Aspirational Clutter: Not Yet Time to Let Go

Two years ago a friend introduced me to Clutter Chronicles, a podcast that features a woman named Mary and her “unusual relationship with stuff.” Ever since, I’ve been working hard to rid myself of my clutter, as well as all sorts of other stuff I no longer need or use.

I’ve made good progress. I’ve tossed reams and reams of client files from a four-drawer, 48-inch-wide file cabinet. I’ve donated hundreds of books, a dozen bags of clothes, several sets of linens and my favorite china.

Parting with most of that stuff turned out to be easier than I thought thanks to another friend who encouraged me to stop dragging my anchor behind me and instead toss it out in front of me.

But I’ve since come to realize that there’s a category of clutter I’m still having trouble letting go of: aspirational clutter.

I’d never even heard of aspirational clutter until a third friend introduced me to Apartment Therapy, a home and décor site that defines aspirational clutter as “anything you’re keeping for a future version of yourself.”

As a lifelong goal-setter with all sorts of imagined future selves and plenty of storage space, I’ve accumulated a great deal of aspirational clutter, most of which revolves around hopes and dreams related to creative pursuits such as writing, drawing, painting, sewing and knitting, all things I used to love doing as a kid but gave up decades ago.

Some of my aspirational clutter is electronic, like the list of words I keep on my computer, words I aspire to one day not only remember the meaning of but also use in a short story. The list includes noctilucent, opsimath, sere and wheedle.

There’s also a list of clever headlines, as well as lists of books to read, movies to watch and podcasts to listen to, all in line with my aspirations to develop compelling creative content in a variety of forms.  

But what about the things that do take up physical space? A shoebox filled with recipes. A plastic bin of yarn. An untouched set of oil paints I received for my 40th birthday. A six-inch high pile of pages I’ve torn out of magazines in preparation for making collages.

Despite the fact that some of these things have sat dormant for decades, tossing or giving them away is harder than I would have imagined. And that’s exactly how my more creative future self would want it to be.

Your Future Self Will Thank You

 

Back in 2014, I attended a lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. The speaker was Kelly McGonigal, an author and health psychologist who teaches The Science of Willpower, a popular Stanford University course.

According to McConigal, one of our biggest mistakes when making decisions is not picturing our future selves and how the decisions we make today will impact us in the years ahead.

That’s one reason why so many people put off doing things that could make a big difference in the decades to come: eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining friendships, saving for retirement and other actions that research has shown makes a big difference to quality of life as we age.

One way to set up your future self for success is by getting in touch with your hopes and dreams. I’ve been keeping a bucket list of mine for decades.

But because that list has gotten unwieldly—in large part because it now serves as a catch-all for everything from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to taste-testing brandy Manhattans to building a cabin with my partner Steve to visiting the world’s most beautiful libraries—I also now keep an index card on which I’ve written just 10 things I want to accomplish in the next 10 years.

Even if I cross only one item off my index card every year for the next 10 years I’ll have a few accomplishments my future self will be able to look back on with pride as well as some experiences she can recall fondly.

Manifesting Me

Some years, I’ve called my future self into focus by giving her a name that had to do with one of my goals. One year, she was Author Artist. Shortly after, I signed a contract for my first book and become a real-life author.

I’m not the only one who uses names to bring the future into focus. On a recent episode of the Meditative Story podcast, music producer Larry Jackson shared a story about his work with Jennifer Hudson. On the day of their recording session, she arrived with two Pomeranians. One was named Oscar. The other Grammy. Admitting his cluelessness, Jackson asked her why she’d chosen those particular names.

Hudson’s response: “Well, I won an Oscar already and now we about to win a Grammy, ain’t we?” They did, and perhaps having two four-legged reminders of her future self-played a role in making that dream come true.

There are also other ways to call our future selves into focus. Journaling and dream boards are two common methods, but one of my favorites is by projecting yourself into the future.

One of my friend’s friends did that recently. She’s always dreamed of working for Spanx. So, one day, when in Atlanta for business, she spent an hour sitting in the Spanx lobby, picturing what it would be like one day if her future self really did work there.

Ready, set … age

Another tool that’s helped me get in touch with my future self is AgingBooth, a free face-aging app that lets you fast-forward your looks. Seeing what I might look like in 2050…when I’m 92…has helped me realize how much I’m looking forward to becoming my future self.

Will she be kinder? Still able to play 18 holes of golf. Eager to discover new authors? Finally rid of her bad habits.

What about you? How do you bring your future self into focus?

Me in 2020, at age 62
Me in 2050, at 92