Coping with Aspirational Clutter

Aspirational clutter is different from other clutter. Most clutter is acquired and kept because people expect it to solve a problem or make their lives better, but aspirational clutter is acquired to enable living in manner indicated by the items. For people who do not hoard, an item that does not solve the problem for which it was acquired in some reasonable time span is more likely to be discarded than an aspirational item which could hang around for a long time (people who do hoard will keep items that don’t solve problems on the basis of “I might need it”). As a result, aspirational clutter is more likely to be connected to hoarding than regular clutter.

Aspirational clutter is challenging for anyone, but a Facebook hoarding group post made this especially clear. A woman was clearing out her home and realized that she has 25 boxes of unused fabrics, even though she hasn’t touched her sewing machine in 15 years. The fabrics are aspirational clutter – she aspires to earn money making clothing, to be someone who is creative, thrifty, productive, perhaps admired by others, and fashionable. These aspirations are tied to her self-image and to change them, she must change her self-image. Changing our self-image is one of the hardest changes we can make, even when we have not acted on the basis of that self-image in a long time.  

Accepting that a long-held aspiration won’t happen is hard. Just recognizing that the time for a given aspiration is past can be painful so we avoid letting ourselves see that it is past. The pain of abandoning aspirations is increased when money and years are invested in these items. Retaining items in hopes of redeeming the cost of their purchase and the distress of having kept them for so long compounds the pain.

We often keep things that have not been used in a long time through inattention, self-deception, or just hanging onto plans that are no longer possible or important. Most of us do not readily admit that our ambitions are not realistic and won’t happen.

All our aspirational items reveal a great deal about our innermost wishes and hopes that we can benefit from exploring from time to time. Our aspirations are often bigger than our time, energy, or capacity for acting on them, but this reality may go unnoticed.

Aspirational clothing and furniture are often acquired as assertions of style, taste, and perhaps wealth. Aspirational crafting and sewing supplies are mainly about expressing our desire for creativity but other wishes influence this form of acquiring. Aspirational books, magazines, and newspapers are often acquired because people expect to gain knowledge from them or at least the appearance or feeling of being knowledgeable.

Keeping up with large volumes of reading or other aspirational projects is nearly impossible and the effort damages one’s quality of life by taking up time needed for exercise and other self-care, home care, relationships, and other important activities. Our lives are busy and we have little time for keeping up with aspirational projects, so these desires get pushed further and further back, creating greater clutter. New materials keep arriving, one gets farther behind, the piles get higher, and catching up becomes ever more impossible. Yet the hope of doing them and living up to the expectations one has for oneself remains, as does the desire to get one’s money’s worth from them.

The desire to use aspirational clutter items may dissipate over time but even clearing them out is a sizable time commitment and often seemingly overwhelming problem. There are some events that predictably trigger changes to our aspirations or the possibility of pursuing them:

Coping with aspirational clutter is aided by asking yourself a series of questions:

Strange as it may seem, having aspirational clutter is a bit of a good thing – it means that you have hopes, dreams, and yes, aspirations. Our lives become very limited when we lose this. Aspirations may require adjustments from time to time but it is always good to have some, preferably ones that we can act on.


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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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