I wasn’t the first to declutter at home, not the first to even suggest it. It was my mother’s idea: the stuff I was hoarding occupied the entirety of the third floor, she said—never mind that her Tupperware collection consumed the half.

Even if she won’t admit it, hoarding has always been irresistible for both of us. Our home steadily transformed into a collector’s haven, except instead of precious china and silverware, it swarmed with her bottles of expired supplements, books I never read (Dostoevsky, Dickens, Proust), and, the most jarring of all, a collection of Tupperware, most of which are turning yellow, or have turned yellow long time ago.

“But we haven’t used them ever!” I howled as I made my way downstairs, irritating myself and my parents who several months ago promised to purge them. She sold Tupperware while she was pregnant with me to make ends meet, and kept the excess, unsold ones earnestly since. “We should get rid of the things we don’t need so we could focus on the things that do matter.”
I had been listening to podcasts on minimalism perhaps way too much.

“You’re being sentimental,” I continued, brooding in self-righteousness. “It’s not like those Tupperware are going to save you.”

Maybe I am—no, was—sentimental. I never threw away papers, memorabilia, random knick knacks, clothes. In a way, like my mother, I craved material possessions whether or not they were useful. I became addicted to accumulation, convinced that someday, stuff would be useful, that I would have enough to make me happy. I hoarded friends, experiences. I saw them as a protective barrier against the world, a safety net, so when difficult times arrive, I could simply heap a dollop of my accumulated happiness.

Then the hypothetical difficult times arrived, and for a moment I was right.

I recall with painstaking clarity the onset of the pandemic, each of us marooned in our own corners. To cope, I would scrounge through my things, a habit that gave me comfort. Clutter, surely, became aspirational. They reminded me of the person I was once and in that, I reveled. I liked going through my stash of medals and trophies; photos of trips that I thought differentiated me from peers. I hoarded to the extent of greediness, and raved for more.

Yet they also reminded me of the person I wish I were, but was not, and perhaps will never be. I’ll never read Dostoevsky, Dickens, and Proust.

A month of lockdown became another month, then another, until time dangled into a string of numbers I couldn’t decipher. Amidst this constant barrage of uncertainties, more had become oppressive, and control an increasingly alluring commodity. That’s when I turned to minimalism, a movement that promised, according to its proponents, happiness achieved from getting rid of things. Why, how, I didn’t bother asking.

Said Marie Kondo: “Discard everything that does not spark joy.” So off my books, clothes, and ukulele went! My wardrobe now empty, I started wearing the same black and gray shirts in true minimalist fashion. “Be intentional with friendships, be stoic and selfish,” advised a blogger, so I whittled down my list, cutting ties with old friends as if the relationships I’d formed with them were fast-fashion shirts I could dispose of as quickly as I had gotten them. The newfound sparseness, while unmooring, gave me a sense of control—and I mistook it for happiness. This rather selfish compulsion started to exasperate others and suddenly my mother’s Tupperware was on the line.

My mother was never into confrontation. But that day she wasn’t the Rosana I knew. “To you, it doesn’t mean anything, but to me, it’s everything.”  She cried, perhaps in pain. I retreated and apologized.

In retrospect, it was a matter of naivete to equate happiness with the two polar opposites—abundance and sparseness. Could happiness be not found in quantities but in the depths of our relationships with our possessions and the people around us?  A year has passed. The plastics remain unscathed. And I no longer mind. They’re an eyesore, but they make my mother happy.

I have since moved to Baguio, bringing with me my black and gray shirts and books that survived the purge. Inevitably, I reconnected with an erstwhile friend, Raven, who studies here.

“This is nice,” I say, half-guilty, thinking how we were inseparable and suddenly we weren’t.

“Yeah, it is,” she said, smiling.

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