An odd thing happened over the past year as I cleaned up my diet and changed my taste palate – I started to declutter the rest of my life too.
To most people, decluttering is a matter of throwing out old junk from the house. I did just that over the past few months as I finally got around to renovating my HDB flat for the first time since 2003, and fixing many of the things I implemented but didn’t know better back then.
For example, I custom-built a TV cabinet that was designed to hold an extremely heavy CRT TV and store as many DVDs and CDs as possible.
Who would know that over the next decade, TVs would become a fraction of the weight with LCD technology and that physical media would become obsolete?
Books, for me, have become a thing of the past as I moved to ebooks, freeing up an incredible amount of storage space. People say they miss the feel of paper under their fingertips. I say I don’t miss that yellowing piece of tree bark at all.
Another thing I learned over the past decade was that the more storage space I had, the more I would fill it with junk. So in 2014, I no longer have big cabinets or coffee tables in the living room. I have enough storage space to store the essential things, but every few weeks I’m going into my tiny storeroom to see what else I can throw out.
So one key trick in decluttering is preventing future clutter.
The next thing that I started to declutter was my social media life.
I’ve been on Facebook since 2008, and been posting freely about my thoughts, my experiences and putting up many pictures. People read about my endeavor to reform the education system, saw how I got into motorcycles (long after I began riding in the SAF in 1996), watched my children grow up and so on.
Then one day, I met a primary school mate who I lost touch with since we completed PSLE in 1988, but re-synced back on Facebook. He told me he felt like he knew me very well from my FB posts even though we haven’t met each other for decades. That got me thinking – but, but, I don’t know you that well anymore!
Slowly, over the past year, I’ve gone through several experiences that taught me that even though I’m outgoing, vocal and passionate about many things – it really ought to be restricted to the people who I am close to or interact with frequently.
Friendship, in a way, has been cheapened by Facebook, and we need to remember that friendship is actually an investment of time and effort by both parties. Many a time when we add “friends” on FB, we’re actually adding “acquaintances”.
What’s more critical for me, is that along with restricting the viewership of my content, I have done the same for the viewing of other people’s content. I have “unfollowed” many folks on my FB friends list, because I have gotten tired of the deafening noise that is drowning our online lives and distracting us from reality.
For the past few years, it’s been nice to see other people’s family photos, business events and holiday pictures, but the older I get, the less I actually want to be exposed to everyone’s lives.
What is the real pain though, is that today, everyone wants to be an activist. Or maybe a lobbyist.
Everyone takes an issue like CPF minimum sum, library book censorship, World Cup snafus, and so on… really personally. This might seem ironic coming from a person who can go to the extreme over his passions, but I really think that people need to take many steps back to see how these things can be quite inconsequential if you spend so much time typing about it.
I think the root cause of it is that many people have shifted their lives online, while reducing what they do in the physical world.
I get terribly annoyed when I see people staring at their phones as they cross the road – it’s as if nothing matters but their Korean dramas or Facebook updates. Never mind if a car is hurtling their way.
I check Facebook too frequently myself, and constantly tell myself to cut back, but I wonder if other people even realize the depth of their online immersion.
People are also appearing to believe that when they have a say about everything, it justifies their online existence. It makes them a fine corporate citizen of the world.
Well, I have a comment on everything too (there’s a constant monologue going in my head all the time) but I don’t see the need to post it immediately in 140 characters like the Twitter-heads. If that happens, I’ll have to spend more time later responding to comments or dealing with hate mail (if people really found out what I really think about lots of things).
You might ask me what I think of the National Library Board issue about children’s books with gay content since it’s such a hot topic now. Well, I wonder how many people complaining about it online actually visit the library regularly.
But herein lies the issue – everybody is flooding everyone else’s newstream or thoughts with their smallest comment (or small-minded comment). “Listen to me! I have a comment!”
People now believe their comments or their petitions can change things, or that the world revolves around their feelings about a particular matter. Maybe I used to think that way too, but how often do you see people changing their views online, or at least admitting to it?
What’s more important to me, is that if we truly believe in changing things, we need to live it out in our lives. And when you spend time doing stuff, you spend less time commenting on things.
That’s where much of the intangible clutter has appeared – the overwhelming weight of the world’s unsolicitated consciousness crashing into ours the minute we visit the Internet.
This is not the natural way and we aren’t engineered for such information overload.
We need to declutter right now, not just what we’ve seen, but what we’re about to see, and it begins with a click of “Unfollow”.
When the information becomes a tsunami, we need to manage it before it manages us.
Try it, and let me know what happens thereafter.
P.S. I will have no hard feelings if you unfollow me.