I Don’t Want Your Free Stuff

I don’t want the free t-shirt with entry.

I don’t want the pen from the bank, the cheap umbrella that comes free with purchase or the gift bag.

Please save me from the gift bag. The overly perfumed soaps and the vouchers for so many things I will never buy. Save me from having to take it home and recycle and donate it all.

Friends and family: I don’t want the stuff that you don’t want anymore.

When you come by with a box of things you don’t want or need, things you realized you never wanted in the first place but that you know someone else must want because you can remember handing over cash for it so it must be worth something to someone, when you hand all of that to me, know that it’s not a gift you’ve given me.

Your unwanted goods are now my unwanted goods and the burden is now on me to sort, donate and recycle all those things. Can I say “not it” and you’ll take it back and do the work yourself?

Free is not free.

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  • Yes! I don’t take anything free anymore unless it’s something awesome. And free stuff is rarely awesome.

    I do, however, take blue and black pens. My children are always disappearing the pens ’round here, leaving me with pink and orange to write checks…

  • omg i could not agree more! i received bags of maternity clothes and even more boxes of baby/toddler boy clothes while pregnant…thanks but i have no time or inclination to go through/sort/store any of this! they sat in their bags until sufficient time passed that i could dump them in the nearest clothing donation bin.
    really i think the intentions are good, but it’s about the giver not really willing to 100% let go of the items…somehow the memory of their son wearing xyz pair of shorts will live on when someone else’s son wears them…yeah, i think not. to me they were just bags of wrinkled clothes.
    the best was the friend that gave me baby boy clothes and requested that i tag them so i can return them to her when i’m done with them so she can take them to a resale/consignment shop…sorry, those hit the donation bin too…oops!

    • Oh wowwww Joi! And yes, sadly I can totally relate! Having just moved from the UK to Luxembourg it was a bit of a shock to my ‘purging’ self that there’s no such thing as a ‘charity’ shop here. Well the first week here my neighbour knocks on my door… ‘Do you have a high chair?’ yes thank you, I have a 2 year old… ‘oh… do you want my Ikea high chair? and I also have a walker’. I ended up basically having to take a whole load of stuff from her and I’ve never met someone who ‘gives stuff away’ that’s dirty and broken! They moved recently which I’m quite relieved about for a number of reasons! 😉 Sometimes the getting stuff for free IS awesome – a friend here gave us an amazing cot and has been utterly fantastic (as have most of my friends here I might add!) but this neighbour… Yeah not so great! :/

      • I make an exception for free baby clothes for the most part … because kids outgrow things so fast! But it is so hard when the giver is like “and yeah, I’d like these back when you’re done.” Um … sure – you can have them back, but I cannot guarantee that they will not be permanently stained from mashed carrots or whatever mess my little boy manages to get himself into! And if you want them back – you’d better label them yourself – otherwise … I cannot promise every onesie, pajama top, etc., will make it back into your home.

        • srsly, if you want them back then you need to label them yourself…don’t put that on the person your are “gifting” to 😉

        • I KNOW!! If someone says they want something back after I’ve used it, I refuse it. The only “donations” I take are kids clothes, and if someone says they would like it returned, I just thank them and then explain to them that with three little kids, I do not have the time or energy to keep track of it.

    • What did you do for clothes then? I’m due any day now, and I’ve relished the free hand me downs. Thankfully, my friend labeled all her maternity clothes. I just went through, tried stuff on, and only borrowed what I like. As soon as I’m one with them, the clothes go back to her. To me, that’s true minimalism. I bought/received as gifts a handful of maternity stuff, but the majority is borrowed. No need to store that until the next baby; my friend will take on that task.

      Re: baby clothes, again, I didn’t take them if someone wanted them back and hadn’t labeled them. Most of the clothes were “use this if you can; pass on if you can’t.” I just sorted through them, decided how much we needed, stocked the drawers, and am very happy to not have to buy many clothes. The ones I didn’t want either got passed on to friends or taken to the thrift store.

      In general, I agree that I don’t want friends/family dumping stuff on me. But for items that have a definite need, I’d rather save the money than go out, buy new clothes (contributing to overconsumption!), and only use them for a short time. Once I’m all done having babies, I will just keep passing the clothes along.

  • I am a little shocked with these comments. While I get the original point, let’s not forget that there are people who NEED the bag of maternity clothes and baby stuff.

    I do always ask first though if they need it and if someone asks me, I tell them honestly if I do or don’t need it.
    e.g. I took time and sorted through any clothes I got during my pregnancy and I was grateful I didn’t have to buy any, in fact I was happy to be out of them and pass them on to someone else.

    I don’t think we should let our desire for minimalism turn into ungratefulness.

    If someone gives you a present, a gift voucher, something they may not need … well, it may be the only thing that they can afford and I am sure they are not doing it out of malice and need to clutter your home.
    Say thank you, pass it on if you don’t need it.
    Someone else might.

    • If everyone stuck to what’s in bold the world would be a better place.
      Obviously this is a bit of a rant. Second hand gifts = wonderful. However, people that just have a lot of stuff in poor condition, and they offload it onto others thinking they are doing good, without even asking them if they need it, is frustrating. I think a lot of people can relate.

  • Thank you for writing this, you speak my heart! – bags of things for my little girl from well-meaning relatives, that I have to get rid of without anyone noticing. I find myself in an endless cycle of donating to Goodwill, those things that were bought at Goodwill by those same relatives! (And for the record – I am 100% FOR shopping at Goodwill – for a frugal family, that’s not the issue.) It’s a little frustrating even though they are just being kind, but we are living very simply in a 1-bedroom apartment and simply do not have room for excess (and that’s how we like it!). Teaching her to appreciate more, by having “less”…it’s really hard in a society of consume, consume, consume.

  • Sorry, I have to disagree on this one. I wouldn’t call myself minimalist, except when it comes to spending (=miser). I try my best to not buy stuff, and realize that everyone will have different strategies for this…. I didn’t buy _any_ new clothing (other than shoes) or toys for my son until he was 6 and we went to a wedding for which he needed an outfit. This was due to hand me downs and occasional second hand shopping. I haven’t bought new clothes for myself in …… I can’t remember the last time I bought something. I don’t really care what I look like wardrobe wise and love going to clothing swaps and taking friends’ cast offs, the blanks filled in with purchases second hand. If there’s a few things I can’t use in the loot/junk, I don’t mind taking a bag now and then to the clothing drop box. I love cleaning out the disgusting kitchen at work (at a university so the students are transient and leave behind stuff). Not only does the kitchen smell better, but after leaving the dishes out for a while to be claimed (never are) I take what I need for glass reuseable lunch containers, etc. I love it when friends move and give me all their pantry items, kitchen stuff and junk. Again, if I can do them the favour of sorting and tossing, donating, or keeping and using, I consider that helpful. Just my approach, respectfully submitted. [[But I don’t like free water bottles unless they are kicka**. ]]

  • I started turning down ‘free gifts’ about a decade ago. I’ve had some funny looks, but better that than have to find a home for things I don’t want.

    Zinio and Apple Newsstand have been good for me – magazines without the clutter! They both say in the terms and conditions that e-magazines come without cover mounted gifts, and that’s absolutely fine by me!

  • Oh, and I’m also ‘that person’ who stops on the side of the road and goes through the garbage on ‘large item pick up day’ taking away the old toys, and bikes and fixing them to be used/given/sold. Anything to keep stuff out of the landfill.

  • When I am culling, anything that is in near-mint condition or may have some value – I offer it to my siblings. I have no problem donating, but I’ve given away things then found out a sibling needed / wanted such. Unless someone else actually asks for something – I don’t make a fuss nor feel I have to give my “wasted purchases” away in order to feel better for it.

    Also, I feel it’s in really bad taste / rude / insulting to “donate” something that is broken, soiled, unwashed, damaged, or completely out of date / useless. I’ve seen some of the goods people donate to charity and you want to tell them – if you would’t feel comfortable wearing it / using it and WHY -what makes you think someone else in need is not going to put off by a soiled torn item of clothing?

    • I’ve seen some of the goods people donate to charity and you want to tell them – if you would’t feel comfortable wearing it / using it and WHY -what makes you think someone else in need is not going to put off by a soiled torn item of clothing?


      • Many charities sell stained/dirty/torn clothing to raggers who may ship it overseas if it’s still wearable or will recycle the fiber if it’s not. It is an industry unto itself. I’m uncomfortable with Americans throwing things away just because they personally think it’s unusable, because much of what ends up in landfills could be repurposed, reused or recycled by someone, somewhere.

        • My local thrift store sells to raggers. The LOVE it when I label the bags “rags” already so that they don’t have to sort. Anything torn, stained, old underwear, etc all go in there.

  • Yes and no. I was very happy to get loads of babyclothes and babystuff, and later children’s clothes, for my boy. It saved me a lot of money, especially when he was small. But other stuff? Only very rarely is there something that I find useful or nice. As you say, it’s stuff people don’t want for themselves anymore, so why should I want it?

  • YES, YES, YES…..amen to that article! I don’t want plastic bags, paper bags, receipts, brochures, mini-whatevers and especially no free gadget/crap for my kids! Just a nice, genuine: thank you for your purchase and a good day : )

  • My in-laws are ALWAYS giving us free stuff! I am grateful for what they give us, but most of the time it really is their junk mail. Literally! Or stuff my father inlaw got on clearance, because he can’t pass up a clearance and my mother inlaw doesn’t want nor does she need more of the stuff my father in law buys. My kids not only don’t need most of what is given to us, but most of the time it is JUNK. It falls apart with in the day or they can’t put it together because it wasn’t make properly. Most of the time I either recycle it or throw it away. Free is not free nor is it freeing!!

  • So funny. I keep very little, and I like neat spaces with not much in them, but I always enjoy getting people’s hand-me-downs. I feel fine about getting rid of most of what I get, but I enjoy having the chance to sort through it and keep a few gems.

  • I would never turn down kids clothes! We’ve barely bought a thing for my 18 month old, except socks and shoes!Instead e had generous friends and family with slightly older boys. And I pass things back to friends and family if I can. Almost everything else is junk.

  • I couldn’t agree more. My in-law’s are constantly giving us their old stuff. It was great when we first got married, because we didn’t have anything, but now, more than three years later, I have a house FULL of stuff that I don’t even like. These past few weeks have been a big purging party. Thrift stores in our area are being inundated with all of our stuff. And it makes me happy.

  • This is exactly how I feel every time my Mother in Law comes for a visit with her half dozen garbage bags of clothing, her old technology and boxes of VHS tapes! I haven’t owned a VHS player in 10 years!!
    I am desperately trying to down size and she just keeps bringing in more! So frustrating!!

    • In your situation, I would just be happy she is getting rid of stuff now, gradually, than you having to go through a whole mess of stuff when the time comes for you to have to clean out her house when she is gone! After moving out of my parent’s house, I told my mom that I really didn’t want to have to go through her stuff when she was gone, and that I would be happy to help now! I helped her with 8 garage sales, and both of us were thrilled with the results!

      • I know a couple in my church who are helping their parents move and have been working on decluttering all their stuff .they started in august and are still working on it so the house can eventually get sold because of the clutter they havnt made any major repairs .I’m glad you were able to talk your folks into getting rid of stuff now versus you having to do it later after they pass on.

  • I have recently done two of the “get something for free” coupons. One was a diaper bag that I had to purchase something for. But I needed a few maternity things, so I was able to buy something I would have anyway, and get a diaper bag, which I have never had and was starting to become an issue. The other was a nice big shopping canvas bag that I got straight up for free. I’ve never had enough bags to just be able to use the reusable ones, so I got it and have not regretted it.
    That said, I usually look at those and go “I don’t want it around. Even for free.” For me I just think about whether or not is fulfills a need I already had (exactly, not just it could), and whether or not it is a good financial choice. I would rather buy one thing I want at full cost, then go through three other things I was given or purchased at a discount.
    Baby clothes have been HUGE for me. I have a little boy, and one of my sisters had all her boys clothes for me. She did ask for them back, but I just told her I would give her all hers and mine when we were done with them. In the 15 months my child has been here we have spent a total of about $30 on him. I am now 5 months pregnant with a little girl, and my other sister has a set of girl clothes for me with the same caveat. I will simply give them all back to her including any others I receive or buy, and be free of all baby clothes after that!
    And honestly, if I didn’t also have a sister with a girl, she just would have been wearing lots of dinosaur footie pj’s and truck shirts around the house, and I would have embroidered a few flowers onto blue and green onsies for going out in public… I was not about to go buy a whole bunch of clothes just because they were the wrong color.
    I know it doesn’t work out so smoothly for lots of people, and I would not be saving sets of clothes for more than one person. But it can work out if it’s all you need!

  • I think this is all about self-control. The offering isn’t the issue–it’s people being able to say NO that is. I love getting free stuff. I have a lot of hand-me-downs from family members, for which I am eternally grateful. However, I also say no frequently and without remorse. I think it’s all about the way you go about saying no that can make or break the situation. To me this article reads as trying to avoid the guilt of saying no rather feeling grateful and moving on. I think many, especially women, feel guilty to say no to relatives’ or friends’ generosity, so they deflect their feelings and turn the givers into “bad guys”. Just my two cents…

  • I have recently (in about the last year or so) been saying NO to free stuff. Or thinking very carefully about what I say yes to. My family (and the IL’s) mostly ask before brining over items and we ask before giving items away. I have a handme down kitchen cart from my SIL that is now my 7 yo’s Lab for all his science experiments, microscope and so on. Table top for working on, shelves and drawers for storage – perfect and free.
    I don’t accept clothes people want back, and I don’t hang on to stuff either – if you can’t use it now, out it goes.

  • I love hand me downs and second hand gifts. This is how I mainly dress my children and how I clothed myself through two pregnancies. My house is full of “free” furniture gifts and I don’t know how we would have furnished the place without them. Having said that, I wanted and needed these gifts. What I hate (and what I think you are trying to say) is that people feel good about all their stuff and how much they have of it when they can dispose of it guilt free.

  • My eldest daughter got her exam results today. They were outstanding. I was proud. She asked me to get cookie dough pudding from Pizza Hut on my way home. YUK! But I couldn’t refuse, she had worked so hard. I ordered the stuff and sat down to wait. I was offered a “free drink” I did contemplate asking for a chilled Sauvignon Blanc but the lady was showing me the fizzy drinks. I hate fizzy drinks, I hated them as a child and I still hate them. But I was hot so I said yes to the least offensive and got a lemonade.

    I was not going anywhere, I was sitting on a static seat that didn’t even wobble. Did my drink come in a glass? No, it came in a paper cup with a plastic lid and a plastic straw. Six feet away in the restaurant people were drinking the same drink as me out of a glass.

    My “free” drink, the one I wasn’t even sure I wanted came with a whole load of throwaway extras and I wished I had said no.

  • My 90 year old father called me the other day to say he was working on his will so did I still want the barrister bookcase he inherited from his father and did I want the vanity I got used as a child from Grandma when she updated hers? I said I had passed that stage of accumulating so no longer wanted either. It felt good to be able to say no to a bookcase I had coveted for years. And it felt good to be able to tell Dad I was not anxiously waiting for him to die so I could inherit his stuff.

  • My Grammy gives me things she doesn’t want in her house anymore, but doesn’t want to just throw away either. She gives them to me, and then tells me to use it or throw it away. I think it’s a vestige of living during the depression. However, if I don’t need it, I have no guilt with tossing it or sending it to the thrift store! That’s one reason she’s my favorite!

  • I think the salient point is that it’s impolite to just dump your used/unwanted stuff on someone else, assuming they want or need it, without asking them first.

    Givers should always ask first, and receivers should be allowed to politely decline without the giver taking offence.

  • Yesterday evening my mother rang to say she was having another clear out (she could clear out every day from now until Eternity and it would hardly make a dent, but she does try) and she had put aside some clothes for me. I said no thank you. Not only was I having my own declutter, but I only have 33 items in my wardrobe now and I have already got the 33 I need. I think I heard her jaw smash to the floor. But they are free she said, they are good quality. Excellent I said, I’m sure somebody will want them but that somebody is not me. The rest of the conversation did not go well, mainly because my poor mother was still in a state of shock.

  • Yeah, me either. A coworker /friend had 6 bags like the picture. I sorted through them, took a few pieces, fortunately hope was coming by the next morning and took it away. Unfortunately the friend had more! Six more bags and about 1 5 small moving boxes for me. I immediately dropped them off at the goodwill. My pregnant brain cannot deal with this much. And I am starting my first year of teaching kindergarten. All of the stuff came this week. Monday is the first day of school. I wish I could say no more please.

  • I hate all the free reusable shopping bags. Maybe its only a trend here but every time I turn around someone’s offering me one (latest one at swimming lessons this morning!). I carry my own fold up nylon reusable bags so I can decline these and plastic.

  • I’m happy to see I’m not the only one with this problem. My MIL is a packrat! She buys everything and anything as long as it’s on sale. She loves knickknacks,talking stuffed animals, and singing Elvis snow globes. I love her but it gets on my nerves when she comes to our house and brings all that unwanted crap with her. She buys clothes that she finds on 80% off rack and then gives them to me. Usually they are a size or two too big. Once she gave me an outfit and it was neon-green and see-through. She gave us a box of old ugly Christmas decorations and Christmas dishes. We live in a two-bedroom apartment, always moving due to hubby’s job and she thinks I have room for this stuff. Last time she came she brought a bunch of ugly small orange cups and shakers that are all cracked (she found them in her attic), she also brought a bread maker which is huge and does’t have instructions. Like WTF? Like I have enough time to bake bread? Why doesn’t she use it herself? When she was leaving she mentioned she was gonna bring a beef jerky maker next time. I said: “oh, no. It’s ok. We really don’t need one.” She goes: ” I’ll still bring it. Maybe you can sell it.”

    • Maybe kindly offer to help her set up an ebayor amazon account to sell her unwanted items ? Then suggest she donate the other items to goodwill ?

  • My mother flew up from FL to visit. She brought in her luggage a tote bag overflowing with belts. She said they didn’t fit her and she wanted me to have them. Many of them were unworn; some had tags on them. I rarely wear belts. I think I own 3, perhaps? I tried on one. It didn’t fit. I tried on another. It didn’t fit. I told my mom, “I’m 0 for 2. These belts are made for high-waisted pants. I don’t wear those.” I was already dead set on putting them in my donation pile. My mother replied, “Well, save them. Because high-waisted pants will come back in style and then you’ll have belts to wear with them.”

    Seriously? You have to be kidding me. DONATE. Don’t pawn your crap off on me.

  • Oh Rachel. This post is so spot-on it is almost painful. I think part of the problem is that we now all feel guilty for throwing things away that the result is trying to foist it off on to other people. And people seem to always be giving children things – now my kids are starting to expect people to give them things and I don’t know how to politely curb it.

  • I completely agree! I don’t want the random excess stuff. And most of the time, honestly, I don’t want gifts for holidays unless I specifically asked for something. My friends and family are so awesome and sweet and love giving gifts. However, I do not really like receiving gifts. It’s not my language, you know? I understand that the giver is trying to do something nice, but really, all it does is stress me out and guilt me into keeping the thing for far too long, even though I’ll never use it. I’ve started just saying, “get me a gift card” because I know they will buy me something anyway.

    I’m trying to get rid of all my stuff, people =)

  • I have a few people people in my life who are constantly foisting their discards on me. They won’t take NO for an answer. I am in the process of moving and trying to de-clutter. Already people are asking if they can put a few things in my garage sale. Of course, they want me to negotiate prices for them, and then donate whatever doesn’t sell afterwards. One, I am not running a consignment thrift shop and Two, the idea of my garage sale is to GET RID OF JUNK, not accumulate more. I tell them they are welcome to come and sell their own items at my sale, and take away all of their unwanted stuff, but they’re “too busy” for that.

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