I recently moved and was surprised at how much effort the packing/unpacking took! How did I end up accumulating so much stuff!? Then I realised it has been a few years since I moved — oh how times have changed, to think that not too long ago I was moving cities and saying goodbyes around every December. Most of my stuff are books and piles of paper collected slowly over the years… akin to the layers of sandstone and the passing of time (how poetic).

But surely I can’t keep all of this stuff forever; which ones then do I decide to throw out and which ones do I keep? Sorting through them is hard work! It is like being forced to prune my memory, having to decide what to remember and what to forget.

Here is a sample of what I went through, for our amusement:

  1. Shakespeare’s King Lear from 7th form high school English in NZ — I don’t know why I still have this but ok I guess I’ll keep it; I did enjoy very much the hubris and carthasis of the story, its pentametered prose, and the themes of blinker and vision.
  2. Travel guides of Vancouver, New York etc — I’ll keep them around a little while longer, even though they are out-of-date and take up space. After all, they showed me around and kept me very good company back in the days when I walked the streets of those places. Together with a backpack, a pair of tired feet but eager eyes and ears, I used to study them so much, page by page. At one stage it even seemed that I knew those places better than the locals! (Yeah, how “Asian” it is to just study — if there was a test for a “well-balanced” life we’d probably study for it too)
  3. French and Japanese dictionaries — I remember that signing up for a year of evening part-time French during 5th year med school was one of the most enjoyable things I did during those six years. I love my Japanese dictionary a lot too; I love its font and its layout (hahah). But I think I might leave my French dictionary somewhere else.
  4. Glenn Colquhoun’s Playing God, a book of poems about medicine by a NZ general practitioner — when I bought this in my 2nd year of med school, I didn’t quite appreciate the content at the time. But now as I flip through the pages, there are some really good poetry in here that I have forgotten existed! Some soul-searching too. I’ll keep this, definitely.
  5. Artbooks and magazines that I’ve gathered over the years — I collected them as reference for drawings and writing stories, but I don’t think I ever got around doing so! Here are photos of team-skiing in Switzerland, the buzzing night scene of metropolitan 21st century Shanghai, steampunk or retro designs — I can just look at them forever and be inspired again and again to write an epic story of globe-trotting adventure… but maybe one day. Maybe.

  1. So many detached pages of handwritten notes on reflections, plans, and memories — some properly dated, some not. It was a major trip down the memory lane shuffling through these pieces of paper and reading about the events that meant a lot to me, and what went through my mind in remarkable detail over the years… Some events now seemingly so distant as I move and change social circles. Oh well! I’ll type some of them in and scan some others so that I don’t have to keep bringing these pieces of paper around when I move.
  2. Blank notebooks with nice covers — some time a few years ago I realised my love for blank notebooks, strange as it is! There is something about them that appeals to me a lot; maybe something about the clean, unwritten possibilities bound between two beautiful covers (…whatever). I filled some with doodles and others with scribblings, but many are left untouched because of the irrational fear that once I write on the first page, it is no longer beautiful. Anyways, I was harsh and decided to get rid of some this time. But I kept some too, even though I may leave them blank forever.
  3. All these cards — birthday cards, seasonal cards, thank you cards, farewell cards — now which ones do I, uh, discard? Deciding on this is hard. Birthday and seasonal cards are mostly easy decisions, but I’ll keep some thank you and farewell cards, I think.
  4. Medical school notes, distilled into one folder — I brought these to Australia just in case I needed to refer them for my resident years. How they bring back memories! All the years of innocent studying! I had quite neat handwriting back then for a left-hander, haha. Lipid pathways, basic anaesthetics pharmacology, hormonal regulation of the menstrual cycle, AVRT vs. AVNRT tachycardia circuitry diagrams, yeah. I decided to throw quite some notes away even though doing so seemed like such a waste of “knowledge” (oh my brain hurts). But I really couldn’t bear to throw the whole folder out, especially with all the effort poured into it (a major portion of my life after all)… Yet if I needed to find some of these information now, I would probably just do an online search!
  5. Books people gave me as gifts which I haven’t touched (actually just two) — unfortunately I don’t think I will have the time to spare to read these — so do I keep them?
  6. Drawings/sketches from two to ten years ago — it is most interesting, almost embarrassing, to see how my styles have changed. I don’t even know why I keep some of them still. I am throwing some of the very old ones away before anyone sees them!

This is a long-enough list already. Do you have a similar experience?

2 responses to this post

  1. // reply // #

    Mum used to laugh at how I liked to “archive” old stuff. But I’m more ruthless in my pruning now. Moving is easier, without things like bags of old clothes kept for sentimental value. I end up keeping med school notes too, more because of the random pictures on them than the content. And I think I have a similar thing to 7), reluctant to ruin a beautifully blank notebook / diary, before reminding myself that I bought it to use and write in…

    Sounds like you do enjoy some parts of this tiring task of moving :) Keep your old drawings! I think it’s always really interesting to flip through, even if you find them anatomically weird / too cutesy / just bad (I feel that way about most of mine haha)

    • // reply // #

      My problem with 7) is that I buy notebooks purely because they look nice, without an intention (at the time) to use it!

      Too late, I’ve thrown away some old drawings into the yellow bin haha. I used to draw portraiture in more “realistic” styles, so they’re definitely not cutesy, but you’re right, a lot of those not based on real-life had weird anatomical proprtions. Especially hands — I used to tear my hair out trying to draw hands, and I still do, although I think I’m a bit better now…

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