Sometimes, your box is not a box; it is a biscuit tin, cloth pouch, or plastic folder. Whatever it is, it has moved from the bottommost rung of your shelf to the back of your cupboard. Sometimes, it gets relegated to the storeroom because you just don’t feel like throwing it out.
It’s probably been years since you last sieved through your box, but you know its contents by heart. You used to add to the box every few months; these days, you only store the really significant items inside.
You can’t pinpoint what defines a “significant item” though. Everything in your box would seem trivial to anyone else who stumbled upon it.
You have an assortment of handwritten birthday cards from your secondary school crush, a letter on foolscap paper from your Angel during an Angel & Mortal game played during camp, a crumpled movie ticket stub from your first date with an ex, and an old promise ring that you eventually stopped wearing after that three-year relationship ended.
When you started dating your previous partner, they dropped off your favourite bubble tea while you were asleep. It came with a scribbled post-it. You put the note in your box.
You didn’t know it then, but you would part ways in six months. After your relationship ends, you forget most of it, except for the note. The writing has faded, but you tell yourself you haven’t thrown the paper away because you just haven’t gotten around to it. Secretly you keep the note as a reminder that someone once loved you.
Your mother wants to know when you’re going to get rid of your box to make space.
“For what?” you ask, refusing to consider her absurdly pragmatic request.
You’d never throw it away. How could you?
In a bid to clear my room, I channel my inner Marie Kondo. It is the one day I ruthlessly comb through my personal possessions and dump anything that I won’t use within the next six months, or that doesn’t hold deep sentimental value.
Everything goes according to plan until I chance upon my box, sitting in a corner of my shelf.
Mine is an old detergent box, spruced up with cheap wrapping paper and raffia string. A previous domestic helper made it for me as her parting gift before she returned to her home country. It’s been more than a decade, and it’s bursting at the seams with every new addition, yet it remains sturdy.
Most of the time, I skip the box and tell myself I’ll get back to it after I finish with the rest of my room. Spring cleaning is already so exhausting; having to go through belongings that evoke memories of rough periods in one’s life is unnecessary emotional disturbance.
Even so, I occasionally pry open my box to see if there is anything ‘new’ that I can discard. I give myself no more than 15 minutes, but usually end up spending close to an hour sitting on the floor, thumbing through yellowed letters from people whose faces I barely recall.
You spare time to walk down memory lane, taking anything from 15 minutes to a lifetime.
Still, my box isn’t totally devoid of mementoes from old flames.
There are letters from an ex, exchanged while he was serving National Service. They are replete with grandiose expressions of love, a clear reflection of the overly indulgent writers we were as teens.
A part of me is divorced from the sentiment, but another truly misses this inane ability to talk about love so unabashedly, heartbreak not yet a part of our vocabulary.
There also are a few film photos from London and Manchester, taken during my first solo trip abroad. These are the ‘fail’ shots; the rest of the nicer ones are plastered on my wall. At that time, I was visiting someone I thought I’d marry one day. Today, there is no amount of money you could pay me to make that same mistake.
Funny how radically we change within less than five years.
Then there is a folded wristband stapled to an A4 sheet of paper. On it is printed a ticket for a concert at Suntec City. I had watched it with someone I regarded as a true friend. Today, we no longer speak. The heartache I felt when we parted ways is a searing reminder that a broken friendship can be harder to navigate than a breakup.
And finally, there’s the quintessential diary that’s present in every box. I once had a rule that I wouldn’t write about people who didn’t matter. In my black Moleskine, its creased pages are filled with thousands of words about relationships that didn’t work out and almost-relationships that I believed should have.
Granted, these are crucial moments in life. But many of us go for years without looking through our box. Neither do its contents define who we are or what we do every day.
Yet the familiar wave of nostalgia I experience whenever I pick up my box makes me wonder if, perhaps, there will always be a part of us that clings to who we were or could have been, no matter how much we’ve changed.
Still, we can shed our past, even if the circumstances may need to be literally life-changing, such as moving out or finding the elusive One.
The romantic in me believes that we’re all just waiting for the one person whom we’d discard our boxes for. Don’t get me wrong, you might not marry this person; meeting The One isn’t just about falling in love or having a special connection. It’s also about gaining perspective.
Simply knowing them instantly wrestles you from the fog you’ve been walking in your whole life, as though they’ve shone a light onto your path.
With this newfound clarity, you realise that you are ready to let go of baggage that doesn’t serve you any longer, even if that means creating your own closure. This phase of your life is over; you make peace with the fact that certain friendships may never be the same, and with the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to those other people you used to know.
For the first time, you are perfectly fine with it all.
When this happens, discarding our box wouldn’t just be easy. It would also be the most natural thing to do.
And so every spring cleaning, I remain hopeful that it will be the year I finally find a reason not to keep my box. I daydream about the moment the box goes into the bin, bits of paper coming loose. Not to be dramatic, but I imagine I might just feel physically lighter as well.
Even for those of us who have already let go of the past, there’s no denying that discarding a physical object that wholly represents our personal history can provide the liberation we need. It’s the clean break we all seek, without having to uproot our lives.
Only then would life distinctly resemble two halves: the life you knew with your box, and the one you know now.