The Problem With Free

The following is a guest post by Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home.


“Bottom line is, if you do not use it or need it, it’s clutter, and it needs to go.” —Charisse Ward

When was the last time you were given something for free?

It may have been a gift with purchase, a deal sweetener, or an added bonus at no extra charge. You may not even be aware of it, but I can almost guarantee you’ve received at least one free item in the past 12 months. I know I have.

And aside from adding to our collection of Things We Didn’t Want or Need, what is the purpose of these freebies? They are designed to get us to buy.

More specifically, these giveaways are designed to rope us in to buying something we may or may not need, just so we can score a free doodad that we definitely do not need. They are designed to make us feel as though we’ve come out winning.

How often do you gratefully accept these freebies, only to toss them out months later because, strangely enough, it wasn’t what you were buying in the first place and, shockingly, you have no use for it?

Me too.

Recently I decluttered my bathroom cabinet. In there sat my well-used travel toiletries bag. Next to it were two brand new toiletry bags I’d been given as promotional offers. For free. Of course.

Needless to say, they were added to a box bound for the charity shop, but they left behind a sinking feeling. Donating these items and ridding myself of their burden will not help anything if I keep accepting the freebies.

Maybe you’ve seen these free offers before. Maybe you even have a few of them floating around your home. Maybe even more than a few:

  • Beer glasses
  • Key rings
  • Pens
  • Drink bottles
  • T-shirts
  • Hats
  • Tote bags

You’ve probably been handed these free items at the checkout, or when redeeming a coupon. You may even use these items regularly.

So, what’s the harm?

The truth is, these items are not free.

There are, of course, the resources used in their production, money spent on the marketing campaigns and wages to pay those who sell the actual products you’re buying.

But there is also a major cost to you.

Sure, you paid no (extra) money for it and you may even make use of it. But did you need it in the first place? Was it necessary? Or is it simply contributing to the clutter that stresses you out?

At some point you will have to pick it up and decide where to store it or how to rid yourself of it. And to be honest, I think your time is more important than that. Your well-being is more important than that.

The status quo will not change and marketing campaigns will continue to include these freebies, unless we start sending the message that, “No, we don’t want this.”

So next time you’re offered something for free, try saying no. See how it feels.

That’s what I did recently when I was buying some make up, and the result was… interesting.

Shop Assistant: “And you get a really nice tote bag for free.”

Me: “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need another bag.”

Shop Assistant: “But…it’s free.”

Me: “Oh, I know. But I don’t need it. Thanks though.”

Shop Assistant: “But… it doesn’t cost you anything. I can give it to you right now. You could give it to someone for a gift. It’s actually really nice. And it’s free.”

Me: “Uh, no, thanks.”

Me: “Can I have my make-up now?”

Now, as I’m two years into my simple living journey, I have cleared out, decluttered, de-owned, sorted, donated, and thrown away thousands of items. And looking back, I find myself wishing I’d said no a heck of a lot more.

What are your thoughts on accepting freebies?


Brooke McAlary is the founder of Slow Your Home and the creator of the helpful Slow Home BootCamp, where she helps others create the simpler life they want. Connect with her on Twitter.

Image: Vincepal

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Cammie says

    I take free things if I will actually use them. The best item I ever got for free was from my bank. I walked in one day and they were giving out free electric citrus juicers to new customers. I just said “Wow I could use one of those. Too bad I’m not a new customer”. The teller said here take one. I used that juicer for years until it died. I loved that juicer. They don’t sell that brand anymore so now I use my trusty fork. That said, I will turned down free “junk” every time. For me junk is anything I personally will not use. Also, if I take it and it sits for more than a month, I donate it. Sometimes I do make mistakes.

  2. Theresa says

    I agree. These items are not free. I don’t want anything I haven’t specifically gone out to buy. If I am not there to buy it, then I don’t need or want it. It is just more stuff for landfill. I find I only buy food these days. I rarely need or want anything else. It is so freeing and makes me really happy to be satisfied with what I have and to have given away about 70% of my possessions. The less I have, the happier I have become. Great post. Thanks for making us think about this!

    • Chelsea Heath says

      I like to take these items (unless they are truly crap) and put them straight in my donation box. That way someone who needs it will likely eventually get it and it doesn’t really take me any extra time or effort.

      • Teresa says

        I like that idea! The item already exists, so why not get it to someone who can use it who might not be able to get it otherwise?

  3. Simone Tessitore says

    I always take free canvas bags. They are great for loading up and giving away the items I’m letting go of. Nicer than handing off a wal mart sack.

  4. person says

    We made a family rule after our massive moving purge (75% of our belongings are gone) not to accept free things whether it’s from a store, or a person looking to get rid of something. The exceptions are that it must be in good working order–not needing ANYTHING—and it must be something we were planning ahead to buy.
    We had so much crap to get rid of that we never bought. We had lots of land and storage and become the drop off for everyone else. NO MORE!!!

  5. brenda says

    My mom died and I got a lot of her stuff. I gave away her clothes and I have nearly everything else. My husband died and I still have tons of stuff. I have given away a lot including his clothes. It’s so hard to let go of things. Every part of the Bible that says not to store Up things where moths and dust corrupt and thieves break into steal…so even more in biblical times there must have been knick knacks

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