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

By Lara
Last update:
Woman refusing a gift

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Have you ever received a gift that was so inappropriate, hurtful, or useless that you started wondering if refusing gifts is actually possible? And if it is, how to politely decline a gift so that it doesn’t hurt your relationship? Well, you’re not alone. And let me tell you this; it’s perfectly fine to sometimes reject gifts if you do it politely.

So that brings us to the questions of this article. When and how can you reject a gift?

And don’t worry, by the end of this post you will know the perfect answer to those two questions!

Table of Contents

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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
  2. The giver’s feelings

And this balance changes all the time. It depends on you, the giver, your relationship at that given moment, 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, it depends.

Hand holding a scale
Accepting and refusing gifts is a balance

So before you decide to accept or reject a gift, make up the balance of the next two things:

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

And this shifts all the time. But to help you navigate and keep this balance even in changing situations, I made this guide with more instructions about when you can reject a gift and how to refuse a gift politely. A skill that you will help throughout your entire life.

But before we look into that, let’s answer one more important question about the impact of refusing gifts.

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 between you and someone else 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 establish a clear understanding of where your relationship is at. Or you can explain what you value and what things you do and do not accept.

On the other hand. It could hurt their feelings and impact your relationship negatively.

But before you get too depressed by just reading this post, let’s have a look at the reasons why you should NOT refuse a gift, before we go into the real question of this post: When and how to refuse gifts politely.

Two people sitting on a wall looking angry

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 probably put in some time and effort to find you an awesome gift. They were probably looking forward to seeing your reaction when you unpack, and now, you took away that opportunity.

For some people, gift-giving is their love language (check out the next reason), and by refusing gifts you are making it difficult for them to express their feelings for you. So yes, feelings might get hurt. And that’s something you should always take into consideration before you do anything.

#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 can express and receive love. And the thing is, every person has a favorite one for giving and receiving love (usually subconsciously). The languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and (last, but not least ) giving and receiving gifts.

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 feel like 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 immense positive impacts 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

Actions speak louder than words.

And 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 give someone the opportunity 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?

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

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

16 Situations when can you refuse a gift

Keep in mind that 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?

Now let’s have a look at some different situations in which you can refuse a gift politely.

#1 Always

Alright, I know. This may sound contrasting to what I said earlier, but it’s important to understand that you can always refuse a gift if you think it’s the right thing to do. Even if it’s culturally inappropriate to decline gifts.

Because as much as you care about your relationship and the other person’s feelings, you are not responsible for other people’s feelings!

That does not give you a free pass to be an inconsiderate *sshole .

What it means is that you should be a considerate person, but you never have to do something that doesn’t feel right for you. If you do decline a gift, however, make sure you follow the steps set out below to make it as friendly as possible

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

#2 When it’s too expensive

This is probably the most common reason for people to reject a gift. If they feel like it’s too costly for the type of relationship you have (eg an expensive gift from your boss). Or you feel like the giver stretched their budget to buy this gift. Or because you can’t reciprocate such a pricy gift.

Before you decline a gift because of the latter reason, ask yourself this:

Is it really too pricy, or is it because I think I am not worth it? Can they afford this gift? What is the reason behind this costly gift? Do I really need to reciprocate an equally pricy gift or can I give back in a different way?

For example, when you receive an expensive gift from your parents or grandparents. They may have more money than you do or maybe they want to give it to you while they’re still alive, rather than you inherited it. Often, they don’t want nor expect anything in return.

By accepting their gift with grace and by showing them how much you appreciate them and the gift, you are actually 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 very well), and they may pick something that’s completely against your values. For example, a fur coat if you’re a vegan or a bottle of whiskey if you don’t drink.

Personally, I would still accept the gift and the thought that went into it, and then regift it to someone else. But if you value an honest relationship, this is also a moment where you can tell them truthfully you can’t 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.

Well, when someone you don’t know well gives you a gift and it makes you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, feel free to follow your parents’ advice and politely decline the gift.

Obviously, you don’t have to decline all gifts from vague acquaintances or strangers (flowers or small gifts from someone you are hosting are completely fine), but definitely trust your guts here.

#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”, but you don’t feel like you’re ready to forgive yet. However, do remember to be polite and kind when you do so. Even when you haven’t forgiven them.

#8 When the gifting occasion is canceled

Another self-explanatory reason to decline a gift is when the occasion, such as a wedding, is canceled.

Though you don’t have to decline birthday gifts if you’re birthday party was canceled (I mean, even though you didn’t celebrate, you’re still a year older).

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

Honestly, 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.

#10 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 to 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.

#11 If it’s not your size.

Another reason I would personally not use for declining gifts. I would ask for the receipt or ask the giver if they can change the size for me, so I’m not rejecting the gift and won’t see the price tag.

It’s a reasonable request which people usually don’t find hurtful because you simply don’t always know someone’s size. Plus you are showing them how much you like and appreciate the gift because you actually 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

#12 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.

#13 Pets

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

Two dogs running
Photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash

#14 When it feels like an insult or harassment

People often forget that giving is not about them but about the receiver.

So sometimes they buy something that THEY think is good for you, or that THEY think will look good on you. But to you, it may come across as an insult. For example when people give self-help or dieting books, or sexy dresses when you do not feel like you want to wear such an outfit.

It’s perfectly fine to decline such gifts and explain to the giver how it makes you feel.

#15 Experience gifts

Even though I am a huge advocate for experience gifts over physical ones. I also think that you should be able to politely refuse gifts if you really don’t like the experience or if you’re not available on the given date.

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

#16 If it’s culturally appropriate or inappropriate

In some cultures, it’s actually considered rude to accept gifts without refusing first because it it’s perceived as greedy (For example, in China and Japan). In those cases, make sure you stick with the cultural guidelines.

And if someone gives you a gift that’s actually considered culturally inappropriate, also feel free to reject it. For example, alcohol in Muslim cultures or non-kosher food in Jewish cultures. Again, if you must decline a gift, make sure you still follow the tips below on how to refuse gifts politely.

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 in a polite manner.

I set out 7 super easy steps for you to follow, so you can make the right choice about refusing gifts in any situation.

#1 Do you really need to decline the gift?

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

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

There is no right or wrong, but you do need to consider both sides before you continue to decline the gift politely.

#2 Talk to them in person and in private

Refusing a gift can really 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, because you want the giver to really feel 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 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 or super specific unless they ask for a specific reason.

#6 Return their gift

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

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

It’s basically 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 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

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How to refuse gifts politely and with grace and kindness

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!