At that point, it was obvious to me why I was being so snotty about the entire cleaning process: I was having trouble accepting that it was officially time to be a grown up, time to put away the yearbooks and move forward. My parents were selling the house we had moved into when I was 3. In a few short months, I will never be able to go back there and sit on our old blue couch and fight with my brother about watching SportsCenter. That couch will be gone, and so should my tendency to behave like that teenager.
My psychiatrist mother watched my struggle with a bemused detachment. She didn't say so, but I suspect that if we had talked about it, she would have told me that I was experiencing a textbook case of displacement: I was really upset about letting my childhood go, but I was unleashing all that emotion on the concrete act of cleaning out my bedroom.
In the end, I decided to throw away pretty much everything. It was easier to come to terms with the past when I didn't have to look at it. My mother sent me several follow-up e-mails about this seemingly hasty decision. "You really don't want your Brown yearbook? Dad couldn't bring himself to throw it out. And what about your red person chair—would you want us to save it for you?" she wrote. But I had made up my mind. My parents have saved all the really important stuff—photos from family events and graduations—and my future children will survive without seeing hard evidence of my goofy high school self. I had my mother scan a couple of sacred texts that I now have in digital form, but for the most part, my childhood memories have been carted off to the landfill.
Last week, my parents put the house officially on the market. She sent me the link to the listing. As I clicked through the photos, I barely recognized it as the place where I grew up—the furniture looked cold and dated, the lighting was bright and glossy—the traces of our family had been scrubbed out. I clicked through all the images and closed the browser.