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How long to hang onto stuff after a friend breakup?
July 2, 2012 5:20 AM   Subscribe

What are my obligations in holding onto stuff after a friend breakup? Particularly, with friends-of-friends?

Some time ago, I went through a friend-break-up with one of my closest friends that I did not initiate, though I believe she perceived me to be at fault. She returned most, but not all, of my stuff through a third party, I allowed her to keep some stuff of mine that was used in the business we had been operating together. I attempted to remain friendly with our mutual acquaintances. With some people, this worked: with my acquaintances who were primarily her friends, it did not, and overtures of went essentially ignored. This would be fine, except that I still have some stuff in my apartment that belongs to them - stuff they either loaned me or forgot.

I've attempted to reach out, via email and text, to talk about arranging a way to get these things back to them, but have not had my inquiries answered. I suspect it's out of friend-loyalty to my former friend, (due to a convoluted email I received from at least one of them) but am not really sure.

However, the important part is that I don't know what to do with their stuff. (Some clothing and books). Under normal circumstances, I have a spot in my house where things-I-need-to-return go, but now, given that I've been unable to return these things, the pile is kind of unwieldy and is preventing me from keeping things I need to return to people I am still spending time with. This is really frustrating to me, and I want to get this stuff out of that pile.

So, what do I do with the stuff?

Data points:

I don't have the current address of either of the mutual acquaintances, so I can't just mail them. Also, I'm not sure to what extent I'm obligated to spend (admittedly trivial) money to ship things to people who can't be bothered or don't want to meet up to get their things back.

It could be argued that I should try to have this conversation over the phone rather than over email or text, but it just strikes me as a really unpleasant conversation that is likely to get drawn out, given the nasty tone of the last email I received from one of them. I don't want to engage in it. (Also, I've tried to call at least one of them and it has rung through, with no return call)

I have a ton of books and not a lot of bookshelf space, so I don't want to put them on my own shelves. If I put them in storage-space boxes, I'll probably never find them again. Same thing with the clothes - I don't have unlimited clothing-storage space, and would rather box them along with my own stuff I don't want to wear right now, but if I do, I'm likely not unboxing them for years. I will definitely not want to go through storage boxes to hunt for these people's things if they show up and want them back.

If these things were my own, I would have stooped them by this point. But because they belong to someone else, I am really unsure of what to do here.

TL; DR: I've tried contacting these people to get them their things back with no response. How long do I have to hold onto their stuff, and how obligated am I to keep it readily accessible?
posted by corb to Human Relations (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You don't have their address, but do you have the address of the business you say you were running together? If you do, just mail them there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:25 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


In my opinion, the only thing you owe them is to notify them once. Shoot them individual emails saying "I have your [thing] and your [other thing] at my apartment. If you would like it back, let me know and let's figure out how to get them back to you. Otherwise, if I don't hear from you by [date], they will be abandoned and I will dispose of them. Toodles, Corb."
posted by slkinsey at 5:27 AM on July 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


I agree w/slkinsey. Send out emails saying that you have some stuff that belongs to [whoever] which you can no longer store, that you'll be happy to hand it over if someone wants to come for it, or deliver it if an address is provided, but otherwise you will be donating it to a thrift store on X date. That's it. Don't offer explanations of why you can't store it any longer; the reasons should be self-explanatory, and preemptive justification just invites argument. Inform people what you're going to do, give them time to react, then do it.
posted by jon1270 at 5:38 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I might actually try the group email tactic. You've tried to contact them all singly, but haven't had a reply, right? Send them all an email (put all of them in the TO field) and say something as direct as "I've tried to contact each of you individually but have not gotten any replies. I have some of your personal items still and would like to get them to you. I don't want this to sound crass but I would really like to move on with my life and get these things to you, so please contact me within a week ([insert date here]). If I don't hear from you I'm donating them to Goodwill."

I'm sorry. friend break-ups suck
posted by zombieApoc at 5:41 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel that you have reached out and did what is right concerning these belongings. If they are things not useful to you, donate them. If you were getting a nasty note in response from one of them, it is possible that the others are not responding because they don't want to be in contact. Usually, people lend things that they are not so attached to anyway.
posted by Yellow at 5:44 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you have the money and the address of the business that your former friend operates, mail them (via trackable priority mail) to the business. It's always best to take the highest road available to you, even if it's frustrating and annoying. In later years when you look back, it will be a comfort to you to say "I didn't act passive-aggressive; I took every step I could to resolve the problem even if it was inconvenient". The risk in these situations is that your unconscious anger or resentment will bleed through into your actions so that you will accidentally-and-not-on-purpose choose an imperfect solution. (And I think disposing of these things is an imperfect solution - you have someone's things, you know who they belong to, it would be best to do whatever it takes not to throw away someone's things - especially as there may be some miscommunication going on. )
posted by Frowner at 6:01 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd have a small party and invite everyone who has a thing that I borrowed to it.

What: Come get your shit Party
Where: My House
When: Saturday, 2PM to 4PM

Light refreshements will be served.

If you'd prefer that I donate your item, please let me know.

No big deal, no harm no foul. You can invite other friends, just to hang out and see what happens.

If people come, great. If they don't, your other friends can make off with the stuff.

But I'm completely bonkers.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:04 AM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


To clarify: I do have the address of the friend I was formerly very close to, I just don't have the addresses of the friends-of-friends whose stuff I have. So, I could certainly send the stuff to the original friend, but it would put the burden on her to distribute the items.
posted by corb at 6:05 AM on July 2, 2012


...Wait, I'm confused. I'm going to try repeating back to you what I think the situation is, using names, okay?

You were formerly BFF's with Carrie. Carrie introduced you to Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. But then Carrie ditched you, which meant Samantha and Charlotte have ditched you as well. But you have some of Samantha and Charlotte's stuff.

So - is the problem that you've tried to contact Samantha and Charlotte about their stuff, but they haven't called back? Or have you been trying to contact CARRIE to get Samantha and Charlotte their stuff back?

Actually, whichever it is, maybe give it one more try, switching things around - i.e., if you have been trying to go through Carrie, try contacting Samantha and Charlotte directly one more time. Or, if you've been trying to go through Samantha and Charlotte, maybe one more call to Carrie - apologize, but say that you've been trying to return some things to Samantha and Charlotte, but they haven't responded and you don't want to just ditch it, so if she could ask them to get back to you?

Or if there's someone who IS responding to you (Miranda, in this example) who is in touch with Charlotte and Samantha, ask HER to nudge Charlotte and Samantha.

But yeah, just one more time, and then be done with it. You tried.

(For some reason, using those particular names seem REALLY fitting for the kind of petty passive-aggressive shit they've been pulling on you.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


These items are not important to their owners, it seems, because otherwise the owners would have asked for them back - especially after you mentioned you still had them, right?

Maybe imagine what you would do with this stuff if the situation wasn't so loaded - there was no fight at all but for whatever reason you were moving out of state and you couldn't get ahold of the owners. Would you just donate after not hearing back one time? Would you give them to the third party who returned your friend's stuff? Would you send them in the mail to someone's address you do have? Do whatever you would do if drama were not infused and be done with it.

This doesn't have to be a gesture or "taking the high road" or anything like that. This is a space and storage problem for you. Your house isn't a storage unit for people who cannot be bothered to reply to you.

As an anecdotal note, I had a friend who left a laundry basket full of fabric scraps at my house after she loaned them to me for a project. I have a small space and they were in the way, so I kept asking her via email when she wanted me to bring them over to her place and she kept not responding to that part. I thought, "huh, she must not really want them back" and I donated them because I didn't want to store them either. I felt much better having that space and not tripping over the basket and we are still friends and it has never been a big deal because adults who are not being passive-aggressive understand that your home is not a storage unit for their stuff.
posted by newg at 6:19 AM on July 2, 2012


I'd send each of them one final email and in it I would be as direct as possible so there's no room for misinterpretation.

"I've reached out to you before about your [books/clothes/etc] that I still have at my house, but have not received any reply. I would like to find a way to return your things to you. Please contact me by [Tuesday/this weekend/the 15th/etc.] so that we can work out a way to get them back to you. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume you do not want them back and will donate them to Goodwill. It is my sincere wish to put all of this behind me; I only want to return your things to you and then move forward with my life.

- Corb"


If they don't reply, give their things away so that they're not sitting in your home as reminders of this time in your life.

I would not attempt to go through your former close friend to return the items. It's not her responsibility to get everyone else's stuff back to them, and it's only going to add another layer of complexity and drama for you.
posted by pecanpies at 6:19 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm. The problem I see with emailing, actually, is that they may have put your email in some kind of junk mail filter in a fit of pique a while back, and just forgotten about it, so they're not seeing emails. Same with texts.

I'd try calling and leaving a straightforward, "I've tried contacting you about this, but haven't heard back and wanted to give it one more try" message; if they still don't get back to you, then give up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You were formerly BFF's with Carrie. Carrie introduced you to Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. But then Carrie ditched you, which meant Samantha and Charlotte have ditched you as well. But you have some of Samantha and Charlotte's stuff.

So - is the problem that you've tried to contact Samantha and Charlotte about their stuff, but they haven't called back? Or have you been trying to contact CARRIE to get Samantha and Charlotte their stuff back?


Hah. Amused by the name choice. The problem is that I've tried to contact Samantha and Charlotte, with no luck. I have not tried contacting Carrie at all - that seemed kind of weird.


Also: to everyone suggesting I give a cut-off date, it would be really helpful if you gave some ideas on time frame. I think I know that there must be some reasonable cut-off date, I just don't know what is a fair one. Six months? A year? Two years? Five years?
posted by corb at 6:27 AM on July 2, 2012


The problem I see with emailing, actually, is that they may have put your email in some kind of junk mail filter in a fit of pique a while back, and just forgotten about it

I considered this, too, but I suppose my thought was that if this is the case, it's not the OP's fault or problem. I realize that this is a less charitable way of approaching the situation.

OP, it's really up to you to determine how much more time and emotional energy you want to put into this. If you think there's any chance of a future reconciliation, you might want to go to greater lengths to return these things. If you've totally written off these relationships (including the one with your former close friend), I suggest sending a final email and being done with it.
posted by pecanpies at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2012


A think 2 weeks is a reasonable cut off date. No one should need six months to reply to an email. The cut off date is just the date by which you're requesting a reply.
posted by pecanpies at 6:30 AM on July 2, 2012 [8 favorites]



Also: to everyone suggesting I give a cut-off date, it would be really helpful if you gave some ideas on time frame. I think I know that there must be some reasonable cut-off date, I just don't know what is a fair one. Six months? A year? Two years? Five years?


A week seems cold (I know that sounds funny in a situation like this, but you need to feel good about however you end this process), so I'd go with two weeks from the point you send the email or leave the phone message
posted by zombieApoc at 6:30 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: to everyone suggesting I give a cut-off date, it would be really helpful if you gave some ideas on time frame. I think I know that there must be some reasonable cut-off date, I just don't know what is a fair one. Six months? A year? Two years? Five years?

Tell them they've got 3 weeks/a month which is generous, non-confrontational and doesn't really risk them missing the window with a long holiday, but at the same time doesn't mean the stuff is hanging around forever. 6 months or longer seems kind of... desperate.

I'd also keep it for a month or so longer than you say just in case someone fancies a bit of drama and asks for the stuff back after they know you'll have chucked it, but that only really matters if you care about avoiding any drama.
posted by purplemonkeydishwasher at 6:37 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Send the email with I HAVE YOUR STUFF DO YOU WANT IT BACK in the subject line so they will be slightly less likely to delete without reading. As for hanging onto the stuff for however longer, I'd say 1 month in total calculated from the time of your very first email. If one month is already up, then 1 week from the time of your final email.
posted by elizardbits at 6:39 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The issue with email is that if you accidentally give something away that is worth $$$ it creates a paper trail, and depending on the state you might have had a longer obligation to hold onto it. If it's all Dan Brown books maybe that's not an issue, but if there are some things where you're not sure...

Anyway, my suggestion is call, leave one last voice mail for everybody, and then I'd ship it all to Carrie to deal with (to be clear, this is somewhat rude to Carrie but it is probably easiest for you and I think that's what counts when you're dealing with people who won't even answer simple #$%^&*( texts).
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:47 AM on July 2, 2012


One more suggestion: would any of your remaining mutual acquaintances mind passing the message (and maybe even the stuff) on? That gets round the problem of people maybe filtering out your mail, or perhaps just not wanting to interact with you. The message itself can be along the lines pecanpie suggests. I'd personally go with 2 or 3 weeks to respond else you get rid of the items.
posted by crocomancer at 6:54 AM on July 2, 2012


Don't just come up with an arbitrary cut-off date yourself. There are probably abandoned property laws in your state that define how much time somebody has to "get their stuff" before the person holding the stuff can sell it or dispose of it. Find out what the law says in your state.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:54 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


You've already tried to get in touch, with no response, so you need not worry about them or their stuff any longer. Free up your space and dispose of it and move on with your life.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:05 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I vote to mail the things to your former friend. You're right, it puts the burden on her to return them to their owners but they are her friends and they're not speaking to you. Either that or asking the mutual acquaintences to pass along a mesage, but both of these put an onus on other people.

I don't know what the nature of your attempts to contact these people were - if you were explicit about returning their stuff - but if you were, I think you've done more than enough with this.
posted by sm1tten at 7:09 AM on July 2, 2012


I will hold someone's stuff for up to three months. If I haven't seen them again in that time, I take the hint and toss it out. That's been my policy going back to my university days. In all that time, I've had one (!) person pop back into my life after a twelve month hiatus and express dissatisfaction that I had thrown away one of their music CDs. With that said, I am the type of guy who promptly returns stuff. If someone leaves something with me or at my place, I am 100% giving it back within the next three times I see them.

As for your specific situation, I suggest no further communication of any kind because they've made their feelings known. A reasonable amount of time is three months. After that, I'd toss their stuff out and never look back.
posted by 99percentfake at 7:16 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


it's possible these people think this is just an excuse for more drama. That you're using this stuff as a way to force interaction.

I think you've done everything that could be expected by a reasonable person. You've tried to contact them, you said it's been some time ago. I'd donate the stuff and get it out of your house and off your mind.
posted by lemniskate at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm. The problem I see with emailing, actually, is that they may have put your email in some kind of junk mail filter in a fit of pique a while back, and just forgotten about it, so they're not seeing emails. Same with texts.

Too bad for them. Not corb's problem. Corb owes them a reasonable good-faith effort to contact them about retrieving their belongings in a reasonable timeframe. "Reasonable good-faith effort" means attempting to contact them using the usual conventional channels (email, in this case). It does not mean taking extraordinary measures because they might have blocked the usual conventional channels.


Also: to everyone suggesting I give a cut-off date, it would be really helpful if you gave some ideas on time frame. I think I know that there must be some reasonable cut-off date, I just don't know what is a fair one. Six months? A year? Two years? Five years?

Are you kidding: If it were me, all their crap would have been gone as soon as they cut me off and stopped responding to my emails. One to two weeks for a reply, and one to two weeks after reply to retrieve belongings is more than generous.


I get that you want to do the right thing because you're a good person and want to act like a mature adult and all. But what is the potential fallout here? If you send an email to these people asking them if they want their stuff back and then never respond and you get rid of it, what's the worst case scenario? That these people won't be your friends? I'd say that ship has already sailed. If they give you any kind of attitude about it whatsoever, you can just reply that they have a lot of nerve complaining after you sent them multiple emails, including one with a clearly stated timeframe to arrange the pickup of their belongings after which you would dispose of them as you saw fit.

What sort of stuff are we talking about here? Things with real monetary or personal value, or more along the lines of some paperbacks, a few shirts and a CD or two? It's only worth making an extraordinary effort we're talking about something with real value, like a laptop or an iPad, or something irreplaceable. Anything less than that, and they have probably just written it off.
posted by slkinsey at 7:49 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either get rid of the stuff now (you already did try to contact them and received no response, right?) or give it one more shot - with whatever alternate contact info you have, like if you have a phone number and you emailed last time, this time call/text. "Hi, I need to clear up space and I have your stuff, please make arrangements to get it in two weeks or I'll figure you don't need it and donate it to Goodwill."

I'm baffled by the suggestions that you wait a longer period. You've ALREADY waited, right?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:51 AM on July 2, 2012


I think I know that there must be some reasonable cut-off date, I just don't know what is a fair one.

Two weeks is fine. I'm not entirely sure of the outlines of your situation but I'd either

- one final group email "You have two weeks bla bla" phrased in some decent way that people above have given advice on, or
- put stuff in box and deep-storage it and have it off of your "to be dealt with" pile so it's not making you nuts if you are uncomfortable with this, or
- if you think people are maybe trying to avoid interacting with you for whatever reason you could do something more like "I'll leave the stuff on the porch and I'll be at work from X - y o'clock on Monday and Tuesday, feel free to come get it at the end of the week I'll donate to Goodwill"

Just speaking from my own perspective, if there was some bad situation people often will willingly sacrifice clothes and objects to be free of it. I know you're trying to do the right thing [and often can feel that there's no right way to do this because you face further recriminations if you guess wrong about how to appease people who are being non-communicative with you] but I'd focus on ending it, moving on with your life, and picking some boundaries and sticking with them. I am sorry this happened to you but I suggest just wrapping it up even if it means possibly burning a bridge or two.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another vote for mailing everything to Carrie. Include a short note saying that although you did not want to burden her with redistribution of the goods or contact her further against her wishes, you saw no other choice as your attempts to communicate with the mutual friends were unsuccessful. Best wishes, etc., and forget about the small amount of money required to ship the package.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:02 AM on July 2, 2012


Thanks everyone for so many helpful answers!

I had no idea my attempts to return things could be construed as an attempt to prolong contact. Looking through my email, I see that I had contacted them months ago, but written about the stuff in the tone of a friendly email - it could have been easy to skim the first bit and delete, perhaps.

Given that, I think I'm going to email the friends and ask to make arrangements to get their stuff back to them - putting the offer to mail them the stuff if they give me their address at the top, with the subject line explicitly about their stuff. This way it doesn't seem like a "Come hang out with me" invitation. It's frustrating, but yes, the small amount of money is definitely worth it for peace of mind. I'll give them the two weeks for a reply, another two weeks to make the arrangements for getting their stuff.

After that month, I'll box it for an extra month or two, to be decent, and maybe give it away afterwards - but either way, it's off my to-return pile.
posted by corb at 8:39 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the advice so far is good but I'd make one change. Instead of telling them you're donating everything to goodwill by a certain date (and two weeks was my initial reaction to the timeline question too), I'd tell them that everything is going outside on the stoop on that date. Then if they want to swing by and pick it up without interacting with you they have a chance to do so. And if they're too slow and someone else takes it, tough luck to them.

Don't hang on to this stuff, you don't need the clutter in your life and they clearly aren't missing whatever you have.
posted by shelleycat at 12:25 PM on July 2, 2012


There are probably abandoned property laws in your state that define how much time somebody has to "get their stuff" before the person holding the stuff can sell it or dispose of it.

Time of holding starts from the day they left their crap with you, not from the date of the final notification that you want it out. They knew they left their shit, they knew that you broke up with ex-GF, they knew their stuff was with you and they were the ones refusting to talk to you.

For old books and used clothing? Screw it. It may be "abandoned property" but not worth even going to small claims over.

Notify 'em via email, text or call once more and leave a message, and tell 'em they have two weeks to get their crap. Dispose of what remains, and get your life back.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:59 PM on July 2, 2012


Hello Jane, I have your copy of Dale Carnegie's How to Make Friends & Influence People. I would like to return it to you.
1. You send me your address & I'll drop it off/mail it.
2. I can leave it in my front door for you to pick up if you specify a date.
3. I can give it to Goodwill, or make some other arrangement.
Could you let me know by August 1? Thanks so much for loaning it to me.
posted by theora55 at 8:01 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


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