Why Some Asians Are Hoarders. Versus The Trend Of Minimalism

Some Asians are hoarders. That is, some of us Asians like collecting things, accumulating things over time up until we struggle to find somewhere to put away all that we have.

Most of my childhood and adolescent life, my Chinese parents were fond of bringing things home even when we didn’t need them. Our house was always rather full – every shelf was never empty. I suppose I was partially to blame as I liked collecting some things back then too. But these days, not so much.

Some of us may have a lot of something. And that makes us tick | Weekly Photo Challenge: Shine.

Some of us may have a lot of something. And that makes us tick | Weekly Photo Challenge: Shine.

Hoarding is not only about collecting things, but it’s also about putting aside these things and not touching them for who knows how long, maybe for a few weeks or never ever again. Often, hoarding is about collecting things that we don’t really need or don’t have a use for, and over time these things can become junk to us.

Walk into a typical Chinese person’s house and poke around, we may discover freebies or samples lying around. Some Asians are stereotypically stingy, big on being cheap with the ‘why pay for it when you can get it for free’ mindset – and when we can get something for free, chances are we’ll go and get more than one. It’s a practical mindset of sorts: collect what one can for next time, the future.

When I lived in Singapore many years ago as a teenager, one day my family and I went to McDonalds for lunch. At that time, McDonalds still served their tomato sauce in sachet packets (as opposed to pump dispensers today). When we got our burgers and fries, my brother made a beeline for these sachets on the table top island beside the counter – and grabbed what looked like 20 tomato sauce sachets. For the next few months, my mum brought out these sachets from the fridge to go with our fried fish dinners that she cooked at home.

Some typical Asians tend to be highly competitive, and in a way hoarding can be a competition against others around you. Hoarding equals possession and territory; one’s possessions can earn them face, giving them bragging rights. Having more of something is not an issue among Chinese people, for instance having too much food on the table to eat is perfectly acceptable. Last year, there were queues and queues at McDonalds’ in Malaysia for the limited Despicable Me minions toys. During the year 2000 in Singapore, I remember seeing people queue for Hello Kitties that McDonalds gave away – and there was shoving and pushing and broken windows.

When McDonalds in Singapore gave away the 8 Treasures monkeys in 2003, I joined the queues. I managed to collect all eight stuffed monkeys. The stuffed-monkey-lover in me had to have them because I just had to….

Quite a few older generation Asians are familiar with living a hard life, perhaps living in poverty at some point and through the world wars. Perhaps going from living in dank shop houses back in the day to living in a high rise apartments today. To some Chinese these days, what is available or what comes by in the modern world is literally treasure. For instance, Chinese shoppers in Australia are not shy about buying tins and tins and yet more tins of Australian baby formula and sending them back to China for their families.

Cleaning up and decluttering may be a long journey.

To

In Chinese culture, there is the superstitious belief that certain items brings good luck. Chinese coins, money plants, laughing Buddhas, Chinese/Japanese Maneki Neko waving cats and dragons are just some symbols that the Chinese believe are associated with good fortune – and more so if they come in the form of knick-knacks in pairs or more.

To put it simply, the more good luck knick-knacks one has, the luckier one may be to some Chinese. Each time I visit my parents’ place, most of the knick-knacks I mentioned above greet me whichever way I turn – dragon figurines on the shelves, and quite a few red and yellow Chinese knots hanging on the walls. Collecting good-luck charms always baffled me because I believe we make our own luck through what we do instead of living through our material possessions. Then again, stranger things have happened.

The notions of hygiene, cleanliness, and the issue of space goes hand-in-hand with hoarding. Naturally if we have a house crowded with quite a few things that we don’t need, over time they collect dust or attract parties of creepy-crawlies. Compared to Westerners, Chinese people in China can be dirty – the latter like to spit and let their kids pee and poop all over the place, so hoarding would naturally be something they wouldn’t really mind. On average, 40% of the world’s plastic waste is collected in the South-East Asian region. The more things we have usually means the more things we can throw away, and the more junk we might have.

When we move house or move to a new country, we often realise how much stuff we have. When we move, more often than not we have to let go of our material possessions, and so realise how much of our stuff that we have is a want, not necessarily a need. When I was packing up in Singapore getting ready to move back to Melbourne, I had to choose between taking my Sylvania Families doll houses and collectible stuffed monkeys. I chose the monkeys. Maybe they are worth a few thousand dollars today. That is one of the plus sides of hoarding – the things we hoard might be worth a bit of dollar sometime down the track.

Not all Asians are hoarders, and the art of minimalism is well and truly alive in Japan. Shinto is Japan’s native religion, with a focus on cleanliness and purity. Tidying parks is common around the country, and sliding partitions are a common feature of typical Japanese homes. In other words, for some Asians, there is a place for everything that we have. As organising consultant Marie Kondo said in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up:

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

Sometimes we don't want to part with what we have.

Sometimes we don’t want to part with what we have.

When we are selective about the things that we keep, we become more aware of what really matters to us. The less things we own, the more we focus on the right here, right now. Today the entirety of my clothes and possessions take up a wardrobe and a bookcase in my bedroom. That is all. Part of me feels that by seeing less clutter all over the place, the more I feel in control of how my room looks, and the more I feel free to live my life according to current choices as opposed to the past. Also the OCD-Asian-neat-freak side of me feels smug that home is in relative order.

Some might say the more possessions we have, the more disorganised we may be. But sometimes our lives demand we have more than a few possessions: like our photography or painting or gardening hobby that demands we have quite a few tools to bring art to life. Also, decluttering takes time, as fellow blogger Sandy over at Hoarder Comes Clean has been writing about for a while. It can be hard to let go of what we have because it haunts us, and on decluttering Marie Kondo offers:

“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

What we choose to keep is often tangled with memories from a moment in time. What we have is where we’ve been, what we’ve felt, and what and who we may have loved and perhaps still love, and so the sentimental in us might be keen on hoarding – keeping something to hold on to, something to remind us that we were once there.

Sometimes the less things we have, the lighter we feel. But maybe we never forget...

Sometimes the less things we have, the lighter we feel. But maybe we never forget…

Aside from my stuffed monkeys, like many stereotypical Asians I like taking photos and find it hard to delete and get rid of any of them, even the ones that don’t turn out good. On the plus side, photos are fairly easy to keep and move around, be it in photo books or on a hard drive. On the other hand, when we look at photos that we took and really hold any object that we have kept for all these years, so often we see and feel the past firsthand once again whether we like it or not.

No matter how much we hoard or how organised we may be, we can’t control how exactly life will turn out.

No matter what we have or what we don’t have, sometimes we can’t help the way we feel.

Are you more of a hoarder or minimalist?

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277 thoughts on “Why Some Asians Are Hoarders. Versus The Trend Of Minimalism

  1. Great post Mabel! “The less things we own, the more we focus on the right here, right now.” – Is my way. I only need a few things, and prefer a few things of high quality, to having many things any time. The only one thing that I need a lot of, is time in nature.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mabel I just love this post because of the way you write and tell a story and how you weave cultural aspects with memories from childhood and present afflictions together… like threads in a tapestry.

    Such an interesting topic…. and I do think people fall into the generally hoarding types or the throw it out minimalist types. I have found that life is simpler with less and would rather spend money on travel than on possessions. I love all the interesting insight you give into Asian culture, for example, I had no idea that hoarding had some competitive value. But on reflection of course, in many cultures “keeping up with the Joneses” is a very real part of daily life.

    We become attached to objects for so many different reasons. At least if we move around a lot it forces one to sort through it and get rid of accumulated unused things. It all seems to reflect our obsession as people with materialism and accumulation and waste… more more more. A few years ago it was fascinating to see that in Cuba, everything gets reused… there is so little that is new, that there is little waste and as a result Cubans are role models in a low carbon footprint eco lifestyle. Interesting.

    Peta

    Liked by 4 people

    • “life is simpler with less and would rather spend money on travel than on possessions” You said is so simply. I agree. I used to spend quite a bit on rich food outside, makeup and clothes. These days, I prefer travel. Through traveling and spending time around nature, there comes a peace that you can’t really find in routine, corporate life.

      Very interesting to hear of Cuba’s recycling initiative. That is an example we can all follow. Recycling is not hard, and it surprises me how some of us don’t make effort to put things in the recycling bins. Then again, maybe we just don’t know.

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Peta. I really appreciate it. I left a comment on your recent pots on Qi – I hope it shows up and it was a great read.

      Like

  3. Yup, I have met those hoarders in my family line. I know for sure that my Indonesian uncle won’t let go some stuff just because of memories. I remember once I asked of what memories were there and he forgot.. I think I am a hoarder when about pictures – just like you, it’s so hard to delete images although I know the exposure or the composition of the images were so bad..yet, I still keep them 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lol! Your uncle probably has a lot of things and needs time to sort through those memories 😀 I’m sure it will come flooding back to him when he picks up each thing and toys with it in his hands.

      Haha, that is me too. No matter how dark or how washed out an image looks, I can’t help but still keep it!

      Like

  4. What an incisive post Mabel! Yes hoarding is a typical Asian trait that like the Chinese in prevalent in Indians too. Maybe because in many cultures, people associate prosperity with the amount of possessions one has that can be used in future. (like the Mc Donalds sauce sachets ). I have seen that whenever I hoard, either I forget to use those things or they become unusable for some reason. This post makes so much sense to me today Mabel because just sometime some currency denominations have been banned in India as an attempt to control black money that people tend to stash at their home. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Mabel, I thoroughly enjoyed your stories and examples of “hoarding”…collecting, saving, and the way you’ve woven in cultural beliefs. My grandmother never wasted a thing, especially food, as a result of living through the depression. I am in the downsizing mode and have purged quite a bit of my belongings and I must say, it is wonderfully freeing! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Your grandma sounded like she treasured every single thing that she owned. That is admirable. Good luck with downsizing. It sounds like it is keeping you occupied, and hope you found some treasures so far 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

          • Well I LOVE the love connection to it!
            ❤️
            And the whole quick but not rushing thing reminds me of the opposite term we have for some folks in our family.
            Some of us (ahem…. me at times) can poke around and putz and we call it “stroking the beard”
            And an example recently we came back and from shopping and it took forever to
            Decide what we wanted and hubs said “stroking the beard” – and some shopping trips are like this -ha

            Like

  6. Do the collectable stuffed monkeys get along with Mr Wobbles or is there a bit of jealousy there?

    I come from a small family. Two like to hoard and two do not. I am at the extreme of anti-hoarder in that I basically gave away all of my stuff except what fit into a large suitcase to go sailing. I do have a few small boxes with keep sakes in a friends basement in Pennsylvania, but really, I pretty much own nothing. I bought a book called The Joy of Minimalism that helped me get rid of everything. Freeing.

    Love the pics!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is great that you can live with less. That must free up your soul, and to be able to look out into the world and be fully absorbed in what’s around you.

      The collectible stuffed monkeys are in a league of their own. They talk among themselves and Mr Wobbles talks to his own monkey friends. Each to their own.

      Like

  7. Another interesting post, Mabel. I’m quite taken by minimalism. The thought of having, just what you need, makes sense. I guess moving to Seoul and living in a box apartment kind of reaffirmed that thought. I also understand certain cultures might want to hoard or get stuff for free. I’ve known people like that. Some change and grow out of it and some hang on to it. What bothers me the most about hoarding: is food rotting or clothes getting spoiled or eaten by bugs. Perhaps, wasting food is as severe as hoarding, especially when not everyone can afford to put a plate of food on their tables. Sadly, this trend isn’t cultural. It’s a sign of a changing economy and is persistent across the globe. Excesses and wastage happen everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Cheryl. So well said. The food rotting or fungus growing on the clothes can certainly be the unpleasant part of hoarding. Imagine finding a pile of bugs like ants or cockroaches too as a result – an insect party at your place.

      Agree with you food wasting is not something we should turn a bling eye too. I think sometimes some of us are eager to eat that we buy or cook way to much food. Knowing our food portions is important, just as what we truly need in our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello mabel..
    How are you?
    Another great post..i dont keep much things for myself, only a few, which are definitely important to me. But a brilliant insight by you on the trrue story of most asians..
    Shreyans

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yes. I have some hoarders in my family too. Old stuff; cassettes, VCR’s, DVDs, even old cycles and bikes, they are not willing to part with them. Perhaps, Asians love to live in memories. Nostalgia plays a great role and that gives an unusual coat of love and friendship even to the old, mundane things.

    For me, I don’t like to hoard things. But, my decision changes when it comes to books and cards and old letters 😀

    A very enjoyable and insightful post, Mabel, as always… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Haah! At least you’ve posed a perfectly acceptable reason for hoarding my Lovely!!! I shudder to think what I’ve left behind in my room at home, I confess to being a little distressed while hastily packing to head off to my island!!!! I was standing at my huge wardrobe holding items up thinking WT…????? Why? What were you thinking? And the shoes!!!! I’m a flats all the way gal, & I mix it up with joggers & boots & yeah, Ugg Boots for winter (that’s perfectly allowed in Canberra!!!!), so why….. why I asked myself did I have 17 pairs of gorgeous blingy bejewelled heels…..Mmmmm….. #shoe-horder-in-the-making right here!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve never actually pictured you as a shoe-hoarder, my lovely! Hopefully some of them went to a good home when you packed up. Sometimes I’m like you too. I’d buy a flamboyant-looking shirt and then think why on earth did I buy that?! It is so not my style. Then again, I am sure you know what spur-of-the-moment shopping means and you’ve been there 😉

      Like

  11. I wouldn’t class myself as a hoarder, Mabel, but I do have some items stuffed away in cupboards and drawers. However, I have a very good reason for that because they are seasonal items. For example, I have a large collection of Christmas mugs, plates and dishes which only come out once Halloween and gone. Then on Twelve Night, they go away again and we go back to using the everyday china.

    I have a cousin who throws little away. Her house and garage are littered with empty boxes (just in case she ever needs them), clothes (just in case she loses weight and can wear them again) and all sorts of objects she picks up at car boot sales, jumble sales and charity shops (most of which are still in the bags and boxes she brought them home in.)

    Then, of course, there’s the email hoarders, who seem to keep just about every email sent to them (just in case they should ever need them). My niece has over 12,000 emails in her inbox – most she’s never even looked at 😱

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, seasonal items around the house. Don’t we all 😉 It is almost December and soon I’m guessing out come the Christmas jumpers, sweaters, mugs, socks and hot chocolate.

      Your cousin sounds like the kind of person who likes to be prepared. If you ever need anything, you can pop over to her house and I am sure she has the item you are looking for.

      Oh, oh. Email hoarders. I actually never delete my emails and I think I must have a few thousand of them by now. But all of them are read, though. I am sure you are more organised than me when it comes to emails 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You don’t know how much of that is true about my cousin, Mabel. You are so right. It doesn’t matter what I’ve asked for, she’s always come up with something I’ve asked for – even a cord that had two hooks are each end so they could be attached to the door handles of a sliding door to stop Toby opening the door with his nose. i guess hoarding does have it uses, but I’d much rather somebody else do it. 😀

    Yep. Once I’ve read an email and replied to it, it gets deleted. As do those emails from stores and companies that are trying to sell me something or trying to get me to part with my money. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  13. wow – you really touched upon some powerful angles here M-
    seriously, I think the collecting starts out innocently – as counted:

    To put it simply, the more good luck knick-knacks one has, the luckier one may be to some Chinese.

    but then it can get into hoarding –

    anyhow, i love the point you made about why they can’t let go: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

    we used to watch the show hoarding and it seemed to be that this was often the case for folks – so many of them hanging on to the past – and in a funk and just stuck….

    Liked by 2 people

    • “collecting starts out innocently” You said it so perfectly. Oh ho, there is a show called hoarding. That sounds like a fun watch and I bet some folks have so much stuff you can’t see a way through their house from the moment you step in their front door 😀

      Sometimes we just have to let go in order to move on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi M /
        Well actually there are a few shows about hoarding- which I think were spawned from a show called “clean house”- where they helped people clean up and redo their homes….
        Then maybe around 2010 and 2012 a couple shows came and and one is called “hoarding buried alive” and it got so gross it made some folks want to vomit!
        Really!
        But they offer a person counseling / and have a professional organizer come in as well as the cleaner – and a therapist –
        And a couple of the psychologists have really inspired me –
        But Mabel – the unique stories are sometimes so moving.
        We have not watched for years and not sure they are still on – but your post really noted those key points they made on the shows!

        Like

        • Hoarding buried alive. That sounds quite obsessive, and it sounds like a show that helped heavy collectors to see the lighter side of life (oooh, a bit of play on words here, lol). I think what is popular these days is home renovation shows where families renovate their entire house to make it look clean and sparse – at least there are the kinds of shows many Australians seem to like to watch.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. I am not exactly fond of the word “hoarder” — it sounds like an evil thing. Mainly, I collect memories.

    I don’t hoard for the sake of hoarding. I often just collect one or two of something then stop (like the Minions, the 101 Dalmatians, the Shrek characters…). Sometimes, I just collect things then either throw them or give them away when I’ve outgrown them. Sometimes, even when I haven’t outgrown things, I still give them away to people who might need them. I hoard whatever are left of my parents’ possessions, for obvious and valid reasons…

    If I haven’t collected stuff, people from my generation wouldn’t be so happy thanking me for bringing back memories. It certainly helped during our high school reunion. And another reason I collect is because someday, I hope to build a museum so that the future generations can get a glimpse of the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Another great post ! I wish I could be a bit more minimalistic sometimes but I think I’m not that bad. I tend to keep a lot of cooking utensils that belong to my grand parents. I have so many soup ladles and Le is always mocking me.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. My family definitely leans towards the hoarder side of the spectrum. I was the same way for a long time as well, but I’ve recently tried to clean out all the clutter I’ve collected over the years. The tidying process seems to never end! I have a similar problem with photos. I take so many, but I don’t even take a second glance at 95% of the photos I take.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The tidying process seems to never end!” That sounds like me all the time too. I’d clean a section of my room and another section would just get even messier. Good luck with cleaning and hope you do get to finish it at some point. Recently I decided to print out some photos and can’t seem to stop…now what to do about that 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh oh.. I must confess I am a total hoarder. It runs in my family. I still have dresses that I bought when I was 14 years old, and psst.. I just wore one of them for a Christmas party and was giddily with joy that I still can fit in it!! To make way for the baby, I painstakingly recycle/ gave away more than 10 trash bags worth of clothes and that, my friend is only one wardrobe. I still have 3 wardrobes left to clear. *grin*

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha! Like you, I still have shirts and shorts and even jeans that I bought since I was 14 years old. Also like you, I can fit into these clothes still today :’) Good luck with the rest of the wardrobes. You can always just leave the clothes there and don’t touch them, you know… *smiles*

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, clearing them gives me a great excuse to buy new ones 旧的不去、新的不来. Lol! We are the fortunate ones who can still boast about squeezing into our teenage clothes!

        Liked by 1 person

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