A different kind of spring cleaning

“Do you remember that wind-up doggie you had when you were little? What do you want me to do with it?”

Mom asked from thousands of miles away as she and Dad began the impossible task of cleaning out my childhood bedroom.

“Oh, just throw it out,” I responded immediately. “Are you sure? Maybe when you have children they will want it,” Mom said, full of hope.

My parents are contemplating moving to the U.S. from Hungary, but before they can do that they have to take stock of the contents of the apartment that’s been in the family for generations. There is stuff everywhere.

My room is just a small part of the problem for them, but the decision of what to keep and what to throw out is all my problem.

Some of the things my parents ask me about, I don’t even remember — like the wind-up dog. How am I supposed to know how I feel about toys I haven’t seen or played with in 15 years? How do I know what I’m going to feel sentimental about in another 15 years?

During a visit to my parents’ last fall, I did do some cleaning of my own. “The trip down amnesia lane,” as my husband likes to call it, lasted two full days and involved lots of garbage bags and dust. I resisted many “are you sure you want to throw that out” type of questions from my parents and managed to plow through the elementary, middle and high school years in record time. Diaries, old letters and photos were all keepers. Old hair clips, jingly plastic bracelets and pink pencil boxes had to go — with some exceptions, I admit.

In the end, the process was sad, but necessary. I haven’t lived in that apartment for 13 years and I probably never will again. I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 and this is where my adult life began. I carried some of my stuff with me when I first moved — letters from good friends, photos, my favorite books, pictures of my neighborhood — and that’s enough. I’m 30 now and I have an apartment full of new photos and mementos from a very different life in a very different place. Once my parents move here, everything and everyone I love will be near and I have a feeling that I am not quite done collecting memories.

As I stood in the middle of my messy room in Budapest, surrounded by my childhood stuff, I realized that I can’t be weighed down by the Barbie dolls and stuffed animals of the past. Some things, like the wind-up doggie, just have to go to make way for whatever comes next.

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