The summer sun is blazing and it’s another humid day in Virginia. I see a few pairs of shorts in my drawer, but I pick a pair of cropped pants again. The shorts are too tight on me, but they’ll fit me next year. Right?
I step outside to do some weeding in the front yard and then go to the garden shed to grab the lawn waste bag. Hidden behind folding chairs, a rake, and beach toys you can see a silvery glint peeking through at the back of the shed. I bought the bicycle almost 20 years ago when I lived in New York City and did two triathlons. Afterward, I rarely rode it and even less after having kids. I never liked riding my bike anyway. But isn’t that something you’re “supposed to” own? And what if I want to ride bikes with my kids someday?
I come back inside to the cool blast of air conditioning and check on the kids. They’re playing with cars and trucks- again. “Hey guys, do you want to do this puzzle?” I ask, holding up one that’s been sitting in the closet for months. “No, Mommy! We want to play with cars and trucks!” I sigh and put the puzzle back in the closet. I’ll try again tomorrow.
The shorts, the bike, the puzzle- one could argue that they are all examples of aspirational clutter. Aspirational clutter is anything you’re holding onto that doesn’t represent your current identity. Instead, it represents who you were in the past or who you think you’ll be in the future.
Aspirational clutter can be an issue at any point in your life, but especially if you’ve gone through a major life transition: being in a relationship, starting a new job, having kids. Your identity changes. The way you spend your time changes. Perhaps your physical body changes as well. You’re suddenly surrounded by the things that used to define you, as well as the things that represent a future that seems unattainable given your current circumstances. So how can we move forward when these things are constant reminders of the person we “should” be?
5 Steps To Deal With Aspirational Clutter
In podcasts, books, and social media, we are told over and over that we have the capacity to change. I believe in a growth mindset, in neuroplasticity, in the ability to become a better version of myself. I was a woman who fit into a pair of shorts, so I can do it again. I want to be a mom who has fun experiences with her kids, so I can ride my bike. But where’s the line between a version of yourself that is attainable versus a fantasy self- one that may never exist?
These are not easy questions and require a lot of honesty and self-reflection. Here’s a five-step process that may help:
1. Grab a piece of paper and make three columns. In the left-hand column, make a list of the aspirational clutter in your home. Some examples include:
– Clothes that don’t fit you or your lifestyle
– Books you say you’ll read (or re-read) but never do
– Supplies for crafting or a hobby that you haven’t done in a while, or purchased thinking you would start but never did
– Entertaining dishes (when you don’t like to entertain)
– Super-specific kitchen appliances or gadgets (pasta maker, anyone?)
– Sporting equipment that you never touch even when the season is appropriate for it
– Books/clothes/toys your kids don’t read/wear/play with but you wish they did
2. In the middle column, write how these items make you feel. Using some of the above examples:
– Clothes that don’t fit me make me feel like I need to lose weight
– Books I never read make me feel resentful about not having the energy to read more
– Crafting supplies I haven’t used make me upset about not having more time to myself
– Toys my kids never play with (but I wish they did) make me feel like I haven’t encouraged them enough to play with a variety of things
3. In the right hand column, write down the perceived impact on your identity if you get rid of the item.
This is where your inner voice will pipe up, and it may not be pretty. Because this is the fear that is holding you back from getting rid of the item.
– Decluttering the shorts that are too small means that I am accepting a weight that is heavier than I want to be right now
– Decluttering the books means that I am accepting that I don’t have the bandwidth in this season to read everything I want
– Decluttering craft supplies means that I am accepting that I have less free time which I need to spend differently than I did in the past
– Decluttering toys my kids don’t play with (but I wish they did) means that I am accepting that I can’t force my kids to play with things just because they are “educational.
4. If the perceived impact on your identity is negative, is there a way to reframe it to something more positive?
– These shorts may not fit but I exercise every day and take care of my body
– I may not be able to read everything I want, but I can read a little bit every night before bed
– I can do this craft with my kids, or meet up with a friend to do it once a month. If it makes me happy, it’s worth pursuing in a different way
– I can give these toys to kids who will actually use them, and focus on the toys my kids love now
5. Decide whether you are ready to let go of the item. If you decide to keep it, get it out of sight so that you don’t feel bad looking at it, and revisit it after three months.
Notice how you feel when you’re not constantly looking at an item that reminds you of what you “should” be.
The Antidote To Aspirational Clutter Is Self-acceptance
Aspirational clutter is the physical manifestation of the tension between accepting who we are today and wanting something different from our lives in the future. Getting rid of our aspirational clutter means we are saying goodbye to a past version of ourselves, a piece of our identity. It can feel like “giving up”. It can be painful to admit we’re not a certain person anymore, or that we may never be a future version of ourselves that we’ve idealized.
It’s okay if you’re not quite ready to let go of another version of yourself. Just like sentimental clutter, reassessing every so often helps us understand whether our relationship with our stuff has changed and whether we are ready to let go of the item- and accept who we are in this moment.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.