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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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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8 Responses to Aspirational clutter

  1. Nor is this a new phonomenon. In “Orchids On Your Budget”, published in 1937, Marjorie Hillis tells her readers to buy clothes for the life they have, not for the life they wished they had.

    (Looking at Warren Buffet’s house, I must say it didn’t strike me as so very modest, though. At over 6,500 square feet, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a large garden and an extensive security system, and located in a green and leafy neighbourhood, it seems to me a very substantial as well as quite pleasant house. I can perfectly understand why he does not see the need to move to anything more fancy.)

  2. Warren Buffet’s house reminds me to my beloved car. It has 22 years, I bought it 7 years ago. I still feel very good in it, love to drive it and I am not thinking about changing it. In my country it is very popular to show big, expensive cars which price is like an appartment or house. I prefer to own my car with history and beautiful memories and not to work all days to pay one and show to my neighbours “look at my car, look who I am!”

  3. Thanks, Karen, for putting a name on this – aspirational clutter. This article will help me not buy books and clothes in the future. I’m in the process of donating the books I acquired this way and haven’t used many of them. It gives me joy to realize instead of buying more books or more clothes I can use that money to travel. I now have a precious grandson in England.

  4. Karen, this article hit home. Completely. And I had already realized it and have been taking steps for the past two years to remedy the problem.

    Something that helped was a statement I once heard from a member of my “The Artist’s Way” group. She was talking about all her unfinished paintings and said she saw them as orphans. Motherless babes. Yes. So I have been taking note of my own projects that I have orphaned, which are mainly screenplays (and the hundreds of books I bought for research or screenwriting education), and I’m trying to determine which ones feel dead and which still have a spark of life so I can resurrect them.

    The conflict in me is, am I wanting to resurrect these projects because I really care and think I can make them viable and sell them? Or am I dealing with shame at being a bad mother/creator and feel I need to pay penance?

    1. Hi Veleka – The hundreds of books you have purchased do, indeed, sound like aspirational clutter if they have not helped you to create the screenplays you hoped that they would. So I suggest you begin by reducing the number of books you have, and then it will become clearer which projects you truly wish to continue and which it is now time to let go of.

  5. Ha! This reminded me of a time some years ago when I was giving my bedroom a long overdue spring clean. Pull the bed completely up and out and there, covered in dust and with its cover rolled from the many times it’s been rolled along the floor under the bed, is “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I didn’t check the book but I suspect losing it under your bed for years was not one of the habits!! Did make me laugh though!

  6. This is very apt for me, Karen. I have so much ‘stuff’ for making me a better person / living a better life, I reckon I could open a shop! I’ve spent hundreds of pounds over the years on it. I can’t sell this very expensive ‘stuff’, because it only applies to the companies (network marketing) that I was involved with at the time. Now, it’s all ‘old hat’, out of date junk. What a shame. What a waste. Thank you for the proverbial ‘kick up the pants’. I shall get this junk out of my life this week.

  7. I can relate to this with my former practice of buying material for projects that were in my head but had not as yet completed the half dozen I already had on the go. Result, this year I have been overwhelmed by the amount I now have. Solution was a good talking to (myself) and a realistic list of what I can complete and achieve in a given time frame by doing something Every single day to make it happen. When I was at work I was guilty of buying clothes for a job title I thought I might achieve but got over that. Warren Buffet has been a source of inspiration to me and following his advise allowed me to retire early. The word ‘aspirational’ gets banded about a lot in the media now days, to me it is yet another term to make so many people feel ‘less than’ and I see so many younger people with potential to do things begin to doubt themselves and get into debt in the hope of buying the confidence they need, this I think is sad.

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