Just because it’s there

Do you consume things you don’t need just because they’re there?

Let me explain the question. I’ve noticed that I have a bad habit of sometimes consuming something I don’t actually need, just because it’s made available and I don’t have to pay (explicitly) for it. The easiest example is food: if I’m at some event for work, and there are sandwiches provided, I might eat even if I’m not hungry. Another example: I like to travel, and will often stay in hotels. Sometimes in these hotels you’ll find complimentary bottles of spring water. Clearly in places where the piped water is unsafe (Cambodia, etc.) I don’t feel guilty about consuming these. But if I’m in a developed country with perfectly safe water, why do I feel the need to take and consume these bottles even though I could use the tap? It is wasteful!

For this water example, in what sense is it wasteful? After all, I don’t have to pay for it. It’s not making me financially worse off. But bottled water is bad for the environment. I don’t need to drink it when the tap water is equally accessible and healthy. If I leave the bottle there:

  • There are fewer materials consumed to replace the bottle
  • The housekeeping staff at the hotel don’t need to take the effort to replace it
  • In the very long run, the hotel management could eventually reduce room rates (because they’ve saved on costs) and may choose to stop offering the extra resource to other patrons, most of whom won’t mind at all and will just fill a receptacle from a tap.

Perhaps you accept a ride in someone’s car, during which they take you a kilometre out of their usual route, when you could easily have walked the distance in twenty minutes. There are plenty of other examples, I invite you to come up with your own. Clearly, in some of these circumstances, there could be other reasons for consuming/accepting something free (maybe you valued the conversation in that car ride, and you were in a hurry to get home to see your kids!). But it’s often not the case.

I’d like to build my willpower up so that I less frequently consume a thing I don’t need “just because it’s there.” In some ways, I think this is a difficult change to make because if someone else asks you to justify why you aren’t partaking of something free, it is something that makes you stand out from the ordinary and appear sanctimonious. In addition, as mentioned, there’s no monetary reward that you’re gaining! But it’s just simply the fact that it’s better not to use up the earth’s resources when it’s unnecessary to do so, even if they seem small and insignificant.


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