Dear Abby: My mother-in-law gifts me literal trash, how do I tell her I don’t want it

DEAR ABBY: I recently married “John,” the love of my life. I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law, “Sarah.” She and my father-in-law are retired and well-off financially. For each special occasion, John and I thoughtfully select gifts for his parents, and we have spent extra to ensure that our gifts convey our love and appreciation for them. 

The problem is, Sarah gifts us trash, literally. On several occasions, we have received broken items in random boxes, items with missing pieces and used items, including kitchen and cooking utensils. This happens every holiday. She has also gifted our child secondhand toys and clothes, most of which were already missing pieces or were several sizes too small. 

After talking to other family members, I learned that Sarah has been gifting junk for years, but her family members have never addressed the issue with her for fear of upsetting her. My sister-in-law told me she has witnessed Sarah dig items out of her basement and wrap them as gifts. 

Abby, this leaves a terrible taste in my mouth and has led me to feel a slight resentment toward Sarah. I believe her actions are disrespectful and in poor taste. I don’t want to cause hurt feelings, but I need this behavior to stop. How can I convey to Sarah that I need her to quit gifting us junk? — REGIFTED IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR REGIFTED: Do it in plain English, with your husband present, before the next gift-giving occasion arises. Convey that if she has secondhand items she wants to get rid of, she should donate them to her favorite charity thrift shop. Then tell her you don’t need anything and, in the future, you would prefer she give you a nice card, preferably one that hasn’t been recycled.

DEAR ABBY: Years ago, after high school, I spent a semester abroad, where I met and fell madly in love with another American student in the same program. We dated off and on for several years and remained close friends. Even after I’d married someone else, we would write often and occasionally travel together. He and my husband got along well. Then he met the woman who eventually became his wife, and she preferred we not maintain our friendship. He and I haven’t spoken in at least 15 years. 

Recently, one of the teachers of our semester abroad retired and gave away a pile of photos, including ones from the program I was in. I digitized the images and would love to share them with my old friend. I sent an email to the most recent address I have for him and received no reply. Now I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a bad email address or because he’s not interested in starting a conversation with me. A quick, non-stalking web search did not immediately turn up a second address. 

Is it worth another try? I’m pretty sure I could contact him through his family, but do you think it’s better to let it go? In my heart, I know I’m using the pictures as an excuse to get in touch, but I don’t have nefarious intentions. — RIGHT DECISION IN THE EAST

DEAR RIGHT DECISION: I’m voting no. Whether or not you are trying to reach out to this man for nefarious reasons, the result would be that his wife would be upset about it. Let it go. 

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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