People throw it around like it’s nothing, but I don’t agree.
Most of the time, it’s tacky and gratuitous. And when I let myself slip, it almost always gets me in trouble.
I’d venture to say that most of my marital conflicts can be attributed to this four-letter word. My Midwestern husband absolutely cannot stand it and doesn’t think it has any place in our home. And frankly, I don’t want my daughter witnessing this kind of crass behavior.
So that’s it. I’m turning over a new leaf. This vile word is officially banned from my vocabulary. From this day forward, I will never again mutter any noun prefaced with the word: “free.”
This goes for pens with the names of attorneys and insurance companies that aren’t ours.
It goes for items the neighbors couldn’t get rid of in their garage sales but think we might like. (Note to self: If the last 50 garage sales we passed had a Thighmaster, there’s no reason to believe we will use one either.)
I will no longer accept free trials of magazines, because I don’t read them; I just hoard them for the day that I might read them, then inevitably get charged for the subscription, because I forget to cancel.
That’s only one of the ways that “free” has threatened my happy marriage. I could build a literal and figurative wall between me and my husband with my totebag collection. Over the years I’ve collected hundreds of them … fancy leather totes, vinyl totes, canvas totes, plastic totes, straw totes … in every color imaginable … branded with the logos of Hillborough County Public Schools, United Healthcare, Royal Caribbean and Legally Blonde the Musical (free with a program).
My Husband Stages an Intervention
Jim tries to get me to thin my collection, to no avail. So, periodically, he stages an intervention.Before we moved from New Jersey to Florida, for instance, he set up a game in the basement that he stole off an episode of Clean Sweep on TLC.
Jim put a laundry basket on one side of the basement and made me stand on the other with a really bouncy ball. For every basket I made, I could keep one tote. For every one I missed, I had to put two pieces of my hoard in a pile to be hauled away. At the end of the game, two garbage bags were filled for Goodwill, and I got to keep a select six. I have to admit that letting go did make me feel a lot lighter.
But that was seven years ago. A new tower of totes has accumulated in my Florida closet. And apparently, if I would like to stay married to Jim, they have to go.
But as he rifles through my collection, he’s met with comments like:
“Oh, not that red one. That’s from my Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. It brings back fond memories of my recent best weekend ever with 300 fellow humor writers in Dayton, Ohio.”
“Ok, what about one of these,” he asks, holding up two identical canvas Moss Creek Goldendoodle totes.
“Those are the dog’s overnight bags,” I cry.
“How about this one, then?” he asks, holding up my Princess Cruises tote.
“That one’s reversible. That’s highly unusual in a tote. See? It’s blue AND black. And did I mention it’s waterproof?”
“Well what about this one?”
“It’s lemon yellow … perfect for the beach.”
That’s when I zing one below the belt:
“It’s your fault. You gave them to me.”
My husband was a buyer for two high-end department stores and, more recently, his own boutique, so I have “fashion” totes from every shoe company and accessories show since 1994 when we got married … which makes it kind of his fault that my totes overfloweth. Let’s face it. He’s trying to throw stones, but he’s an enabler.
“You’re supposed to get rid of the old ones when I bring you new ones,” he argues. “Okay what about this one from Pre-Paid Legal. This is hideous.”
“I know, but I thought I’d paint over it with fabric paints … or quilt over it. You know … a la Pinterest.”
“Are you kidding me?” he says, suggesting that I need a 12-step program for totaholics. He shrugs and walks away.
It’s Genetic, Possibly
Okay, I have problems. I’m not denying that. Free is a dangerous word for me. I’m not really sure when it started. I was appalled by my parents’ generation, when they pilfered ashtrays and towels from hotels, like the company stocked them as souvenirs.
“What are you doing?” I used to ask my Gram when she stuffed the onion rolls at Wolfie’s into her purse.
“What?” she’d say. “They can’t serve these again. They’re just going to throw them out. They want you to take them. That’s why they put so many on the table.”
No, my generation was going to be different. We were the generation that swore we’d never pocket the Sweet ‘n’ Low. But apparently, I still got the free gene. It just manifests itself in a different way. I have 10,000 tubes of Sensodyne toothpaste and off-brand floss from every dentist I’ve been to since 1976. I hate that toothpaste. It foams so much, I feel like I have end-stage rabies. I’m a blue gel with breath strips girl. Why do I accept these lovely parting gifts? Why don’t I just say “No thank you?”
Because they’re free. My daughter is 18, and I still make her take a Shrek sticker at the doctor’s office … after I grab a few free samples of diaper rash cream. I get so completely caught up in the fact that I scored something I didn’t have to pay for that I neglect to realize until I get it home that I don’t need it, don’t use it, don’t have a place for it, and probably don’t even like it. All I know is that when an item is free, I have to have it. And I can’t just take one; I’ll grab 10. I once left a pet fair with 10 packages of treats for a pet I didn’t own.
I’ll do a jig at a health fair, if I can score an extra coupon clipper that says “Blue Cross Blue Shield,” or more than one chip clip branded with the Prudential logo. I’ve stopped at a Publix booth and grabbed a handful plastic green gizmos that clip your grocery list to your shopping cart.
“How many lists do you have?” my husband asked.
“I thought I’d give them to friends.”
“Is it really so hard to hold a list in your hand?” he replied.
At a running expo a year and a half ago, I got a bag full of free lanyards that you wear around your neck to hold an ID badge. Sure, I need a badge to get in and out of work … but HR gave me a holder. Who needs multiple holders? Do people change these out to coordinate with their outfits?”
Not All Freebies Come From Strangers
My problems go way beyond fair freebies. When a relative is moving and thinning out their possessions, I’m the one who inherits the “very valuable” heirloom figurines shaped like salty sailors, schoolmarms and peasant children cozying up under an umbrella ― items that every other relative has declined but that meant so much to grandma.
I’m not a collector of these dustables. They don’t reflect my taste and don’t go with my décor. Honestly, they don’t go with the décor of anyone living in the 21st Century. You cannot give these things away on ebay. That valuable figurine may have a $1,250 book value and bear the rare stamp of a Bavarian nun, but all the people who collected them drove their Edsels to the big farm in the sky. So they’re packed neatly in bubble wrap in boxes, taking up valuable real estate in four shoebox-sized closets of my bungalow.
Free is a bad, bad word.
From now I will squelch any impulse to click on Internet sites that promise free samples, send me one lousy packet of Garnier Fructis, then fill my inbox with spam for 11 months. My new philosophy is “Just. Say. No.” … no to the matching beer cozies that say “Direct Auto Insurance” … no to the free Kuhn Honda and Jeep keychain … no to the Wells Fargo lunch cooling tote and the Liberty Mutual retractable measuring tape. I don’t even want the sticker that says “I gave blood today.” Why are they trying to make that into a fashion statement?
Free never ends well. I’m even saying goodbye to free drink refills. I finally stopped to do the math and add up all the cancer-causing chemicals in one diet soda, better yet four, and I no longer celebrate the fact that the local taco, burger and chicken joints are allowing me to kill myself for free.
I don’t even want anyone’s free advice … on child rearing, marital strife, job hunting or what kind of clothes look good on a large lady.
I am done with the word “free.” DONE.
Well, except for the free samples they throw in at Clinique and Lancome counters. I love those.
But that’s it.
… Oh, and the free panties at Victoria’s Secret. Those are worth $7.50.
But that’s where I draw the line. Right there in the sand.
.… next to the free umbrella I’ll score if I spend $75 on bras. You need bras anyway . And umbrellas are actually useful. Especially cute pink ones.
This isn’t the first time the word “free” has gotten me into trouble. Read When You Wish Upon a Star, Don’t Be a Cheapskate!