What Is Digital Is Also Real and Material

Many people contrast the internet / online things with ‘the real world’ or ‘in real life’. This implies that the internet / online things are not ‘real’. I chose not to use this language because, to me, the internet is included in ‘the real world/real life’. If I want to clearly state that something is not on the internet, I usually use the word ‘offline’.

And it’s not just the internet – there is a broad cultural tendency to treat digital media in general, even if it’s offline, as if it has no real or material existence. But that is not true. Take this blog, for example. It’s a form of digital media, but all of the data on this blog is stored on physical memory drives of some sort somewhere (and it would be a good idea for me to make another backup of this blog soon – I need to remind myself). I use physical devices to write this blog and send the information to the WordPress servers, and as far as I know, everyone who reads this blog does it through some sort of device that exists in a material sense, and uses material resources (metal, plastic, electricity, and so forth).

(If you, the reader, are a disembodied intelligence who exists in a purely spiritual plane and has found a way to read this blog without any use of material resources, I’m sorry that I’m leaving you out, I am merely unaware of your existence.)
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Historical Cycles of Collecting & Minimizing (If Walls Could Talk Series)

This is part of the If Walls Could Talk series

One of the many things I’ve learned from the book If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley is that, at least in the English-speaking world, there have already been a few cycles of a fad for collecting various material stuff followed by a fad for clearing out the ‘clutter’ to make the home simple and beautiful.

According to Worsley, in medieval England, anyone who could afford to have a lot of material goods had a very mobile lifestyle, and thus needed stuff that was easy to carry around. The king had to constantly travel from place to place within his kingdom, and powerful nobles had multiple manors and needed to travel between them in order to manage their domain. That meant that their stuff was both easy to assemble/dissemble and pack, and there was a practical limit to just how much stuff they had. “This was medieval life for the grand,” the book says “the temporary occupation of an endless succession of draughty castles, each furnished quickly but luxuriously for the occasion. It’s almost like camping: each night the whole set-up could be recreated somewhere new.”

There was another reason, however, that the powerful people in medieval times (and their servants) moved from place to place every few weeks. Worsley says “The difficulty of cleaning up after a huge household was one of the things that kept medieval noblemen on the move, trekking from residence to residence every few weeks. [Describing an incident when Queen Mary’s household was stuck at the same palace for a long time] …The squalor grew; the garderobes [equivalents of toilets] overflowed into the moat. The conditions grew so foul that tension between the English courtiers and the Spanish supporters of Mary’s husband Philip reached boiling point.” Continue reading

Where did the notes go?

As I went through the KonMari thing earlier this year, I peeled back layer after layer of accumulated material possessions. It was like doing an archaeological study on myself. I could ‘date’ many of the layers of my stuff, going back to when I was a toddler (which is when I started living in this house).

The most abrupt transition was between the layer from right before I went to Asia, and the layer from when I returned to Asia. That is partially because that is the longest period of time (almost four years) that I have been away from this house. The layers before and I after I lived in Mountain View were also distinct.

When my dad or I find old stuff in the basement that we remember but haven’t seen in years, we call it an ‘archaeological find’ (and he’s the one who started using the word ‘archaeological’ not me). Two examples of archaeological finds from my past are the 3D Taj Mahal puzzle (which was found in the basement) and these writings from when I was 7 years old (which was found in my bedroom).

Recently, we’ve were working on a household project in the basement which involved objects which might not have ever been moved since before I was born. For example, literally today (the day I starting writing the first draft, not the day this post is published) we finally got rid of some materials which were left over from the renovation – and had not been moved between the renovation and when we decided to move them a couple weeks ago. The renovation of the house happened in the early 1980s. Yeah, that stuff had been sitting there for more than 35 years. (The reason there was a time delay between when we initially moved the materials and when we finally discarded them was that we had to schedule for someone to come by our home and take them away).

I find it hard to imagine that we’ll find much in the house which has been in place since before the renovation (unless it’s fixed to a wall), but maybe something has eluded the renovators and us. But there are older layers in the sense that my parents have stuff which they’ve possessed for a lot more than 35 years. For example, during the very same project, I also found some of my mother’s really old documents, such as her graduation diploma … from her elementary school. Continue reading

Emphasizing Decluttering/Purging Material Stuff Is Also Materialistic

In the past few months, I’ve been reading essays, books, and watching videos about ‘Minimalism’. A common theme is that experiences matter more than material stuff. This is how I often react when this point comes up:

Minimalist: Minimalists choose to value experiences more than stuff.
Me: Okay, I’m like that too.
Minimalist: So that is why we declutter and purge stuff!
Me: Huh?

I think I’ve always valued experiences more than material stuff, not because I think it is a ‘superior’ position in any moral sense, but simply because I just care more about experiences than stuff. And that is why it took me so long to become interested in decluttering/organizing/tidying. I felt that experiences were more important than stuff, so why bother dealing with getting the stuff in my home in order when I could spend my time instead on cool experiences? Choosing what to keep, and then getting what I don’t want to keep out of my home takes time and energy. Time and energy I could spend on something else, like writing a blog post.

It seems a lot of minimalists assume that people are holding onto a lot of material items because they highly value material stuff. That is certainly true in some cases, but in my case, I was holding onto as much as I was not because I valued material stuff so highly, but because I did not consider putting my stuff in order to be worth my time and energy. Continue reading

“Are angles real”: Dealing with Sentimental Items

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up recommends putting all sentimental items together, and to deal with them as the very last category.

I am following that principle in my own way.

First of all, I disposed of quite a few sentimental items in my pre-KonMari sweeps because, as soon as I handled them, I knew I did not want to deal with them any more. Why fill up my sentimental item box with stuff I already wanted out of my life?

There were also quite a few sentimental items which I figured I probably would end up not keeping BUT I wanted to spend some time with them before I let them go, and spending time pondering sentimental items slows down the whole process. Thus, they went to sentimental items box.

I’ve reached the point where I’ve found almost every sentimental item I am going to find, so the number of items in the sentimental item box is no longer increasing. Considering how many ‘I know I want to let go but I want to spend some time on them first’ items there are in there, I dreaded the prospect of doing a clear-the-sentimental items marathon. Thus, even though I’m not finished with komono (i.e. the stuff that does not fit in any of the other categories) I’ve started the habit of pulling a few things out of the sentimental items box every day. That way, I can give myself as much time as I want to ponder them rather than rushing through them. Also, this way I do not get fatigued with going down memory lane – as soon as I’m tired of thinking about them, I put them away. When I am ready to let go of an item, I do so in the most appropriate way (usually via the recycling bin) and if I do not want to let go, even after I’ve had time to study and ponder the item, I either assign it a new home and move it there, or I put it back in the sentimental items box. Continue reading

The Books & Basement Saga, Part 1

Going through the ‘Books’ category of the KonMari method was difficult-

Of course it was, you love books.

No, that’s not the reason why it was hard.


No, I’m not one of those booklovers who clutch books just because they are books.

You seem a bit defensive about this.

Yeah, I guess I read too many comments responding to Marie Kondo’s ideas which declared that letting go of books is horrible, without any consideration of potential negative effects of having too many (paper) books, such as not wanting to dedicate time to organizing books because there are too many of them, not being able to find specific books because of disorganization, or books getting damaged because someone was too busy reading books to make sure that books were being stored properly.

Oh, so that happened to you.

Sadly, yes. It was only a handful of books that were severely damaged (mostly due to water damage, but there were also a few books with many pages falling off the spine). One of them was a book which once meant a lot to me. I felt sad when I realized that it was no longer readable. My dad also has some old books which have been chewed on by insects because he had them when he was living in Florida (which is apparently a bad place to store paperback books), though at least those books are still readable. That said, I know that some people who embark on home tidying projects discover that their beloved books have been subjected to even worse forms of damage due to neglect. Thankfully, 99% of the books I had as of January 1, 2019 were still at least readable, nor did I find any books in really disgusting condition (even the few water-damaged books had dried up).

Finding those damaged books was a wake up call that if I really respect my books, I need to keep my personal book collection small enough that I can manage it well even with the small amount of time and energy I am willing to put into book maintenance (or put more time into book maintenance, but I prefer to reduce the size of my collection). Continue reading

The Sweetness of the Fleeting

A plum tree covered with hundreds of white blossoms, and a cat at the bottom.

Here is our backyard. At the top you can see the plum tree in blossom, and at the bottom you can see one of our neighbors.

Right now, the plum tree in our backyard is covered with hundreds of plum blossoms, but not for much longer. I always look forward to seeing the plum tree come into full blossom every year. It lasts, at most, two weeks.

I was lucky to visit Dazaifu, a place in Japan famous for its plum blossoms, during its plum blossom season. It was gorgeous. I did not take any pictures because my camera was totally broken at the time, but the images are still vivid in my mind. (I’m sure you can find pictures of plum blossoms in Daizaifu somewhere on the internet). Continue reading