Happiness can be found in odd places..one of them is the dump. People who have their trash picked up at the curb don’t know what they’re missing.

Going to the dump is a chore, yes, but one that many people find gratifying, especially on a nice day. Okay, the upfront part is no fun: bagging oily cans and plastic, corralling the paper, the cardboard, and the trash bags stinking of chicken bones and shrimp shells, and cramming them all into the car. The ride over can be aromatic.

But once inside the gates at the transfer station, things get interesting.

First there’s the satisfaction of lobbing your bags of garbage into the open dumpster and watching them get smushed into a solid bock of waste. The compactor is a menacing beast with the sort of rusty industrial steel plates and noisy grinding gears that we rarely get so close to. Looking into its maw offers a little frisson of excitement.

Next, it’s up the hill to the recycling area. People there are cheerful and considerate of each other as they segment their items, carry them to the appropriate containers and maneuver their cars in and out. There’s a pleasant feeling of communal virtue in the air. We’re recycling! We’re helping the environment together! Perhaps it allays any guilt we might be feeling over the stupendous amount of trash we’ve generated in just one week. Imagine if there were no trash removal…we’d be buried in our own waste in a month.

Finally, if you’re there at the right time, there’s one more happy stop to make – a quick swing by the Swap Shop.

I stopped at the Swap Shop yesterday, and was amazed to see how many other people were there, inspecting the objects spread out on the tarmac and arranged on the shelves inside. It was a pretty sorry assortment of stuff (though maybe the pickings would have been better had I gotten there earlier) – various plastic gizmos, ancient appliances, old magazines, chipped mugs, and a basket of 8-track tapes. Certainly nothing I wanted or needed, but it was fun to look anyway, because you never know.

I wondered about the allure of these trash-picking opportunities. Why, when household objects are so cheap these days, when we can go to the Christmas Tree Shop and get exactly what we want, new, for a couple of bucks, do we enjoy the pot-luck randomness of the swap shop and the yard sale so much?

But maybe the randomness is part of the appeal, speaking to our inner hunter-gather.

And if we do find something useful, some treasure plucked from another man’s trash, we feel adventurous, frugal, and resourceful. Hey! I replaced those missing plastic salad tongs. For FREE!

Soon after. I was on my way home in a wonderfully empty car, to a house that was few degrees clearer of clutter and debris. I felt cleansed and free, like some space had opened up in my life. And that was the happiest feeling of all.