Is taking items extremely marginal value without permission theft?


For example, suppose you are eating with a friend and take one or two fries without their permission. They either don’t notice or don’t care that you do so. Or if you borrow some of your roommate’s shampoo and they also either don’t notice or don’t care. Would these cases be theft? Also, supposed it turned out your friend does care, but you didn’t know and then make amends and promise not to do it again. Would that be theft?


Yes. Theft is not defined by the value of the item or the victim’s ability to absorb the loss; it is taking something that does not belong to you, without the owner’s permission. Apologizing and replacing the item is restitution, but it does not change the fact that you took them, without permission, in the first place.


I am pretty sure you still have to confess theft, even after making reparations with the victim , such as one can be in such trivial cases. The problem is not the amount of property or money you took but that you took it.


I think that there are relationships and situations where it is reasonable to assume the person wouldn’t mind. For example, if you are visiting a friend and using their restroom, it’s probably okay to assume they won’t mind if you pump some of their hand soap. Or if you are at the doctor and they have a decorative jar of candies by the sign-in book, it’s reasonable to make assumptions. However, you always run the risk of being wrong and in such a case, you should apologize.


Let’s simplify:

Is taking items -]extremely marginal value/-] without permission theft?

That should be easier.


Just ask for permission. I find most people say yes. Otherwise, it is theft.



The Catechism does say “There is no theft if consent can be presumed…” but this is a narrow loophole. It probably doesn’t apply to the situations you described. To examine whether it applies, consider two alternative scenarios:
*]How would the other person feel if he (or she) found out that you took his stuff without asking? Would he be perfectly happy about having helped you, or would he feel cheated, slighted, inconvenienced, etc.?
*]How would the other person feel if you were to ask permission ahead of time, “Whenever you get fries, may I take some?” or “When I’m in the shower, do you mind if I use your shampoo?” Would he be perfectly happy to say yes, or would he agree with some misgivings or resentment, or worse?
Unless you are great friends who have developed a clear understanding about sharing food and household items, you probably should not take what’s not yours, however small.


Some workplaces simplify their problems with employee theft by firing anyone who takes anything without permission, even garbage. Just because they’re throwing something away does not mean you can take it. If you find something of value in the garbage, perhaps another employee will wonder why he or she can’t have something of very little value elsewhere, thus leading to a series of unbounded privilege escalations. They figure that it’s easier just to say “No” to everything rather than bother to work/figure things out, that way everybody is equal and there is no basis for complaints of unfair or unequal treatment.

Sound unrealistic? I just ran into this on a new job; even if I’m interested in making personal use of something in garbage that’s going to the dump, I can’t have it.

Don’t push your luck.


OK, I see your points and agree this is wrong. Now, for cases where friends haven’t noticed and this happened a while ago, should I try to repay them for my theft financially or even bring it up, or just stop the habit? It would be awkward at best and damaging at worst to bring it up at this point in these cases, I feel, but I would appreciate guidance.


French fries and shampoo. Hmm.

If you’re eating with someone and swipe a couple of fries, it’s rude, but not theft. Miss Manners would not approve.

If you take half a bottle of somebody’s $25 shampoo, you should say “hey, I took some shampoo, do you want me to replace it?”
If you washed your hair with half a teaspoon, forget it.

Come on, let’s not be silly.


It is theft, even if at the very low end of the scale on the venial side.

As I’ve explained to my wife and other women I’ve dated, if you wanted some fries {or insert other relevant food here such as dessert} then you should have ordered some.

Or if we agree to share something, such as dessert, and she thinks it’s cute to take a bit more than half - no, it’s not cute, it’s theft.

It is of course not theft if it is presumed that the owner will not mind. My wife now knows that when it comes to sharing food, such open sharing cannot be presumed. :wink:

As with many things in life, communicating up front helps. If my wife or whoever wants some fries, let’s order a larger size.

PS I almost never eat fries anymore. They are close to the worst food you can eat, with next to no nutritional value (high GI carbs, poor quality fat, and salt).


I really wish I knew the emoticon code for rolling with laughter…


That is a good question. Perhaps we should ask a priest.

I tend to feel, as I suspect most people do, that there is a threshold, somewhere between a penny and a million dollars, below which we do not need to pay it back and reconcile with our neighbor. I have a problem with that. I cannot come up with a rational moral argument for it.

When I get confused about questions of morality, I try to relate it to the two simple but great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor. St.Thomas Aquinas wrote “To love is to will the good of another.” How do we will the good of the other (how do we best serve him or her) by choosing not to admit and repay small thefts that we committed long ago?


He didn’t say Thou shalt not steal, unless the item stolen is of an amount less than or equal to five french fries.

Do there exist thresholds to the other commandments as well?


If it is reasonable to assume that the person won’t mind sharing the object with you (a little bit of shampoo when you are staying at their house as a guest, for example), I would say it isn’t theft…but it would still be polite to ask first. Regardless, “stealing” a couple fries is DEFINITELY not grave matter. It would be a venial sin at most. The Catechism is clear that the gravity of theft is dependent upon the value of what is stolen and the harm it does to the victim. If in doubt, discuss it with a priest in the confessional.


If you share a high degree of familiarity with the person from whom you “swipe” french fries or borrow shampoo, and you can assume without a doubt that they would of course say yes to your request, then yes, you can borrow without sin. It’s still polite, however, to ask, unless there is a stated understanding that your friend just wants to share his french fries or other things without you having to ask.

Just be careful not to take on an “entitled” attitude concerning other people’s possessions, because that’s what can get you in trouble. So long as you are always ready to apologize if you cross the line, or even better, if you always ask permission except in the few cases where it would be ridiculous to do so, you’re safe. :wink:

:rotfl: is done with [noparse]:roftl:[/noparse]


Thank you!


Hey again,

I’ve been trying to break this habit after this thread and have done well but have some situations I worry about (I’m also very scrupulous, so take that into account). I’m a student and live with my parents. Would drinking water form a cup my mother poured for herself, when I think there is a possibility I poured it or she poured it for me, be stealing? What if it turned out she did pour it for me, but I wasn’t sure? I mean, water’s not scarce for us (by the grace of God), but I still don’t want to steal.


Why don’t you ask her instead of us - that would be a lot easier wouldn’t it?

But if you are writing here because you are lonely then you need to own that.
And if that is the case I don’t think this Forum is really the best place to be dealing with your lonliness - at least not in this unhelpfully subterfuged way.

Good luck and God bless.


I’m not sure where you get the idea I’m lonely, but I have asked her and she said she doesn’t mind in the vast majority of cases. I was worried because at least one of these cases was done before I knew that. However, upon further reflection, I have realized the theft would be accidental at most, since I believed the water was most likely mine in both cases but only later proved to be wrong.

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