Aspirational clutter

Aspirational clutter consists of things you acquire for a future fantasy version of yourself. You imagine that having the right possessions can somehow magically transform you into a better person.

Aspirational clutter

It feels like such a good use of money to buy things that will help you to achieve the goals you aspire to in your life, to make you a better or smarter person, bring you success, or improve your well-being in some way.

Or is it?

If you have your feet firmly planted on the ground and are prepared to work to improve your life, this kind of investment can be very helpful. But all too often people make the mistake of thinking that just acquiring the tools is all that’s needed. And there the items sit, week after week, month after month, and sometimes year after year, gathering dust and waiting for you to engage whatever life-changing project you purchased them for.

The euphemistic name for this is aspirational clutter. But a more truthful name would be fantasy clutter, pie-in-the-sky clutter or even pigs-will-fly clutter!

Examples of aspirational clutter

A common type of aspirational clutter is self-help books. I’ve met people who have shelves or ebook libraries full of these, the majority of them unread. They are most often purchased online, where a click of a button assures you that you’ve made a move in the right direction towards becoming a better person. But unless you read the books and action the knowledge contained in them, they’re just another form of clutter in your life.

Keep-fit equipment is another potential type of aspirational clutter. You decide it’s time to get your body into shape. To help you do this, you purchase the gym equipment and clothing you feel you will need. If you follow through and get fit, well done. If not, you’ve just acquired clutter that will balefully remind you of your failed intentions each time you catch sight of it.

Then there are the clothes you think you should have in order to look the part, such as outfits to make you feel fashionable or feel like the perfect professional, partner, parent, or whatever. But, as in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, if this is not who you really are, they are not going to help you to create the life you truly want.

Future-self clutter

Future-self clutter is a more worrying form of aspirational clutter. It consists of items you acquire for the ultra-different person you fancifully imagine you’ll one day become, even though you’re doing nothing at all to make that happen.

A classic example of this is a woman I know of who purchased an entire wardrobe of elegant clothes to wear on book tours after she became a successful author. The problem was, she’d been accumulating these clothes for years and hadn’t ever written a thing. In reality, she’d convinced herself of this future fantasy life to justify her shopping addiction. Most items still had the price tag on them and had never been worn.

I’ve met others who take this to even greater extremes by acquiring a fabulous car or house that fits with the wildly successful person they hope they will one day be. They’ve heard that they need to “fake it until they make it”, but this can all too often backfire and turn into “fake it until the bank takes it” if they get themselves too deeply into debt that they can never afford to repay.

If you’re ever tempted to financially over-extend yourself in this way, take heart from knowing that Warren Buffet, currently the third richest man in the world, still lives in the same modest house that he bought back in 1958 for US $31,500. It’s now worth a mere 0.001% of his total wealth, but he feels no need to change it. When asked once why he hadn’t moved, he replied very simply, ‘I’m happy there. I’d move if I thought I’d be happier someplace else’. In other words, he feels comfortable with himself, just as he is, and has no need to impress anyone else.

How to tell a genuine aspiration from a false one

I don’t want to demolish anyone’s dreams. A life without aspiration is a life not lived. What I’m pointing out here is that if it only results in clutter that holds you back, that’s worse than having no aspiration at all.

Many people want to improve themselves, and that’s commendable. But there is a huge difference between being motivated to develop your natural talents to become all that you can be, and feeling driven to create a better version of yourself because deep down inside you feel lacking in some way. The first comes from the fullness of living your life’s purpose and the latter from the fear of not being good enough.

Here are some pointers to help you to tell the difference.

It’s probably clutter if…

  • You tell yourself you’ll be a better person if you have one
  • You think the kind of person you aspire to be should have one
  • You hope that people will like or accept you more if you have one

There’s a very different feeling between acquiring something you vaguely hope will change you for the better and the deep certainty that comes from putting in place the next piece of the puzzle to help you discover who you are and what you’re here to do.

When you follow a genuine aspiration, you don’t just throw money at it. You invest your own time and energy in it too and only gather around yourself the tools to help you do this as and when you really need them.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2018, updated 2021

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