When Free is Too Expensive

by Katy on December 19, 2011 · 17 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post. Enjoy!

free-signIf there’s one things that unites all income levels, it’s getting something for nothing. Whether it’s garbage picking a perfectly good mop, (guilty as charged) or getting a swag bag while attend the Oscar ceremonies, it’s hard to turn down a freebie.

But in a society where one in every ten Americans has overflowed their belongings into a self storage unit, should we be looking for more, more, more belongings?

I live in a pretty big home, it’s four large bedrooms plus a full basement and a large unfinished room at the back of the house. There should be enough room for all of our stuff and still allow for a bit of an echo.

Such is not the case.

My husband used to have his own commercial photography studio which he closed down eight years ago, this meant a whole lotta stuff entered our house. He was pretty good about selling off the majority of the furniture, but there’s still a large amount of photography equipment gathering dust in that back bedroom. He’s also the equipment manager for our local soccer club, which has over 1000 players, which means that goals, nets, T-shirts, first aid kits and other flotsam spill forth from our basement.

Our great big house is filled to the brim.

So what does this have to do with free stuff being too expensive?

Our backyard neighbors moved out of their rental house due to the landlord not paying her mortgage, and left a lot of stuff, (okay — crap) behind. The landlord unceremoniously dumped all of it onto the parking strip in front of the house, and propped a “free” sign against it all.

I knew it was there but really felt like:

  • These lovely tenants got a raw deal, and I shouldn’t  look to benefit from their misfortune.
  • I have enough stuff in my house, and shouldn’t be looking to accumulate even one. More. Thing.

My steely resolve lasted until around 3:00 P.M. when I strolled over to check it out. I daintily picked through the stuff and found:

  • A snap-on lid for a Pyrex bowl.
  • A sprinkler.
  • A vintage wire basket, meant for flowers that is currently holding vegetables.
  • A vintage pressed glass creamer.
  • A dish towel.
  • A couple of Country Home magazines, which I secretly really like.
  • A plastic deck chair, which I will use in the backyard while we have house guests this week and then give away when they’re gone.

This may seem like I exercised little restraint, but I actually did. There was a decent couch, which would have been a nice addition to my 13-year-old’s band practice space in the basement, as well as countless other tempting tidbits.

As I browsed the piles, at least four people stopped their cars to have a look. I felt that most of the usable items would go home with others.

I could easily have found much, much more to bring home, because hey — it’s free! But what would be the actual cost of adding that much more crap into my life? A house that requires too much work to keep clean and tidy, that’s what!

I have worked very hard to declutter my home, and I am not going to let all that effort go to waste just because there’s an enormous free pile a few steps from my house.

That, my fellow Non-Consumers is a price I am unwilling to pay.

Make sure to watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff as a reminder as to why the buy more, more, more mentality has got to change. It’s twenty minutes long, but worth every minute.

Do you have a hard time turning down stuff when it’s free? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ Faith Permeating Life December 19, 2011 at 7:52 am

My husband is a champion curb-picker on trash day, and we live in a one-bedroom apartment. He always has the same refrain, “But it’s free!” I tell him that if we don’t have the space for it, then it’s not free in terms of my annoyance every time I have to move around it! He has gotten a lot better, but still comes home with pieces of wood sometimes that may or may not be built into something.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land January 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm

My mom has a big problem passing up free things, and I used to, too. The phrase that has helped me, and to a certain extent, my mom, is to remind myself to “Leave it to bless someone else.” You might be able to try that on hubby.


Dogs or Dollars December 19, 2011 at 8:11 am

Right! Its not free if its going to be a big PITA for me to get rid of later!

As a general rule, I used to accept all free things, and then deal with the consequences of sorting and deciding later. As Ive become more protective of my time, I am much more stingy about what I’m bringing in.


That Other Jean December 19, 2011 at 9:10 am

Nope. I live in a two bedroom, one bathroom, one thousand square foot house. When we moved, we trashed/donated/ gave away tons of stuff to be able to fit in here. We’re still working on getting rid of things. If we can’t use it NOW, it doesn’t get through the door, no matter what it costs.


reese December 19, 2011 at 10:20 am

Oh I could definitely sing the joys of Freecycle… When we were looking for a furniture piece–a china cabinet-esque thing–we got a hit on Freecycle. We transformed it into this great piece that we love now! But then we got ANOTHER hit on a vintage hoosier cabinet and took that as well. Now it’s sitting in our storage in the basement waiting for us to refinish it once warmer weather comes.

It’s taking up a lot of prime real estate down there.
There’s probably bugs hiding in it right now.
The task is looming over my head.
And where the heck are we going to put it when it’s done??

Ooof 😉

I have been pretty good about selling items on Craigslist, and dropping items off at the GoodWill lately. I’m just trying to get rid of the items that aren’t useful to us anymore. But I’d still take free baking supplies. Always have more room for those… ;p


Indigo December 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

For some reason family and friends equate my being a bachelor with a house must mean send me all their unwanted crap. While it was great to have some odds and ends that serve a purpose (like extra dish towels) suddenly everyone wanted to give me mismatched plates and large bulky furniture that didn’t suit my style, my needs, or the house (which is a 3br, 2 bath, 1,000 sq feet, ideal for me, a roommate, and an office/studio).

I admit I’m also bad about bringing home free things from curbside finds, but I now have a system of I must know where it can go, what I will used it for, and when I can fix it up if needed before I take it home. If it is a chair, another chair has to go to goodwill to make space for it.

My roommate did ask if I intended to built a storage building soon since he had stuff to store. I stated if he had to store it, he couldn’t use it, there for what good was it. He actually stood there stumped awhile before he could reply saying he’d never thought of that.


Karen December 19, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Having recently begun to tune into Hoarders on occasion, I think your post really relates to how over-crammed our living spaces are in America. Not that we are all hoarders, but the constant moving in of crap that at first looks good and then begins to take up too much physical and mental space says it all. That show has a backdrop of consumerism gone wrong–I always notice Target bags piled up in the background of these houses.

Yeah, Hoarders is the extreme, but there is an undercurrent of “stuff” there which relates to us in general. I now really think about what I’m bringing into the house. I have spent way too much time removing and decluttering. I now really appreciate more space around me. I resent having to maintain all this stuff! I am in the process of going through my books and selling many to Powell’s. It’s not really about getting a lot of money for them, but about clearing space in the house.


Megg December 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

1 in 10 have overflowed into a storage unit? Wow!
My biggest fear is that we will overflow into our garage, rendering it unusable for a car. We don’t have a basement or attic, so this is really the only place we can overflow into. I’m making absolutely sure to continue to park the car in the garage, so this doesn’t happen! It’s my little way of attempting to control/monitor how much stuff comes into our house!


Practical Parsimony December 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I was collecting lamps and covering new lampshade frames for the lamps, and selling lamp and shade for a tidy profit. Then, I had a hand injury that prevented me from handmaking lampshades. I just kept collecting lamps until I came to my senses. Then, I had to sell most of the lamps. The sale of seemingly worthless lamps netted me a tidy profit but not as much as the finished product would have. This was not hoarding. It was a business, but the end result looked like hoarding! The selling made me sad. But, I know when enough is enough…lol.

I cannot resist a pile by the curb. If I get something better than what I have, I just get rid of the first item by selling it for a profit.

You did well, Katy. I feel sorry for the people who had to leave their things!


Ellie December 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm

I’ve been working on this one!

My biggest problem is that I hate to see stuff go to waste – it makes me feel really awful to think of perfectly good “stuff” going to landfills, when someone could use it. Would you believe I’ve been know to take the nicer stuff out of the trash when the truck was coming, stick it straight into the trunk of my car, and then drop it off at Goodwill the next time I pass by? It sounds a little deranged, but it makes me feel better without adding clutter to my house . Sort of like taking kittens you can’t adopt to the no-kill shelter – only I’m taking little vintage lamps to Goodwill to be adopted out to the right homes.


AnnW December 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Ellie, that’s not deranged, it is being a good citizen.


Pollyanna December 20, 2011 at 8:13 am

That is being really conscientious and I admire you for doing this.


Jinger December 20, 2011 at 5:24 am

I went outside last night to take a photo of the beautiful sunset clouds when lo and behold, there was a modern all wood bed frame, headboard and footboard, plus bunkie board with all hardware, sitting beside the dumpster. I have been waiting for a bed to come my way for my “new” guest room. And here it was…a Christmas gift from a random stranger. I brought the pieces in, set it up, plopped my Aerobed mattress on top, and am now truly ready for guests.


Tonya December 20, 2011 at 7:09 am

Cool. Don’t forget to check it really well for bedbugs, though. Those suckers are notorious for hiding in frames and mattresses.


Tonya December 20, 2011 at 7:08 am

We periodically go a bit overboard with taking in free things. Then when we can’t park in our garage, we come to our senses and declutter. I do believe we are getting better at saying “no” to something that’s free and we won’t use. But it’s hard!!


Jinger December 20, 2011 at 9:52 am

The bed frame and wooden slats were checked, sprayed, and cleaned thoroughly for bed bugs. There was no mattress. Thanks.


Diedra B December 22, 2011 at 8:06 am

At a community event, we were offered cute little journals for attending. I declined and explained to a friend that it would probably just wind up on the dresser.
My husband accepted one.
Where do you think it is?


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