Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Buy nothing in Boston: My city has a local “buy nothing” group on Facebook. Maybe once a week or so, I’ll make a post about something that I don’t need that I want to give away. So far, it’s been great that stuff I don’t use anymore can be repurposed by someone who can use it. I also like scrolling through the posts to see if anyone is giving away anything that would be useful to me.
I’ve noticed that one woman, “Maya,” replies to a lot of posts in the group. She’s picked up quite a few of the things I’ve listed (the group operates on mostly a first-come, first-served basis), and I’ve never had a problem with it. She is especially interested in the food items that get posted, so I thought she might be struggling financially and was happy to be able to help a little.
A few days ago, I went on a walk with some friends to a part of the city we don’t normally travel through. We were chatting and walking when we passed what could only be described as a hovel. There was so much trash and junk surrounding the house that you could barely see the house itself. There were piles of old, expired, uneaten food, and rats running everywhere. While walking by, I noticed a couple of things outside that looked like things I had given away in the group.
Before I could mention it, one of my friends who works for the city mentioned that the woman who lives there is a hoarder and the city has been trying to get the house cleaned up for years, but she keeps adding to the hoard. She apparently has basically no money and the city doesn’t know where she’s getting all of the stuff. The rotting food on her property is apparently a huge contributor to the growing rat population in that part of the city.
Sure enough, the woman who lives there is Maya, the woman who spends her days going around collecting free stuff from people! I contacted the admins of the group, suggesting maybe they should remove her, but they said there was nothing they could do. My question is, can I stop responding to her messages and giving her things even if she’s the first person to contact me about them?
A: While it’s surprising to me that one person’s yard could be blamed for the growing rat population in Boston, I understand your frustration. You can absolutely stop responding to her. You can even mute or block her on Facebook, which I believe will keep her from seeing your posts in the group.
I do want to point out that you’re getting a lot of secondhand information about what’s going on in this person’s life and not all of it may be accurate. But it’s a Buy Nothing group, not a social service. If you don’t have the tools or the information needed to help her, you don’t have to be involved with her.
My father passed away last year and I’ve finished up most of the legal matters, but I have boxes and boxes of family photos. My father was born very poor, but I doubt members of the British royal family have led such documented lives. I have hundreds of photos of him at every stage of his life. I have photos of my mother—including an album and 16 mm film from her first wedding, a marriage that only lasted eight months. I have photos of my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-great grandparents. I have school pictures, team pictures, travel pictures, holiday pictures. All these photos completely fill a large walk-in closet. What am I to do with them?