“I made up my mind already… I will not keep collecting things… I can live in Ren Ci for about 5 months without all the things. So when I come back, why should I want all these things to live with me?”, reflected Uncle Loh as he watched student volunteers from SMU sort and pack his things.
Thrift-shopping, which had started out as a hobby for Uncle Loh, had turned him into a serial collector. Over the years, it also made his home in Toa Payoh unsafe for him to live in.
After suffering 12 falls due to weakness in his legs - the last of which landed him first at Tan Tock Seng then Ren Ci Community Hospital - Uncle Loh came to realise his house was too congested for his current age and health condition.
And he was also the first to describe his house as a warehouse, and it indeed looked like one. A huge turquoise frame mirror, office chairs, and bags full of clothes or plastic items sit in a messy pile where a sofa would be.
Underneath it all were antiques and religious artefacts he had bought and collected from his younger days rummaging through the old Thieves Market at Sungei Road. After he stopped working, Uncle Loh turned to scavenging items thrown out by neighbours around his estate.
“Everyone has an interest. Others like to gamble or drink, but I don’t gamble, (and) I don’t drink. I like to collect things,” says the 62-year-old bachelor.
Uncle Loh left school when he was 12 years old and supported himself financially by working in over 20 different jobs in his lifetime. Shopping in second-hand stores and religious shops in Chinatown and Bugis was his biggest hobby.
As the Project HomeWorks clean up progressed, volunteers unearthed bags full of silver-plated rings, gemstones, crystals and crystal balls, boxes worth of Buddha statues, and uncountable stacks of books on Buddhism.
With the help of his social workers at Ren Ci, Uncle Loh’s case was referred to Project HomeWorks to help clean up his two-room rental flat.
Unlike most hoarding cases, Uncle Loh was happy to be actively part of the process in sorting through things he wanted to discard and religious items he wanted donated to temples.
He also shared that physical therapy at Ren Ci helped him to regain enough of his strength and mobility to move around independently after his hospital stay, and fuelled his desire to return home.
“I always knew I would come back home. .. I feel life has to go on, why shouldn’t I live in my home?”, said Uncle Loh.
After 4 hours of work, his house was finally starting to look like a home again.
Note: Mr Loh is currently living in a Short Stay Unit run by Ren Ci for 6 months and has until July to move back home. Habitat Singapore will be heading back to his home for another 2-3 Project HomeWorks session to ensure his house is in liveable condition by July.