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The sweater that's two sizes too small, the obscure kitchen gadget you'll never use, the trio of chick-lit books you won't read — unwanted Christmas gifts are as much a staple of the holiday season as sugar cookies and mistletoe. Why not keep the spirit of Christmas charity alive into the new year — and get a tax break while you're at it — by donating those gifts?

Where to Give

Rather than shoving unwanted items into a closet where they'll languish until you get around to spring cleaning or re-gifting them to other people, put those presents to use for yourself and for people in need. Books, clothes, appliances, gift cards and other new items can bolster local organizations such as charities and shelters, allowing them to distribute those items to people in need or sell them to earn money for the communities they help.

For instance, your local Goodwill might sell your unwanted Christmas gifts in its store. This provides opportunities, training skills and other employment preparation services to help people land good jobs. If you can't find any charities in your area, you might sell the items online and make a cash donation to a national organization. Or you can simply donate to a local church or religious institution, which are generally tax-exempt.

If you feel guilty unloading undesirable presents, even for a good cause, take a tip from decluttering guru Marie Kondo and offer up a moment of gratitude for each of those items. Think fondly of the person who gave them to you and try to reflect on a lesson you learned from the gift.

Reaping the Tax Benefits

Before you fill your Christmas charity box with the salt and pepper shakers from your aunt and the well-intentioned sweater from your grandmother, make a list of every item you plan to give away. Document their approximate value as well. Your donations must be itemized in order to claim them come tax time. A fair market estimate and a detailed description of the item's condition should suffice, especially for gifts that cost only a few hundred dollars or less.

Unfortunately, not all donations are created equal, at least not from the IRS' perspective. Before you give away your unwanted gifts, verify that the organization you plan to donate to is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations. Most charities will post or advertise their official tax status to encourage people to donate. But if you're unsure, check out Charity Navigator's database or the IRS' online Exempt Organizations Select Check tool. These will help you confirm not only that a charity can accept tax-deductible donations, but that they're above-board legally and financially as well.

You can only claim donations made to qualifying organizations, not to individual families in need or informal charity drives. If you know someone who could really use some of your things, by all means, give it to them. But know that you won't be able to deduct those offerings on your taxes. When you donate to qualified charities, always ask for a receipt. You'll need it to verify your donations when you file your tax return.

A Win-Win for Everyone

We all receive gifts we don't want from time to time, and donating them to charities is a win for everyone. You get rid of things you don't want while helping people in need. And the person who gave you the items in the first place would probably appreciate the fact that the gifts aren't gathering cobwebs in some forgotten corner of your home.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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