Pencil Cases, Pork Buns, and More Pencil Cases

I’m a hoarder whose fulfillment grows with every new pencil case I receive. As a result of this obsession, I have gotten more criticism over the years than fascination. Hoarding is simply the collection of physical objects, just like the digital documentation of photos in a phone. Unlike the positivity associated with taking photos, though, hoarding is often resented. Some argue that the excessive collection of an ordinary object decreases its significance until it becomes meaningless to keep, but I disagree. 

Objects hold no intrinsic value. Only when we attach meaning — a thought, an emotion, an experience — to them do they become ingrained in our hearts. Last week, I was happily munching on a pork bun in the car when, thanks to an unexpected stop, the bun rolled onto the floor. To my surprise, I found myself on the verge of crying and stomping, truly aggravated at the lifeless concoction of flour and meat. Six years earlier, when I would have had a pork bun every morning, such an event would have elicited no such response. However, because this was the first bun I had eaten in three years, the nostalgic memory of my childhood became assigned to the food. The concept is quite straightforward: the same pork bun carries a different meaning at different points of time, food at first but ultimately abstracted into a sentiment.

Hoarding pencil cases also follows this process. At first, a new pencil case may only reflect an impulse, an inspiration, or a simple encounter with an attractive object. However, as life continues, each pencil case becomes a mark in time that represents my thoughts, preferences, and style, only specific to that time. Like the pork bun, a physical object becomes abstracted. Contrary to popular opinion that hoarded objects decrease in significance, the meaning I associate with pencil cases — both them as a whole and individual ones — only grows with my collection. 

My drawer of pencil cases is like an encapsulation of my growth. When I was five, I loved cases that were shaped funnily: as a milk carton, a pencil, an animal, etc. At that time period in general, I loved everything with an unexpected shape. As I’m writing this, I remember a ballpoint pen I had that could be compressed into the shape of a Coca-Cola can. I also remember that last Monday, I was sitting in the Garver Room when I saw a Freshman with a milk carton pencil case just like my own. When I was eight, I decided to follow the trend of the time and bought a chic Smiggle hardcover case. Just thinking about that pencil case brings me to the lovely trip my mom and I took to Singapore, the place where I decided that Smiggle was too expensive and bought a pair of scissors from Keyroad (a cheaper equivalent) that is still on my desk today. When I was 11, my parents bought me the standard three-ring pouches required for middle school, and I remember the nights when I would change my pencil case to a new color for the next day. Today, I don’t quite have the time to change my pencil case or browse through Amazon anymore, and the ones I collect are mostly cosmetic pouches that come with my mom’s skincare. 

I want to remember. Thinking of one pencil case brings me to a tangential memory, perhaps old, then another, perhaps more recent, until I traverse through a “memory web” symbolized through my stack of cases. The memory web keeps on growing. The attachment I feel toward an older case does not decrease, but rather, increases as time passes by and more memories stack onto the ones already there. This is motivating. I will naturally continue to document my encounters with pencil cases, for I know that they will ultimately become more than just insignificant containers. As my pencil case collection grows with me, perhaps you’ll agree that this bizarre trait of mine has its reasons.