The pandemic and the changes it wrought in our lives forced us to distill the essence of who we are, what we value and what we have.
It forced us to simplify our lives — eliminate the clutter, the extravagant, the superfluous. It redefined “essential” and “necessary.” It behooved us to cut corners, literally, in the spaces we occupy, especially office spaces.
Thus, over the last year, I found chunks of the most memorable chapters of three decades of my career compressed into around six boxes.
The first three boxes, which came from the cubicle I used to occupy in The Philippine STAR (as associate editor for many years, then section editor and columnist, which I still am today) were “unedited,” as a colleague had kindly packed them for me during the first lockdown, March 16, 2020.
The next three or so boxes, which I packed myself, were what I deemed essential from my 21 years as editor-in-chief of PeopleAsia, which, because many of its staff including myself are mostly working from home (WFH), is moving to a more compact office this month.
I know of one executive, who, after having experienced something like a near-drowning experience, works only from home for fear of catching COVID and its most horrible symptom, shortness of breath.
The easiest to let go of in the assembly line were the desk calendars. Was it my way of remembering what went by, day by day, over the past years, lest I forget? Then I saw the 2020 calendar and I cried. The jottings stopped in March, and the rest of the pages were blank.
With technology as an ally, working from home has definitely become an intelligent choice for those whose jobs allow them to do so (medical, economic and media frontliners have no choice but to be part of the daily grind). Thus, the decision to downsize on our space.
So, when we were given a month to move up to our new office, I was forced to do the inevitable — do a “Marie Kondo” on the stuff that accumulated in my PeopleAsia office over time, stuff I have kept around me like a security blanket, stuff I didn’t want to put through a triage, stuff I believed was very much part of the fiber of what I have endeavored to achieve in my life.
Can clutter be like trophies, a symbol of one’s achievements and happy memories? Yes, to me, some of them are — birthday cards that were like dopamine. (One of them, handwritten from Dr. Vicki Belo, said I made “looking fabulous so easy,” oh my — so how could I throw that card?), souvenirs and souvenir programs of the ceremonies where I received treasured awards, rosaries — oh how does one let go of those?
There was a Christmas card in 2004 from former Allure assistant editor Ann Montemar-Oriondo, then battling late-stage cancer and thanking me for “being the boss and friend all rolled into one that you’ve been to me.” She passed away the next year.
And since I had been working in media since the ‘80s — there were those tape recorders that shrunk (in size but grew in capacity) as the years went by till they totally disappeared like Betamax machines, cassette tapes, micro cassette tapes. I went through the labels of each of the micro cassette tapes and kept a few —my interviews with Cory Aquino and Pierce Brosnan, among them.
For every box I kept, I probably had two more boxes of trash. Discernment is exhausting but also liberating. You were jettisoning excess baggage you didn’t need and had forgotten about.
And the photographs! Each one so precious because who prints photographs nowadays?
Our photos are either in our phones or in the cloud in this digital age. Because of their sheer number, it wouldn’t be as easy to go over them through time, get startled by them, laugh at what we see in them, sigh at the memories they bring — the way loose random prints make us feel when we see them in picture frames or photo albums. So, most of the photographs went to the box, and not to the bin.
I also chanced upon a clipping of an article I wrote on my only son Chino’s graduation from the Ateneo de Manila University in 2008.
“When a human being you bore for nine months stands tall and proud in a toga before you, it is not just his report card you see, but your own. You tell yourself, ‘I have sailed through many semesters of my life, and I hope I, too, have passed them with flying colors’.”
And then there were the books, especially the hard-bound ones. What to do with them when you have limited space at home to keep them in? Of course, the discernment process here was quite easy.
The books about the Kennedys, and several other keepers, went to the box to bring home. That was a no-brainer. The rest, I told my staff to find storage for. Because what may be relics in the digital age can be treasures in the future. Who knows? Let the next generation decide.
The easiest to let go of in the assembly line were the desk calendars, a number of which I have held on to for years. Was it my way of remembering what went by, day by day, over the past years, lest I forget? Then I saw the 2020 calendar and I cried. The jottings stopped in March, and the rest of the pages were blank.It is cathartic to let go. I gave away many things — funny, some had no takers in the age of laptops and smartphones (like an unused desk pad and corkboard!)
For every box I kept, I probably had two more boxes of trash. Discernment is exhausting but also liberating. The mere act of shredding outdated documents, bills from the last decade, press releases from years past, was cleansing. You were jettisoning excess baggage you didn’t need and had forgotten about.
After all, you can’t keep everything, even for old times’ sake. And even when something is “special,” you turn around and discover you have a plethora of more “special” items that you want to keep. So the clutter builds up again. And you become both judge and jury to all your clutter. You tell yourself to become clinical, detached, dispassionate so that you can let go and stick to the essential.
De-cluttering is making space in your life — not for new clutter — but for new essentials.
By the way, one of the things I kept was a ballpen from a colleague with a strawberry head and two pine cones, a souvenir from one of his Baguio trips. Engraved on the ballpen’s wooden shell is the word “Queen.”
Now, am going to keep that one.