Story: In mid-August we had to move out of our capacious accommodation at UofT into much smaller quarters. Therefore, we hosted a series of free yard sales to try and give away all of our superfluous stuff at warp speed. Well, we tried to be free... I’ve never had so much money forcibly pushed in my hands and thrown at my feet, nor am I used to making people so uncomfortable. I eventually learned to say, “The only payment we accept is to tell people about our app, Tradyo,” so that at least people would feel like they were stealing from a company, not an individual.
This whole experience got me thinking though. I’ve spent a couple days trying to understand my personal psychology around giving and getting stuff for free.
I’ve been on a purging frenzy and it’s enlightening. There are dozens of items in my room that I would happily give away in a heartbeat... but I don’t. For example, I would LOVE to give away a particular pair of shoes in my closet. They are so pretty and they don’t quite fit and I know someone will adore them. However, I will never put them in the Salvation Army bag because I care about them too much. I want to see the person that receives them. I want to know that they will be loved and appreciated as they should be.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? Yet, I can attach the same sentiment to half of my clutter. You probably can too. The stack of kids’ toys, the book collection, the holiday decorations, the board game that brought so many laughs...
The reason I would rather let these items drown me in my room (or a much better alternative, post them on Tradyo) than stick them in a donation bag is that I want to be assured that they find a good home. Sure, it’s great to get some cash or a trade in return, but I’d give most of my stuff away for free as long as I know it will be loved. The truth of the matter is that giving feels good!
BUT (always a but)...
I don’t know why it’s so hard to get things for free. Maybe it’s just hard to feel indebted or obliged to return the favour. Even so, I had to explain very firmly to our free yard sale customers that they were doing me a favour by taking the stuff off my hands and even that was sometimes insufficient. Perhaps the more meaningful question is should we feel indebted and why is that so uncomfortable? In general, I find it quite pleasant to do nice things for people, so why hesitate to add more to the happy tab? Perhaps we just don’t have the headspace to keep track of all our social bills to pay, and therefore try to balance them immediately. Perhaps many of us suffer from some guilt complex that intercepts any gift headed our way.
There are circumstances where I happily receive freebies. They usually involve corporate promotions. You know, Marble Slab, I will gladly accept your free ice cream because I know it’s not actually free. Which brings me to the ‘but.’ IS there always a but? Is there such thing as a free lunch?
I believe truly free does exist - I’ve tried to be a giver of ‘truly free’ myself - but I don’t know how many people are prepared to accept it. I find the discussion quite interesting and I’d love to extend it beyond my own head. Any thoughts?