I was over at Zen Habits recently reading Leo's take on developing a reading habit (more on that next week), and he referenced all of the books he's not read but means to as 'aspirational clutter.'
I'd never heard of the stuff we collect to better ourselves as 'aspirational clutter,' but is there a better or more appropriate term for it? No. No, there is not.
I've often asked myself, while looking through my closets: Amy, are you living your own life or some imaginary life?
Because my home is filled with stuff that reflects the person I'd like to be, the person I am in my mind's eye, but not necessarily the person I truly am.
Snow shoes (which I've used twice in 10 years)
Books (classics I feel I should read, self-help, history, etc.)
Chinese language books/workbooks/notebooks
Food (kale, Swiss chard, fish sauce, gourmet coffee, teff, coconut sugar)
Framed Prints/Pictures (passed on from relatives)
Make-up (an entire bag of eyeshadows)
I'm sure if I cleaned out the garage, I'd find even more.
When I look at this list and think about these items, I realize:
I don't live near snow and don't enjoy being outside in the cold. I don't want to read many of those books or have started some and found them boring or have shifted my perspective on what made them compelling in the first place. I no longer live in China and don't want to work or live in China in the future, so why on earth am I clinging to my Chinese language skills?
I hate kale and Swiss chard and feel that fish oil and its bi-products are better eaten at Vietnamese restaurants than in my own home.
I like Starbucks coffee and Peet's. There. I said it.
I don't drink much alcohol, and the vision I have of hosting Garden and Gun-inspired cocktail parties on my back porch with bluegrass music in the background is a little silly as I'm an introvert and don't love hosting parties.
The framed prints given to me by relatives don't reflect my own decorating taste and are worn and yellowed. I don't actually wear eye make-up and mostly think I look like I've had a rough night and rougher morning when I do apply it, yet I feel that not having at least the option makes me less feminine and invested in my grooming than I'm comfortable admitting.
Why, then, do I continue to hold on to these things? Why is it so hard to let go, say, of a Chinese language textbook or pair of snow shoes or bag of eye shadow?
I think the answer is that it's hard to let go of these idealized visions of who we are and who we aspire to be. I like to think of myself as a woman who hosts cocktail parties, with expertly applied eye shadow, who might break out into a witty joke in Chinese at any moment.
I'm just kidding.
But no, I'm not kidding.
I do harbor such images of myself, even if I know they're silly. I harbor many images of myself, many of them based on my past (as a working girl who wore suits or a Peace Corps volunteer who wore hiking boots), and it's hard to come to terms with who I am today outside of my past and accepting the reality that I don't care for ancient grains.
I wonder how I could better use the space and time in my life to live according to who I really am rather than an image of myself I've created or am clinging to in my mind. What would I read? What would I wear? What would I do?
I think, as I age, I get closer to that real version of myself. The aspirational clutter is culled with each decade. The eye shadow comes out less often. The should be is replaced with the what is. I don't even worry as much with what I want to become; though that's a bit tougher, no?
Maybe the hardest thing of all to let go of isn't a thing itself but an idealized vision of ourselves, one that is hopefully outdated because we've grown and changed, but one that is comfortable nonetheless.
Do you cling to any ideals of self that no longer serve you? Is any of your space full of aspirational clutter? Do you have a treadmill collecting dust in the corner, a pair of ice skates you'll never use or a dress you bought for the day you'd weigh a certain weight, even though you no longer care to starve yourself?
If so, is it time to let go?
Finally, if you read Babauta's post, who else is in for a reading challenge?
It's Tuesday morning. I've got a full day ahead, with no plans but heaps of stuff to do. Here's to a productive, thoughtful, well-spent day.