Updated: Jun 17, 2020
By: Jaime Ong-Yeoh
Jaime is a freelance culture and change management consultant who hates video calls because she has to change out of her pyjamas. PowerPointing is her life, but sometimes she just wants to write full sentences instead of bullet points.
When Ikea stores reopened in the UK after the easing of lockdown restrictions, the queues were miles long and people waited up to five hours to get in. "What on earth do people want?" and "Why are people so desperate to buy cheap furniture?" some people commented snidely on social media. In Malaysia, we measure popularity differently - by how hard it is to get a parking spot - and I heard there was a queue just to enter the Ikea car park.
I wasn't one of them, though. I hedged my bets and went to Daiso and Ace Hardware first. Then during the buka puasa magic hour when the crowds disappear, I took a good long, satisfying stroll through the hallowed hallways of Ikea. I didn't see my family the first week when the MCO (Movement Control Order) was relaxed, but I did buy a lot of boxes. I didn't call my friends, but I did call the electronic waste pickup service guy.
In the eight weeks of our strictest MCO period, I got rid of three large bin bags of clothes. Never ending cardboard boxes from a lifetime of electrical appliances and shoes. Orphaned cables and accessories from obsolete devices. All the letters from my mailbox that I never opened because who cares about snail mail anymore. So many, many things that didn't bring me joy. I didn't even hold them in my hands and thank them for their service as sweet Marie Kondo does, I just kicked them out ungratefully without so much as a goodbye.
I clearly wasn't the only one. In Singapore, town councils pleaded with people not to throw out so much rubbish as there were fewer refuse collectors working during their 'circuit breaker' period. My community WhatsApp group chat was filled with neighbours offering pre-loved books and kids toys.
I baked too, of course. But not for the pleasure of baking or eating or even to pass time, I baked simply to clear my pantry of leftover flour and sugar and oats that had been sitting around for months. I made misery cake and cookies and shipped the weird tasting goods off to my brothers via Grab Delivery. Brothers eat anything!
There's a well-known link between anxiety and cleaning, but I had no reason to be anxious. I was ok financially and was busy working from home. I have a nice place to live and ordered restaurant meals via Grab Food most nights. This wasn't a huge departure from my normal routine pre-Covid19. And yet I was anxious, without realising or acknowledging it. There was a strange tightness in my chest when I woke up every morning. My first thought when I opened my eyes was, "Shit, how on earth is this happening?!"
It is said that lockdown is the world's biggest psychological experiment, with 2.6 billion or one-third of the world's population being its unknowing and unwilling test subjects. It's nice to know I'm not the only one acting weird.
Am I still anxious? Yes, probably. In the absence of the gym to burn off my nervous energy, I prowl around the house looking for yet more decluttering opportunities. I don't look serene like Marie Kondo but more like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. At least the house is clean, though.