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When my parents began to talk about spring cleaning, I made a point of staying outside as much as possible. The idea was that they would see me having so much fun in the sunshine after a long winter that they would sigh, shake their heads with a smile and go about the cleaning all on their own, without help from their very busy daughter.

It worked for a while, but not nearly as long as I hoped it would. I was soon corralled into cleaning.

I hated the dust that rose up from everything, the smell of the cleaning supplies and the way that our possessions seemed to multiply during the winter, so that what once fit neatly into the boxes and shelves now spilled over like crazy clowns erupting from a clown car.

Then came the dreaded command: Figure out what you’re going to throw away or donate.

The throwing away part was easy. That was for the things that were broken beyond repair or otherwise damaged to a point that no one else would possibly want them. But the donation part? That was really, really hard. That meant that I was being asked to give up some of my precious toys. Suddenly, toys I hadn’t thought about all year were absolute must-haves that simply could not go to someone else — they were far too special!

At that point my mother would hand me a storage container. She would point at it and tell me in a firm voice: “Donation box. Now.”

Oh, the wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth!

But sure enough, a week later I forgot all about those toys that had gone to the donation bin.

So I knew what would happen when my children came of toy donation age. They tried the same tricks I did to get out of the spring cleaning rituals, and fortunately for them, my cleaning wasn’t as speedy as my parents’ was. I would still be going through things during the first hot months of summer. Unfortunately, this meant that I was more than ready to get all the flotsam out of there before Christmas rolled around.

After dealing with the expected wailing and crying, I came up with a plan. Three colorful bins were placed in the middle of the bedroom floor. “One box is for the things you want to keep in here, right now, today,” I said. “Another box is for those things you want to hide up in the attic until you want them. The third box is for those things that you want to put in the garage.”

I didn’t say, of course, what the garage bin was really for. It was simply going to the garage — and the kids probably already knew that things relegated to the garage didn’t last long.

But sure enough, it worked. The kids had the things they wanted, they had a few neat memories up in the attic to play with, and they never once asked about the bin that went to the donation center — uh, I mean, the garage.

It all came full circle this week when I visited my son and daughter-in-law. His five-year-old daughter, the cutest grandbaby you have ever seen in your life, also happens to be one of the most stubborn little girls who ever walked the planet. I watched with barely concealed laughter as she told him, flat-out, that she was not getting rid of any of her toys. In fact, she was sleeping with all of them. In her bed. Starting now.

And then she proceeded to put all of her toys — broken or not — on her bed.

She is sound asleep among them now. My poor son and his wife are trying to figure out how in the world to get those toys out of her bed before it’s time for laundry day. I think they have given up on anything further than that. Baby steps, you know.

Tonight, I will tell them about the bin idea. Probably. I just want to savor this sweet “what goes around comes around moment” for a while.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.