I agree…if I gave a child a toy that I’d gotten a huge deal on, I don’t think I’d want to give a gift receipt too, because of the possibility of me seeming really cheap should they try to exchange it. Maybe you could call me a closet frugal gift-closeter! (Okay, sorry for the bad humor so early in the morning.) Also, what is a Yankee Swap?

  2. I also have a gift closet and stock it similar to you. I also include things I see that I know family and friends would enjoy for birthdays and Christmas such as a favorite shower gel, candle, sports item, etc. These are things that I know they will enjoy and not need to exchange. Items I put away for childrens parties, teachers, and other small occasions are items that everyone can use or enjoy — notebooks/journals, Christmas decor, craft kits, items to make up gift baskets, etc. As far as what I put aside for childrens parties — what girl can ever have too many Barbies? More building sets means bigger things to build. If I don’t have something in my gift closet appropriate or want to buy something specific for the recipient then I will buy it close to the gift giving occasion and include a gift receipt.

  3. I rarely include a gift receipt, because I do a lot of my shopping at craft fairs and art shows. I like to think that the recipient, if they don’t care for the gift, can nonetheless cherish it as a shining example of uniqueness. Or regift it. Whatever.

  4. P.S. Happy 3rd Birthday, Want Not! (Can’t wait for the tantrum….I wonder if it will….fit?)

  5. I’m with Groovecatmom — I tend to buy gifts that are such great deals, I’d be embarrassed if the recipient ever found out how little I spent. I rationalize my gift-frugality by telling myself that A) it’s a nice gift, regardless of what I spent, and B) the true cost of the gift isn’t just dollars, it’s the time and thought I invested in shopping for it. And then I do an incredible job of wrapping the gift… with recycled materials, so once again we’ve got the “I’m cheap, this was free” balancing against “but look how much love I put into it.”

    For an alternate perspective, I was raised by my very proper mother and grandmother to believe that returning or exchanging gifts is the height of rudeness! Their theory was that even if a gift was the wrong size or completely unappealing, you had to keep it because that item was a symbol of the giver’s love for you. It wasn’t until my son was born that we all finally snapped out of it and made good use of Babies R Us’ return policy.

  6. Happy third birthday!! Have I really been reading you that long? And saving money the entire time? Wow! Thanks for three years of bargains and frugal fun!

  7. Happy bitrhday, WantNot! I love your mom!

  8. Groovecatmom, apparently a Yankee swap is what I would call a dirty Santa. Where you bring something you don’t want to a party and play a game where you exchange it for something someone else does not want.

  9. Happy Birthday! Anniversary? What a wonderful and enlightening 3 years! I’ve learned and saved so much. Thank you! By the way, I absolutely agree that gift receipts are not necessary. If I paid full retail close the event just so I could include a gift receipt, it would be a smaller gift. Most of the time the recipient gets a much nicer gift from our family because it was bought at a great price well in advance.

  10. My mom always said “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I think my 8 yr-old says it better “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” :o)

  11. I totally agree. I normally don’t include a receipt because that just takes extra organization and with three kids 6 and under that’s just not happening for me right now. It may sound harsh, but my philosophy is- you get what you get and don’t throw a fit. I’ve noticed that at the parties my kids have attended lately the kids have gotten a bunch of toys- so one duplicate shouldn’t be an issue anyway.

  12. I say that my inbox was sans cupcake and the accompanying tantrum would have been worth it! 😉

  13. I completely agree. I generally don’t do gift receipts. It is the thought that counts, and why does it matter where/what I paid for the gift. I put thought & care into it and chose it especially for that person. Sometimes when I score at Goodwill on a brand-new-from-Target-item, I will tell my mom or stepmom or best friend (the inner sanctum) about the deal. Then we all squeal together because we not only love the item but we got an amazing deal on it.

    When I do find multiple gifts (like several copies of the same book), I try to put post-it notes on them so I know which nephews/nieces to send it to. Not easy to remember sometimes…

    I just love having things on hand, especially when I see one of my friends CONSTANTLY running out to buy gifts for her kids’ friends’ parties. Crazy.

  14. My gift closet mostly contains items that I have made myself, so no need to worry about returns. I also stock eco-friendly items I have purchased through co-ops, which would be impossible for someone to return. If they asked me about it I would just explain it and offer to give them something else. It hasn’t happened though … if I’m not sure how someone will respond to a gift I give something consumable.

  15. I have all the 3 year old tantrums I can stand, but now I’m hungry for a cupcake! Happy Birthday, WantNot!

  16. A Yankee Swap is built on the same concept as Dirty Santa, but it’s not the same thing. Everyone brings a gift. You draw numbers. The first person opens a gift. The second person opens one, and can either take what the first person got, or pick a new gift. And so on. They give me the screaming shudders because I was once involved in one with a big whining crybaby who made the whole thing miserable. They can be fun with the right group of people.

  17. I totally agree with you on every point. Gift receipts have nothing to do with etiquette; they’re not worth much on a gift-closet item anyway; and I don’t typically use gift receipts for a child’s birthday gift or a teacher gift anyway, even if I did buy it at full price (AH HA HA HA HA—as if!).

  18. Thank you for all the lovely words of advice! 🙂

  19. Happy (belated) birthday WantNot!!

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