SEE UPDATE BELOW.
If someone moves out but leaves stuff behind, do you have any obligation to return their possessions – at a cost of your own time and money – to them?
This is my dilemma. The easy answer is no. But when the possessions are sentimental (a yearbook, bible, picture album, and flask, pictured) and when the someone offers to pay postage, the answer is not black and white.
I’d still have to cover shipping materials and spend about an hour packaging and mailing the stuff. Not a ridiculous burden. But if these items were so important to this someone, who happens to be my husband’s former roommate, why didn’t he take them with him or arrange to procure them already? I’ve never met him and he hasn’t lived in this house for four years, so my sympathy for said roommate is
lower than Obama’s approval ratings. And I’ve already sent him mail he received at our house from the IRS, State of Rhode Island, and Social Security administration.
But…something told me I should offer to return the sentimental items to this guy. (His three large boxes of novels are going to the local friends of the library group).
So I asked to be paid for everything, including my time. Here’s my message to him, sent via Facebook (we are not friends but I tracked him down through another former roommate):
I went through your boxes in the attic and the only sentimental items I found were a bible, photo album, flask, and 2000-2001 yearbook. The rest are books, mostly novels. If you’d like the sentimental items, please have a friend come pick them up or send money to cover postage, packing supplies, and my time.
Have I crossed a boundary? The one between being a good Samaritan and a greedy stranger? I feel close.
UPDATE: So many great suggestions and questions that I decided to reply in-post, and let you all know how it turned out.
@Jeannie and @Erin Walsh Believe me, I asked my husband to contact Karl about this stuff, but after giving him a few months I decided I had to take it into my own hands. It just wasn’t a priority for him.
@Stan True, I do have a shoebox and old newspaper lying around. Asking him to cover packing materials was my passive aggressive side coming out. Plus, UPSP provides Priority Mail boxes for free.
@Ctcs I’m glad a stranger gave you your ATM money. As stressful as moving is, after four years of letting your stuff gather dust, that explanation no longer holds water.
@Valerie Thanks for backing me up!
@di I have been in the same situation as Karl. When I moved from LA to RI, my former roommate let me leave a few boxes in her basement. With her gentle reminders, I moved them all out within 1 year. (And did all the packing and paid for the shipping, of course). I believe each person is responsible for their own stuff.
@Jen B. I surprised you would let someone off the hook just because they are a “dude.” Why shouldn’t he be as responsible as the next person?
@CateS Karl never sent money the first time I contacted him about his stuff, many months ago. Which is why, this time around, I was much more direct about what I wanted him to do.
@Cheryl @Cathie Hehehe, exactly. That’s why I titled the post good Samaritan or greedy stranger. I felt like I was somewhere in the middle.
@Mabu It never crossed my mind that the tight economy might have contributed to my unwillingness to pay upfront to ship Karl’s stuff. A big piece of it was that I’ve never met him and he and my husband do not keep in touch. So he is not a friend of the family, but a guy who is almost a stranger.
I had mostly given into @Amy and @Michelle Ventresca’s reminders that karma would come back to bite me if I did not selflessly pack and ship Karl’s sentimental belongings. But my pointed email to Karl elicited a quick response – he would send two friends Sunday evening to pick up the items. They showed up and even took the two large boxes of books! Problem solved!!!!