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Do they spark joy?

One night, I watched a Netflix video featuring a Japanese decluttering guru. Her main advice: Discard items that don’t spark joy.

With a smirk, I fixed my gaze on a thick memoir across my room, one of the hundreds of books in the disheveled shelf I had yet to fix. Its cover bore the wrinkled face of a politician, whose main claim to fame nowadays is that he has outlived colleagues and enemies alike — and is still running in this year’s midterm elections.

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I have been book-hunting and collecting various titles for almost four years now. I intend to keep his valuable autobiography (which I got for an 80-percent discount). That is nonnegotiable.

Reelecting him to the Senate, however, is a different story. It is a more crucial decision, especially for a people who have suffered over the years because they chose to keep the wrong set of “trapos,” or traditional politicians. It requires more critical thinking than merely touching an object and checking if it sparks joy. Corrupt trapos, unlike books, are better discarded than kept.

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At 4, I loved reading picture books, folktales and Bible stories for children. Elementary and high school education forced me to breeze through textbooks and some foreign literary classics. During college, I finally developed an interest in Filipiniana books.

At 17, I evolved from simply being overly sentimental about postcards and mementos to being a certified bibliophile. I have amassed a large collection of books from favorite publishers and university presses, thanks to frequent trips to book fairs and the occasional holiday sales. I have searched high and low just to be able to rummage through disorganized piles of marked-down books and go home with a boxful or two.

From Philippine culture and history books to essay anthologies, from profiles about infamous personalities to  expensive coffee-table hardbounds, from scholarly titles to love stories, from theological books to profane readings—all of these spark joy in me.

Books enrich my experience without the cost and rigor of physical traveling. They equip me with knowledge to connect with more people of different hats, in everyday conversations about any topic under the sun. A good friend even said that I recount (or dramatize) historical anecdotes as though I were actually there.

Moreover, I find respite in having a small personal library I can always consult for academic requirements or simply for leisure. Amid the clutter of books, trinkets and papers, I can manage to locate a particular title because of my personal relationship with each of them. I will know, by instinct, if something is missing.

My history professor, Dr. Ma. Luisa Camagay, once said she may not have money in the bank, but she has books anyway.

Whenever a friend finds me talking about or carrying actual books, the quintessential question goes: “Nabasa mo na ba ’yan lahat?”

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No, I haven’t. But I know in my heart that I will be able to, soon. The mere thought of it sparks joy, too.

Back to that memoir: I plead guilty that it also sparked joy in me. For a time, I adored its author. The veteran politician’s tale of rising from poverty to prestige inspired me to envision my own destiny as a future lawyer. His impressive achievements seemed to have overshadowed his villainous role in one of the darkest moments in our history.

But after devouring more books, I realized that, “like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth,” to quote the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Knowledge and education open our eyes to every candidate’s self-serving use of deception, historical revisionism, logical fallacies, name recall, and guns, goons and gold.

The late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago argued that corrupt politicians do nothing to improve the system of education because they are afraid of educated voters.

Abuse of power cannot be glossed over by age, experience or fleeting fame. Outright lies and inconsistencies cannot deny the fact that there is no alternative to the truth. Trapos who promise to prioritize the electorate’s happiness end up plundering the nation’s wealth—eventually getting away with it.

Pope Francis likened joy to that of a mother embracing her newborn after hours of painful labor. That touching scenario is nowhere present in the sight of actors, dictators, the economic elite, political dynasts and misogynists leading the country into the depths of hell.

Holding on to crooked public servants perpetuates a vicious cycle of patronage and poverty that sparks no joy at all. To declutter a nation, we must learn to mercilessly dispose of trapos through the ballot, and radically change the system and consciousness that force us to keep them.

One last word of advice from the decluttering guru: Thank objects for their “service” before throwing them away.

Well then, good riddance.

* * *

Richard S.M. de Leon, 20, is a reader of history. He is a journalism student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and an alumnus of Saint James Academy, Malabon City.

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