How to Thank Someone for an Unwanted Gift

Woman writing a thank you note
Regardless of the gift, it's always good manners to send a thank you note. Tetra Images/ Tetra images/ Getty Images

One of your closest friends hands you a beautifully wrapped gift, and you get excited ... until you open it and discover that it's one of the ugliest sweaters you've ever seen. What do you say? Or should you say anything?

Or you go to your friends' annual gift exchange, eagerly anticipating unwrapping the set of crystal wine glasses you've been hinting about for the past several months, only to be disappointed by seeing a set of steak knives ...

and you're vegan. Should you remind your friend that you don't have a need for the knives? Or is it better to sit there, smile, and pretend you're happy.

We've all been there. And it's not always easy to do the right thing.

Avoid Disappointment

Being surprised by a bad gift can be extremely disheartening. But remember that a gift exchange is more about being with friends and enjoying the time together than about the gift itself. After someone gives you a gift, you should always thank the person, even if the item is something you don't want, need, or like. It's not easy, but it shows good manners.

What to Do

You might be tempted to regift the item, which is fine, but before you decide to do that, think about whether or not the giver will expect to see it when he or she goes to your home. If that's the case, keep it and pull it out right before the visit. After a year or two, you can put the item away for good or donate it to a worthwhile charity.

If the gift is a wearable item, wear it once when you will see the person and then put it away for donation later. It's always a good idea to keep it for a year, though, because the gift giver might ask about it, and you don't want to have to lie.

What Not to Do

Never be rude and say or do something that would hurt someone's feelings or embarrass her.

You don't want to have to backpedal and spend the rest of the time apologizing for something you might have said. 

Thank You Note

No matter what you receive, you should always write a thank you note to the person who thought enough of you to give you the gift. When writing the thank you note, mention the gift at least once, but put emphasis on some other aspect of the occasion. That at least acknowledges that you appreciate the thought behind the gift, but more importantly the relationship with the person.

Here are some examples of thank you notes for that unwanted item:

Dear Janet,
I'm so happy you were able to join us in our anniversary celebration. Thank you for the [named gift], but even more important, thank you for coming. I can't wait to get the photos uploaded so we can relive those special moments.
Looking forward to seeing you soon,
Donna

Dear Betty,
Thank you for the beautiful birthday card and [named gift]. Can you believe we're the same age as our parents were when we first met? Although it's a sobering reminder of how quickly time passes, it just goes to show how strong our friendship is.
Friends forever,
Mary

Dear Samantha,
Thank you for the holiday sweater. Every time I wear it, I will think of you.

I've always enjoyed our annual holiday lunch and gift exchange. Maybe we can get together more often throughout the year.
Friends,
Alicia

Dear Holly,
Thank you for the coasters you brought back from Greece. It was so nice of you to think about us during your trip. Let's get together soon so you can tell me all about it.
Friends always,
Mary