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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Little Things Everyone Is Guilty of Stealing

If you've ever swiped a couple of sugar packets from Starbucks, you're far from alone.

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Sticky fingers

Why is it that many of us can’t help nabbing extra Equal when we’re at Starbucks or grabbing a few extra pens at the bank? Turns out those acts of light thievery are mostly innocent—and maybe it’s just human nature to want to snag items that seem like they should be free. Or is it the thrill of doing something illicit? “When there is little chance of being caught for stealing and the amount of stolen items is minor, many otherwise honest people will become dishonest,” says Kerby Alvy, PhD, a psychologist in Los Angeles. Whether you consider shoving ketchup packets in your purse to be a big deal or just funny, read on for some of the things we tend to “lift” when given the opportunity. (Don’t miss the free things everyone on the Internet should be using.)

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Sugar packets

You could have a full sugar canister at home and, yet, you regularly filch sugar or Splenda packets when stirring your coffee. “People seem to see it as their right to take large quantities of whatever we give them to embellish their coffee—sugar, cream, napkins—you name it,” says Pat Mills a blogger at Making Nice Coffee, who has worked in coffee shops for over a decade. “One of the more outrageous times was when a guy tried to pilfer the entire jar of cinnamon. And we only found out because he tripped on his way out, leaving a powdery mess all over the doorway. He had a tough time explaining that one!”

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Condiment packets

Admit it: You’re one of the many folks who have a drawer full of condiment packets. Sure, they may have been bonus items in your takeout bag or maybe you took them intentionally. Either way, these are some of the biggest items we tend to “grab” without paying for, and they’re among the things you don’t realize are adding unnecessary clutter to your home. T. Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert, confesses that he’s been known to swipe a condiment packet or two. “I love having the option of the higher-grade mayo, soy, thousand island, or ketchup, since I buy the local store brands of those items,” he says. “When I’m sitting somewhere and there is a better kind of condiment available for the taking, I am going for it. Hey, there is nothing wrong with that. I’m just saving it for later!”

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There’s even a word for this type of “robbery” and it’s “scriptoclepto,” aka a person who steals any writing implement without remorse for the minor heist, according to Urban Dictionary. Cynthia Fabian, a one-time English teacher, has seen this in action. “It was understandable when students would forget their pens and not return them, but adults walking away with them was another story,” she says. “In everyone’s house, there are pens from the bank or another place of pilfering.” And there’s no sign of this habit stopping anytime soon. “Even though people use tablets or phones for notes, those pens keep popping up in junk drawers and pocketbooks.”

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It’s one thing to take a tissue for now and another one for later, but have you ever seen a person swipe an entire tissue box from a desk and put it in a backpack? Fabian has. “Sometimes a box of tissues would disappear and I would try to replace it,” she says. “But, the more frequently I replaced the boxes, the faster they would disappear. This is bad when you’re on a tight budget!”

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Toilet paper

Swiping the office toilet paper rolls is pretty much the lowest of the low, most of us would agree. This is especially problematic in winter when people use toilet paper for Kleenex if they don’t have any on hand. “There have been times where I took some from the bathroom but only after having made sure there was more in the stall,” says Backe, who says he’d never take an entire roll. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

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Trade show tchotchkes

For some people, attending trade shows is as much about collecting the giveaways as it is about seeing new products and listening to lectures. Such is the case for Amanda Austin, founder of Little Shop of Miniatures. “I’ve found that everyone gets a little klepto at trade shows and conferences,” she says. “Exhibitors usually have freebies—candy, pens, keychains, and other fun tchotchkes. It’s not uncommon to see people swipe more than a few of these! I also see people take several bags of chips and bottled water when they are left out buffet-style at events.” While you’re traveling for that trade show, these are the things you can still get for free on an airplane.

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Extra special sauce

Maybe your favorite fast-food restaurant has a particular item you just love. Is it wrong to pocket a few for the future? Andrew Selepak, PhD, a professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida, says absolutely not. “I have never been one to steal, but I used to make an exception when it came to Taco Bell Mild Sauce packets,” he says. “I’d grab a couple extra of so I could add it to turkey sandwiches instead of using mayo.” All this ended when the sauce started being sold at Selepak’s local grocery store. “I feel like buying a bottle here and there is a nice way to make it up to the Pepsi Company for all the packets I took over the years.”

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Supermarket samples

Why is it that supermarket sample stands are generally mobbed by shoppers who may not even like the food being served? It’s just human nature, according to Stacy Harris, a media critic. “Supermarket samples are generally offered with the understanding of one per customer,” she says. “But when I am offered a choice of two or three flavors or other varieties of the same item, I request one of each if I can’t make up my mind.” This isn’t exactly stealing, but it definitely would be a little uncomfortable if you took those samples and loaded them into your shopping bag.

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There’s something about hotels that are ground zero for freeloading. In fact, hotels are places where people tend to steal lots of things, including shampoo/conditioner, lotion, pads of paper and pens. “My obsession is the notepads I find at hotels,” says Stacy Haynes, a therapist. “I tend to wait until the room is empty or on a break to take a few from those around me. It says I am cheap and I love a free notepad. We do convince ourselves that they are going to give them away anyway, right?” Here’s what you can (and can’t) steal from your hotel room.

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Coworkers’ food

There’s usually someone in the office who is known to be a fridge raider—and that ranks among the top ways you may be irritating your coworkers. “Swiping someone else’s lunch is one of the most annoying office habits,” says Sheri Heller, a licensed clinical social worker. “I worked with a client who repeatedly and covertly swiped other people’s food at work. While he felt guilty and embarrassed by this behavior, he felt compelled to continue until he was able to uncover the root of his behavior. In this person’s case, he carried bitter anger rooted in familial rejection that expressed itself through stealing.” Or maybe someone else’s lunch just looked better than his.

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It’s all about the cheap thrill

In the end, people swipe things for myriad reasons, according to Jennifer Wilson, PhD, a brain health specialist. “They have a sense of entitlement, or they feel they’ve paid for it or have earned the right and are getting their money’s worth,” she says. “Or they crave the ‘cheap’ thrill which is linked to the dopamine reward system in the brain.” In the end, small swipes are generally harmless. “If, however, stealing small often inconsequential items becomes compulsive, or leads to stealing bigger items, I would say this is a cause for concern,” Wilson says. It could be one of signs that you might need therapy.