The value of free

The word “free” has many interesting connotations. The concept of being free oneself means very different things to different people; it can refer to freedom of speech, escape from confinement, removal of clothing, etc. However, today I am interested in the use of the word when applied to things.

Everybody likes to think that they might be able to get something for free. The reality of life is generally at variance with this concept. Very rarely is something truly free. The TANSTAAFL [There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch] principle applies. If something is free, there is usually a catch. That catch maybe as simple as a feeling of obligation towards to the donor, but it is a “cost” nevertheless.

An irony is that when people do get something for free, they do not value it. Let’s take the NHS for example. British people will almost all say that they value the service, but there seems to be very little motivation to fight to keep it. I was chatting to a retired doctor recently. She told me that she had had patients who complained at the cost of a prescription, but would cheerfully spend hundreds at the vets over the road on their much-loved pets.

I have a possible solution. Every time you use the NHS - an examination, treatment, prescription etc. - you should get an invoice [already paid, of course] showing you what it cost. The would focus people’s attention!

I have often disposed of unwanted items using Freecycle and the like. But I am amazed at how many people fail to collect the item that they were so keen to acquire. My answer to this is to charge for stuff, even if it is a nominal amount.

Recently, a friend was moving house - down-sizing. He had two, slightly ageing but fully functional TVs to get rid of. He was ready to take them to the tip, but spoke to me first. I said I would re-home them and drove round to collect them. Within a few days, I had sold both. I only made £50. My friend had not expected any money, so, at my suggestion, he nominated a charity to which I could donate. This was a win, win, win, win situation:

  • My friend got rid of his TVs with no guilt
  • Two people got functional TVs at low cost
  • A charity received a donation
  • I got pleasure from making it happen

They do say that no good deed goes unpunished. Since shifting these two TVs, two more friends have told me that they have a TV to get rid of. My new hobby … ?