Just Because It’s Free Doesn’t Mean I Need It

Last week, a good friend came to visit, and she brought a huge bag full of clothes that her son had outgrown.  Many of them were hand-me-downs for her, and she’s passing on the love.  She knows that I only buy clothes used anyway, and hand-me-downs fit right in for our family.

But these days, I want less stuff, not more.

In the past, when someone gave me stuff like that, I would stash it all away, thrilled with the thought of free stuff.  But now, my first thought is to consider whether we really need the stuff in the first place.  My friend mentioned that she knew there was a ton of stuff in the bag and that we should just keep whatever we wanted and donate the rest.  Good advice, but not something I would have been likely to do in the past.

These days, I would rather have our son’s closet neat, organized, and not too full than have it overflowing with clothes.  And there is no possible scenario in which he needs eight sets of pajamas.  He usually wears the same pajamas several nights in a row, and I wash laundry several times a week.  So I kept a couple sets of non-flame resistant pajamas, and put the rest in a box to donate.  I did the same with shirts, shorts, and shoes.  Our son already has enough clothing, and just because I could add to his stash for free doesn’t mean that I should. In addition to donating a lot of the hand-me-downs, I also donated some of his current clothing and replaced it with nice hand-me-downs from my friend… nothing wrong with a little change of pace!

I know that I have often accepted anything offered for free (stuff set out at the curb, listed nearby on Craigslist, given by a friend, etc.) just because it was free.  And because I might need it someday.  But that leads to a cluttered house and the accumulation of a bunch of things we don’t need.  I no longer browse the Craigslist free section.  If there’s something we need for a project we’re working on, I’ll search specifically for that item.  But looking at a list of free things without any particular needs in mind is a good way to increase clutter and waste time.

Being frugal is great, but acquiring things just because they’re a bargain or free is a bit counter-productive.  We spend time gathering, sorting, cleaning, organizing… all for stuff that we really don’t need in the first place.  I’d much rather have just enough than too much, regardless of how great a deal something is.

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  1. says

    That’s how I feel about those free little packets of shampoo etc. that you can get online. It’s almost overwhelming to have all these free samples in my possession, taking up space in my bathroom cupboards or whatever. I find I have greater peace of mind if I just stick to my usual bottle of shampoo!

  2. says

    We used to be major clutterbugs. Anything that was free, we would take, because what if it comes in handy?
    Our 970 square foot apartment was packed to the brim with lots of stuff we got for free, stuff that was simply wasting space.
    When we moved to our 570 square foot apartment, we needed to majorly declutter and get rid of a ton of stuff. It is so much freer without all that nonsense to the extent that I feel like I have more available space in this new apartment, even though it is nearly half the size.
    I am so proud now when people offer me things, my answer is “Sorry, but I don’t really need that and I don’t have room for it in my apartment.” Even if it isn’t something that will take up so much room, I’ve been good at telling people “Thanks, but no thanks.” As a frugalista, that was hard to do. But definitely worthwhile.

  3. says

    I wrote a post echoing this a few weeks ago. Being somewhat newbies on this sustainable/reducing/reusing journey, I have to make a conscious decision NOT to “purchase” an item every time I see something on sale that coupled with a coupon would be free. It is so easy to fall into that trap. Nine times out of ten we don’t need the item anyway. Plus you usually have to purchase the smaller size in order to get it for free. And since it is smaller, you need at least 3 or 4 to equal the amount in the larger container, thereby adding even more trash to the landfills. It’s a vicious cycle. What helps me is focusing on my needs rather than my wants or whims.

    Here’s a link to the post:

  4. says

    I totally hear you! I too had a hard time learning to turn down free. But, now if it’s not something I can use, why would I want it in my house! Keep up the good work.

  5. Tiffany says

    This post made me laugh. I went to a nursing conference a few weeks ago, and there were SO many freebies at the informational booths. Hand lotionl, chapstick, pens, water bottles. Other attendees were scrambling around like crazy to get the free items. I just smiled and said “No thanks” to pretty much everything. (I did take one pen). People gave me the most amazing look of astonishment when I turned down their freebie.

    I don’t want all that mess. I couldn’t believe that people were rushing around to get the stuff in the first place!

  6. says

    People are usually so surprised when you turn down free stuff as well. From little goodie bags to free samples in the store to clothes, it seems like turning down free things just isn’t what you’re “supposed” to do. I used to have the same problem with hand-me-downs from friends, and then I realized that I didn’t wear half the stuff. Then I gave away 75% of the clothes I already had. And I realized how much easier everything is that way :)

  7. BigNan says

    I read an interesting blog post a month or so ago about the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

    The line that really stood out for me was

    “The exhibition hall in particular had an empty and echoey feel that I had not seen in years past. I talked to one exhibitor, my friend Dr. David Robinson, the prolific author of several books and the owner of Rapid Cycler Press, who told me that ever since the drug companies had stopped giving out free gifts, the attendance at exhibit halls was down.”

    And the guys who attend this meeting are doctors! I guess everyone can get caught up in the “free” mentality. Once you see through it, though, you are, in fact, freer.


  8. says

    I’m very impressed. I would have just added it to the rags pile. There needs to be an international database of “stuff” people were going to donate and you can search it and pay for the shipping:) All my perfect utopia

  9. says

    Good on you. I did the same thing with free clothes from my sis-in-law. I think I kept about 10 items of the over 50 she gave me. Once upon a time I would have kept it all because it was free. But now if I dont love it I dont keep it.

  10. Jan says

    The blanket is very cute – so resourceful!

    On the other topic, I have this thought – when a friend offers me something (within reason), I try to always accept the gift – someone once reminded me that it’s a gift to the other person if you accept THEIR gift.
    I used to be the person that didn’t accept those little gifts from family/friends, and then I realized I felt ungracious. Now I smile and say “thanks!” and you can see the other feels good about it too. Obviously if they are wanting to give you something you can’t possibly take, that’s another matter. And things can be donated etc after the fact, like you did.

    Here’s the catch – eventually someone will offer something that you really do need, and it totally makes your day! And you can do the same for others…just my two cents.

  11. BigNan says

    I know what Jan means. Many of us like to give things to people we care about, especially if the item has a pleasant history in our own life . I do try to walk a line with this, though.

    All of our children are grown and have homes of their own. They also all live within forty miles of us. When I am making up a box for the thrift store, if there are items that I think might interest one or more of the children, I email them to see if they are interested. That way, if they truly want and can use something, it gets passed to someone else in the family. If not, no one is put in the position of feeling they need to take something just because they think I want them to. Works fine for us.

  12. says

    Excellent point. I recently was offered some really nice clothes and decided to be picky. My closet is still stuffed, but at least I didn’t take everything that was offered to me or I’d be having to figure out what to do with the excess!

  13. AnnJo says

    I just ran across this post and even though it’s an old one, there’s one thought I’d like to share about it –

    Before you donate, sell or throw away extra clothes, make sure your 72-hour emergency kit is well-stocked. Every person in your household should have one, with everything you’d need to get by for at least three days. This is the perfect place to use extra clothing, toiletry samples, etc.

    If you should ever need to evacuate your home in a hurry, whether because of some disaster (flood, earthquake, chemical spill, etc.) or just because a family member elsewhere is critically ill and you need to rush to catch a flight, having these kits prepared ahead of time could make a huge difference.

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