How to gracefully decline other people’s junk

You’ve done it. You’ve spent weeks, months or years dedicating yourself to minimalism, a zero waste lifestyle, or what ever you choose to call a house without excess crap. You are mindful of every new purchase, examining whether it’s something you will really use or just a passing fancy. You’re saving time, money and space.

Then your family sees it.

There’s something about a beautiful, minimal home that sends people scurrying to grab big handfuls of their own unwanted items to help fill yours back up. It may be that they think you’re poor because your house isn’t brimming with stuff, but regardless, this stuff isn’t wanted. It’s junk.

Regardless, family and neighbors are important, so how do you say ‘no’ without offending them? Is there a way to stay friends without letting them treat your home like a landfill? Yes, there is. When someone comes in with their fistfuls of used gift bags filled with secondhand goods, try one of these 5 phrases to stop them cold.

“Thank you, but I don’t think I’ll use this.”

Most people bring something over because they think you will use it. Secondhand clothing for the kids, crafting supplies, old appliances, these are practical things that many people think are useful. If you’ve never broached the subject.

Explaining that you won’t use it gives them the chance to find someone who will. After all, a zero-waste lifestyle is often about finding homes for your used items after you no longer use them. It’s normal and expected that other people will also try to avoid the landfill for their things.

“I don’t need this, but __________ might.”

If your friend, family or neighbor are just looking for a place they can land their goods, telling them someone who might actually need it can help you fend off their stuff. If you know someone in the size of that clothing, or a gardener who’d love that giant pot of petunias, or a woman’s shelter that desperately needs upscale clothing, you may be able to be the connection that helps get that clothing to a home where it will be used.

“This is interesting. What’s the story behind this?”

Many times the stuff being given to you from family have sentimental value. They feel uncomfortable throwing it away themselves, so they are looking for someone who will understand and value that particular piece.

Listening to the story of how they got that silver bracelet with all the dog charms on it may help them come to terms with not needing it anymore—and may help you understand why they’d think you, a cat person, would want it.

You may find you want that piece after all, or you may be able to suggest who they can give it to who would value it.

Use this for older family members trying to pass on family heirlooms, to help you sort out what is and is not valuable.

“I Have Everything I Need.”

This is such a powerful statement, and says so much in so few words. Most people are constantly seeking something, trying to get over the next hill, to fill a hole with stuff. When you say that you have everything you need, it’s a wonderful way to describe your happiness, wellness, and lack of need for stuff.

This phrase is great for people who seem to think that you need every hand me down that exists. If this is too general, you can be more specific. “Thanks, but my reading list is full for this year,” if it’s a book for example, or “I have all the kitchen utensils I need right now,” for that latest gadget.

“Would you like me to donate this for you?”

Sometimes it isn’t that the people gifting to you especially care about your needs, but that they have too much stuff and a hard time throwing it away. A firmer way of addressing this is to make it clear that the item will not be staying in your house if they leave it.

This phrase is best for people who are also guilty of “forgetting” an armload of stuff when you’ve already said no, or abandoning it unasked on your doorstep.

What to do with gifts that make it past these statements

Some people just can’t take a hint. These are the people who drop it off on your doorstep, “forget it” when they leave, or have it brought by someone else. If for some reason you end up with the unwanted items anyway, it’s important to remember that once in your possession they belong to you.

You’re not obligated to keep these things on a pedestal for all eternity out of gratitude. Even if it is a very nice gift, you’re welcome to dispose of it in any way you see fit.

If you don’t want the item, and they don’t want it back, you may have to dispose of it yourself. Donate it, toss it, or do what needs to be done, but remember it’s not your responsibility to keep other people’s unwanted stuff.

Junk is often a terrible problem, especially when you’re trying to maintain a zero waste home. While we can’t always avoid the junk people drop off on us, we can work hard to manage what comes into our homes responsibly.

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