This post originally published on June 18, 2020.
I decluttered. I followed the KonMari method to the T. I did the 30-day minimalism challenge. After a year, I had become more mindful of my purchases, saved more, had more space in my closet, had only memorable and purposeful things at home. Yet something was amiss.
I still felt the stress, anxiety, and unconquered chaos in life. I couldn’t pinpoint what this was, so I did quite a bit of research and came across two concepts that opened my eyes to the deeper need behind decluttering: The Fantasy Self and Aspirational Clutter.
In short, “aspirational clutter” is all the stuff you buy for your Fantasy Self. We all have dreams, aspirations, hopes for our lives. We work towards these by getting an education, working hard, earning money, and slowly making our dreams come true. But somewhere along the way, we also tend to create a fantasy version of ourselves — an image of someone we would like to be but have not yet become. This fantasy self might be more fashionable, intelligent, polished, healthy — a perfection. And to prepare for this fantasy version, we spend money (sometimes a lot) on things that become our aspirational possessions.
Each person’s fantasy self is unique and so are their aspirational possessions. Here are some examples from my own life:
- Clothing for specific social events: These are elegant and exotic clothing pieces that can be worn maybe once or twice at an event of a lifetime. I have an evening gown that I wish to wear to an Opera in Vienna, and I have kept it for three years already.
- Kitchen gadgets and tools: All the pots, pans, gadgets, and recipe books to make any imaginable dish quickly and Instagram-worthy. I have a set of 12 knives and three chopping boards, and I still end up with takeout every weekend.
- Books: Not the ones we have read, but the ones we love to display on our bookshelves, ones with leather or linen covers but either have not started or never finished, yet we love the idea of owning those books. Gone with the Wind and Anna Karenina, in my case.
- Hobbies we gave up long ago: Those paint and craft, knitting, woodworking supplies, power tools from DIY days. I stopped playing the violin a year ago, yet I still pay the rent on my violin just in case I want to change career and pick it up again.
- Workout equipment: Yoga mats, workout clothing for all seasons, weights, peloton, and other equipment like NutriBullet to make those healthy smoothies. I have a yoga mat from five years ago that I have yet to inaugurate.
… And the list goes on.
Why It’s So Hard To Let Go Of Aspirational Clutter
As determined as I was in my decluttering efforts, one thing I cannot deny: These items are beautiful and tend to spark immense joy. I had invested a lot in them, and they are my pride. But also, these possessions represented my dreams and aspirations — giving them up would mean giving up a part of that dream. And that is not easy!
Also, subconsciously, many of us find it hard to accept ourselves as we are. Giving up these possessions also means facing the truth about who we are, which can be scary.
Why You Should Learn To Let Go Anyway
I am not saying we shouldn’t dream or hope — a life without aspiration is a life not fully lived. But at some point, we must ask: Do we know our real self? Are these possessions serving us or are they gently reminding us of what we cannot achieve, or we lack?
Having a fantasy self can be great if it motivates us or drives us to be a better version of ourselves. But it becomes dangerous when we end up comparing our real self with the fantasy and operate from a place of scarcity and not being good enough.
My biggest revelation was that I was giving more importance to my fantasy self, and in return, my real self was suffering from low confidence and self-esteem. So I set my intention and made efforts to truly identify what must remain in my life.
How I Got Rid Of My Own Aspirational Clutter
Remember, sometimes our fantasy self can also come from someone else’s fantasy (like a parent’s hope for us). And irrespective of the fantasy, the resulting aspirational possessions are what may be described as “beautiful clutter.” So, I asked some basic questions like:
- What is my future goal? Do I want to be an expert cook or a socialite or fitness guru or what else?
With some clarity on that, I then asked the following question about each item:
- Is this replaceable?
- If I need to pick up this hobby or attend this event, can I readily get this item? (The yoga mat was sold)
- Can I get a newer or latest trending version of this? (The gown was donated)
- How does this thing make me feel – motivated or like a failure? (The knives and chopping boards were donated)
- How much space are these taking up? Can I store them in another form? (The classics – Gone with The Wind and Anna Karenina were read and sold to a used bookstore, I can get their EPub formats any time)
I am not advocating that we get rid of all these items. My point is to develop awareness and let go of other things so I can make space for my true dreams and turn them into reality.
Ultimately, I just kept my violin from all my aspirational clutter — partly because I haven’t given up on that dream yet, and partly because… well, it is beautiful!
Richa is a Management Consultant living in Chicago. With 80 hour work weeks, she tries to make the most of her weekends. She loves to read, travel, watch plays and live music, and binge-watch Netflix. Her goal is to live fully, intentionally, and in the moment.
Image via Pexels