It's Free!

My Kids Are Lovers Of Free Stuff, Just Like Me

They saw it, they wanted it.

Free stuff on the side of the road. My kids loves it.
Tim Bieber/Photodisc/Getty Images

When I was a kid, four times a year my small town designated a “heavy trash” day where everyone was allowed a garbage pickup with no size or weight limits. And on this glorious day, my dead-end street would be peppered with overflowing barrels, bags, and big unsightly items that my neighbors no longer wanted.

And you know what they say about one man’s trash — I was in heaven. My eight-year-old self would go shopping, examining all the discarded belongings and creating a collection for myself. Highlights from my hunts included a brass floral jewelry box, the game Girl Talk, and a pair of crutches. I crutched up and down the street completely uninjured for my entire eight-year-old summer, entertaining myself all thanks to heavy trash day.

And then, a few weeks ago, it was payback time, when my neighbor put out a table of goodies with a sign that said, “Free Stuff!” My kids wouldn’t even have to rummage through dirt and waste for the good stuff. This was like a free yard sale, everything set perfectly on display for easy picking. My kids, like me, are consumers. They also love a new adventure and any feeling of independence. So as soon as my seven-year-old read the sign, it was game on. But I had no idea how far they would take it. All I have to say is: wow. Apparently a passion for trash hunting gets amplified with each generation.

It started after dinner, about an hour after the “free stuff” had been put out. My seven-year-old son and four-year-daughter were riding their bikes and suddenly I heard them sprinting into the house. “Mom!” my son screamed, “there is a free store down the street! They said I can even take the table!” And as a former picker myself I knew I needed to show my support for their enthusiasm, while still maintaining SOME control over this situation. So I told him, “Wow, buddy! That’s great. Maybe leave the table behind though. I am not sure we have room for that.”

The two of them made upwards of thirty-five trips on their bikes back and forth over the next hour. I watched each trip from the window, observing them mulling over each item and then packing their loot into a basket they found on the table. The first haul brought in a bag of Beanie Babies (not the valuable ones, I already Googled), a satchel of buttons, and three rusty fishing rods. After that came a briefcase, a brand new set of push-up crayons, two dolls, a bag of military pins, ping-pong paddles, three coffee mugs, and a shoe horn.

They spent the whole night cleaning, shining, and admiring their new treasures. They sorted, organized, and made plans — never arguing once. A little light trash-picking apparently brings out the best in my kids.

It didn’t stop there, either. The next morning my daughter was up at 6 AM, nose to nose with me as I lay still sleeping. “Mom,” she whispered, “I’m gunna go back to the free store.” I opened my eyes and met her gaze. “No, sweetie. It’s too early. You can do that a little later when more people are awake.” She sobbed.

A couple of hours and eight thousand asks later I told her it was time, and she could go. I was quickly distracted by the morning chaos that the other kids in my house ignite and suddenly realized it had been about twenty minutes and she hadn’t returned. I looked out the window toward the table — she wasn’t there. I started to panic. Crap! Of course she was abducted at the trash site! What kind of mother lets her four year old trash pick alone?! But right before my hyperventilation kicked in I heard the door open. I rounded the corner and there she was, bike helmet still on, dawning her last and final table treasure — an adult Glinda the Good Witch costume.

She was tripping over the enormous adult-length tulle skirt and glitter began dispersing in the air and all over the kitchen floor. And with the proudest face I have ever seen she marched toward me, “Mom. Can you believe how beautiful I am?! Who would ever give this away?” “You are so beautiful,” I replied. “And I have no idea.”

Another win for the trash pickers. Maybe we’ll take the table after all.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.