Should You Keep It Because It’s Free?

Should You Keep It Because It's Free?

Today I want to talk about a topic that we’ve all been affected with at some point or another. It’s the problem of saying yes to things simply because they’re free.

  • “If you buy this shirt for $69 you will get another one for free”
  • “Hey I’ve only worn these shoes twice and they’re in perfect condition, do you want them?”
  • “Does anyone want my 32 inch Smart TV? It’s Free!” – post on Facebook

We’re faced with these kinds of decisions every single day. It’s not only free things either. We’re constantly bombarded with discounts and vouchers.Part of mindful living is being able know whether this free or discounted item will add value to your life, or whether it will weigh you down. If it’s the latter, you’ll then need to skills to be able to say no.

That’s what we’re going to look at in the post. By the end of it you’ll learn how to see the traps and how to say no to free stuff, and stop consuming things for the sake of consuming them.

Before we look at how you can say no in these situations, we must first understand where the hangups are. Below are some common objectives to declining free things.

I don’t want to disrespect anyone

This is particularly challenging if a close friend or family member offers you something for free. You may think you’re being rude if you decline your mothers offer of free bedsheets because she’s sincerely trying to help you out.

“What if she thinks that I don’t like them, or there’s something wrong with them?”

It always seems easier to simply say yes than to risk offending someone you care about. First of all, there are ways you can decline a free gift without offending, which I’ll discuss below. Secondly, should you continue building a pile of things you don’t actually need and weighing down your life all for the sake of being polite? I don’t think so.

It would be a shame if it went to waste

Ah, this one is for all of the resourceful folks. You know who I’m talking about. The ones who say, “Oh where are you taking that? You’re throwing it out? You spent so much buying it, don’t do that! That’s such a waste. Here, I’ll keep it then.”

Living with less means first discarding what is not essential. This means giving your things away to charity or throwing them out all together. This can be particularly challenging if you or someone else spent a lot of money on the item. If you’re concerned about wasting something, think about how useless it is to you because you’ll never use it. Furthermore, think about how there’s someone out in the world who would love this item and would use it all the time. Wouldn’t that be resourceful?

Maybe I can use it sometime in the future?

Your father in-law is doing some spring cleaning and is getting rid of his golf clubs as he just bought himself a brand new set. His old clubs are in perfect condition and would be worth a lot of money. He offers them to you for free. Even though you never play golf, you gladly accept thinking, “you know, these will come in handy if I ever decide to play in the future”.

Then that future never comes. The golf clubs collect dust in your garage until you do some spring cleaning and a friend comes over to help you out. Then you make the same offer to them. However they also don’t need the clubs but think it might come in handy. And so the cycle continues…

This mentality driven by the fear of missing out. The fear of what if? What if I’m in a situation where I might need this item? I might need that juicer, those rock climbing shoes, that Nintendo, an extra iPhone. You just never know.

Not a good mentality to have.

All we have is now. We can’t be concerned about what might or might not happen in the future. One thing you know for certain is, you don’t play golf. So why do you need them?

That’s not what I wanted but I can always re-gift it

Ah the good old re-gift move. Your aunty buys you a bright yellow scarf for Christmas. You politely accept it with an enthusiastic grin on your face – knowing very well that you’ll never wear it and it will add to your pile of re-gift items.

“Oh well, maybe I can give it to Bianca for her birthday next year?”

It’s a valid idea, as you don’t want to offend your aunty and you can also pass on the scarf to someone else that might use it. But what if that time never comes? What if you know for sure that no one else you know would wear the scarf? You’re then left with clutter and reduced energy as you think about who could wear this scarf.

What can you do instead? Set expectations with everyone you know. We’ll talk about this a little more later on in this post.

This is a great deal!

Who doesn’t love a good bargain?

We’ve been conditioned to value freebies, add-ons and sales when we shop. Regardless of whether we actually need the freebies. My dad was always stoked when the salesperson would throw in a free power cord with his new DVD player. Even though he already had an oversupply of power cords around the house.

Discounts are sales tools. They’re designed to swing you to buy an item that you wouldn’t of considered buying otherwise. So you feel compelled to because of the “great value”. Falling into this trap is a surefire way to clutter.

How to say no to free things

There are situations where all of the above scenarios make sense. But the point I’m trying to make is to be aware of the opportunity cost each time you say yes to something you don’t necessarily need, and take it on the basis that it’s free.

Know the opportunity cost

For those of you who didn’t study economics, opportunity cost is defined as:

The loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

In the case of free items, the opportunity cost is potential clutter or energy to make more decisions in the future. This is an important rule to understand if you are to change your mindset around free items. Know what the opportunity cost is every time you say yes. Or in other words, be aware of what you’re giving up, or what the trade-off’s are.

Say no in advance

Now that you understand the implications of taking on things because it’s available, the next step is to set expectations within your personal network. This relates specifically to gifts from friends and family.

Instead of waiting for people to give you gifts for your birthday, your wedding or Christmas. Let them know in advance that you’re not all that keen on material items and you value experiences instead. We created a post with 21 examples of minimalist gift ideas which all cost under $100. Most of the gift ideas are experiences or consumable goods (things that get used up quickly), so you don’t have to worry about storage or re-gifting.

Acknowledge, align and assure

This is a neat little trick I learnt from work.

If you’re confronted in a situation where you have to decline a free gift upfront, there are ways to say it in a way that doesn’t offend others.

Firstly, you need to acknowledge the effort and the thought process from the other party.

For example; “Mum, thank you so much for thinking of us and offering these bedsheets for free.”

Secondly, you align with them. In other words, relate to their thought process.

“I can understand your thought process as you have a few extra sheets lying around and we’ve just moved out. It makes sense!”

Thirdly, say no, and reassure. This is the point where you come out and just say so. It’s important to give them confidence that their item is valued and there will be a use for it.

“At this stage though, we don’t need anymore bedsheets, as we’re really comfortable with our rotation. I’m sure there would be someone out there who would get a lot more use out of these sheets.”

You don’t always have to go through the whole process when saying no. But it does always help to acknowledge the thought process behind someones decision to offer you something for free. This will almost always bring down any barriers when you decline.

I find that people respect you more when you’re upfront. Give it a go!

So, should you keep it because it’s free?

I hope by now you understand the concept of opportunity cost and how you can effectively make better decisions. Being aware of the traps will help you to prevent these situations from happening in the future.

Now it’s time for you to do the work. Reflect on situations you’ve had in the past where you accepted things because it was, well free. If you were in a similar situation today, how would you deal with it? Let me know in the comments below.

4 comments… add one
  • Karin 07/10/2015 Reply

    Great blog. Thanks! I absolutely HATE clutter and it has taken about twenty years to train friends and family to understand that I genuinely do not, ever, want ‘stuff’ gifts. Experiential gifts (food, drink, shows, ebook vouchers) are welcome and appreciated; stuff that will clutter my tiny house is just annoying. It’s worth persevering. Eventually people realise you’re serious. Oh, and those shops with (say) ‘buy one, get one half price’ offers and the like? I avoid them altogether. I generally DON’T want more than one item, and chances are I’ve spent ages even talking myself into buying that one thing. Life is too short (and resources are too few, and my house too full) to be bullied into buying more crap I don’t want or need.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Karin! It looks like we have similar thoughts around consumerism. It’s interesting that it has taken two decades to get your personal network onboard with this. Hopefully sometime in the near future, experiential gifts will be the norm. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • blue dog 29/07/2016 Reply

    Lots to consider here.

    I think, though, that I would find it longer and harder to decline and explain and soothe and …everything! For me, much easier to say “thank you” and pop it in the boot of the car for a quick trip to Tiny’s Green Shed. [dusts hands]

    I can think of one regular occasion though where I can try your recommendations, so I’ll give it a burl. Thanks!

  • Tianna Larson 07/03/2017 Reply

    This is a great blog! I appreciate the tips in saying no to free things. Collecting things because someone has offered them to us is hard not to do, as it can come off as rude or ungrateful. When we hold onto material items that don’t serve a function, our lives become cluttered and it gets easier to hoard more things. By considering how much we truly need an item before taking it because it is free, we will reduce the amount of space we require and the things we have will be more meaningful. The tip about considering opportunity costs and how to politely turn down a gift was helpful, but I think it would be difficult to do when faced with the situation. Perhaps by establishing in advance that you won’t be accepting certain gifts or any free items there will be fewer instances that require an awkward decline.

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