Decluttering and the Fantasy Self

I watched Janelle Kristina’s video (see below) about our fantasy selves and how they contribute to clutter and discontentment. While it isn’t a new idea, Janelle’s description was super helpful and relatable and was a real “A-Ha” moment for me.

What is a fantasy self?

Your fantasy self is the person you want to be, or you want other people to think you are, but that you aren’t. Or the person you think you *should* be. However, the things that the fantasy self does are quite different from the things your real self does.

In Good Owners, Great Dogs, Killcommons and Wilson write that potential dog owners should be incredibly realistic about how much exercise they do and get a dog with similar energy levels. If you are a couch potato, do not get a Pointer and expect that the dog will motivate you to exercise more. It is not fair to anyone, especially the dog.

This message comes through loud and clear when you think about a big dog slobbering on you at 5 am, ready to go for a run and not caring that it is Saturday. It is easier to ignore when instead of a dog, it is STUFF you have purchased for activities that are incompatible with your lifestyle. But hanging on to the trappings of your fantasy self can lead to clutter, extra work, and resentment. Your fantasy self’s *stuff* can really mess with your real self’s contentment.

What counts as fantasy?

  • Downhill skis when you live in the plains or hate the cold
  • Classic Greek literature books when you prefer to sit and watch Netflix
  • Exercise equipment that you have never used
  • The KitchenAid stand mixer whose bowls serve as a holder for your take out menus because you rarely cook or bake
  • The clothes that are 4 sizes too small that you haven’t fit into for 10 years
  • The gardening tools you have even though you hate getting your hands dirty
  • The books on spirituality even though you prefer to find your center in nature rather than reading
  • The started but unfinished scrapbook
  • The started but unfinished manuscript
  • The started but unfinished car restoration
  • The started but unfinished… you get the picture

Obviously the list could go on and it is quite personalized for each and every person. It is up to you to dig down and figure it out. Look at the things you have stored in your home. When is the last time you used them? What changes would you have to make in your life to make add that thing in? Do you want to make those changes? Do you really?

The aspirational self

I think there is a second category, and I call it the aspirational self. We all have goals and goals are good. So maybe you are going through your stuff and you find the skis. You realize that you haven’t used them in years, but you would really like to get back into it. You think about what changes you can make. Freeing up two weekends next winter seems possible. You have time (and are formulating a plan) to get a warmer coat, research the best ski slopes, and get into shape.

Skiing has now moved from fantasy to aspiration. In this case, you can hang onto the skis for one year from the decision date to give yourself a chance to earn them back into your life. If the ski season comes and you use them, great! After the season ends, evaluate the experiences and determine whether it is something you will want to pursue again the following year. If so, keep them! However, be open to the fact that maybe skiing isn’t as fun as it was 10 years ago. Or your priorities have changed. Or that was what you needed to get it out of your system. If that is the case, you can let them go with no regrets.

However, if you have not used them 1 year from the decision date, even with the added pressure of knowing they were on the bubble, then you must admit that skiing is something your fantasy self does. It is okay! We can’t do it all, we just can’t. It is okay to accept that and move on, placing them in the give away or sell basket.

Figure out the Why

While doing this process, try to figure out why you are holding onto things. Is it something you truly want to do but can’t find time for? What you think is expected of you? Something you did and don’t want to admit you hated? Do you think it will make you a better person? Sitting with these thoughts can help us to release the things we don’t use. And when you shed those things, you have more time and space to do the things you really want to be doing, but can’t find time, energy, or money for.

Real world example

I will give you an example from my own life, one that has been playing out for years and has finally gotten resolution. My fantasy self has a kitchen full of mid-century glass and ceramics in bright and cheerful colors. But my real self is not delicate and doesn’t want to break pretty things that are 70 years old.

The way my real self and fantasy self have fought this out has been: I buy pretty mid-century things at thrift shops and then don’t use them because I don’t want them to break. Then they become clutter. They don’t look nice. They make the kitchen cluttered so it doesn’t look nice. My two selves had a conversation and I realized that I don’t want to live this way. Here is the new compromise. I got rid of a lot of the serving things I had. I kept a few melamine things and now I use them instead of treating them as off limits. My goal is to only have things in my house that we really truly use.

My fantasy self has a lot of mid-century china. Pictured are some melamine plates, cups, and a bowl

I challenge you to introduce yourself to your fantasy self. Get to know them, chat with them, and politely show them the door. Feel free to make space for your aspirational self, but remember that aspirations can easily turn to fantasy. We are all learning and growing. If you embark on this, please be kind to yourself.