Neigbors gave us a chair, do we give them the craigslist proceeds?
February 13, 2012 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Help my wife and I solve this minor ethical dilemma: What to do about a chair loaned by a neighbor and no longer wanted by either household?

My wife and I were beanplating this over dinner tonight, it's not an argument or a relationship issue (no DTMFA please!). we've just been turning it over and would love some outside advice, both in the abstract and for this specific instance.

Back when we were pregnant last year, our neighbors who are casual friends and also have a baby about a year older than baby crab, insisted on loaning us a rocking chair. I didn't want to take it because we're in the process of moving and I didn't want more stuff, but they were very insistent (it wasn't just kindness, they have a tiny place and don't want more kids) and my wife thought it would be useful, so we took it as a loan.

My wife was totally right and it was invaluable for the first few weeks, but now baby crab is pretty settled and we don't use it. We're also moving in less than a month, our place is full of boxes and it is bulky. We thanked the neighbors and asked if we could bring it back over, they told us to "store it or get rid of it". But we're not leaving anything when we move, storing it is not a thing we can do. We need it gone asap and we don't even know anyone who's pregnant (it is definitely a baby thing, not just a chair). So my wife listed it (along with other stuff we need to get rid of) for $25 on Craigslist, and we've had a couple of emails from folks.

I started wondering if we should give our neighbors the money we get. I would be kind of pissed off if I gave a neighbor something and they turned around and made money from it, but I might also be sort of pissed if they gave it away to a stranger, or undervalued it (like, listed it on freecycle). I'm worried about our neighbors asking us what happened to the chair. I come from a culture where money and friendship don't mix, and being generous (with the expectation of being politely declined) is good manners, so I feel weird not offering, but would also feel weird if the neighbors took the money! My wife says it's no big deal, that the neighbors won't ask, they just want it gone, and we did them a favor by taking it months ago and not taking it back to them now. She says that if they wanted money for it they could have sold it themselves, and points out that it takes up our scarce time and effort to photograph this thing and deal with the inevitable appointments and flakes. She thinks if we offer them the money we're opening ourselves up to discussion of the whole thing, and to whether we should have gotten more etc.

So what say you? In the abstract, if a hand-me-down gift results in minor financial gain (but also unwanted legwork and hassle) for the recipient, need the gain be passed back to the giver? In the concrete, what's the most ethical and least potentially awkward way to get rid of this thing fast?
posted by crabintheocean to Human Relations (29 answers total)
Donate it. Takes the gain out of the picture.
posted by freshwater at 7:54 PM on February 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

"store it or get rid of it" is pretty clear. You're getting rid of it. I wouldn't worry about it. (After all, they'd be fine if you gave it to a friend; you're just passing it on to some maybe-pregnant person via craigslist.)
posted by leahwrenn at 7:56 PM on February 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

When they said "store it or get rid of it," they essentially gave it to you. It's yours to do what you want with. In my opinion, there's nothing more to the matter.
posted by Leontine at 7:58 PM on February 13, 2012 [34 favorites]

They gave it to you and now they've told you to get rid of it. They have no interest in getting in back, so I can't imagine why they'd be upset if you earn a couple bucks from it. If you're really concerned, use the $25 you make to buy your neighbours a bottle of wine or something as a way of saying thank you.
posted by asnider at 7:59 PM on February 13, 2012 [31 favorites]

They left it up to you. I wouldn't take "get rid of it" as "throw it away," I'd see it as them saying "Do with it what you want; we just don't care."

If Craigslist falls through, do please consider donating it to a thrift store.
posted by cooker girl at 7:59 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think they should at least be consulted on what they would like, given their generosity to you. I would say something like, "neighbour, thanks so much for the use of the chair. We understand you don't want it it back so we've decided to put it on CL. Let us know if that's ok with you and we'll give you whatever we get from the sale." Now they'll probably tell you to not worry about the money but given that the chair was theirs, I would feel more comfortable letting them know what was going on.
posted by Jubey at 7:59 PM on February 13, 2012

Your wife is right.
posted by stockpuppet at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

On my planet once they've said "It is yours" you are free to treat it that way and if you make money off of it, it's incidental. Just get rid of it however you want and if it makes you feel better consider the $ you might get as rent you're paid for having the thing at your place.
posted by jessamyn at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Offering them money is just going to be awkward. I agree with asnider -- use the money to buy them a bottle of wine to thank them if the profit is going to bother you.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take the money, go buy some groceries, and make supper for both them and you. Break bread and give thanks.
posted by deezil at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you really feel weird about keeping the money gained from sale of the chair, donate the money anonymously to a charity of your choice. There's no need to discuss the chair further with your neighbors, they've told you twice already they were done with it. Bringing it up again is just heading into Awkward Territory.
posted by jamaro at 8:03 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ethical dilemma? "Store it or get rid of it" means "It's your problem now." Your neighbors no longer factor in to this.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:09 PM on February 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

I'm with the "store it or get rid of it" = "dispose of it as you see fit" crowd.

If I told someone that I didn't want something back and they managed to make a few bucks off it somehow, good for them.

The only exception would be if the item turned out to have unusual value that the giftor didn't know about when they told you to keep the item. E.g., they told you to keep what they thought was a plain old rocking chair, and you took it to Antiques Roadshow and found out it's worth ten grand or something. In that case, the right thing to do would probably be to give them a big cut, or split it, or something. At any rate it would be more murky. But that's not really the case here, I suspect.

So just get rid of it on CL, and that's that. If the CL people fall through, donate it or whatever else the easiest option is.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:11 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with your wife: when they said "store it or get rid of it," they were making it really clear that they wanted to keep the chair off their hands. If they had wanted to make $25 selling it, they could have taken it back from you and arranged the sale themselves. I think they valued the convenience of offloading the thing onto you more than they valued the potential for (paltry) financial gain. Selling an item on Craigslist is a time-consuming task, especially if there are any problems coordinating pick-up with the buyers. Plus you assume the (small, reasonable) risks involved in admitting strangers to your home for the pick-up. Don't do all the work and then make a thing out of trying to give the money to your neighbors. Your neighbors have made it really, really clear what they want out of this deal: they want to be rid of the chair with as little fuss as possible. You can give them what they want by pocketing the $25 and carrying on with your life.

If it helps, don't think of $25 as the value of the chair. Think of it as your compensation for acting as junk removal specialists.
posted by Orinda at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your neighbors don't care!

That said, I would probably take a portion Of the proceeds to buy them wine or a plant, or some small token gift for their kid. If I did that, I probably wouldn't say the gift was proceeds from the chair, but I would say it was a thank you gift for the use of the chair.
posted by jbenben at 8:14 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

They gave it to you.

It wasn't a loan. They don't want it. They gave it to you and told you to get rid of it -- leaving you with the hassle of disposing of it, in exchange for its use and now whatever you can recoup by selling it.

It would be weird to offer them the money. That's just not the type of transaction that happened here. Plus, you should never make an offer if you don't mean it and don't want it to be accepted. I mean, you can give it away for free if you want to avoid this issue, and if that makes it easier to get rid of the ease of getting rid of it might be worth more than $25, but really, you are waaaayyyyy overthinking this and losing sight of what happened here.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:25 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

They gave it to use. If you feel bad about the money, use it to buy a gift certificate to the family for something they'd like and say, "Thanks for the chair and being such good neighbors. Stay in touch!" That way it's not OBVIOUSLY the money from the sale, and it's good will for the future.

But honestly, I don't think they expect you to pay them for the chair. They gave it to you and gave you permission to get rid of it.
posted by elizeh at 8:31 PM on February 13, 2012

$25 isn't enough money to be worried about the ethics aspect.

If you are really concerned, use the $25 to invite them over for drinks/dinner/what-have-you.
posted by Sara C. at 8:38 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

$25 is your reward for having to deal with a chair that isn't yours.
posted by grog at 8:50 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would be kind of pissed off if I gave a neighbor something and they turned around and made money from it

Would you? I mean if you truly did not want something and gave it to someone who got a little use from it but then no longer wanted it? Would you be pissed off if they turned around and sold it?

Christ, sell the thing already and stop worrying, $25 isn't even a tank of gas.
posted by edgeways at 9:01 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a ninja-level declutterer, I can assure you of two things:

1. Your neighbors were exhibiting a classic hoarder-y behavior when they pressed this chair upon you. They didn't want it anymore, but for whatever reason, they couldn't bring themselves to get rid of it. They had to find the "right home" for it.

I don't know why people do this. But it should alleviate your conscience to know that they were just looking to off-load this chair. They even stated it clearly.

In other words, it's not as if they were gifting you with a valued antique that they wanted you to care for. THEY wanted to be rid of it, too.

2. What you should do with this chair is get rid of it as expediently as possible. If you can get money for it on Craigslist, awesome - sell it and pocket the money. If not, take it to a thrift store. If that's not feasible, put it on the sidewalk with a "free" sign.

If it makes you feel weird to charge money for it, then don't. You're only talking $25 here, it's not going to break the bank to pass that up. Dump it on a thrift store and be done with it.

The neighbors will never ask you about this chair. But if they do, just smile and tell them how invaluable it was for those first few weeks, and thank them for it again.
posted by ErikaB at 9:03 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you gave them something as a thank-you when they gave you the chair, don't worry about it. If not, give them something thoughtful but inexpensive -- decent inexpensive bottle of wine, homemade baked goods, etc.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 PM on February 13, 2012

They won't ask about it. It was yours as soon as they said store it or throw it away. However, I might give them half (though not all) if I was in the same position, but if I decided not to do that I just wouldn't mention any part of it to them at all.
posted by The Monkey at 10:26 PM on February 13, 2012

I think you're fine just keeping the money and not saying anything, but I do like the idea of putting the money toward a bottle of wine to be shared among all of you next time you visit. The money's really going into your own pocket, given that you might very well have brought them wine even if you hadn't sold the chair, but announcing that the wine was purchased by the chair's proceeds is a prosocial gesture. You can all raise a glass to the fact that you collectively got rid of that damn chair.
posted by painquale at 1:37 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

if it was $250 then you may have a dilemma, but the amount is practically the cost of going to the movies.

if you feel bad about it then invite them for dinner or buy them a decent bottle of wine, or something for babycrab.

they can object to none of the above. especially since they green-lighted the disposal of the chair in the 1st place.
posted by MarvinJ at 4:37 AM on February 14, 2012

Buy a bottle of wine and make it a goodbye gift.
posted by LarryC at 8:14 AM on February 14, 2012

Beanplating is definitely the right word. If keeping all the money (a whole $25!) weirds you out, then either split the money with them or buy them a $12 bottle of wine.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2012

Put it on Craigslist and list it as free to whoever will come and carry it down the stairs and take it away. For a $25 chair you are over-thinking this. You are wasting way more than $25 of yours and your wife's time over it.
posted by Frasermoo at 11:55 AM on February 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Call your local furniture bank to see if they will come pick it up. Then you don't have to place an ad, let random (non-bonded) strangers in your house or worry about the money. And since the dollar value is so small, you can put the neighbors' name and address on the donation slip and let them take the deduction, if you really want to do something extra.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:54 PM on February 14, 2012

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