ACROSS AMERICA — To give you an idea of what’s behind this installment of Block Talk, think of the announcement Goodwill Industries had to make early on in the pandemic: Stop filling our donation boxes with your junk.
What? People discovered that Goodwill didn’t want them deluging the nonprofit with stuff they didn’t want. So did these people suddenly decide that if charities wouldn’t take it, they’d unload it on their neighbors instead? It’s possible, given some of the responses we got on Facebook to the second question for our every-other-week Block Talk column, where readers offer advice on navigating neighborhood problems. We asked:
“Have you ever dealt with a neighbor who keeps giving you stuff that you don’t want? Do you take it and toss, or do you tell them to stop?”
Here’s what happened to an East Haven, Connecticut, Patch reader who didn’t put a stop to it:
“I have so much stuff from elderly neighbors that I can open a thrift store. Who knows, things might be worth money. My husband hates it. It’s all in my basement.”
Find out what’s happening in Across Americawith free, real-time updates from Patch.
Before things get to that point, read on:
Smile And Take It
Just be kind and get over it, advised a Concord, New Hampshire, Patch reader, who said she accepts her neighbor’s gifts with gratitude even when she doesn’t see their value.
“I do this mostly because I appreciate the friendship I have with him and someday when he is no longer here I will have the little treasures he has brought to me over the years to remember him by,” she wrote.
Another Concord Patch reader agreed, writing, “I always accept gifts with gratitude, whether the gift is something I need/want or not.”
A Joliet, Illinois, Patch reader has an 87-year-old neighbor who gathers up toys others have discarded and gives them to her kids. “Sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes I don’t want it,” she wrote, adding, “it’s not about me.”
“It makes him feel good. He has a big heart. So I just take it, and if we can’t use it, I give it to other kids.”
“You take it and if you don’t need it, pass it on to someone who could use it,” a Brick, New Jersey, Patch reader wrote. “Giving you things may bring great joy to someone who may not have family, or is just trying to do a good deed, and it may be the one thing that brings them happiness.”
“No need to make someone feel bad about trying to help,” a Tinley Park, Illinois, Patch reader wrote. “You can always pay it forward.”
A Wheaton, Illinois, Patch reader accepts the food offerings from the “sweet old lady” across the street, but then tosses them in the garbage.
“She’s recovering from cancer, and it makes her happy to give her home cooked food to the neighbors,” the reader wrote. “I buy her new [storage containers] and include a gift card. It’s the thought that counts, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings when it brings such joy to her.”
“I was raised that you accept it,” a Lake Elsinore, California, Patch reader wrote. “If I’m given something they obviously thought of me because maybe they thought I could use it. If I have no use for it, I donate it or toss it.”
‘Normalize Saying No’
The readers who advise taking your neighbor’s castoffs with a smile far outweighed those who said there are other ways to handle it without being a complete jerk. Be kind, but direct, several readers advised.
“I would say thank you for thinking about me, I really appreciate it, but it’s really not for me, but maybe someone else needs it,” a Brick, New Jersey, Patch reader wrote.
A Levittown, Pennsylvania, Patch reader’s similar advice was kind, but subtly made a point: “I would say, ‘that is really nice of you to think of me; however, I really don’t have any room for more. I would be happy to drop it at a donation site for you.’ “
But why tiptoe around it? “Normalize saying no,” a Newport, Rhode Island, reader advised. Kindly thank the person, but stand firm. “It’s really not a big deal,” the person wrote. “If someone gets offended, that’s on them, not you.”
For sure, according to a Joliet, Illinois, Patch reader.
“God gave you a mouth; just say ‘no thank you,’ “ she wrote. “If I am offering, I ask first!”
An Enfield, Connecticut, Patch reader wrote that “honesty is the best policy.”
“Why pander to someone and take something you don’t want to spare their feelings?” the person wrote. “You are signaling to them that you welcome the behavior, which is only going to perpetuate it.”
A Hillsborough, New Jersey, Patch reader also advises kindly but firmly saying no.
“Very nicely say, ‘thank you, I appreciate your generosity, but I really don’t need this, and quite frankly, don’t have the room for it.”
‘They Mean Well’
Often, even as we’re quietly passing these gifts on to other people who may need or want them, or chucking them in the trash as we wish their rightful owner had done, we console ourselves: “They mean well.”
But what if they don’t?
A Concord Patch reader initially thought a neighbor’s gifts were a nice gesture, but quietly disposed of them. But “once I found out it was junk she didn’t want and knew it was annoying me,” the reader wrote, “I started putting them in her mailbox.”
“Tell them to STOP,” wrote a Nashua, New Hampshire, Patch reader. “They’re only getting rid of junk they don’t want. I hate unnecessary stuff hanging around.”
Or, a Naperville, Illinois, Patch reader wrote, take it and sell it online.
Think Of It Another Way
It’s OK to say no if you don’t want what’s being offered, said a Bel Air, Maryland, Patch reader.
“But if you really aren’t bothered by the receiving, then why not — it’s easy and kind to accept gifts and just donate what you don’t want,” he wrote. “The person offering the gift may simply enjoy feeling or they were helpful, or they may struggle with letting go of things and “gifting is easier than throwing out or donating,” he added.
“Maybe you are helping them by accepting,” he continued. “Put boundaries where you need them, and accept what’s within the boundaries.”
Remember this, though: Your kids are watching, a Toms River, New Jersey, Patch reader wrote, sharing a poignant story about an elderly neighbor who gave her daughter toddler toys he’d picked up at garage sales and flea markets. She quietly donated them to a local Goodwill, but kept that to herself.
“We would accept them and in return, help him with something heavy, check on him or buy him little snacks,” the person wrote. “It was wonderful to have a neighbor that would think of my daughter when he was out and about. It made her feel special, even though she didn’t play with the toys.”
The true gifts for her daughter were compassion, empathy and respect for older people.
“She’s 21 now, and she has befriended an elderly man with leukemia,” the reader wrote. “She recently took him to see the ocean. He hasn’t seen it in years.”
About Block Talk
Block Talk is an every-other-week feature on Patch offering real-world advice from readers on how to resolve everyday neighborhood problems. In our first installment, you told us what to do about barking dogs. If you have a neighborhood etiquette question or problem you’d like for us to consider, email firstname.lastname@example.org, with Block Talk as the subject line.
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