The Problem with “Free” (and My 2 New Yard Sale Rules)


I know we’re late into the yard sale season here, but I recently enacted two new rules for my kids while out shopping, and I’m realizing more and more how effective they are for us adults too ;)

Let me know what you think:

Rule #1: No more getting anything for FREE!

I don’t know if your kids do this, but mine have been awfully good at convincing sellers to give them stuff (mainly toys) for free every time we go yard saling. Doesn’t matter if the item is a dollar or ten – they always manage to walk away with something without cracking their piggy banks!

Which of course is financially great and super sweet of the sellers, but after the first few weekends I realized a disturbing trend was occurring…

Our house was getting bombarded by junk!! Because anytime something is “free” all decision-making goes out the window and you grab it because IT’S FREE!! Whether you actually truly need it or not! I literally saw my oldest bargain down a guy from $2.00 to a nickel last weekend (yes – an actual nickel!!) and because it wasn’t free my kid turned it down and walked away…

And let me tell you something…


Haha… Which is exactly what prompted this rule and stopped the onslaught of junk ;) Now any time someone offers an item for free – whether provoked or not – my kids are to say “thank you, but I’d like to give you a little for it instead”, and then they can choose how much. And I $hit you not, for the rest of that morning my oldest didn’t pick up A SINGLE THING he wanted to spend money on!! Amazing!!

(My kids btw use their own money to buy things at yard sales, except for *books* or other items that help them learn or add value to their lives… Such as an art easel I recently picked up for them so they can paint “like real artists” as they like to say ;))

Rule #2: For every new item you bring in the home, you must get rid of another

This one will sound familiar to minimalists out there, but for whatever reason I’ve always been bad at following this, so of course my kids have been too. But since I was on fire with that Freebie Rule I just enacted, I decided to tack on this one as well and hit them with a 1-2 punch ;) After all, if you don’t want more stuff in your house, this is a surefire way to make it happen! They can go out and buy 100 new things now if they wanted – and could afford it – but if they do they’re getting rid of 100 other things so nothing *extra* is piling on top anymore!

And similarly to the first rule, this one’s been working great as well so far. I’d say my oldest has now gone from bringing home about 5 or 6 items a weekend down to 1-2, while my middle child is still adapting and has maybe dropped from 6-7 things to 4-5. But unlike his brother, he has no problem shelling out his money so that’s a whole other topic that needs tackling later ;)

The other thing I love about this rule is that it simultaneously gets rid of the stuff you no longer like or use anymore, and instead replaces it with that which brings you joy! So you’re constantly increasing the ratio of stuff you appreciate more in your home vs that which you don’t.

I’m also finding that the mere act of *searching* for things to get rid of is not only helping us to become more organized (we’re finding hidden stashes everywhere!), but it’s also re-uniting my kids with long-lost toys that I’m now seeing them playing with again… And when they don’t, it’s an immediate sign that it should be next to go!

And if you think my kids aren’t holding ME accountable to these rules too, you’d be dead wrong ;) I think they actually get more joy out of seeing me scramble around for things to donate than when they bring home something new! Haha.. And I’m not gonna lie – it’s hard sometimes! Especially as someone who’s been shedding things for over 9 years now!

But I’m sticking to it! And if you’ve got similar problems in your household, I encourage you to consider testing out one or both of these as well… We can be just as bad as kids with *wanting everything* and taking freebies left and right (conference swag, anyone?!), but the more we pause for a bit and really ask ourselves if it’s worth it, the better our wallets and our lifestyle will be.

I’ll keep you posted with how it sticks!! Only three weeks in but so far so good!

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  1. Kate October 21, 2019 at 6:19 AM

    Great idea! I try to do this with food. I wouldn’t spend $2.50 on a sugar laden muesli bar or a mango flavoured Coke (gross!) so I won’t eat it when they give them away on the street in front of the subway.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 7:12 AM

      Hah! Good application of it!

  2. Debbie October 21, 2019 at 6:44 AM

    We just had a garage sale. For us, in the past it’s been hard for us to get rid of “Free” stuff !! You’d be surprised at how many people ask “what’s wrong with it”? So I put 25 cents on low end items & sold a good portion of those items! When I had a free sofa, I had 3 “no shows”. It took patience to get someone to take that free sofa!! I’m glad you’re teaching your kids to use their own $$ at yard sales & to reduce clutter, get rid of an item each time they buy a new item.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 7:14 AM

      I believe that :) People act the same way when you give away free coaching or other types of services too. If they don’t pay for it they don’t take it seriously!

  3. Josh October 21, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    My wife and I have been following rule #2 for some time now and like it. My father-in-law started following this rule when he gets new t-shirts. I happen to be the same size, so I inherit his old shirts. As some of mine are rather old and need to be turned into rags, it’s technically an upgrade. But it just defers the consequences of overabundance to the next person.

    I feel sorry for the thrift store workers who have to sort through the massive donations looking for “diamonds in the rough” and deciding what gets thrown away because they have too much to sell or give away to those with true need.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 7:16 AM

      Haha, I’m the opposite – I think I’d find it soooo FUN to sort through it all! As long as you could get first dibs on those gems ;)

  4. Joe October 21, 2019 at 9:48 AM

    Oh, come on! You guys got a big new house now. Let the kids fill it up with stuff. It’s the American way. Heh heh heh…
    I have a hard time saying no to free stuff when I was younger too. Now, we don’t have space so it’s easier to turn those things down. My wife gives away stuff on the local free Facebook group. It works pretty well.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 9:55 AM

      I keep hearing about how awesome that is!!

      But haven’t had a personal FB account in years and too afraid to start it again :(

  5. Stephanie October 21, 2019 at 11:43 AM

    I’ve seen a lot of free kids stuff on the curb recently and my rule is: if I wouldn’t buy it, don’t take it for free. I happened across something for free that I had planned to buy so I definitely grabbed it, but I’ve driven past other stuff that I don’t want.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 2:53 PM

      You’ve got excellent self-control :)

  6. Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early October 21, 2019 at 12:00 PM

    Okay this rule is genius. My kiddo is so tight fisted when it comes to his money (unless we’re talking bubble gum or tasty snacks). Soooo many toys like to march in the house though for free.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 2:53 PM

      Try it out and see what happens!! :)

  7. Pat October 21, 2019 at 1:21 PM

    When I was single and even first married we were so good at this! Kids have a way of sidetracking you so you don’t notice until it’s built up how much stuff has actually accumulated. Now they’re at college and I find myself going through many things to release. It’s great and time consuming all at once. Somewhere around middle school – present they bring in things and don’t let other things go. Sigh. So in theory I agree wholeheartedly yet at the ages where they are managing their own stuff it often gets tangled up in ours! Decluttering is ongoing. And deliberate spending is an important life skill. As for free stuff…you get what you pay for. ;)

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 2:57 PM

      You’re right on that one – much easier to lay down the law when they’re young and impressionable, haha…

  8. Donna Freedman October 21, 2019 at 1:45 PM

    Suggest that your kids stage their own yard sale, to get rid of some of the toy clutter?

    My partner is on a quest to de-clutter more than 60 years’ worth of stuff (including items he inherited from his dad). He donates or gives away whatever is potentially useful; for example, my niece snagged a lot of paper, pens and pencils for her elementary school classroom. Old photos are labeled for family history (my favorite is one of him at age 4 in a huge fur parka in the village of Quinhagak, Alaska), and some of his dad’s stuff has been donated to the state history archives.

    He’s perplexed by some of the items (“Why on earth did I save that?!?”) and gets a good chuckle out of some of it (“Look, an old radio play I wrote for a holiday show when I worked in radio”). Very little of it is hard for him to throw out, though. I hope the same is true when I start clearing out MY clutter.

    And about that conference swag: I give some of it to my niece and nephews, and the rest is boxed up for an annual “flat-rate box of FinCon swag” giveaway on my website. You have until EOD Wednesday, Oct. 23 to enter to get this year’s batch, which includes (among many other things) an eco-friendly reusable straw and some pretty darned tasty dark chocolate.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 2:59 PM

      Don’t you clutter up my community’s houses!!! Haha….

      Unless we’re talking 100% Chocolate! :)

  9. freddy smidlap October 21, 2019 at 2:52 PM

    we have no kids but i tried this on my wife once. it was a battle i may have won but at what cost? she brings home a lot of stray curb stuff from her morning dog walks but i have to say we’ve sold a lot of this found/free stuff on ebay for hundreds of dollars. we have a few hundred worth of finds listed up there now just waiting for a good home.

    clutter drives me nuts.

    1. J. Money October 21, 2019 at 3:02 PM

      Well if you’re hawking the stuff then it’s all welcomed!!

      No shame in that if you’re willing to put in the time! :)

      (I have two items that I keep SAYING I’m going to sell but it’s been 4 months now and I have still yet to do it, ugh…. Good reminder to put it on the one-tweak-a-week list, thx brother!)

  10. Paul October 22, 2019 at 8:12 AM

    I got an ALF cake pan for free at a yard-sale once. That was definitely a good find and yes, I made and decorated that cake.

    1. J. Money October 22, 2019 at 9:59 AM

      Pic please!!

  11. Gwen @ Fiery Millennials October 22, 2019 at 8:14 AM

    I’ve recently joined my local Buy Nothing group. It’s intoxicating, dangerous and incredibly helpful to have. The temptation with the group is to “win” the item but you have to fight it when you want to WIN everything even if you don’t need it. So far, I’ve used it for good but I have to fight it with every post I see. I’ve given away things I don’t need or use anymore like moving boxes and a kitchen scale, and gotten things like really cute new clothes and a toaster. Free.99 is my favorite price but as with all things, great power comes with great responsibilities ;)

    1. J. Money October 22, 2019 at 10:00 AM

      Haha, indeed…

      Great group for sure – I’ve heard about it but don’t trust myself yet to partake ;)

  12. Amelia @ TheUsefulRoot October 22, 2019 at 9:53 AM

    Rule #1 is genius. We have been decluttering our house the past two years so definitely down with Rule #2. We too have joined a local Buy Nothing group. I love it for giving away stuff that is in good shape but we just don’t use anymore. Especially toys and clothes the kiddo doesn’t want anymore because we get to see it go to a home we know they will continue to be enjoyed which makes it a little easier to get rid of. I have only given stuff on though, and have been good about not taking stuff just ’cause it’s free :)

    1. J. Money October 22, 2019 at 10:20 AM

      I admire you!!

      And now clicking over to check out your blog – I’m intrigued! :)

      1. Amelia @ TheUsefulRoot October 22, 2019 at 11:26 AM

        Thanks J. Money! It’s still a very new blog and a work in progress :)

        1. J. Money October 22, 2019 at 12:18 PM

          The best blogs are the new ones ;)

          All that excitement and passion shines through!