10 Little Things That Almost Everyone Steals

Have you ever thought of yourself as a thief? Odds are you have stolen something at least once in your life. Of course, this doesn’t mean you are a vicious criminal who creates manipulative and masterminded plots to rob banks or steal diamonds.

But more than likely, at one time or another, you have “borrowed” something and forgotten to give it back, picked up something you thought was yours and put it in your pocket, or accidentally borrowed a dish from your neighbor that is now your favorite serving plate.

You may be thinking “that does’t count” about some of these small things. You may have thought it was yours, and, hey, nobody’s really going to miss it.

Though these cases of petty theft are probably not going to get you time in the slammer, when you take a second to think about it, we steal a lot of stuff. We created a list of some of the most common things we like to steal the most — some of them accidentally and others, we steal on purpose.

1. Pens

money and salary

Pen with money | iStock.com

“Darn it, Joe stole my pen again.” Pen theft is so common around the office that 70% of office employees say they’ve have had a pen go missing, and 40% have actually caught a co-worker stealing their pen red-handed. We steal pens so much that doctor’s offices actually tie them to clipboards. And banks, well, they chain those pens down so our thieving hands don’t walk out with them.

It may sound ridiculous, but is it? If we steal, say, 1,000 pens from the doctor’s office at 25 cents a pop, that’s $250. Have you ever stolen someone’s pen?

2. A spot in line

People waiting in line on the sidewalk

People waiting in line | Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Have you ever cut in line? When someone cuts in line, in all actuality, that person is stealing someone else’s time. That person has to wait longer because the line cutter stole the spot he or she waited for. This can produce varying reactions. The person who stood there waiting may become infuriated and confront the line-cutter; he or she may give the line cutter a dirty look, but figure it’s not really worth a confrontation and simply let it go; or he or she may assertively tell the line-cutter to move to the back of the line.

The Journal of Personality of Social Psychology studied how people react in this situation. Although its research is dated, it is still compelling. When someone cuts in line, people object 54% of the time. When two people try to cut, however, people objected much more frequently — about 91% of the time.

You may be thinking, “I’ve never cut in line.” But think about those times when you’re in a long line at the store and a new register opens up. When the cashier says, “I can take someone at this register,” have you ever rushed to get to that empty register before the person who should theoretically be next in line?

3. Hotel amenities

hotel room

Hotel room | iStock.com

When staying in a hotel, many people want to enjoy a relaxing experience: a comfy bed, coffee in the morning, and a nice, hot shower. A survey by Hotels.com found that 23% of travelers look for rooms with high-end coffee makers, and 34% say that free Wi-Fi is a must-have. Many people look for the comforts of home and some, well, they like to take hotel comforts home with them.

More than one-third (35%) of hotel guests admit to stealing hotel amenities like towels and linens. Of the countries surveyed, Denmark appears to steal the least from hotels, and Colombia admits to stealing the most, which means they either steal a whole lot of hotel swag or they’re just more honest than some of the other survey respondents. The U.S. was not at the bottom, but we did rank pretty low on the honesty list, ranking at No. 23 out of 29 countries.

4. Parking spots

parking lot

Parking lot | iStock.com

It’s Black Friday. The parking lot is completely packed and it appears as though there’s not a single place to park your vehicle. All of the sudden, you see a spot in the next row over. The only problem is, another car is already going for that same spot. Do you try and get there first?

Now, you’re in a duel — a dangerous game where winner takes all. Maybe you turn on some old Western music for motivation. Driving through the Walmart parking lot at 17 miles per hour, you reach the spot first and park.

Although the scenario may not have been as dramatic, most people have, at one time or another, taken a parking spot that someone else had their eye on first, even if the spot theft occurred unknowingly.

5. Books and magazines

colection of books

Books | iStock.com/ConstantinosZ

These days, we have e-readers, tablets, and phones with reading apps. But many of us still love a good old-fashioned book. Have you ever borrowed a book and forgotten to return it? Is that book sitting on your shelf?

While scanning through a magazine, maybe you inadvertently brought it with you instead of putting it back down before you left. Many doctor’s offices and hair salons have piles of magazines in the waiting area to reduce boredom during the waiting period. Have you ever accidentally taken one of those magazines home with you?

6. Lighters

candle lighter

Candle lighter | iStock.com

A lighter is one of the most commonly lost items, along with pens and wallets. For a smoker, a lighter is an essential item — that person needs his or her lighter to light cigarettes around 20 times a day. Have you ever seen a smoker out in public who doesn’t have a light? He or she may scan the surroundings, looking for other smokers who can lend one, or a nearby convenience store where a lighter can be purchased.

It’s easy to place something so small into your pocket. You may be used to holding a lighter in your hand, and when you have someone else’s, you think it’s yours and just walk away with it. Enjoying your new lighter?

7. Restaurant straws, napkins, and condiments

salt shaker at restaurant table

Salt shaker at restaurant table | Mario Tama/Getty Images

Do you steal the sugar or Sweet ‘n’ Low packets from the tables at restaurants? What about ketchup and mustard packets? “A few extra napkins for my glove box won’t hurt anyone,” you may think to yourself. If so, you’re certainly not the only one.

CNN reported on sugar and condiment swiping. When CNN asked Jim ‘N’ Nick’s BBQ about sugar theft in restaurants, CEO Nick Pihakis told CNN that “as a restaurant operator, it is amazing to me how much of a negative financial impact every sugar packet, ketchup packet that leaves the building unaccounted for affects our bottom line.” These condiments account for around 1% of the restaurants’ total supply cost, which equates to around $900,000.

Sugar and condiments are not the only foods we steal from food establishments. Ever taste something from your pay-by-weight container at the store or deli before it’s weighed? Caught you!

8. Food

man relaxing and enjoying a burger

Man eating hamburger| iStock.com

Do you work with the Hamburglar? You’re not alone. From grocery store aisles to office refrigerators, food is one of the items that often fall prey to the five-finger-discount. When it comes to food theft, the office is one place where you have to keep an eye on your lunch. Roughly 35% of people admit to sometimes stealing food from the office, according to a survey by online grocer Peapod. Approximately 71% said they had been victims of food theft.

Among the most popular items for food thieves is Nutella, due to its high demand (and depending on where you shop, its high price). In fact, Toronto authorities recently busted a group of thieves who tried to escape with a truck containing $30,000 worth of stolen Nutella.

9. Plastic grocery bags

grocery shopping

Grocery shopping | iStock.com

While not everyone may consider this stealing, your local supermarket store manager might. Almost all of us are guilty of grabbing a handful of empty plastic grocery bags and stuffing them into another grocery bag. (Hey, you never know when you’ll need them if your trash bags run out.) Plastic grocery bags are so popular, that some stores are charging for them—and this is leading to even more theft. In England, once stores began charging a fee for bags, shoppers stole more than 520 million supermarket bags within a three month period.

10. Food containers

plastic containers

Plastic containers | The Container Store

Are friends and family hesitant to let you take food home in their plastic containers? It’s probably because you never bring the containers back. Tupperware theft is such a big problem that people are writing to advice columnists to learn the best way to get their precious plastic back. One advice columnist’s suggestion:

I neatly print my name on the side of my Tupperware with a Sharpie, so as to avoid confusion with anyone else’s. This also serves as a gentle, persistent reminder for those who fail to return it. I presume it lurks in their cabinets, [reminding] them to return it to its proper home … Honestly though, if you’re going to get that upset about your Tupperware, maybe don’t lend it out? Ultimately, it’s probably not that big of a deal.

All statistics courtesy of:

Additional reporting by Sheiresa Ngo. 

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