One of the more surprising developments I've experienced as a parent is the rapid accumulation of junk. Okay, perhaps 'junk' isn't appropriate. Let's call it by name: excessive, unused, dust covered toys. Also part of this collection are the innumerable, fall-off-the-shelf-and-miraculously-land-in-another-room toys. No one plays with them for more than a few minutes, but in those minutes the toys manage to blanket the house with an assortment of dangerous, painful-if-stepped-on parts. And I, for one, am tired of it.

So last night I began a systematic clearing of the baffles, a less-than-routine expunging of the clutter. The sacrifice of time and sanity was a significant one, but also an important one. I found everything from the broken side mirror of a Barbie car to a Cabbage Patch shoe nearly ripped in half (apparently, the poor thing had been mistaken as a toy by one of our cats). I compiled half a garbage bag of cheap, worthless Happy Meal toys. Seems we eat out--and crappy--far too often. There were puzzles with missing pieces, coloring books with half the pages ripped out or scribbled on, markers without caps, crayons broken and melted (or eaten, but I'm afraid to admit that), and a wide assortment of otherwise unused toys forgotten or destroyed. Toss it all!

But then something interesting happened.

As I was putting my daughter's (non-eaten) crayons into the handy dandy Sesame Street schoolbus container, an object I see daily and pay little attention to, I suddenly remembered a day long ago, when Smartypants and I were at the mall. She wanted a cookie from Mrs. Fields, an Elmo cookie, if I remember. But they were all out of Elmo cookies. They did, however, have this nifty little lunchbox-like container that resembled a school bus with Sesame Street characters painted on the side, and they would fill it with mini cookies upon purchase. Being the sucker that I am, and a lover of chocolate chips, I eagerly forked over the cash. Smartypants loved it, and Daddy scored some points. Of course, she also liked the cookies, which didn't hurt. Over time, she used it for many things, including a school bus for her Little People, a house for her princess figures, a box for stickers, and, finally, a container for all her markers and crayons. I guess that purchase was a good one, and it would have been a good one even without the cookies.

So there I was, holding this school bus, remembering the day we first bought it and savoring the memory. As I glanced across other toys, I had similar recollections, and a smile spread wide across my face. So much of it seemed like junk. But every one of those toys, from the largest stuffed animal to the dinkiest choking hazard, carried with it a memory of my little girls. Some I'll always remember, some I've already forgotten, and some simply need a reminder to bubble up to the surface of my cluttered mind.

What am I trying to say? Heck if I know. But no matter how many spontaneously appearing toys show up amid the clutter on your living room floor, it's important to remember that most of those toys were acquired over the course of an extended period, and they came with memories you shouldn't be too eager to toss in the garbage.


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