by guest blogger Amanda Harding, writer and blogger
My mother-in-law has a motto: “If it’s free, it’s for me!”
She’s also really good with money, and I’m really not. So for a while I tried to live by that same motto. I accepted free samples, I clipped coupons, I nodded an enthusiastic “Yes!” whenever someone was offering free furniture, free food, free bags of baby clothes. I figured even if I didn’t need the Free Thing, someone else I know might, or at the very least I could sell it at a yard sale and make a profit. In no time, my attic and basement were stuffed to capacity.
I don’t know why I’m speaking in past tense right now. My attic and basement ARE stuffed to capacity. I’ve had multiple yard sales, but as it turns out, no one wants the free stuff. Even when I put the free stuff out for free, no one takes it. That’s because of a very simple fact that I’m learning more definitively as time goes on: it’s free for a reason.
I once heard a (notably, sexist) joke that a woman will pay $5 for a $10 item she doesn’t need because it’s on sale, while a man will pay $20 for a $10 item because he needs it. At first glance, it seems that the man in this situation is the sucker, but the more $5 clearance junk from Target I accumulate, the more I feel like the man is actually better off. Yes, he’s overpaying. But he’s only buying what he needs, and therefore ends up hoarding less stuff. I bet he can actually open his closets without fear of an avalanche. And that…well, you can’t put a price on that. So who really got the best deal?
And don’t even get me started on those free t-shirts they fire out of cannons and launch with slingshots at sporting events. In those scenarios, the fun is in catching something, not in the shirt itself, which inevitably features the logo of a local mortgage company and is a men’s size XL. My husband, certified T-shirt hoarder, always tries to catch them, and I just look at him with disdain. How many “lawn-mowing/painting/car fixing” shirts does one person need?
The other night my husband came home from a football game toting the night’s giveaway: a 6” square towel emblazoned with the team logo. I ask you, what is this hideous towel supposed to be used for? It’s not soft enough to be a face towel, it’s not large enough to be a hand towel, it’s too ugly to be a decorative towel. It is just a thing that will sit forgotten in my linen closet for the rest of my life. It is exactly the sort of free thing that inspired this post.
Speaking of my husband…he’s what you might call a collector, and an A+ student of his mother’s “Always Take the Free Things” graduate course. He stockpiles free things (and also expensive things that he pretends were free) and lines them up on any flat surface he can find to gather dust and drive me crazy. Bobble head dolls, ticket stubs, fake plastic trophies, rubber band balls, Happy Meal toys, gizmos, gadgets, funny bumper stickers, coins, figurines, and any other random little thing you can think of. He enjoys chaos and clutter. He claims minimalist spaces don’t look ‘lived in.’ I swear, sometimes he leaves things lying around on purpose to maintain that ‘lived-in’ look he’s constantly trying to cultivate.
People know this about him and they give him things. They give him crap they don’t want, and he always takes it. An unopened ant farm. Old electronics. Boxes of knickknacks. The other day I found a huge box of VHS tapes. “These might be worth money one day!” he insisted, before adding it to the pile of never-going-to-get-used randomness in the basement. He bought shelves with the intention of organizing it all. I said what we really needed was to rent a dumpster.
As for me, I’m no minimalist, but the older I get, the more I want to get rid of the junk in favor of nice things. I’d rather have fewer, nicer things. And no more free stuff. I’d rather pay more for nicer things I actually love than drown in all the free crap.
The other night I was at a sporting event hunting down a soft pretzel. A man stood under a tent yelling out, “Bags, free bags! Stop over and get your free bag!”
I glanced over. It was one of those cheap nylon drawstring bags that can be worn as a backpack. Normally I would have grabbed one (or two), but this time I stopped and thought about it.
I thought, “Do I need a bag like that?”
The answer was no.
So I walked away, head held high, with one fewer item to clutter up my closet.
Amanda Harding is a copywriter by day and a super mommy to two absurdly adorable munchkins by night. In the three minutes of downtime she gets per day, you’ll likely find her reading library books, experimenting with Paleo cupcake recipes, silently correcting other people’s grammar, obsessing over real estate, laughing at her own jokes, and discovering pop culture trends six months after they’re completely irrelevant. Follow along as she stumbles her way through the challenges of working mom life at Beloved Burnt Toast and on Facebook.