paper tag with words, "Free Stuff" printed on it

Mom loved getting promotional items. She loved the free tote bags, pens, key chains, calendars, and T-shirts that she got from banks and at street fairs where local organizations would set up booths. She also loved getting promotional calendars and shopping bags with the names of the local supermarkets on them. Unlike Mom, I’m very selective about accepting promotional items.

Dozens of these items cluttered her drawers and closets. For some things, it made sense to keep duplicates, like tote bags. Mom always used them for shopping. When some were in the laundry, she always had some spares to use.

As for the key chains, Mom kept an extra set of keys for herself as well as extra keys for my apartment. She also kept a set of keys for the elderly lady for whom she worked. Mom always took free items because she felt that “someone could use them.”

She would pass on extra promotional calendars to her friends or me. And even if a T-shirt wasn’t attractive or of great quality, she could wear it under a sweater for warmth or just around the house.

I love T-shirts that I get for volunteering at the park and community cleanups because they remind me of happy experiences. Once, I received a metal water bottle from the National Park Service. It was such good quality that I have been using it for many years now. But I refuse free water bottles because I don’t need them.

I sometimes accept tote bags, but now I have quite a lot of them. I keep some at home, some in my car, and some at work. This way, I won’t fail to have one when I go shopping.

I also will take things that I know that I can pass along to someone else as Mom used to do. Maybe someone could use an extra T-shirt or a tote bag. Someone could save a few dollars by not purchasing items like the purse-sized hand sanitizer or the new toothbrush that I get from the dentist.

Along with the plastic reusable water bottles, I no longer accept key rings or the silicon bracelets that are so popular as giveaways. I did keep one, though. It’s a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” bracelet that I got for an Earth Day event. It’s a little pop of color on my wrist that raises awareness.

Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to recycle your old wrist bands, the options are slim. However, there are some ways you can reuse them, including using them as rubber bands or helping party-goers identify which drink is theirs (just slide it over the glass).

It’s often tempting to accept free stuff, but “refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle” makes so much more sense to me. I prefer to refuse promotional items and send a message that I care more about the environment than receiving free stuff that I really don’t need.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.