Looking Back

Marie Kondo-ing my clutter

/ 05:07 AM January 23, 2019

Randy David’s column on Sunday on the pleasures of the audiobook, of being read to and listening rather than reading text off a page, reminded me of my own shift from paper to digital. I only encounter the paper edition of the Inquirer at the office and my 94-year-old father’s bedside; I read the Inquirer online either on my laptop or my smartphone.

While I still enjoy holding a physical book, caressing its pages and taking in the scent of ink on paper, things are different for books I use for work: reference works, bibliographies, rare imprints and sometimes even manuscripts that I now have in digital form. A whole library that will fill a room is tucked into a palm-sized external hard drive that may disappear, too, when I am convinced to migrate everything to iCloud.


Four decades ago, following the advice of the historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo, I started building a reference library of books on the Philippines that have served me well in my work, but these have overrun the house, spilling into other rooms. My library would be much larger if I add the books in my office and those in special collections that bear my name in Kyoto University, Japan, and Holy Angel University, Pampanga. Books multiply like mushrooms and are difficult to dispose of, on the off chance that I may read or need, say, an out-of-print book on the taxonomy of Philippine ornamental plants in the future.

My friend and mentor E. Aguilar Cruz advised against acquiring “The Philippine Islands,” a 55-volume compilation of historical documents edited by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson best consulted in a library. I argued: What if I needed a reference in the middle of the night? So I bought the 19-volume Cacho Hermanos 1973 reprint of the set, broke it up, and paid to have it handsomely rebound into 55 volumes, like the first edition published serially from 1903 to 1908.


Some years later, I traded this for the 1962 Taipei reprint of the 55-volume set by Carlos Quirino. In 1998, the Bank of the Philippine Islands gave away CDs with a scan of “Blair and Robertson” that made my physical set obsolete. Today, “B&R” is available online from the University of Michigan website of Philippine materials. Fortunately, there are many offers from bibliophiles who want to take the physical set off me, and I am inclined to sell because I have a PDF copy in my laptop.

Long before the trending Netflix reality show that made Marie Kondo a household word, I deployed the Kondo method and carved an additional 40 percent more storage space in my closets by simply discarding what was not useful or relevant, organizing things by type and function, and folding and arranging things in their proper places. My once unwieldy closets now have a sense of order, reducing time and stress in looking for things when you need them. Unfortunately, I cannot use the Kondo method on my digital library.

The core of the Kondo method is simply sorting and organizing. To avoid being overwhelmed and paralyzed, start small; empty a room, closet, shelf, or desk into a random pile on the floor; and pick up each object in your hands and ask if it “sparks joy.” Those that do are kept, those that don’t are thanked and placed in a separate pile for disposal. Organize the objects that “spark joy” and return these neatly back where they came from — and marvel at your neat space.

Some people describe this as minimalism and quote the architect Mies van der Rohe, who is universally credited for the phrase “less is more,” when he actually learned from his mentor Peter Behren. Maximalist friends have paraphrased the Van der Rohe dictum into “less is a bore.” When friends ask how or why I do regular decluttering or spring cleaning, I just state that one cannot have less, if one did not have MORE.

Once, while on a long trip abroad, my mother cleaned my library, throwing away random pieces of paper with important notes and rearranging all the books by size and color! I admit this was very organized and dramatic to look at, but I could not write for weeks until I threw everything on the floor and reshelved each book following my classification.

My war on clutter rages on in the work space and the bedside. It is a battle, it seems, I will never win.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, audiobooks, books, decluttering, Looking Back, Marie Kondo, Randy David
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