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Thank you note samples and wordings for gifts you have exchanged or returned

As noted here, when writing a thank you note it's often best to keep quiet about gifts you have exchanged, and almost always better not to mention returns. However, there ARE cases when you may choose to tell, either because the giver is likely to find out anyway, or because it will help avoid future embarrassment.
Warning: Tread carefully! No gift is worth upsetting people over. If in doubt, opt for a simple note of thanks for the original gift.
If you do decide to 'fess up' to the fact that you have exchanged a gift, here are some examples to help you word your thank you note.

Wording a thank you note for a duplicate gift (i.e. something you already own)

Duplicates or items very similar to things you already own are the easiest kind of gift to exchange or return, as you aren't criticizing the giver's taste or choice of gift. In fact, you can praise them for being spot on just so spot on that it's something you already have!

Here are two sample thank you notes that may be of use in such cases:

Thank you note for a photography book (that you already own)

Dear Marc,

Thank you very much for Ansel Adams' '400 photographs'. It is a fabulous book and a great choice, but I have to admit that it's a volume that I already own (and love!). As you very thoughtfully included the receipt I have exchanged it for 'Unseen Ansel Adams' which has been on my wish list for a long time. It's fascinating have you come across it?

So, thank you for the lovely photographic treat (even though not quite the one you originally intended)!

With all my love,

Thank you note for a cashmere wrap (in a color you already have)

Dear George,

Thank you very much indeed for the gorgeous cashmere wrap. It's absolutely sumptuous and such a treat! I have a little confession to make though, and I do hope you won't mind. As I already have a navy blue wrap (although not cashmere!), I took the liberty of exchanging your gift for the burgundy colorway. It's a beautiful shade and goes with so many things in my wardrobe. The enclosed photo shows me wearing it on our way to a concert on New Year's Eve. I felt very stylish indeed!

Thank you again for such a lovely Christmas present.

With love and best wishes,

Wording a thank you note for a gift you don't like or want

Writing a thank you note for and item you disliked and promptly exchanged is tricky, as by admitting to making the exchange you can be seen as criticizing the giver's taste. You're on particularly dangerous ground with ornaments and jewelry which the giver may well have invested particular time and thought into choosing.

Here are two possibly thank you notes for a pink leather handbag (that you would never dream of using).

Scenario One:

The receipt is included; it's from a relative who you rarely see and who will never know if you exchange or return it.

In this case simply write a gracious note of thanks, not mentioning your intention to exchange or return the bag (see here for more on writing thank you notes for gifts you don't like).

Dear Auntie May,

Thank you for the beautiful quality pink leather bag that arrived on my birthday. You know how I love bags! I'm very touched that you thought of me on my special day.

Sam tells me that you were looking very well when he saw you last month, and it's good to hear that you're keeping very busy with church and social activities. Rachel and I are going on a salsa dance cruise in September. I'll be sure to send you a postcard!

Much love,

Scenario Two:

The receipt is included; it is from a close friend who you see regularly. She will certainly notice if you never use the bag.

In this case you have a choice: either keep the bag and use it at least occasionally (in which case thank her with a note similar to the one above), or explain that although the pink is charming, what you could really do with right now is the same/a similar bag in a different color (thus preserving the spirit of the gift). Unless you are very close friends indeed, exchanging the bag for a completely different item or worse, for the cash is unlikely to be a wise course of action.

If you chose to exchange the bag for something similar, you may wish to phrase your thank you note as follows:

Dear Danielle,

What a lovely surprise to receive the beautiful package from you, all done up with bows and ribbons. The bag is so elegant, and such gorgeous quality thank you so much! The pink is quite a showstopper, and I appreciate you treating me to something beautiful and frivolous.

However, I can't help thinking that I would get so much more use out of the bag if it was a more 'sensible' (yup, I know, boring!) color. I'm planning on exchanging it for the same style in either brown or red. I do hope you're not mad with me, but it's such a lovely bag, and I want to get lots of use out of it rather than giving it just the occasional outing.

See you at the gym on Friday, and let's make a date for lunch on the weekend.


Wording a thank you note for a gift that you simply can't use

A book that you'll never read, or an ornament that you'll never display is one thing likely the giver will never be any the wiser to the fate of their gift. However, there are some gifts that are so 'wrong' that they require a truthful response in order to avoid future embarrassment for example clothing that is much too big, or much too small, or expensive items that you will never have an opportunity to use.

It can be awkward and difficult to phrase this kind of thank you note, however it will be a relief to 'come clean' about why you can't use the gift, and it's a much better approach than risking great embarrassment when perhaps months or years later the giver discovers the truth.

Thank you note for garden spade and fork (but you live in an apartment on the third floor...)

Dear Martin and Jo,

AeroGarden indoor herb garden
Many thanks for your kind wishes as we move into our first real home, and for the generous house-warming gift. We so appreciate you thinking of us at this exciting time in our lives!

However, we foolishly didn't mention to you that our new home is an apartment, and so sadly we don't have a garden in which to use the excellent garden tools you gave us. As you thoughtfully included the receipt we have exchanged the spade and fork for an indoor herb garden a rather high-tech version that allows us to grow lots of wonderful things such as basil, tomatoes and even chili peppers. We have it in the kitchen (see photo) where it is already providing a welcome splash of green in an otherwise rather urban environment.

Thank you so much we will think of you every time we enjoy our freshly picked herbs and veggies!

Wishing you both all the best,
Paula and Matt

An item of clothing (that is vastly too big or small)

Gifts of clothing that is not your style can be buried at the back of your closet, quietly passed on, given to charity, or even 'accidentally' ruined at the cleaners. However, clothing that is the wrong size poses a bigger issue if you don't mention the problem you may well receive more wrongly sized items in the future!

In addition, you may well feel unhappy, hurt or even insulted that the giver perceives you to be much bigger or smaller than you actually are. The giver is likely to feel equally embarrassed to have made a mistake in such a sensitive matter. All in all, it's a brave person who purchases clothing as a gift!

Having said that, except in extreme cases it's more likely cluelessness than malice that prompted the giver to buy a certain size. Try not to take it personally (difficult I know when you are a size 18 and you receive a tiny size 8, or vice versa!), then take a deep breath and sort out the size issue with the giver. Uncomfortable though this may be for both of you, it sure beats receiving mis-sized clothing year after year!

There are two approaches to wording this. You can simply mention that the item didn't fit well and so you exchanged it for a different size, in the hope that they'll ask you your size before making any future purchases. Or you can dive right in and state, 'I'm actually a size 14'.

Here is an example of each of these approaches:

Dear Lizzy,

Thank you so much for the beautiful wrap dress the color and cut are fabulous, and the fabric is such lovely quality. The sizing wasn't quite right for me, but it was easy to exchange for one that fit me better. I'm going to wear it to Samantha's party next week. I think it will look wonderful with the necklace and earrings that Tom gave me for my birthday.

How was your weekend away? We must get together soon to catch up!

Thanks again for the lovely gift, and for thinking of me.


Dear Auntie Laura,

Thank you very much for the very pretty pyjamas and the soft and cosy bath robe. So comfortable and I'm definitely the best-dressed member of my family at bed time!

I'd better let you know though that I'm actually a size 14 (not 10). Not to worry though, as one quick phone call to the company sorted out an exchange, which arrived just two days later!

It's so kind of you to send such lovely presents. Take good care of yourself in this cold weather, and do give me a call if there's anything you need help with.

Lots of love,