Since New Year's Eve I have been tidying up and re-organising my bookshelves. Five half-full cartons of books and old film collections, plus three big boxes of CDs and DVDs, were documented and put into external storage. Another two full cartons of unwanted books were donated to a social enterprise serving the less privileged neighbourhood two MTR stations away.
Even after two full days of back-breaking work, only about 10 per cent has been put into storage and another 10 per cent given away or disposed of. Yet it is rewarding to see my library being more specialised, reflecting a unique personal choice and taste. Indeed, the hardest part hasn't begun – what to do with the sizeable collection of magazines, ticket stubs and programme booklets of performances and film shows over the past some 20 years? Just hope this last episode of the exercise can be closed before the festive season of Chinese New Year begins in mid-January with a series of Cantonese opera performances.
Honestly, I am still not quite sure what has driven me to take this up as the first resolution of the New Year and get it done so quickly. Merely it feels like it is time to clear things up a bit, and there is no point to wait any longer. I am not sure if it is a subconscious urge of ageing or God's hint at something imminent, but reviewing what is at hand and what not seems a good and sensible way of getting started.
Somewhat to my own surprise, I don't feel as attached to my collections as I thought I would have been. There was little hesitation to decide which book to keep, to stay or to donate. It was also a great relief to see my treasures being sealed in cartons and left at the second-hand shop, where they will find new owners and carry on their mission of educating and enlightening souls.
To let go something one treasures is never easy, as many of you can feel or imagine. It does not necessarily have anything to do with one's personality. All it matters is the determination to combat the satisfaction (or should I say inertia?) of ownership. Our culture teaches us to value possession and lament, if condemn, disposal. Holding on to something is almost praised at all times, while loss is always presented in the melancholic or negative light. While this resonates well with human nature and sentiments, there is always another perspective to look at the matter.
As the Chinese saying goes, "Nothing new will arrive until the old is gone." The clearance exercise just reminds me how much wisdom is compressed in the proverb. Taking a close look at what I have and what not feels like a quick but deep review of what I have and have not changed over the years, as reflected in the shift and persistence of reading interests. While the journey for knowledge will hopefully continue in the years to come, a regular, though not too frequent, exercise of disposal and re-organisation does seem more beneficial than it appears. Letting go is not necessarily bad, when you know what is worthy of keeping and what not.
I hope I can learn this first lesson of the year and apply the wisdom to other non-physical items than books, although it is always easier said than done.