How to deal with a family member who doesn't accept gifts gracefully?
January 19, 2012 3:50 AM   Subscribe

How to deal with a family member who doesn't accept gifts gracefully?

My sister in law has a habit of leaving my gifts for her at her mother’s home, where we meet annually due to the distance we all have to travel.

This happened two years in a row. Both times she thanked me profusely for the gifts. The first year she made a point of telling me that she was leaving the jewelry at her mother’s so she would have something to wear on her next trip there. I found this a little odd because is it really difficult to pack a small pair of earrings and take them with you? But I didn’t think too much of it…

The next year I brought a small decorative tray which I bought from a very expensive store. I picked it out lovingly and with her in mind. My thinking was that a serving tray would be a good gift because, while decorative, is not clutter as it serves a purpose (I know she entertains) and can be stored away when not in use. With this in mind I brought this tray all the way from the distant continent where I live.

I see that she has also left this gift on the shelf in her old room at the family home. In other words, she didn’t take it with her either. Nor did she offer any explanation such as not being able to fit it into her suitcase (which I don't believe would be the case as it was not very large). I’m a little bit hurt that it seems like my gifts somehow do not meet muster and/or aren’t worth the trouble of taking back with her.

What is up with this behavior? I understand that each person has their own taste, but wouldn’t it be customary to at least TAKE a gift with you and then regift it (or hide it away) if it really isn’t your style?

How would you read her response to these gifts and what is the best approach to take in my position? Should I say anything? This hasn't put me in the gift-buying mood.
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How would you read her response to these gifts and what is the best approach to take in my position?

No expensive, well thought out gift for her next year. Get her a gift card and move on with your life.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:53 AM on January 19, 2012 [21 favorites]

You have to learn to give gifts gracefully. Once a gift is given, it isn't up to you to decide what the giftee does with it.
posted by xingcat at 3:54 AM on January 19, 2012 [43 favorites]

I sympathise with your sister-in-law. I also have an awkward relationship with gifts people give me.

I'm not up for playing guessing games about what other people think, so if I were in your position, I'd phone for a chat nearer next Christmas. I'd ask what she thinks about either "no gifts" or "kids only gifts" or something similar. I'd say outright, matter of fact with a smile on my face, that it seems like the current approach isn't working for her and you want to find a way that works for both of you.

I would also try and find some way of showing appreciation in another way, whether it's showing them a good time when they visit, grabbing coffee or even just finding time to have a chat every so often about what's important in her life.

If the lady in question is NOT able to have a matter of fact conversation about Christmas gifts without making it into a giant pile of drama, then I'd say "fuck it" and commence giving £10 Amazon vouchers.
posted by emilyw at 4:08 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

If it were me, I just wouldn't give a gift next year or give the equivalent cost of a gift to charity and give her the receipt along with a card - she might just not be a person who likes getting any gift (my brother is like this and this is my solution because my sister-in-law likes us to give him a gift). This might not be possible if you're in a gift giving environment/situation, so if that's the case I'd try and go in with someone else. I find that helps both spread the cost and ensure that if the gift is not a success then there is at least two or three of you who get to be grumpy/sad/disappointed.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:10 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's odd, and I would be a little hurt as well. I wouldn't mention it, but keep it in mind the next time you're gift shopping. It could be that she just doesn't realize how much effort you're putting into the process, and is not trying to offend you at all.
posted by sundaydriver at 4:11 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although it would be difficult for me too, I guess xingcat says it best.
1) Giftee behavior is very strongly steered by one's respective childhood gifting culture. These things are settled deep down. If - for example - you had hovering parents that required a specific thank-you ritual, you may have trouble showing genuine gratitude. If you were bullied into accepting hideous presents in pink by remote aunties with profuse gratitude, you may have become an erratic grown-up giftee without even knowing it. And so on, endless varieties, and likely no good solution.
2) You may have misunderstood her tastes, and while she is being polite about it in the thank-you moment, she actually may really not like what you gave her. Listing out people's dearest wishes is often difficult. I'd just give it another try.
posted by Namlit at 4:18 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

She doesn't like your gifts, and she lacks the basic courtesy to just accept the gifts gracefully.

So don't bother. Give her a gift card, or make a donation to charity in her name, or give her some wine. Then do something better with your time.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:18 AM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

I second xingcat - for the sake of your own peace of mind! I think you should just let it go. She thanked you "profusely" for the gifts and I reckon that's all she owes you.

If you really feel resentful, don't spend too much money/time picking out her present this time. But once it's hers, it's hers to do what she wants with, whether that's use it all the time, or keep it in her mom's house.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:21 AM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe a nice card or some cookies next time? It's understandable to feel hurt or put out, but despite her rudeness, it doesn't seem intentional (given how strongly she thanked you, I'd say she at least wanted to show appreciation, even if she ultimately failed) - maybe she's just a little graceless in that sense. It's definitely unusual, but I wouldn't let it poison things between you if she's someone you have an otherwise pleasant relationship with. We all have our moments of social weirdness. Personally I'd probably let it slide and just bring her some chocolates next time, but if you're more of a talker you could always just ask her about her gift receiving preferences and see if there's anything she actually needs. I don't think that any more of a confrontation than that is likely to bring anything good, but you know yourself and your S-I-L better than we do, so ymmv.
posted by Lina Lamont at 4:22 AM on January 19, 2012

It's none of your business what she does with the gifts.

If you found out what she does by asking her about it, you're in the wrong.

If you found out because she told you, or somehow drew your attention to her actions, she's giving you an anti-thanks and it's reasonable to feel hurt.

If you just observed these things without her drawing attention to them than she doesn't like the gifts.

Either way, give something less valuable next time, and monitor what she does only enough to figure out if she liked it so you can give more or less of the same next time.
posted by tel3path at 4:46 AM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Earrings are pretty taste-specific, as are home decor items. If I have a good idea of hand size, I usually go with really nice leather gloves. Small, practical, thoughtful, not too personal and very likely to be used and appreciated.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:55 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

To me, her actions are much more revealing than her words. If you want to look at this as positively as possible, perhaps she wasn't rude, just unthinking - but she's shown you what she thinks of your gifts, repeatedly, and you should stop spending time, money, and emotional energy on her.
posted by lemniskate at 4:58 AM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Under normal circumstances (you like her, she likes you, there are no weird power struggles going on in the family, she likes Christmas, etc.), if she really liked what you gave her, she'd just take it.

So maybe you just have no idea what she likes, and she's thinking, "Chrrrist! What the fuck am I going to do with this stupid ass fancy serving tray? Serve fucking crumpets to the ladies in the croquet club? What a complete waste of money. I'll just quietly leave it with Mom, as usual."

But it could be something else -- does she not want to accept anything from you for some reason? Is there a reason she wouldn't want to feel indebted to you for any reason? Which one of you has the money? Could she resent your piles of money and want no part of it? Or does she have the piles of money and feel guilty about you spending anything on her when you can't afford it (and she hates you anyway)? Is that it -- does she just not like you? Or your spouse? Or your kids? Has she actually come out and told you that she doesn't want anything and you still went out and bought her something knowing she would not be happy about receiving it?

Does she just not want presents from anyone at all? Does she think Christmas presents (especially the fancy ornamental tray variety) are a huge annual waste of time and money on knick knacks and disposable gadgets? Would she just as soon not have to do Christmas at all but is forced into it by family?

There are lots of possibilities.

But fuck that. You like to give presents? Next year, give her something that her mother (your host) would love to have. Maybe some really big and heavy thing that would be completely impractical for your sister-in-law to take home. A rocking chair. An ottoman. If she takes it home, it will be very funny. If she leaves it with her mother, everything will have gone as planned. And if anyone remarks that the present is way too impractical for [sister-in-law] to take home, laugh and say you know that but you also know that [sister-in-law] is just going to leave your present with her mom no matter what so you might as well get something that her mom could use. Relax. Say it nicely. Laugh. Get it out in the open but keep your sense of humor. It's no skin off your ass if she doesn't take your presents because you still like to give presents. And do that every year from now on. Make it a tradition and a running joke that you get something impossible for her to take home (but that her mother would like). She will warm to you and your Christmas visits when she no longer has the ghosts of unwanted baubles past, present, and future awaiting her.
posted by pracowity at 5:00 AM on January 19, 2012 [12 favorites]

It sounds like she accepted them gracefully, but abandoned them when your back was turned, and was either clumsy or passive-aggressive about pulling it off. The alternative scenarios to this are:
  1. She opens the gift and tells you immediately, "Thank you, this is so thoughtful! It's... not really my style, though. Do you have the gift receipt?"
  2. Ruder version of #1: she opens the gift and goes, "The fuck, mintchip? This tray is hideous."
  3. She accepts the gift graciously, and takes it home - to give to Goodwill, or shove in a closet, or toss, completely unbeknownst to you.
  4. She accepts the gift graciously because she loves it; in fact, she values every gift she's ever been given, and is thus a pleasure to shop for.
Many of us have been taught that we have to be grateful for gifts because they are gifts, and we can't criticize them or ask for something different. For some people, even asking for what you want ahead of time is considered against the spirit of gifts. (Over the years, I've become more pragmatic about the gifts I want to get, and people respond with "A Trader Joe's giftcard?? That's not festive at all!" and get me sweaters.)

I try really hard to be a 4, which eats at my nerves a bit because sometimes I do get thoughtful gifts I won't ever use, and I'm stuck with an expensive fragile albatross that I could never sell or give away. Sometimes I'm a 3 out of necessity, or I accept a gift as 4 and in practice it ends up being 3. It's been really hard for me to get to 1, and usually I can only do that with very close family. If you're okay with 1 or 2, 3 can be baffling and annoying. Ask vs. Guess at work yet again.

Would you rather your sister-in-law tell you, immediately and to your face, that she wouldn't use a gift of yours, or would you rather she was just more discreet about how she ditched them? Might as well try and make her comfortable with asking for the receipt, since it'll save both of you the passive-aggressive gift dance. Next year, ask her what she wants in advance. If she doesn't give you any ideas, give her something that is easily exchangeable, and put the receipt in the bottom of the box. And tell her, "I hope you'll love this, but if you don't, please don't hesitate to exchange it for something you will."

Alternatively, get her consumable gifts, like fancy foods and bubble baths, instead of accessories or home decor (which are both very likely to collect dust). Even if she doesn't like them, they're easy to share or regift.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:01 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to offer a slightly different perspective.

I never remember to pack jewelry when I travel, especially when I'm visiting family. If I still had a bedroom at my parents' house, I could totally imagine leaving some earrings there so that I wouldn't spend yet another holiday kicking myself for forgetting to bring something festive to wear.

Also, if I'm at my parents' house and put something where I would have put it as a teenager, I give it 50/50 that I actually remember to pick it up and take it with me when I leave. That's not a comment on how much I value the thing, whatever it is, it's just how my brain works when I visit my parents.

None of this is to say that you shouldn't feel how you feel, or that your sister-in-law is definitely just like me, I just read both of these instances as things I might do for reasons completely unrelated to how much I liked the gift I was given.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:22 AM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

Is it possible she lives with someone who would take exception to gifts from you? Maybe she really does love it, but doesn't want to have to explain where she got the lovely tray from. She could also just be super forgetful.

Perhaps next year you could give her something like food that could be consumed before she leaves.
posted by lucidium at 5:23 AM on January 19, 2012

Take it back, use the money to get something nice for yourself. I tend to agree with the folks who say write her off, get a gift card, but have you tried asking her what she would llike? Maybe she would accept the gift better if she had some input. If she says please don't get me anything, take it at face value.
posted by Ys at 5:27 AM on January 19, 2012

Mintchip, I could be your sister-in-law! I often leave gifts at my old room in my parents' house.

First (and maybe most importantly) even though I am a middle-aged man with my own home and family, and even though my parents' current home is not the one I grew up in-- I still think of my room in their house as my room. It's physically removed from my actual house, but in some psychological sense, it's still a room in my home. So when I put a gift there, I have actually brought that gift home with me. Maybe that sounds silly, but that's truly how I feel.

OK, so even if you accept that it's a room in my home... why would I leave it in that room, instead of in a room that is thousands of miles closer to the one where I sleep? A few reasons:

1. I hate packing and schlepping stuff around. In an ideal world, I'd have an extra set of everything waiting for me wherever I was going, and I'd never have to pack anything. This is especially true of my kid's toys, which always have small fiddly bits and if you lose half of the bits, the rest is now useless. I can easily imagine this logic applying to earrings.

2. We don't have a lot of extra space in our house, and there's not much room to display attractive luxury goods. At this stage, adding even a few small things on display would add to the visual clutter (Also, with two small kids, they'd probably just get broken.) But at some point, we hope to be able to afford a larger home, and it gives me pleasure to look at the nice gifts we've got stored at my parents' house, and think about the time when we'll be able to display them as they deserve. It's easy to imagine that something similar is going on with the tray you gave.

Look at it this way: your sister-in-law thanked you profusely for your gifts, then put them in a safe place where she'd have access to them. The first time she did this, she was careful to explain what she was doing, just to make sure you didn't misinterpret it as a lack of gratitude. It seems to me she is behaving just fine.
posted by yankeefog at 5:29 AM on January 19, 2012 [11 favorites]

I get why you're frosted about it, I really do. But take the tray -- you're introducing a lot of information that I know is important to how you feel about the gift, but that isn't frankly very important to how she feels about the gift. She really doesn't care that it was from an expensive store. She doesn't really care how far you carried it. And I'm sorry, but I have to throw a flag on the idea that a decorative tray is not clutter because you can store it. I'll grant you it's not clutter like a knickknack, but a decorative tray is the precise kind of thing that I, as someone who has always had relatively small living spaces, tend to respond to with a thought like, "That's so sweet, and it's really pretty. I have ... no clue where I'm going to put it." You say she entertains, but that doesn't necessarily mean she needs a tray. She may have adequate trays. It may not be needed for the kind of food she serves. In other words, like all gifts, there's a chance it's something she doesn't need to keep in her home.

Here's what I'm getting at: There are lots of ways that this gift could be a very nice thought and an act of kindness but not, in fact, something she wants. She understands the nice thought and the kindness; that's why she thanks you. That's the part that really matters most. But in noticing whether she actually makes use of the thing you gave her, you have found the crack in "it's the thought that counts." It is the thought that counts when you think about the gift, and the person, and the relationship. But it is not the thought that counts when you decide whether you have room for it or want to display it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:53 AM on January 19, 2012 [13 favorites]

Nthing the gift card suggestion. I might get her a vanilla Visa gift card so she could use it for groceries. Honestly, she might really appreciate that.

I've received gifts I don't want. Over time, I've learned to do the following: I thank the giver graciously, then I give the gift to goodwill or to another person not in the same circle of people so that the giver doesn't find out. I think it's impolite to do otherwise.

I then suggest to the giver that we exchange gift cards the following year. :-) If they don't take the suggestion and I can't use next year's gift, then it's off to the goodwill again the next time around.

I agree that pesky questions about "what are you doing with the gift I gave you" are none of the giver's business. Man, do I hate that. (I don't think that came up in your question but it's a related issue.) But your sister-in-law can't seem to receive a gift without calling attention to the fact that she won't use it, absent any questions from you. So, spare yourself the tsuris and pick up a Visa gift card at the local CVS.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:03 AM on January 19, 2012

Just get her edible gifts. If she leaves it at her mother's house, it will be eaten or thrown away, but probably eaten if it looks tasty. Tin of popcorn, or whatever. Stop putting so much thought into her presents, and put that thought into something else. Or make a gift to charity in her name, she can't leave that behind.
posted by juniperesque at 6:13 AM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well. She did receive the gifts gracefully. Receiving something does not take a time span of more than, to be generous about it, an hour. She thanked you. She informed you of her plans for it. You are unhappy about what she did with the gifts after she received them. I agree with others who say this is not really your business even if you give her fine furs and you witness her washing the tires of her car with them.

Communication is an interesting two way street. And in order for it to work, both parties have to agree on what everything means. And as you know, communication is about more than words.'re reading some of her signals as obviously doesn't care about you/hates the gift/ is ungrateful. She may be intentionally sending these same signals but imbuing them with very different meaning. (Imagine if you showed up in a town and everybody stopped and green lights and went right through red ones. You'd be very confused for a bit, right?)

(Let me tell you. I am a handknitter. More than once I have spent 20 or so hours making a baby blanket and been told..."we'll just lock this up in a chest far from daylight so that nobody ever spills anything on's too precious to use!" They really believe that. I used to respond that I had imagined the baby barfing on the blanket at least a dozen times. But I've given up. I just don't knit for those babies anymore.)
posted by bilabial at 6:13 AM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with you that she should've taken the gift home with her regardless of whether she liked it (to donate/regift/etc later). I'm guessing she didn't intend for you to find out that she left the tray behind (she probably didn't expect you to look around her old room at her mother's house). It sounds like she didn't have any intention of hurting your feelings. And it sounds like she did appreciate both gifts from you, thanked you graciously, and yet they're just not gifts to her taste / gifts she can use.

I would try hard not to hold this against her. Next year, I would (a) ask her in advance if there's anything she'd particularly like as a gift (if that's the kind of thing your family does), (b) include a gift receipt and mention that she should exchange the gift if it's not her taste, or (c) get her something generic like chocolates, wine, or a gift card.
posted by whitelily at 6:17 AM on January 19, 2012

Does she even want gifts? Is she the kind of person that says, oh no, no need to get me a gift and yet you get her one anyway? Because I am that kind of person, and I really, truly mean it. I don't know if that's the situation at all, but if she's like me, maybe that is what's behind it.
posted by crankylex at 6:39 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pointing out a couple of practical points about each gift:

1. About the earrings. How often does she actually wear earrings? What kind of earrings? Might she have had some kind of infection that prevented her from wearing earrings? Did she perhaps develop some kind of allergy to a certain metal, and maybe she saw that the metal in the earrings you gave her was the kind she was allergic to?

2. About the serving tray. How big is her home? How much storage space does she really have? How much does she actually entertain? What kind of parties does she have?....

What I'm getting at is -- there could be any one of a SCORE of reasons why the gifts you've put thought into may not work, for reasons you may not be aware of; maybe the earrings you picked out are something she's actually allergic to. Maybe the serving tray, as small as it was, wouldn't have fit into her apartment because she already has ten and in fact just had a tag sale and got rid of another ten of them because they were just taking up way too much room and she never really used serving trays anyway becuase the only kinds of parties she has are really casual things were she just uses paper plates.

There may have been no way you could have known those things. And she knew that you couldn't have known, so rather than saying something like "oh, these are lovely, but I can't wear silver!" or "oh, this is lovely, but I have too many serving trays already!" She got out of the situation as gracefully as she thought she could. She appreciated the thought, though.

I wouldn't worry about it. Gift giving is hard sometimes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

She's your sister-in-law, ask your husband (?) if he knows why she does this. Or mention it in passing when talking with your mother and father-in-law - "Just out of curiosity, I've noticed SIL seems to deliberately leave her presents at your place. I don't take it personally*, just wanting to know if we should be getting her something different next time, like a nice bottle of wine or (insert specialty consumeable here)."

And it could be that she's incredibly picky but doesn't want to hurt your feelings (so she's like that with everyone), or she really thinks of her old room as HER room still, or she's just weird like that about gifts period.

The end point is that you gave her a gift as per social expectations, and it was acknowledged as a lovely gift, /end social obligation on your part.

*white lies don't hurt
posted by lizbunny at 6:49 AM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came in to say what crankylex said. Maybe she just doesn't like gifts. I know, totally weird, almost incomprehensible, but it happens. My husband hates receiving gifts--even when he actually loves the article given to him. He just hates them. I don't understand it--I consider it a bizarre quirk of his lovely personality, but I just let it be.

Why do I let it be? Because, like your sister in law he accepts gifts gracefully. He engages fully in the ritual of exchanging them. He thanks the giver with a genuine smile and an honest appreciation of the gesture. Then, more often than not, completely forgets he ever received the thing.

How do I let it be? I never ever ask him why he doesn't use the gift he received. I accept his thanks at face value and move on. If I want to give him a gift, only because I want him to use it with great joy, thinking of me every time he sees it, I come up with another gift for him because my disappointment that he hates gifts is my problem, not his. He has met me more than halfway and is really gracious when given gifts.

It sounds like your sister in law is accepting gifts graciously, thanking you appropriately, and not behaving rudely at all. If she is otherwise treating you with respect in your interactions, it seems to me that your best action is to stop worrying about why she doesn't use your gifts the way you want her to. If you don't get any joy out of the effort you've been putting into the gift exchange, because her reaction to gifts is not satisfying to you, you can either adjust your expectations or change your gift-giving. If you have a close relationship, you can ask her at a time other than the gift exchange how she feels about presents generally. If you don't, you can just let it go.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:57 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gift cards.
posted by wwax at 7:26 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Who the hell buys someone a serving tray? That's what went through her mind, mine and anyone else with a sense of what good, useable, gift is for "married into" family. You are trying too hard at wanting to somehow connect with her through your gift at a level of which you probably haven't laid the proper groundwork for.

Seriously, you can't buy your in-laws something that goes into holes (man-made or not) in their bodies, or has to coordinate with something else they own. The gift has to be useful and stand in its own. For in-laws well, treat this as a maxim until you get that awesome in-law that feels like your long-lost best-twin.

Things to get your in-laws:
A nice canvas bag (organic cotton is nicest)
An umbrella
Smartwool socks (with receipt)
Reusable electronic cord wraps for holding all the fiddly-bits of her electronic charging apparatus together while in her purse
A nice portable compact mirror
One of those Swiss nail files made of glass
One of those things that you plug your appliances and gadgets into to see how much power they draw.
A nice pair of kitchen scissors.
An nice, sturdy electronic tire pressure gauge, with batteries.
A decent set of ear-bud headphones, preferably ear candy brand, with gift receipt.

I think she probably thinks your gifts are weird because they are your impression of how she should appear to others, not things she can actually use, and she doesn't know how to broach the subject with you. And on christmas day, I can't say I would either.
posted by roboton666 at 7:31 AM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm your sister in law (well, no, but I am someone's sister in law; and have left gifts in hotel rooms rather than shlep them home.) I know it hurts when someone doesn't like the gifts you carefully picked out for them. But it's probably more common than the reverse scenario. I don't think I've ever gotten a gift from my in laws that I actually liked and could use. Half the time even the gifts from my own parents, who really know me, don't work.

Earrings are super personal: you could get me the prettiest pair in the world, but if they aren't in a style I like, I won't wear them. And so is any home decor/kitchen item - you don't know what she likes, needs, has room to store. I myself try to never give a gift without the gift receipt.

What I'm saying is, don't be mad at your sister in law for not wanting the gifts. She is not a bad person; she thanked you graciously, she just doesn't share your taste and doesn't want to clutter up her house. Next time just get her a gift card, or even something neutral from a chain store that has a branch near her house, with a gift receipt.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:36 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Robot666, you are funny. A tire gauge? A cord wrap? That would make me think "WTF?" But I would still take it home! Mintchip, try not to personalize your SIL leaving your gift behind. She thanked you for your thought and effort in choosing the gift. She did appreciate that part. She just lacks the social graces to actually take it home with her. So it's about her flaw, not yours.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:06 AM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

As someone above said, get her fancy cookies or chocolates next time. If she doesn't take them home, your mother will have to eat them so they don't go bad. At least then it's not a waste of money, and you're not neglecting to get your sister in law a gift.
posted by at 8:31 AM on January 19, 2012

I get your frustration, but you just have to get over it.

I have some family members(mom is the worst) who are impossible to buy cards they won't use, jewelery they don't wear, if you get them some sort of nice food item they will "save it"(one year my mom's neighbor made some nice flavored vinegars to give as gifts and my mom put it on a shelf and said she would save them for a special occasion...10 years later they were still there), get her earrings she will "save them" - sure it could mean she doesn't really like any of it but it's impossible to figure out what she will like or use. One year I even got her some nice yarn because she was a big knit/crocheter and she saved it too!

Now I just try to help her with things like maybe cleaning/organizing a closet or helping her plant some flowers or whatever.
posted by fromageball at 9:01 AM on January 19, 2012

Actually, an illustrative example of my "maybe there was a factor you didn't know about" answer: my cousin got me a book for Christmas (she couldn't be with us, so she sent it to my folks to wrap in her stead and have the big fun unwrapping moment). The only thing is: she got me a book I already had.

When we Skyped her later, I smiled big and thanked her, because hell, it wasn't HER fault that she didn't know I already had it. In fact, I felt a little guilty that I couldn't be more enthusiastic about it. So I smiled big and thanked her, and secretly used the gift receipt to exhange it at Amazon.

What I'm getting at is: maybe there is some factor that you are not aware of that's getting in the way of this gift's use. She does not hold you at fault for not knowing this -- on the other hand, what she may be feeling is "oh, crap, I can tell Mintchip really put thought into picking this out but [extenuating circumstance] and I won't be able to use it! Dammit, what do I do!" And so she's thanking you, because she sincerely is grateful, and knows that you didn't know [extenuating circumstance].
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:07 AM on January 19, 2012

Talk to her. Listen to her. Be kind.
posted by amtho at 11:04 AM on January 19, 2012

Next year: Jane, I'd like to get you a gift you'll really like. Can you give me some ideas? thanks.
posted by theora55 at 11:07 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

your sister in law does not know the best way to tell you that she does not like the gifts you purchased for her. She thanked you profusely but maybe feels too guilty to exchange the gifts because she knows you put time and effort into picking them out for her. And from your description, it doesn't sound like these gifts were purchased from some big box store and accompanied with a gift receipt--if it was, she could exchange them without issue. In fact, if you got her something that she can't exchange, then she really can only thank you, and then hide it in a closet or re-gift it.

I don't like to give gift cards either, but next year I would get her something from a store that you know she has in her town, and attach a gift receipt. Or, instead of getting her what you think she would like, ask around and find out what stores she shops in.

Earrings and home decor items are VERY taste-specific. I wouldn't trust my own mother to pick them out for me.
posted by inertia at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

fromageball: I have some family members(mom is the worst) who are impossible to buy cards they won't use, jewelery they don't wear, if you get them some sort of nice food item they will "save it"(one year my mom's neighbor made some nice flavored vinegars to give as gifts and my mom put it on a shelf and said she would save them for a special occasion...10 years later they were still there),

Just wanted to say, this doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't like them! You know your mom best, but my mom does this with things she like the *most.* Her nicest things, she will NEVER use them. When I was growing up one of my aunts gave my mom her old dining set. My mom was obsessed with that dining set and LOVED it. We weren't allowed to touch it. It's been in the room that became "the dining room" for 15 years now and has been never used once. If someone grew up without a lot of money or material possessions, or is any kind of hoarder they will probably be like this with their nicest stuff. I am like this also with my nicest/most expensive sweaters. I have like 5 really nice ones that I've either worn once or not at all. It makes me happy to see them in my closet though, and know that I have them if I ever needed them. So just saying... it's not necessarily dislike if she doesn't use your presents! It could be ultra-like and the enjoyment of feeling prepared and well-stocked.

So for the OP... that could be another possible explanation for the sister-in-law's behavior. Wanting to keep your really nice things safe and preserved.
posted by cairdeas at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2012

I'm reading that your hurt feelings and confusion about her behavior regarding the gifts is more about "nailing it" when it comes to buying the perfect gift. Are you maybe a little bit offended that all the effort, work and thought did not result in equal measure of gratitude evident in the recipient's response?

My sense is that you want acknowledgement and appreciation in the form of treasuring and valuing of the gifts you gave to your sister-in-law. Maybe a part of the careful selection of the gift process involved the notion that these gifts would take on special significance on your sister-in-law's part. Maybe it's expecting something more along the lines of her wearing the earrings the whole day (to show how much she really likes them) and maybe the next time you visit her home, she serves tea/coffee on the tray you gave her, right?

After all, what you think is the ideal gift for a person may not be the reality (or any other thing in her mind that nobody knows) so perhaps investing too much in "sentimental debt" from the recipient would spare you future disappointment.
posted by loquat at 4:57 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Boy, I just went home for Christmas and forgot to take so much stuff back with me that it cost $25 to ship it to my apartment. It wasn't stuff I was trying to leave at home-- in fact, some of it was stuff that I brought with me, but once it got out of the suitcase it just looked in place in my bedroom and I forgot about it. Mostly it was gifts, though-- useful stuff I've been wanting for months, but it was so hard to round it all up and pack!

It could also be that she loves them, but they don't fit into her wardrobe or other belongings in an obvious way-- I have plenty of gifts I've loved for their qualities and the thought that was behind them, but I didn't start using them for years because I wasn't sure how to work them into my life.

Lastly, very often when a family member gives me jewelry or clothing, I will leave it at home-- not because I don't want it with me, but because I know it will show the most gratitude if I wear it around the giver. My mom gave me a nice charm bracelet for my high school graduation, and I keep it at home, 1) so it's safe and 2) so I can wear it when we go out to lunch and she'll know that I appreciate it. I really do like it, and if I lived at home I'd wear it often, but I don't want to lose it during travel or forget about it when I pack to visit her. Same with sweaters and so on (I feel that I can always use more nice clothes when I visit home, so keeping some things I like there is just a good plan.) Alternately, my boyfriend gave me nice earrings for my birthday last year, and I love them but never pack them when I travel, because they mean more to me when I wear them around him and if my luggage were lost I'd be devastated.

Anyhow, you don't know until you've asked her-- I think it's possible to mention that you're worried about buying her things that she won't like or that will be clutter and get a useful response. You could also ask her what she likes to receive as a gift. Just do it with an open heart. (I strongly disagree that you should back off or return gifts you've already given her-- I think both responses are kind of small until you know what's going on.)
posted by stoneandstar at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2012

I am notoriously difficult to buy for. I don't like having random stuff. It clutters my space and I often feel guilty if I don't display/use/actually open the box. I am just a minimalist at heart and if there is something I want, I am pretty particular about it and I allocate my own money to buy it. I am SUPER grateful that people think of me around the holidays, and I say a little prayer for the givers as I donate the gifts to charity. My friends are awesome about getting me consumable gifts- exotic/nice food or books.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:22 PM on January 19, 2012

Mintchip here. You guys have given me a lot of food for thought. I guess I see a lot of different explanations for her behavior, and some are much less negative than others, so thanks for that!

I just want to clarify that while I would be disappointed if she did not like my gift, I would be fine with that as usually when someone regifts your presents or hides them in the basement you would be none the wiser. What I was surprised about was that she so clearly left the items behind where in a way that i would definitely see them. I'm thinking that IF leaving them behind was meant to be taken as rejecting my choice of gift, she was okay with me knowing that my gifts were rejected.

I'll also add that I've gone shopping with her many times, and thus hoped I'd gotten an idea of her style. And to answer others' questions, she happens to have a very large house. The only other thing is that she usually wears earrings every day...mostly gold. The earrings I got her were silver, but that was more of a function of cost. I might be wrong, but in my mind most people have a preference for one over the other but occasionally switch between the two.

But as you guys have stated, there are many possible explanations for why my gifts might not work for her, and these would be things I wouldn't know.

I'm leaning towards consumables or a gift card next year.
posted by mintchip at 3:15 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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