The Price of Free Things

Free Stuff

Folks, this week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about free things—free food, free drink, free stuff—and I’ve decided that it’s all bad. I imagine that most people in the general public might disagree.

“Sara,” they’ll all say, “surely free food, free drink, and free stuff… these are good things!”

Until very recently I would have agreed with them, but there is a price to pay for each and every free thing you take, and sometimes the price is higher than the thing’s actual value. This is certainly a clichéd thing to say, but it’s also a fact.

Food

If there is free food, I will eat it. A gallery opening with a cheese plate, sandwiches left over after a meeting: these things are my kryptonite. When free food is offered, all sense of health restrictions and modesty go out the window. I’m the person who just hovers next to the table, rapidly sampling all the flavors—soft, hard, stinky, I love cheese too much to just choose one and walk away. I’ll just tear off my own branch of grapes and pop them without discretion. And, stop me if I’m wrong, but sandwich platters usually have some pretty interesting combinations. How could you not want to take a few (several)? Even if I’ve just eaten, it’s game on when the free stuff gets carted out.

In hindsight, my problem with free might also have a lot to do with my inability to make definitive choices. Ham or turkey? You might as well ask me what I want to be when I grow up. These questions are layered and complicated. Rather than decide, I should probably just eat all the sandwiches and then go home and write about them.

Regardless, I pay dearly for these mountainous plates I make myself: a thicker grub hub (read: tummy) than before the free food was offered. My commitment to exercise isn’t strong enough to withstand extended periods of free food. Therefore, free food is bad.

Drink

Even worse than free food is free drink. When I say free drinks, I am referring to the alcoholic type. While excess seltzer or apple juice can cause extra trips to the bathroom, that’s nothing compared to the physical and emotional pain of a free drink hangover. Beer, punch, whiskey, and a shot of homemade Limoncello? I’ll take it! Even variety-free events, such as the aforementioned galleries pose a danger. Those heavy-handed pours of cheap wine into plastic cups can’t go down my gullet fast enough.

The result of all this liquid? Long before the hangover sets in, there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll become instant friends with an unbearable person, tell him or her my life story, “like” everything people have posted on Facebook in the last five days, comment on a large percentage of those things, and get in a petty fight with my boyfriend. Woof.

It’s as if I’m trying to get my money’s worth, but since it’s free, everything is profit. Maybe I’m just a greedy person? This piece is turning far more self-exploratory than I had prepared for at this juncture.

Stuff

As evidenced by my expansive book collection, bulging drawers, and antique furniture, free stuff can be great. Free things can also be broken and slightly stained. Also, all of it creates clutter.

I don’t mean to look any gift horses in the mouth, but as a person who clearly has a hard time saying no to anything free, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to sit and think about each item offered. It’s either that or acknowledge that my demise, like any hoarder worth her salt, will come from a falling pile of old New Yorkers.

Inner monologues that would have helped in some very specific instances:

“Maybe you don’t need to pick up all the books in boxes outside other apartments. If it’s missing pages or is slightly sticky, let it lie.”

“Now’s probably not the time you’re going to start reading whole books on conflict in the Middle East, especially if you can’t get through a magazine article on the subject.”

“Also, you live in an apartment, so put down that old science textbook. You won’t be wallpapering your bathroom walls with that anytime soon.”

“That’s a VHS, you don’t have a VCR.”

“Sure you think that side table with the broken drawers will get you out of putting your nighttime reading on the floor now, but think about five years from now when you’ll have dragged it from apartment to apartment, dropping heavy objects on your foot each time you’re a little over-enthusiastic about getting something out of it.”

It’s not that free things are necessarily be bad—I just cannot be trusted with them. Paying for things makes me less of a mess. It keeps me eating well, not as likely to be belligerent, and more organized at home. As a result, it can be assumed that paying for things makes me a better member of society. So, pay for things I will. You’re all welcome.