boundaries

I heard from someone that any blog’s first post denoted the author’s aspirations and views of himself, while the second part then reveals what kind of person he really is. If the aforementioned is true, then after reading this post, you may hereby acknowledge me as someone who complains a lot.

Jokes aside, I do like to rant about things. In my head at least. They sound good when they don’t come out of my mouth, or through writing, because once they leave my head, they’re subjected to my incoherent pronunciations, terrible grammar, and inadequate vocabulary. I’m also a user of the Oxford comma.

Anyway, I’m not here to only complain, because that’s silly. There’s one thing I’d like to talk about today – boundaries. Very specifically, the ridiculously tiny amount of storage space I have on my Macbook.

My storage capacity

12 GB left, out of an originally already absurdly tiny 250 GB. Thanks, Dad.

See, the thing about this Macbook is that it’s not even a purchase I had any say in. My father somehow believed that my school required all students to own a computer, and not just any one, but specifically a Macbook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2013).

I have spent 4 years complaining about my Macbook, and I’ve actually learnt to deal with it. As a pessimist, this should be surprising since you’d expect me to still be going crazy over having this as my personal computer, but ehhh. It’s not too bad.

In fact, that is not the only constraint I have to live with.

My bedroom is probably less than 35 square meters in size, not including the amount of space used by the built-in wardrobe and structural beam that takes up yet another square meter of my room. I can’t build any shelves to utilise the wasted vertical space along the walls, because the walls of my room are fake (I ended up putting up anime posters for a few months). I have no workstation and have a low table as a desk. There are heaps of notes stacked up on the ground since my room also lacks the space for a bookshelf.



Here we have a chart of the average internet connection speeds sorted by country. Notice how Singapore is in 4th place, with an average of 12.5 Mbps, peaking at 135.4 Mbps? It would be nice if the chart also mentioned the standard deviation of these results, because as far as I know, Singtel provides me with an average speed of a record-breaking 300 kilobytes per second. Easily putting me on the bottom of whatever benchmark. Each day I spend several minutes alone just loading up webpages.

Sure, you may call them first world problems. But our world keeps changing and evolving. What the societal norm is today may be different tomorrow. I know I sound like a disgruntled child voicing out my displeasures towards certain luxuries that I lack (yes, space is a luxury here).

But however much I complain, these problems can’t resolve themselves. My dad refuses to purchase a new computer (until the current one gets absolutely destroyed, at least), increasing the “space” of my room would require a renovation, and our current internet plan would have to expire before I’m allowed to replace it with one that provides us with faster wi-fi speeds.

I can live with this. I can live with this! After all, there’s nothing much I can do, right?




This isn’t a post about how to prevent these sorts of situations from happening. This is a post about managing within, dealing with and learning from these constraints, these tiny constraints, with me juggling 12 gigabytes of storage space out of a 250-gigabyte Macbook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2013).

First of all, to deal with the issue of having insufficient storage capacity, I scanned my files with OmniDiskSweeper to understand the composition of my file storage and the respective folders’ disk usage.

Size (GB) Files
~30 Music tracks, albums
~100 Game files, Steam library
40-60 Downloads
20+ Development stuff

I realised a large majority has been taken up by my game folders, especially my Steam library. The games included Dota 2, Team Fortress 2 and other big games that ended up cluttering my storage.

When I came up across this problem, it was around July 2014. Making the choice to quit gaming was already at the back of my head since I no longer felt like I enjoyed playing Dota, but this was essentially the turning point. I realised that there simply was no room for me to be playing games on this computer, and in my life. So, I decided to purge my gaming files and quit playing video games altogether.

With hindsight, quitting gaming was a worthwhile decision since it freed up my time to explore other topics of interest, but at the point of time it seemed like a huge sacrifice. I’ve been playing video games for most of my early life, since the age of 5. The common topics I shared with my friends were all related to video games, especially since a majority of my friendships were forged through the realm of gaming as well.

I remember having cliques where I was essentially the “center”. Whenever I found something interesting, I would introduce it to the others and we’d be the “first” to play it (My hipster tendencies still remain till this day). Others would join in and it would become a circlejerk. Severing my bond with gaming would mean restarting my social networks, finding up new hobbies, etc etc. All for the sake of having more storage space.

Nevertheless, it was still the creation of such constraints that led me to come up with such decisions. As mentioned, the decision I made two years ago was worthwhile. I finally got out of my room, started focusing on school again and had my life back on track. (For a while at least, until I became too engrossed in programming, but that’s a story for another day…)




I think the constraint of insufficient space that created a need to juggle between leaving certain files on my computer, or certain books and notes in my room, eventually highlighted to me the problems I was facing with management as well. It’s an allusion to the actual dilemma we all face but often neglect – juggling work, play and learning within the restrictive 24 hours every day.

File management is simple - you sort them out by importance and size, and remove those you deem unsuitable or unnecessary. It’s a reversable process. Plus, you could always upload them somewhere for future access.

Time management, on the other hand, has the same principles but is yet so deviously different. Many prefer manually placing and sorting chunks of your activities into durations, like in those calendar apps. However, there are so many external factors that could throw you into disarray. Procastination for example, could offset you by several hours as you achieve zero progress on your work. Or perhaps an urgent meeting or event that requires you to rework your entire schedule, making you wonder if not planning your time was perhaps the ideal choice in the first place.

Those that don’t plan their time suffer a similar fate. Without proper prioritisation of your activities, if you can’t differentiate importance versus urgency, you may never see to a project’s completion, as you waste your time on meaningless tasks while impending deadlines haunt you.

I, too, suffer from poor time management. And somehow, sorting out the files on my computer invoked a sense of neatness and order within me. That if a simple act like tidying up your files and removing the excess parts of your life could create, at least, a sense of comfort, perhaps if I had properly prioritised my activities I could fix my inconsistent sleep schedules and incomplete assignments.

Nevertheless, it was the gnawing sensation of being constrained, that if I just had a little bit more time in my hands, that I could get my life back on track. But believe me, the only way anyone is going to get an extra 25th hour from each day is if they recycled it from the original 24 hours. The twenty-four hour limit we get on each day is a constraint we absolutely cannot break down, so why bother with our pipe dreams? Instead, we should aim to work around it and use what we already have to our advantage.




Life is about being able to working within our limits, our boundaries and constraints. We experience joy when we accomplish something, so if we were to be exempt from constraints and had the freedom and power to do anything, this joy and excitement would soon be diminished.

I’ve learnt about my personal contentment and the things that motivate me. Aside from the bare essentials, only a few of our needs are genuine. We can’t always be choosers, when it comes to making choices and setting priorities straight, sacrifices have to be made.

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.

Randy Pausch

I don’t think complaining is necessarily a bad thing to be honest. In my opinion, complaining is a way of identifying problems that would otherwise go unnoticed. However, it takes effort to be able to come up with solutions, or workarounds to just “deal with” the situation that would require one to make sacrifices, and not many are willing to take that next step.

When we have constraints in our lives, no matter how tiny they are, they should serve as a reminder for us to take a step back and re-evaluate our priorities - do we tackle and break down the limits, or should we work around it? Do we need to fix the problem, or can we use it to our advantage?

I haven’t read nor watched Fullmetal Alchemist. But I’m a fan of magic and alchemy, and I managed to stumble upon a quote which I honestly already believed in while I was young:

Human kind can not gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain something of equal value must be lost… I still choose to believe in its principle. That all things do come at a price. That there’s an ebb and a flow, a cycle that the pain we went through did have a reward and that anyone who’s determined and perseveres will get something of value in return, even if it’s not what they expected.

Alphonse Enric

Life isn’t smooth-sailing, but why should you deprive yourself of the chance to take control of your own life? I think we should all learn to manage constraints, to be willing to make sacrifices and to learn from the natural world, instead of simply complaining. What you stand to gain in return may be far more important.




So what did I end up doing when sorting my files?

Other than deleting most of my games, I took some of the more casual ones (Endless Sky for example) and moved them all to a 1 TB external hard drive. I also took the opportunity of upgrading my Parallels desktop’s storage up to 128 GB, enough to play most of my Windows-only visual novels.

Unfortunately, due to the lower read/write speeds of the USB 3.0, I had a rough time trying to play the games since they were really laggy and had a low framerate. Guild Wars 2 rarely ran above 6 FPS and I spent most of my modded Skyrim days looking up at the sky.

Alas, not being able to play vidya games also kept me out of the loop. I never could enjoy Overwatch or EVE Online. :(

That said, with the freed up space I ended up greatly expanding my music collection and development tools. I’m not much of an audiophile, and since I listen to most of my music through cheap earpieces most of my library consists of MP3s (I can’t imagine how much space I’d have to fork out if I only listened to FLAC files).

To be honest, I really need a better storage solution. Even with cloud storage my files still exist on my hard drive and managing multiple external hard drives proved to be quite a hassle.

Nevertheless, I look forward to the day I accidentally destroy my MacBook.

– a.