“Free” May Be Costing You

Sign reading Free. "Free" may be costing you.

Seems like everywhere you turn these days there are opportunities to get items for free.  At first glance, this seems like a great deal.  What’s better than free, right? Unfortunately, what seems like a bargain in the moment often ends up costing us, even if we haven’t had to shell out any money.  In truth, “free” may be costing you.

The reality is that everything we own, owns a piece of us. Every belonging that ends up in our home or office

…takes up space, and

…needs to be stored, maintained, cleaned, etc.

Think about a drawer. How much of the contents are supplies you need and regularly use as opposed to random items that have been shoved inside? Do you ever wonder, “Where did all this stuff come from?”

In many cases, we own items that we never bought or intentionally acquired. Nonetheless, once a piece is in our possession, it is our job to figure out what to do with it.

Some common “free offenders” are:

  • Phone books
  • Hangars/pins/collar stays from the dry cleaner
  • “Free Gifts” from the makeup counter
  • Toiletries bags from international flights
  • Brochures
  • Children’s clothing “handed down” by a friend or family member
  • T-shirts
  • Company promotional items
  • Inherited clothing/furniture/décor
  • Party/wedding favors
  • “Happy Meal” toys
  • Trophies/awards
  • Prizes
  • Promotional materials
  • “Freebie” food items
  • Greeting cards
  • Address or gift labels
  • Cups/mugs/sports bottles from events or activities
  • Catalogs
free sign

As with all possessions, it is important to be active in getting rid of things we do not love and/or do not use. Many of us feel guilty getting rid of things that were “such a great deal” or “didn’t cost anything.” Likewise, we are reluctant to let go of belongings that were given to us by a friend or relative for fear of hurting his or her feelings.

However, the reality is that guilt is not a good reason to keep something in your space. In fact, guilt is a negative emotion. If we keep an item out of guilt, we unconsciously cultivate a negative association with the giver, which is probably the opposite of what was intended.  No friend, relative or business wants you to feel frustrated when you look at something that they gave you.

free stuff is clutter

Of course, the best way to minimize the “free” clutter is to block it from entering your space in the first place. For instance:

  1. Stop at the recycle bin on the way back from the mailbox and drop in any paperwork, magazines or flyers you don’t want.
  2. Trash or leave behind anything you don’t want before returning home from a conference.
  3. Resist the temptation to buy something simply to get another item (or shipping) for free.
  4. Avoid picking up promotional items (e.g. at a seminar or event) simply because they are available. Instead, choose only those pieces for which you can envision meeting a tangible need.
  5. Politely decline pieces proffered by friends and family that you don’t actually want.

Getting a bargain is a wonderful thing, but only if it meets your needs and desires. Otherwise, what appeared to be free will cost you time, space and serenity.

*     *     *     *     *

What “freebies” are cluttering your space?

17 thoughts on ““Free” May Be Costing You”

  1. Wow! This is so true. “Free” can creep into our lives in the most insidious ways, and you’ve named a bunch of those. Giving yourself permission to decline the freebies is the best way to prevent that clutter creep. I’ve attended so many conferences and aside from the “free” tote bag, there are often so many other door prizes and giveaways that are offered. I rarely take any of it. When we’re away and put our mail on hold, when I pick it up at the post office, I recycle the junk before bringing it home. The idea of not letting the “free” stuff enter makes so much sense.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Make Motivation Effortless by Simplifying Your Big GoalsMy Profile

    1. I recycle the mail at the post office as well – great minds think alike:) I love that NAPO has a table at the national conference for any giveaways you don’t want. It can be a small decision to avoid a freebie, but over time it can help to keep the clutter at bay!

  2. There’s nothing free or freeing about stuff. It’s always taking time and space. The free toiletries from hotels becomes extra work to find a home or transport it to a women’s shelter. I love this post as a reminder of what “free” really means.

    1. That is such a great one to mention, Ellen. I have many clients with a drawer full of the hotel toiletries. There were good intentions when they were collected, but they often end up going bad once they are stashed away and forgotten!

  3. The FREE thing that always gets me is buy one, get one. I have on countless occasions told clients that the FREE one still has to go somewhere and also costs money in that you’re buying the first one. Great post, Seana!

    1. So true, Diane! I was in a store yesterday where I could have gotten 1/2 off if I had bought another item, but I decided I didn’t really need another one, so I resisted. In the moment it can feel like I am making a bad decision or not taking advantage of a valuable offer, but as soon as I walked out of the story I felt good about my choice.

  4. Free stuff that clutter my home is the travel size shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer freebies from the hotel. I clear them out every year before the next major trip. Thanks for the reminder, I have to do this soon. =)

    1. You, Ellen and I can all resonate with the hotel toiletries. There are situations where they come in handy, but they also tend to pile up in drawers and baskets. Cleaning out your stash once a year is a wonderful discipline!

    1. I think much of what accumulates in the “out of sight” spaces came in as a freebie. It wasn’t intentionally desired, so perhaps it wasn’t really needed or wanted. It feels somehow wrong to say no to something that is free, but it is often the right decision to make:)

  5. I think we all have that special “junk” drawer in desperate need of cleaning. I once hosted several Pampered Chef parties, and now my kitchen drawer is cluttered with small, weird gadgets I never use.Time to clean it out!

    1. Ah yes, Pampered Chef parties. So much fun, and often so many “not needed” gadgets. They always end up in that drawer!! I don’t even remember what many of those do when I come across them! Once my family hosted a “Magic of Aloe” makeup party. I think it is fair to say we bought too much. Way too much! We were using that stuff for years 🙂

  6. It’s so easy to bring home stuff you don’t need from conferences and trade shows! I’ve finally figured that out, and am more disciplined about what I pick up. I have definitely ordered “one more thing” so I can get free shipping, but it’s always something like doggy poop bags or tea, which you can never have too many of!
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Are you living your passion? Am I?My Profile

    1. Sounds like you have your “free” radar up. As long as we are buying things we will use, adding an item for free shipping is worthwhile, right? Pretty much every event I attend I am now cautious not to bring anything home that I don’t absolutely want!

  7. I have stopped keeping hotel freebies. I never use than because I prefer my own products. The free makeup I do keep if it’s something I use. It rarely is. Always good to keep sorting.

    1. I think this is such a good point, Dianne. We take the freebies from the hotel to use them, but then we don’t really love them. So we put them in a box or drawer to take with us when we travel, but most of the time we trust that the hotel will know what we need. Hence, the pile-up. Perpetual sorting truly is the answer!

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