Happiness in a Full Recycling Bin

Once again, I got a lesson in Happiness just when I needed it. Thank you, Universe!

This morning, taking out some trash, I discovered that someone had filled our recycling bin with cardboard boxes. This happens often. I love having an alley behind the house for trash pickup, but ours is one of the few houses with the trash bins kept outside the fence (something we don’t want to change, as it makes the yard much nicer), which people take advantage of.

Given the volume of boxes, I thought one might have an address on it and sure enough, it did. I looked on Google Maps and it was the neighbor directly behind our house. I went back out and crossed the alley and peeked through their fence to see what might be going on, and sure enough, there was a recycling bin, but no way to see if it was full or not. At that point, I decided to empty our bin over the fence onto their driveway. Ha!

Just then, a woman walked out. So instead of launching a shower of cardboard, I said, “Excuse me, I’d like you to get your boxes out of our recycling bin.”

She opened the gate and when I told her what was going on, she apologized and explained that a lot of different people had been helping her and one of them must have done it. After 38 years, she’s sold her home and was moving from LA to Maine, where three of her siblings and several nieces and nephews lived. Three of her four children (aged 40 – 50) lived here, and she no longer had the energy to Mom them as much as required, and she feared in California she would outlive her savings and income. She was heading to Maine to hibernate for the winter and write a book “to let my children know who I am.”

The house was full of memories and objects she wasn’t sure how to part with. Her husband of 40 years died nine years ago and she’d never dealt with his things either. There was a 500-pound airplane engine in the garage! She knew she had to have a sale and get a large dumpster, but she couldn’t afford that until the house closed. I shared with her that many companies will do this if they can be paid out of escrow and she should call her agent.

Then, she switched gears and told me how hard a time she was having just processing it all. I offered her a book on happiness and she said yes, so I went into the house and got it, and when she discovered I wrote it, she was delighted. She said, “You are always so happy every time I see you.” It was a strange comment to me, as we’d only met once before, but I do walk and shop in this neighborhood all the time, so maybe that was it.

I told her to reach out to me when she was ready to publish the book and I could give her some guidance, that it shouldn’t cost very much and through CreateSpace she can buy one book at a time (not the “minimum 500” that so many self-publishing scams require). She was very happy to hear that. We agreed that the boxes could stay in our recycling for now (they were picked up this morning) and she would tell her helpers not to put trash in our bins anymore. I then told her that if she needs any help, or just a cup of coffee, to come knock on the door. She knows where we live.

I’m so lucky I ran into her. I’m so grateful that I didn’t proceed with my angry, punitive response to what was really a minor offense. I hope the encounter left her with a little more ease in her upcoming transition, rather than more stress. She’s got a big adventure ahead. I’m happy that I got to be a small part of it.

Today, if you are tempted to respond to a situation with your less-than-ideal self, stop and remember my neighbor, and be grateful that you aren’t going through whatever the person you might lash out at is going through. And make yourself happy by helping them out, even in as small a way as sacrificing a little bin space.

Be happy!


p.s. Friday is the last day to vote and comment on my potential SXSW talk. Please take a moment to add your voice now. Thank you!!

p.p.s. In keeping with our “getting into other’s trash” theme, here’s one of my favorite videos.

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