The Allure of Free Stuff
Every week the SF Chronicle runs a classic column from years past. This week there was a gem from 1988 titled, “1,000 paper clips? If they’re free, customers love it.”
It seems an office supply store ran a promotion giving away 1,000 paperclips per customer hoping those folks who turned up would shop for additional supplies. Thousands showed up, few bought office supplies, and probably even less needed the paper clips in the first place!
Here’s a perfect quote from the article:
First in line was an elderly gent named Mr. Jeffries, who said he did not know what he was going to do with his 1,000 free paper clips, but they would surely be nice to have around.
When I asked him, when was the last time he used a paper clip?
“I can’t remember,” he said. “Couple of weeks ago, I think. Mailed in a bill.”
At a rate of one clip every two weeks, Mr. Jeffries’ free clips will last 38 years.
“How about that?” said Mr. Jeffries.
One could argue that a few boxes of paper clips isn’t going to take up much space but we often see this same pattern on a larger scale:
- Duplicates, triplicates, and quadruples of tools and utility items picked up at garage sales cluttering up drawers and shelves
- Chairs taken from the someone else’s curb that seem so full of potential, if only you could get them recovered and figure out where they go in the house. Meanwhile they crowd a guest room. For years.
- Books – recently a young couple that lives in tiny 1 bedroom home wanted to keep a free set of hardbound Harry Potter books – for their not-yet-conceived child to read one day.
For us humans, FREE is an inexplainable siren’s call that triggers our sense of need and desire regardless of the actual value of the item to our life. It’s useful to recognize this powerful pull and practice taking a step back and thinking about how the item will add VALUE to your life.
- Do you actually need it?
- How often will you use it?
- How does this add value to your life TODAY?
- Where will you keep it? Is that space better used by something else?
Define value based on need and relevance, not cost and availability. So, next time you get caught going after something that’s “FREE,” or “cheap,” pause and think, “who am I going to hire to sort, catalog or store it?” “Is this really WORTH it??”