Refusing Gifts: How To Politely Decline A Gift (Without Hurting The Relationship)

Written by: Lara
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Woman refusing a gift

Have you ever been given a gift that felt completely wrong—so inappropriate, hurtful, or useless that you started wondering whether it’s even okay to refuse this gift? If so, you’re not alone. Refusing gifts can be a delicate matter. But trust me, it is perfectly fine to decline gifts under certain circumstances, provided you handle it with grace.

So that brings us to the questions of this article. When and how can you reject a gift? And most importantly, how to do so without damaging your relationships.

By the end of this post, you’ll have all the insights you need to navigate these tricky situations with tact and kindness!

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Don’t forget to save this guide on Pinterest so you’ll know how to politely decline a gift offer next time!

How to politely decline a gifts without being an *sshole

Two most important things about refusing gifts

If there is only one thing you will remember from this guide to declining gifts politely, let it be this:

Whether to accept or reject a gift is a balance between two things;

  1. Your feelings. Being honest with yourself and your values, protect your boundaries.
  2. The giver’s feelings. Be kind and thoughtful of the giver’s intent and feelings, and your relationship.

And this balance changes all the time. It depends on you, the giver, your relationship, the gift, the occasion, and how you feel. This means that there is no right or wrong answer. If you ask me if it’s rude to not accept a gift, I cannot give you a straight answer. The answer is, that it depends.

But to help you navigate, I made this guide with more instructions about when you can reject a gift and how to refuse a gift politely.

Hand holding a scale
Accepting and refusing gifts is a balance

Does refusing gifts impact your relationship?

The short answer (and probably not the answer you hope for) is yes, it does.

I know that’s a bummer.

But, let me cheer you up.

Every interaction impacts your relationship. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. It could also positively impact your relationship. By refusing a gift you can express your values and set boundaries about what is acceptable to you.

Two people sitting on a wall looking angry
Every interaction impacts your relationship

Why you should NOT reject a gift

I know this is probably not the reason why you searched for “how to refuse gifts politely”, in the first place.

But remember the two most important things about declining gifts?

That’s right, your feelings and the giver’s feelings.

Well, now we will look into the giver’s feelings and reasons why NOT to refuse a gift.

#1 It hurts the giver’s feelings

Alright, I’m sorry for being Captain Obvious here. But yes, refusing a gift (even if you do it politely) can still hurt the giver’s feelings.

Because think of it this way.

They’ve invested time and effort into selecting something special for you, anticipating your reaction, and now, you took away that opportunity.

So yes, feelings might get hurt. And that’s something you should always take into consideration.

#2 Gift-giving is a love language

If you’re not familiar with love languages. In short, there are five different ways in which people express and receive love. They are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and (last, but not least ) giving and receiving gifts. And everyone has a favorite way of giving and receiving love (usually subconsciously).

So before you refuse a gift politely, take into consideration whether this is the giver’s way of showing his or her love to you. (And whether you think you can accept and reciprocate that love, but more about that later).

Pink heart
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

#3 Take away the benefits of giving

Did you know that giving gifts has a positive effect on humans? It gives lasting joy, better self-esteem, a sense of control, and lower blood pressure (check out all benefits here).

So what do you think happens when you refuse someone’s gift?

That’s right. They can’t experience these benefits anymore!

17 surprising benefits of gift giving

#4 Gifts create stronger relationships

I guess this comes back to the question of whether rejecting gifts (politely) will impact your relationship.

Humans have been exchanging gifts since forever because it’s a way to create stronger ties, so don’t take refusing gifts too lightly if you want a strong relationship with someone.

#5 Express feelings without words

People often use gifts to say something without words, such as an apology, gratitude, sorrow, sympathy, pride, and love as we saw earlier with love languages.

So you may want to allow someone to say these things and accept the gift.

Hands holding a sign with "sorry"

#6 It shows you don’t value yourself

Sometimes, we don’t accept a gift (for example a costly or special one) because we think we are not worth it or haven’t earned it yet.

If that’s the main reason why you want to reject a gift (politely), please take a moment and consider it again.

Why do you think you are not worth it? Aren’t we all beautiful souls who deserve nothing but the best? Why wouldn’t now be a good time to start learning to accept good things coming your way?

In line with that, receiving is a skill everyone should master to thrive in life.

Notebook with "love yourself"
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

16 Situations when can you refuse a gift

Notice how I used the word CAN instead of must? You don’t have to decline a gift if it’s something you don’t like or something that you already have.

Always make up the balance before you decide.

What’s more important in this situation? The giver’s feelings and our relationship or my values and honesty?

#1 Always

Alright, I know this might seem contradictory to what I’ve said before, but it’s crucial to remember: you can always refuse a gift if it feels necessary, even if cultural norms suggest otherwise.

While it’s important to respect others’ feelings and your relationships, you are not responsible for managing everyone’s emotions. However, that does not give you a free pass to be an inconsiderate *sshole .

What it does mean is that you should always consider your own values. And if you do decline a gift, just be sure to do it thoughtfully and kindly, as outlined in the steps below.

Always take care of yourself first
Always take care of yourself first

#2 When it’s too expensive

This is a common reason for declining a gift—if it seems too expensive for your relationship (like an extravagant gift from a boss), if the giver overstretched their budget, or if you can’t reciprocate the expense.

Before you decline a gift, ask yourself this:

Is the gift truly too pricey, or do you feel unworthy? Can the giver afford it? What is the giver’s intent Must you reciprocate with something equally expensive, or can you show appreciation differently?

Take, for example, receiving a costly gift from your parents or grandparents. They might be more financially stable or want to give you something significant while they can, without expecting anything in return.

By accepting their gift with grace and by showing them how much you appreciate them and the gift, you are already reciprocating the gift.

Pink car with a ribbon

#3 When the gift is against your values

Some people are not that good at picking gifts (or they may not know you well), and they may choose something that clashes with your values, like receiving a fur coat if you’re vegan, or a bottle of whiskey when you don’t drink.

Personally, I would accept the gift and appreciate the gesture, and later regift it to someone who might enjoy it. But if you value an honest relationship, this is also an opportunity to kindly explain why you cannot accept their gift.

#4 When it’s a romantic gesture from someone you don’t have romantic feelings for

For me, this is an occasion in which I would always politely reject the gift.

I don’t want to give false hope by accepting a romantic gift if I have no intention of reciprocating that kind of love.

Valentine’s Day gifts for travel lovers
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

#5 When the giver wants something in return you are not willing to give (AKA bribery)

I would say this is pretty self-explanatory.

Never, ever, take a gift from someone who is trying to bribe you. Even if you’re not going to give in to the bribery, accepting the gift only complicates the relationship. And honestly, someone who is into bribery is probably not someone you want to have any kind of relationship with.

#6 From someone you don’t know very well

Remember what your parents used to say when you were a child?

Don’t take candy from a stranger.

When someone you don’t know well offers you a gift and it feels off, it’s okay to heed that advice and politely decline. You don’t need to refuse every gift from casual acquaintances or strangers—flowers or small tokens from someone you’re hosting are totally acceptable. But in situations that make you uneasy, always trust your gut.

#7 When it’s a remorse gift and you’re not ready to forgive them yet

Remember when we talked about people using gifts to say things without words?

Well, sometimes you are not ready to accept those words yet. Or perhaps reciprocate those words (such as with romantic gifts). And that’s totally fine.

Feel free to politely reject a gift from someone who is trying to say “I’m sorry” when you’re not ready to forgive. Just remember to be polite and kind when you do so, even when you haven’t forgiven them.

#8 When it’s against policies (for example at work)

I think this is the easiest way to decline gifts politely. The reason is clear, out of your control, and generally, people accept it quite easily without taking offense.

#9 When it’s something you won’t use

Personally, I wouldn’t reject a gift for this reason because I can always find a good cause for the gift. Either by giving it to someone else or charity. But if you don’t like the idea of regifting, it may be better to decline a gift politely if you know you’ll never use it.

#10 If it’s not your size.

If a gift doesn’t fit, rather than declining it, ask the giver if you could exchange it for the right size. This approach isn’t usually seen as offensive since it’s common not to know someone’s exact size. Plus you are showing them how much you like and appreciate the gift because you want to wear it.

The way I see it, it’s more of a waste and insult if you don’t ask for a different size and never wear it.

T-shirt with: I'me into fitness. fit'ness ice cream in my mouth
Photo courtesy of Crazy Dog T-shirts

#11 When it’s something you already have

This is a tough one.

On the one hand, it shows how well the recipient knows you and you can easily acknowledge that when you’re politely refusing the gift.

On the other hand, people may still find it hurtful when you refuse, so you may be better off accepting it and regifting or repurposing it for someone or something else.

#12 Pets

Feel free to decline any gift that requires you to take care of a pet. It’s a huge responsibility and people cannot give you such responsibility without your approval. So please never accept a pet if you don’t want to care for one. 

Woman and a dog
You can always refuse pets as gifts

#13 When it feels like an insult or harassment

People often forget that giving is about the receiver, not themselves.

Sometimes, they might choose a gift based on what THEY think is suitable or attractive for you, like self-help books, dieting guides, or sexy dresses, which can feel insulting if it’s not in line with your preferences.

It’s perfectly fine to decline such gifts and explain to the giver how it makes you feel, so it can guide their future gift shopping.

Book titled "I can make you thin"
You can refuse gifts that are insulting

#14 Experience gifts

While I strongly favor experience gifts over physical ones, I also believe it’s important to politely refuse them if the experience doesn’t appeal to you or if you’re unavailable on the given date.

Woman bungee jumping
You can decline bungee jumping if you’re afraid of heights

#15 If it’s culturally appropriate or inappropriate

Always follow these cultural norms when offered a gift. In some cultures, such as China and Japan it’s considered rude to accept gifts without refusing first because it can seem greedy.

Additionally, if you receive a culturally inappropriate gift, like alcohol in Muslim cultures or non-kosher food in Jewish cultures, feel free to decline it. Again, if you must decline a gift, do so politely.

A gift package with beer
You can refuse culturally inappropriate gifts

How to politely decline a gift: 7 Steps

Alright, now that we know when to accept and when to refuse gifts, let’s have a look at how to refuse a gift politely.

#1 Do you really need to decline the gift?

Go back to the balance between your feelings and the giver’s feelings.

Do you really need to be honest, or can you simply appreciate the fact that they took the time to buy you something?

There is no right or wrong, but consider both sides before you decide to decline a gift.

#2 Talk to them in person and in private

Refusing a gift can hurt someone’s feelings, so you want to make sure you do it personally and without other people around to make it less painful for the giver.

Two people talking to each other
Always talk to them in private

#3 Start positive and thank them

As with anything, start with the positive first.

Truly acknowledge how much you appreciate their thought and effort, and express your gratitude.

Take your time for this, don’t rush through it, you want the giver to feel truly appreciated.

#4 Show empathy

The best way to connect with another human is by showing empathy and understanding.

Acknowledge that this might hurt them and tell them that that is not your intention and that you are sorry about it.

#5 Be honest, but not brutal

I always believe that the truth will come out one way or another. And I think it’s best if it comes out my way, rather than the other.

So be honest about why you are declining the gift, but you don’t have to be brutal.

#6 Return their gift

This goes without saying. But if you decline someone’s gift, you have to give it back to them so they can use it as they please.

#7 End positive and tell them how much you appreciate them again

Use the typical feedback burger method; start positive, give feedback (AKA decline gift), and end positively with something like:

“I truly appreciate the thought and I’m sorry I couldn’t accept it”.

Plate with "grateful"
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Examples of ways to decline gifts politely

“Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness, and I’m sorry, I can’t accept this gift. I do really appreciate that you thought of me though.“

“That’s so thoughtful of you, but I could not possibly accept this gift. Thank you for your effort though.”

“You have no idea how much I appreciate your thought! Unfortunately, I have to decline your gift because it’s something I wouldn’t use as a (vegan/Muslim/Jew/something else that makes you not able to accept the gift)”

“Thank you so much for your gift and I’m so sorry that I have to decline it, but I don’t feel comfortable accepting such a valuable gift. I hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings or affect our relationship.”

“How thoughtful of you, thanks! But I’ll have to return it to you because I don’t feel like I can accept such a gift. I hope it doesn’t hurt your feelings.”

“You have no idea how much I would like to accept this gift, unfortunately, I do not feel comfortable accepting such a costly gift so I will have to decline. “

“Thank you so much, you have no idea how much I would love to accept this gift. However, due to work policies, I have to decline it. “

Two mean giving each other hugs
Photo by Abstral Official on Unsplash

Save this guide to refusing gifts on Pinterest

Don’t forget to save this guide on Pinterest!

How to refuse gifts politely and with grace and kindness

A final note on rejecting gifts politely

Alright, I hope that this guide helped you to decide whether or not to reject a gift. And if you do decide to decline it, at least you will do it with grace and kindness!

AUTHOR

Hi, I’m Lara, a 30-year-old travel-lover (but who’s not these days?). I love reading, puzzling, world-heritage sites, researching, and making lists, which comes in quite handy when you’re making lists of travel gift ideas!