Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
I live in an apartment building with four other tenants. One of my neighbors in the building decided to claim her own trash bin out of the two provided by the city. She has made it pretty clear that no one else is to use "her" trash bin. She has posted a sign reading, No cigarette butts! They are awful to have to clean, especially when I don't smoke them. Thank you. Most recently, she drilled holes to the trash bin and used padlocks to secure the lid to the base. From all the notes she leaves, she strikes me as a passive-aggressive person. I've wanted to confront her about the trash issue: Why does she need her own bin when four other people live in the building and share just one? More important, why be concerned with trash that ultimately goes to the same place as everyone else's? Bottom line: How should one go about discussing this issue with a passive-aggressive person? Thanks!
Stuck Trash Talking
In terms of basic justice and consideration, your fellow tenant is out of line, and you have the right to tell her so. From what I can tell, five people live in your building, and you have two trash bins. Unless there’s some arrangement you haven’t mentioned — a trash can exemption approved by the landlord? — one tenant cannot claim sole custody and use of one trash bin, to the exclusion and detriment of the other four tenants. That’s pretty clear-cut.
As for how to broach this, that’s a more complicated question, one that gets us into the dreaded realm of psycho-dynamics. Clearly, this woman is deeply invested in the trash can issue. Heck, she’s resorted to physically altering the receptacle. Drilled holes? Padlocks? That’s pretty hardcore. This investment seems to have something to do with cigarette butts. I’m not sure what that’s about. If you’re a non-smoker or a former smoker, cigarette butts can seem pretty disgusting. And maybe you, or other tenants, or friends of yours, were somehow sloppy in how you disposed of cigarettes, and this woman wound up having to clean them up. Or maybe that happened years ago, before you ever moved in. Or maybe someone beloved to her died of lung cancer, and so cigarettes represent something even darker to her. I’m not sure that matters in the end, unless you happen to know that she’s reacting to a genuine act of inconsideration. If this is the case, you should cop to it.
Unless there’s some arrangement you haven’t mentioned — a trash can exemption approved by the landlord? — one tenant cannot claim sole custody and use of one trash bin, to the exclusion and detriment of the other four tenants.
But I don’t know that confronting her directly is a good idea. Because based on the scenario you’ve set out, she may actually desire a confrontation. The sign she put up and the padlocks may be acts of provocation. So rather than mixing it up with her, why not speak to the landlord or the property manager? Think about it this way: The woman in question has claimed a communal trash can without consulting any of you, not to mention the signage and padlocks. She’s acted unilaterally. As a paying tenant, you have the right to appeal to the person or people who cash your checks every month. They’re the ones who should be making the rules about communal space, not the tenant with the most chutzpah.
But okay, maybe the landlord or property manager doesn’t give a hoot or doesn’t want to have to lay down the law to an irritable tenant. Or maybe you yourself feel like you need to confront this woman and curb her sense of entitlement. If this is the case, I would stick with the basic issue of fairness (the bins are communal property, you and the other tenants pay rent just like her, share and share alike, etc.). I would not get into cigarette butts or padlocks or the relative idiocy of fretting over trash.
Honestly: I’m not sure you’re going to wind up with a satisfactory outcome. My hunch is that any deeper interaction with this woman will cause more stress than relief.
Until having to share this trash can becomes a genuine inconvenience, I believe that the ideal outcome for you is simply not to squander your precious time on earth worrying about this. The rule I try to follow in life is that you should always avoid hassles with people who care about the petty stuff more than you do. They wind up being their own worst punishment.
How’s that for some trash talk?
Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.
Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football."