Reader question #94: How do I get my ex-friend to get her #$%! stuff out of my house and out of my life?

First order of business.  This recipe for chilaquiles is awesome and will feed a crowd.

Second order of business:  The problem of an ex-friend and her ex-stuff.

Dear Captain Awkward:

About a year ago my ex and I were really good friends with this girl Tara who we both worked with. The three of us liked to get really drunk (all together, or any combination of two of us and some of our other mutual friends) and more often than not everyone would end up sleeping over at my apartment, since I had a big place right across the street from our workplace. Tara had a rather annoying habit of getting way drunker than anyone else and taking all of her clothes off, so inevitably I would have to take care of her, put her to bed with a puke bowl, and collect the various clothing items strewn across the apartment (and hallway, and elevator, and street, etc). I told her on more than one occasion that I would really rather not do that, but I really couldn’t bear to just abandon her naked in the street, y’know? No one else in our social group was ever sober enough to deal with her either, so it was me or no one. Before long though, I realized that I was missing things. Just little things, like a half bottle of vodka, or the pack of cigarettes that I would swear I left on the kitchen table, or the container of tortellini in my vegetable crisper, and it got frequent enough that it was OBVIOUSLY her stealing from me. Now, I’m not a super selfish person, if she was really destitute and she really wanted something of mine, I would probably have just given it to her. But stealing, especially from a friend, crosses a MAJOR line.

So, fast forward a bit. I quit that job after last summer and broke up with my girlfriend who worked there, and I totally cut ties with Tara. After our “friend breakup” I noticed that I still had a few of her things at my house from the times when she’d left them there (mostly clothes, a couple of books, some nail polish, stuff like that) so I called her up and asked when would be a convenient time for her to pick them up or for me to drop them off at her house. It took almost a month of phone tag to arrange a time and place to meet, and she stood me up. I tried again and she stood me up a second time. I decided that it wasn’t worth it, and I incorporated a few of her things into my wardrobe and gave away the rest. I hadn’t seen her for 6 months when I ran into her at a bar while I was wearing one of her bracelets. She recognized it and lost her shit and yelled at me, so I left. (I didn’t give the bracelet back at the time.) A week later I emailed her and explained that I had tried to return her stuff before but she stood me up, so I had gotten rid of some of her stuff and decided to keep the rest, but if she was seriously missing her stuff STILL then she was welcome to come to my apartment on x, y, or z days to pick it up. She said sure, and didn’t show up. 

IMO, that’s the end of that. Or at least it ought to be. But over the last month or so she’s been harassing me nonstop asking for her stuff back. She calls me, texts me, sends me Facebook messages and emails, and I don’t know what to do. At first I gave her a noncommittal response (“I don’t know what time will work for me, I’m pretty busy right now”), but now I just want to tell her to take a long walk off a short pier. Am I the bitch here? I really feel like it’s unreasonable of her to treat my home like her own private storage unit, especially after she stole from me. How should I respond to her? More importantly, how should I respond to our (thankfully few) remaining mutual friends who she’s enlisted to hassle me about her stuff?

-A Lady

Dear Lady:

Time to scorch the earth.  This fight over the stuff (and her endless inability to either collect it or let the whole thing go) is really about her wanting to feel aggrieved and remain engaged in conflict with you.  It’s not about the stuff.  As long as you have the stuff she can still feel connected to you (even if it’s a dysfunctional connection).

First, box up the stuff – ALL the stuff. The stuff you’ve incorporated into your wardrobe, etc.  Second, send her an email:

Dear Tara:

BCC:  All your mutual friends who she’s been bothering about it

I’ve tried to return you things on (date), (date), and (date), but you’ve broken all of our appointments. Please plan to drop by to pick up your stuff today or tomorrow between (time) and (time).  If it’s still here in 72 hours, you can find it on (back porch/front steps/in the alley), and I can’t be responsible for it anymore.  


Then, when she does not come to claim it, put it on the curb/in the alley wherever and don’t think about it anymore.

Defriend her on all social media.

Block her email address.

Send her calls directly to voice mail.

If your friends bring her up, say “Sorry, she and I don’t interact anymore. Can’t help you.”

Because, let’s be honest: When and if she does pick up the stuff, she will hassle you forever about stuff that’s missing, lost, broken. Let her send those messages into the great void.  It’s time to put a stake through the heart of this connection that refuses to die.  Every time you interact with her you buy yourself 3-4 more weeks of unwanted hassle. Ruthlessly cut all ties. She’ll find someone else to become dysfunctionally connected to.

Good luck!


P.S. Bonus if you put an African Violet in with the stuff.

P.P.S. If you do that, please take a photo and send it!

14 thoughts on “Reader question #94: How do I get my ex-friend to get her #$%! stuff out of my house and out of my life?

  1. Also there is this thing called the post office. Yes, you will have to stand in line if the package weighs more than 13 ounces, but I would think it’d be worth it to not have to deal with her directly.

    You can send the African Violet separately via florist.

    1. Spring for certified mail if you go this route – then she can’t bug you that she never got the package.

    1. Good point. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about cleansing your karma so that you can be free.

    1. Oh, Tara definitely does not deserve a fourth chance at this, but I’m recommending the written notice/final attempt to cover her ass in case Tara is stupid enough to try to make a legal issue out of it.

  2. My friend had a similar situation with the roommate I later replaced: when she moved out, she took a bunch of my friend’s stuff, and left her own, e.g. taking my friend’s nice utensils and leaving her cheap ones, and claiming she’d gotten them mixed up. Then she had the nerve to bug my friend about finding a time to come get the rest of her stuff. My friend was then able to say “Sure, let’s pick a time and you can get your utensils and your broken VCR and you can bring by my stuff at the same time.” Funny how that meeting never worked out.

    Unless she took something of yours that you could plausibly trade– I doubt Tara will be prepared to return anything herself– I’d just not mention the stealing. Don’t mention it to your mutual friends when you tell them you’ve already tried to return this stuff x times, and definitely don’t mention it in your final email. That just makes it look like you’re trying to justify keeping her stuff, and will make your friends think you haven’t really tried that hard to return it or think you have a right to it. If the point is to wash your hands of this dumb back and forth with someone you don’t even like, then you need to make it clear that you’re the one who’s been trying to solve this efficiently, and your ex-friend is the one who’s been jerking you around. Unfortunately, I think that means no venting about the stealing, at least to your mutual friends.

    I don’t think you mentioned specifically wanting to justify it this way to anyone, but I know it’s the first thing I’d bring up if one more person asked me where this girl’s stuff is. It sounds so satisfying, but to anyone who still likes her it can make it sound like you’re both part of the problem, even though you’re in the right.

    Best of luck!

  3. Hi CA, I’ve been pretty curious for a while now – what’s with the African Violets? Is there a post I missed that you keep referencing?

    1. Hi Christina!

      It goes back to the very beginning of the blog, in this post on dealing with a clingy friend.

      Basically, I was lamenting the fact that there is no ceremony for breaking up with a friend the way there is for breaking up with a romantic partner (where you say the words, and then stop fucking, and then return the stuff, etc.), so I suggested that perhaps there could be a thing where you send someone an African Violet and a nice note thanking them for their friendship. Why African Violets? Because for me they represent something lovely and fragile that is impossible for me to maintain. I wish I didn’t kill them! But I do.

      I think I currently own the tag “The African Violet of Broken Friendship” on WP, so check that out if you want more references.

  4. Tell her she owes you for storage fees and be sure to raise hell about it all over your shared social media. Just for kicks.

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