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Note: This is similar to How do I effectively forestall gifts for my birthday?, but this is specifically about family members, and isn't in the context of a party. I want a specific person to stop sending gifts.

Today is my birthday, and I received several packages from Amazon from my father.

I am a single, young professional with sufficient disposable income to purchase what I need and want for myself, without needing to wait for my birthday or Christmas, as I did when I was a child.

I have mentioned the desire for some items while talking on the phone with my father, and then subsequently bought them. Over the past few days, these items have shown up on my doorstep.

When I told my father that I already bought everything he sent, he texted my back with "sigh... we were so hopeful!" It makes me feel bad that he's disappointed. I could not tell him, but then I'd feel bad that he's wasting money on things I don't need. Additionally, he would like to know/see how I'm enjoying them, so the lies could easily get out of hand. I'd much prefer to be honest.

I responded that, in the future, I wouldn't be offended if he didn't send gifts, but rather just sent a card or something small from my hometown. He responded that he thought I didn't like cards. He is correct, I have no personal interest in cards, but I wanted to offer him something that he could get me to fulfill his desire to not get me nothing. Time will tell if this was effective.

Despite having already responded to my father, I wanted to get some other opinions. My question is the following:

How do I ask a family member to stop sending gifts?

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    Do you really feel that bad when receiving those gifts? I mean, it's usually no big deal what the gifts are, or wether you need them or not, but often, people see those gifts as a proof of love. Isn't that the case? – OldPadawan Sep 1 '17 at 15:29
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    @OldPadawan I feel bad because he will inevitably ask how I liked them and want to see that I used them (ie, see pictures, etc.) I don't like lying to him or making up reasons for why I haven't used them. Additionally, I hate to see him wasting money on things I won't use. – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Sep 1 '17 at 15:31
  • Could you please update your question, and add these informations? I think it'll help people understand what your feelings actually are, and will show your POV. Therefore, it will narrow down a bit. – OldPadawan Sep 1 '17 at 15:34
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To your father, not sending a gift might prove to be internally awkward to him as his idea of "what is appropriate". Gifting is a cultural norm in most places for a birthday. Then there is a really interesting theory about "love languages". It says essentially that every person has a set of specific things that make them feel loved. It essentially comes down to 5 things, which are divided into acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch. It is possible that receiving gifts is high on your dad's idea of love, such that he may feel a disproportionate need to give you gifts in order to feel he is showing you love.

Receiving gifts isn't one for me either, so I allow those that really feel the need to just go ahead. I do try to make suggestions so that it appeases both my feelings that it isn't necessary while still directing them where it could actually be useful. Watch what you mention in conversation with those people too, so they don't take it as a gift idea.

And I am not sure the cash value of the gifts, but if they are enough, perhaps mention you would rather see him in person if it's enough to cover travel, or if he lives close enough, maybe even plan to do something together you both enjoy, like a sports event or a day fishing, or anything you do have in common. Many times parents of adult children really love to be told "I really want to see you". I speak from experience on that. I would love to hear that nearly more than anything.

And since you mentioned Amazon, start a list. When you are looking for things on there, throw a bunch of items you would like but likely won't buy onto a list. Then they can shop off the list without having to have you know exactly what they may pick. My husband does this for me because the children really want to buy him things for events (birthday, Christmas, Father's Day) and like you, he has no need to wait for special times to make a purchase, so at those times it is very hard to pick for him. He is also a minimalist, so he doesn't generally want a ton of things. This makes sure that whatever we pick, he will like, would like to have it, and yet he isn't knowing ahead of time what he will get for sure.

It is possible to tell people "no gifts" for sure, but I have to tell you when you are talking about your parents, the dynamic is such that I can't tell you a great way to have that honored. As someone who also doesn't love getting gifts (because I too have plenty), I have to say that it is nice to have things in my home that were given to me by people who are no longer here. I do remember them when I use those things and it means something to be able to tell my kids who gave that to me.

  • Thanks for the information on love languages. I expect that will be useful, as he does often speak in terms of possessions. Unfortunately travel won't be possible as we live in different countries. I love your idea of an Amazon list, I'll definitely look into that. – Matthew FitzGerald-Chamberlain Sep 1 '17 at 18:55
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    @MatthewFitzGerald-Chamberlain if you read up on love languages it can helpful because you can start to see a new light about people you might have mistaken as being very "materialistic" when the issue might be more tied into how they feel loved. I know reading up helped me in all relationships, my kids, my spouse, parents. It makes you stop to think that you might not be showing people love in the way they best receive it. – threetimes Sep 1 '17 at 19:08
  • +1, especially for "do something together you both enjoy". If you enjoy spending time with your parents, do it while you can. Life is short... – AllTheKingsHorses Feb 8 '18 at 15:39
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I'd say rather than asking them to stop sending gifts just have a discussion about it.

It sounds like they'd like to get you something for your birthday each year, so why not just be more open about it all. It doesn't need to be a surprise when you get older, it's still nice to get something you'd like.

Just say to your parents something like:

If you still want to get me something for my birthday next time just ask me what I'd like so we don't both end up buying it. Then we can both enjoy that :).

Then rather than them feeling like you don't want anything from them any more they still get the pleasure of giving you something you enjoy and you don't end up buying it yourself.

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They need to send you gift because they care about you.

If you want to avoid receiving "traditional gifts", you should fulfill their need: tell them what you want.

If you're like me, you can tell them you like experiences instead of objects. You prefer going to a restaurant to a new dining set. You could tell them that you're interested in what they like, because you want to know them better. You could tell them you want to receive things they think is great, in general. A great book, a trip to an uncommon place they love

Just don't tell them "I want nothing". You don't need to receive, but they probably need to give.


edit: apparently the "why" was not clear enough. Here it is again:

The reason is the first and last sentence of my post: don't only think about what you want or not, think about why they send gifts (maybe they need to). I assume there are things you like, like most people, that's why I was advising to simply tell what you like.

If they know what you like (adapt their gifts) and you know why it's important to them (making it much easier to accept (or harder to reject)), then, to me, it looks like the situation would be considered "fixed".

  • Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer, which, unfortunately, are not considered to conform to our quality standards on Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange. – Arwen Undómiel Feb 8 '18 at 14:35
  • I added a few more details. Hope it helps the message to be more clear ! – Gryzorz Feb 8 '18 at 15:05
  • I think it was a great response even before your addition – Marjeta Feb 9 '18 at 3:38

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