The Sentimentality of Things

I’m a sentimentalist, but not a hoarder.

I don’t feel particular attachment to stuff. If anything, the process of moving out has proved that I’m a little ruthless: as drawers and cabinets are opened for the first time in months, the plastic trash bags bloat and beg to be emptied. Before that, however, my mother — the original sentimentalist — scours through the depths of items deemed obsolete (in my eyes, at least) and yells at me for having put aside that half-used notebook she could potentially use in Korea, that empty CD she believes has a purpose, the dulling, unused pair of earrings she thinks could be gold, but she isn’t sure, so we should keep it.

Ugh. Moving demands so much patience. 

Granted, I used to be a hoarder myself / still kind of am. I’m particularly fond of things that were handmade or handwritten by myself or people I know. I’m not attached to yearbooks, but I’m stubborn about keeping my old birthday cards, journals (even the Korean school ones) and portfolios I had to make in primary school.

Purchased physical objects, however, offer a different story. Why? Minimalism: the art of having less stuff, or rather, maximizing what you do have so that less becomes more.

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I can’t call myself a minimalist at this stage: I still own various versions of various things, and my room is closer to cluttered than it is minimalist. Yet it’s a concept I’ve been thinking about with greater frequency as we grind through the move, and certainly something I want to practice in the years ahead.

To a certain extent, my nine months in Brazil inspired the change. Living out of a backpack shows you just how little you actually need in your life. I ended up buying more clothes, but in the end I the outfits I recycled were more or less sourced from 60% of that wardrobe. I left a lot of things in Brazil before coming home.

My time in Brazil also showed me how much happier I am in less cluttered environments. I mean, I’ve always known that I’m neat, but being in a room where everything I owned could fit inside one closet was such a refreshing feeling. I feel more creative in spaces where I’m not constantly distracted by little heaps and messes, and the time I’d otherwise spend cleaning can be spent doing other, more rewarding, activities (like writing and reading, which I did a lot in my room in Salvador).

Upon returning from Brazil… 

I grew up as an indiscriminate consumer and never thought of being otherwise. I totally bought in to advertising and found myself wanting things simply because people subliminally told me to, or because I thought it was a cool thing to do. In middle school, one of my favourite hobbies — no joke — was shopping at H&M, ‘because it was cheap’. Whenever I ‘needed’ something (like a water bottle), I’d go out and buy one even when I had a bunch of water bottles lying around at home (‘oh, but they’re not the type I want’). You get the idea. 

But as I get older — and, in that process, as I get exposed to different lifestyles and life-philosophies — I’m realizing that consumerism isn’t really my cup of tea. I derive more net frustration from objects than I do joy. I don’t find myself wanting much anymore, and when I do, I think of ways to make it myself with what I have (for example, my crochet bucket hat — which, ironically, I haven’t really used since making). I derive a lot more pleasure from being creative with what I have, and being more mindful of the decisions I make and the impact it has on the environment and on my own psychological well-being.

So, with the express goal of living a more minimalist lifestyle, I’m intent on making small changes in my life — a process I’m willing to document if not for myself, then for others who may be interested in a similar endeavour. On top of the awesome benefits minimalism has for the environment, I also think it’s a great practice in self-care, and creating mental and physical space that would otherwise be taken up by valueless things. 

Little things I’ve done so far to get one step closer to being a minimalist (as expressed in list form) (how minimalist!):

  • I’ve donated* a lot of things I probably won’t need or use in Korea. If I feel like an object won’t add value to my life, but would bring greater value to someone else’s, donation is a simple win-win. The sorting and transporting may require a little more effort than simply throwing things in the trash, but trust me — it makes the tedium of moving so much more enriching. (For more details on donation, I’ve written about some cool HK-based resources below.)
  • I’ve changed my souvenir-buying habits. I used to think that I had to get souvenirs for friends and family whenever I travelled; but, thinking about it, how extraneous is it to buy something for the sake of buying it? Besides, after too many trinkets and charms thrown in the trash, I now know that there are many other ways to commemorate an experience with a loved one. The really minimalist version (and personally, my favourite one) would be to not get anything at all — or rather, not feel obligated to get anything — and share stories in a more intimate context instead. But if you’d like to bring back something for others, which is fine, why not bring back local foods or candies instead of non-perishable keychains or magnets? I brought back a bunch of paçoquitas from Brazil and everyone I’ve shared them with so far have loved them. I’m also planning on making a meal of moqueca and feijão (com farinha) for my parents once we settle down in our new home!

    The best little lembranças ever!
  • I make an attempt to purchase local or second-hand (if I need to buy something to begin with). Minimalism and environmentalism go hand to hand so intuitively: when you consume less, you impact the earth less. When your options are reduced, you naturally grow more conscious of the decisions you do make. And consciousness makes a difference: whenever I buy groceries, for example, and find that the only cheeses available have all been shipped from Australia, I re-think my perceived ‘need’ for cheeses and get something else instead (if anything).

When it comes to lifestyle changes, it’s impossible — and inadvisable — to change everything at once. Inevitably, contradictions may arise. For example, I can’t really be a ‘minimalist’ if I’m intent on keeping every Christmas card anyone has written to me ever. But for now, when I’m not in the emotional position to start sorting through these piles, it’s fine to live with said ‘contradictions’. You don’t have to make your life harder by thinking in boxes (and I don’t say this only because of the hellish process otherwise known as moving). One day, when I’m ready, I’ll probably try and fit the letters that mean the most to me in a single shoe box; and until then, I’ll develop in other ways. Like with minimalist clothing, furniture, etc.

Having said all that though, I cannot end this post without mentioning the most poignant part of our move. Yesterday, my dad and I lugged two bagfuls of stuff to our nearest Salvation Army Family Store, where we donated a lot of toys, books, bags, accessories, stationery (notebooks, etc) and miscellaneous re-sellable objects (like plastic containers, bike pump, etc). We wanted to take one of our big bags back, so the lady on duty emptied the entire horde — which happened to include my dolls — into smaller baskets.

Seeing the sheep doll my aunt bought me when I first moved to Hong Kong made my heart hurt a little. The same happened when I saw the owl my parents bought me when I spent my birthday in Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park (I remember crying because I wanted the flamingo). Then there was the cheetah toy I used to sleep with, and my sister’s tiger counterpart…

But before I could run back and take them all back in my arms, I took a moment and thought about it. I’ve committed to this thing called ‘growing up’, which includes embracing new reflections and philosophies that may help me live a more enriching life. Back in the day, the dolls were what gave me joy. Over the years, I’ve changed — and that’s okay. I’m sure the sheep and the owl and the cheetah would’ve been proud of me too.


*If you find yourself de-cluttering / moving out of your house (or even Hong Kong!), here are some resources that will help you make the process a lot more sustainable and meaningful.

As mentioned above, my dad and I took a bunch of stuff to The Salvation Army. The process was super simple: we took our two bags of stuff to the Family Store closest to our home, delivered them to the staff working there that day, and that was it! So easy. You can find information on what they do and don’t accept / where the collection centers are here.

We also had two old, broken laptops lying around the house. Since I found it somewhat fishy to throw two electronic goods into the regular trash, I searched online for a computer recycling center and came across the Environmental Protection Department’s Computer and Communication Products Recycling Program. Basically, technicians either refurbish working laptops and donate them to those who need it, or — in the case that the device doesn’t work — the computers are dismantled and useful parts recycled. It turned out that one of the collection centers was right next to my house, so I went over, handed them the laptops, got a receipt and voilà! Again — super easy. You can find the list of collection centers here.



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