19 May 2006

There is no room for sentimentality in a small house

Over the weekend, I threw out a bunch of stuff to make room for more stuff I was planning on bringing back from the office. Concert ticket stubs. A whole box of saga seeds collected in my childhood. Chan brother travel bags. Figurines, cute nonetheless, but which I have nowhere to display.

I was even tempted to throw out two cushions which belonged to my late grandmother, but which has been sitting in a box, unseen and forgotten.

I came to the conclusion that there is no room for sentimentality in a small house - if one does not aspire to live in a storeroom.

For some time now, I have been using the following rule of thumb to deal with clutter: if Object X has not been recalled or used for the past Y years, it needs to be thrown out. Okay, at most take a picture - a digital one please - of it. (Incidentally, this rule of thumb about Object X and Y years also comes in very handy for cutting down wedding guest list.)

I always feel that one cannot, in the name of sentimentality, hold on to everything. How big a capacity for sentimentality can a person truly have? How many possible 'specials' can there be? In trying to give special meaning to many* objects, many people end up giving meaning to nothing at all. Besides, it is not the physicality of the object itself that is memorable; it is the raison d'etre behind its existence. To me, Object X has already served its purpose by making an impression of that reason for Y years.

For this reason, I am known to be merciless at spring cleaning. The other mistress of my house is the direct opposite. She agonizes over every single object. Half of what I throw out, she takes back in. It's like we are playing conveyor belt sushi.

Come spring-cleaning time, you will see two women at different extremes in the house: one eagerly trying to clean, organize and regain control in her life, and the other eagerly trying to avoid, dart, and procrastinate about dealing with the past.

Perhaps the two polarities stem from different comfort levels about the central assumption in the rule of thumb: this assumption is that of the infallability of memory, and to a certain extent, of technology as well. One woman believes in the infallability (or perhaps, accepts its limits) of memory and technology, while the other is convinced of their unreliability.

From a piece of fabric, to a photograph, to an intangible byte on the computer - I admit it can be a leap of faith.

So I decided to let the cushions be.

*Of course, the word "many" is subjective. This number varies from person to person, but in 99% of the situations, surely it must conform to:
No. of objects in the house > No. of possible special remembrances


  1. Generation X to Generation Y then Generation Z. Alas, such inexorable progression of memories. Yet, how exciting? The point is how does Generation Y make Generation X feel that the now is more invigorating and valuable than the then? And that casting away is an energetic process of self renewal and not thrashing of senile objects (or person). Until then, the conveyor belt moves.

  2. Good to see you again, SZ. Is it even possible to make Gen X understand? If it is not or if achieving the understanding entails many painful explosions, is it then better to opt for peaceful days of toleration but no understanding instead? To put it in another way, if pragmatism is as important to Gen X as principle is to Gen Y, then will achieving that understanding (and many more to come) end up a Pyrrhic victory...?