If you give (or receive) a gift that misses the mark, returning the item is the natural thing to do. After all, return policies are pretty awesome these days.
However, if you decide to make a bigger impact with your gift — an item that you've probably survived without just fine for the last year anyway — why not donate it?
Why you should think about donating an unwanted Christmas gift
- If you donate your unwanted gifts, you'll decrease clutter. Cutting clutter has emotional benefits that I don't understand, but I feel better when my life and environment are clear.
- Your item might be useful to someone else. Many times, I have kept items I didn't really need because I might need them sometime. But I find it easier to donate or sell items if I imagine those items making someone else's life easier or better … you know, instead of taking up space in my spare closet.
- Improve your community. Along with being useful to someone else or an organization, your donation may improve your community. How? By giving your fellow community members something they really need or letting a community organization raise money with your gift that could help them operate other community-boosting programs.
- You may be able to deduct donations on your taxes. According to the IRS, you may deduct certain donations if you've given to qualified organizations. You must maintain documentation of this donation, however.
- You're giving something. If you weren't able to donate as much as you wanted to in 2015, this is an opportunity to give a little something without, shall I say, much of an investment from you. If the gift had been given to you, you didn't invest anything at all. But, I still think it counts as giving because you could have returned the item for cash or returned it for another item.
What should be donated?
If you're donating unwanted gifts, they're most likely new and still in the package. (Whether you should give used presents is a topic for another time.)
If items are new, you'll easily find a home for your gift. In fact, as I type up some of the items on this list, I'm tempted to give you my P.O. Box if you want to part with some of this nice stuff. I'll take good care of it, I promise! I'm sure you won't want to donate some of these things, but maybe the model (in the case of electronics) they're replacing?
If your donation is gently (or even not so gently) used, make sure your chosen organization can actually use it. Some organizations can use used stuff, but many can't — and it's a burden (not to mention an expense) for them to dispose of it.
Anyway, these items are, in general, very useful to many organizations:
- Cell phones
- Clothes (especially winter items)
- Stuffed animals
- School supplies
- Musical instruments
- Craft supplies
If you receive a gift card you won't use, you can always, of course, sell your gift card online. But you can also donate it to many of these organizations too.
How to determine the best place to donate a gift
First, if you want to deduct your donation(s) on your tax return, some of these institutions or entities are not qualified organizations. In other words, don't pick an unqualified organization if you want to deduct your donation.
If you have community organizations that really make a difference for your community, check with them first. Otherwise, try to match your interests with the item you're planning to donate.
Here are some ideas of places to donate, along with specific types of things they may need.
- Crisis pregnancy centers – baby products, cell phones
- Foster care — children's clothing, toys, games, books, school and craft supplies, backpacks
- Churches – food, clothing, toiletries
- Hospitals — blankets
- Schools – school supplies, children's clothing, and books
- Libraries — Books, of course, and gift cards
- Animal shelters — blankets and gift cards
- Homeless shelters — clothing, toiletries, food, and giftcards
- Women's shelters — cell phones, clothing, toiletries, food, any items for children
- Food banks — food and toiletries
- Senior centers — blankets, clothing, electronic devices, and games
- Day care centers — food, children's items
- Charity shops — Since these shops are selling items, anything with resale value
How to donate
After you've chosen an organization, ask:
- Will they accept your item?
- Do you need to drop off the item, or will they pick it up?
- Do they provide documentation you can use for your tax return?
If you enjoy all your presents this year, enjoy them all joyfully. If one or two aren't what you need, don't feel guilty returning them. But if you decide to donate your gift instead, it may have a ripple effect far beyond what you could possibly imagine.
Have you ever donated new gifts you received but didn't want? Where do you donate most of your unwanted item?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).