by Susan Caplan McCarthy
We get caught up in clutter conundrums when we hold onto items that we think we need to keep … even though we know we don’t use them.
Some of the trickiest stuff to declutter (next to sentimental items) is aspirational clutter. Aspirational clutter includes the books, courses, equipment, supplies, and so on that would allow us to be someone different. To do or learn about something new that would change our identity (even subtly).
You buy a stack of books on astrology. You purchase skis and the appropriate clothing for skiing. You get a kayak. You sign up for a wine-of-the-month club. You buy an elliptical machine or treadmill as motivation to exercise.
You envision yourself as the person your friends go to, asking for advice based on their horoscope. You’ll be the person who heads out each Friday afternoon during the winter with plans to go skiing … or, in the summer, to paddle down a local river. People will ask for your advice about what wine to serve with dinner. You’ll get thin and fit.
If we used the items that would allow us to reach our goals, well, yeah, perfect. However, how many items get shoved into the back of our closet or hidden in the garage, attic, or basement to hide our disappointment with ourselves for aspiring but not doing?
Reviving Aspirational Clutter
List 10 things that you already own but that you don’t use. Are you ready to sell these items or give them away? If not, make a note in your calendar when you’ll use each of these things. If you can’t make yourself do this, this is your answer – you can let the item go.
If you are thinking, “I spent so much money on this stuff,” how much dust does it need to collect to justify the money you spent? It just doesn’t work that way. See if a friend wants this equipment so you can enjoy the vicarious experience of knowing someone is using the stuff.
What Do You Really Want?
Consider why you haven't decluttered items that don't represent who you are. When you look at your list of the aspirational clutter you have around the house, ask yourself how you thought you’d feel when you owned – and used – those items. Would you have felt smarter, more athletic, more confident, more spiritual, more free-spirited, happier, cooler, whatever?
Do you notice a pattern with how those aspirational items would have helped you to feel? If you focus on one of these key feelings that popped up a couple of times, can you think of five-to-ten things you could add to your life, that wouldn’t cost a penny, but that would help you to feel the way you want to feel?
If you want to feel more free-spirited, maybe you could schedule fewer activities on the weekends and find time to take a walk out in nature. If you want to feel smarter, you could listen to podcasts and attend free talks at your local library or at local shops. If you want to feel stronger, do push-ups, squats, and other body weight activities that don’t require a room full of exercise equipment.
Beware Future Aspirational Clutter
I’m not suggesting that you should never try anything new. However, find out if you can borrow or rent supplies from a friend or business before buying anything. Also, plan for when you will use the stuff. I know I’ve been guilty of buying things thinking that owning them would magically create time for me to use the things.
When you think of something you want to do or learn that requires equipment or materials, engage in some creative thinking and consider how you could do that thing without acquiring something new. Could you take a snowshoeing class (that supplies the snowshoes) and see if you enjoy the activity enough to invest more time and money into it?
Holding onto aspirational clutter can be discouraging. You end up frustrated that you failed to develop an interest, hobby, or aptitude. Releasing these objects (that you may have been holding onto for years – or decades), not only frees up space in your home, but allows you the mental energy to pursue new interests.
What piece of aspirational clutter are you ready to release? Share your decluttering story in the comments below.
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.