Declutter Your Fantasy Self

Happy to visit castles, rather than live in one!

Once upon a time (a long time ago), I had a fantasy self. She was an aficionado of antique chandeliers, vintage beaded dresses, fine china, and silver tea sets; I think she fancied one day she would marry a prince and live out her days in a British castle or manor house.

Charming as she was, after dragging her stuff thousands of miles in a cross-country move, I had to kick her out. And it’s a good thing I did—because even though I eventually married a prince (metaphorically) and moved to England (literally), my 400-square-foot flat would have never accommodated her lavish accoutrements.

Ironically enough, decluttering my fantasy self gave me the freedom and resources to turn my dreams into reality.

Do you have a fantasy self? And if so, how much of your clutter belongs to it?

All too often, we hold on to stuff because it represents who we think we should be, rather than who we are. Sometimes our fantasy selves are meant to impress others; sometimes they’re relics of our past; sometimes they’re fantasies about our future.

Whatever the case, it’s important to remember: acquiring stuff for your fantasy self doesn’t make it a reality. Most of the time, it only leads to a lot of “nice” clutter you never actually use.

Is your fantasy self…

* A culinary diva who has the pots, pans, gadgets, and gizmos to whip up any dish or confection under the sun…
when your real self would rather order takeout?

* A socialite with a closet full of cocktail dresses, with shoes and bags to match…
when the social event of your week is going to the coffee shop?

* A fitness guru with a treadmill, yoga mat, Pilates equipment, and a wardrobe of exercise clothes…
when the most rigorous workout you’ve had lately is taking the stairs?

* An all-star athlete with a garage full of sports gear…
when you’re more likely to catch a game on TV?

* A knitter/sewer/scrapbooker/woodworker extraordinaire with enough supplies to fill a craft store…
when you rarely ever complete a project?

* A DIYer with a workbench stocked with equipment and tools…
when you usually call a handyman if something breaks?

* A globetrotter with premium luggage and travel gear…
when you’d rather curl up on the couch and watch a Rick Steve’s DVD?

* A bigwig executive with expensive suits, silk ties, and luxury watches…
when you wear khakis and a polo shirt to work?

* A cello virtuoso with a library of sheet music…
when you haven’t picked up the instrument since high school?

* The trusted keeper of your family’s history and heirlooms…
when you’d prefer to shove those dusty boxes of junk in the attic?

Storing our fantasy selves’ stuff isn’t fair to our real selves—not only does it make us feel like failures, it takes away the space and time we could devote to uncovering our true passions and potential.

So as you’re decluttering, give the boot to your fantasy self and all its accessories—it’s not giving up on your dreams, it’s making way for real ones!

Are you dealing with your fantasy self’s clutter? Tell us about it in the Comments.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

  1. How to Win the War on Clutter
  2. Minimalist Makeover: Beth’s Closet and Kitchen
  3. Minimalist Living: One In, One Out

156 comments to Declutter Your Fantasy Self

  • Marcus

    Francine,

    GREAT creative approach to a fundamental question! Thanks for sharing it. You are a princess of one kind or another.

  • oh geez, I fit into several of those categories. Just another reason to get rid of stuff. It’s just not important.

  • Mary Denny

    Thank you, thank you , thank you for this post!!! Boy, do I have to have a talk with my fantasy-self about this topic!!! I think there is a uhaul in her future.

  • Ann

    Erk! From where I’m sitting I can see bags of unused wool and knitting needles (craft fantasy); Zumba DVDs (fitness fantasy) and a $600 dress (socialite fantasy).
    Thank you for putting the issue of clutter/decluttering into this perspective!

  • Wow this is so such a weird and timely post… I fantasize a lot about winning the lotto and what I would do or buy afterwards. I finally had to tell myself only recently to get real and that if I won the lotto I shouldn’t change much. If I won the lotto I would pay of debt, thus minimalizing bills and my obligations and then make whatever necessary repairs the house and car needed. No more- no less. My fantasies about more money were getting too elaborate and seriously messing up my feeling of being content.

    Oooo and your last one hit below the belt, I have five children and I really struggle with the guilt of not being the perfect scrap-booking mom and archiver of childhood memories.

  • Henny

    I’m the fantasy ‘creative’ category, with far too many craft and arts supplies that have been gathering dust, and a string of unfinished projects making me feel guilty every time I look at them.

    Last night I spent an evening with a friend – a rare treat for this working parent-to-2-young-ones – and felt so inspired that I did a painting when I got home. It suddenly seemed so easy I wondered why I haven’t been doing any for months…years, even. I concluded that I have set myself up in my mind’s eye as this ‘creative person’ (which everyone always confirmed for me) to the point where I was afraid of failing in some way, therefore just didn’t even try! So that was my fantasy alternate reality.

    I also lack solitude…which is the root of creativity for me. (I only recently came to this realization after reading a wonderful post on Leo Baubata’s blog – http://zenhabits.net/creative-habit/ )

    So instead of surrounding myself with semi-creative clutter, I’m going for the real thing and painting again. And I’m reclaiming a tiny piece of solitude in which to do it. Just enough. I’m not going to paint for anyone but myself, including any ‘fantasy creative’ version of myself. It feels very refreshing. I can’t wait to clear out all those half-finished projects and supplies that have been in my way and weighing me down!

  • Cynthia

    Correction: That was supposed to be marry a cowBOY.

  • fabulous post! I am struggling to determine what is fantasy versus reality in my life; so much has been in flux for a couple of years. This is a great inspiration. I definitely want to move abroad too.

  • Jen

    So very true. This great post really made me think about specifically why I am holding on to certain things. Some of those things have really put pressure on me at various times in my life to do something I’m not sure I even care about doing. This will certainly change the way I look at certain items.

  • AussieGirl

    Thank you for yet another thought provoking post Francine! :)

    My fantasy self from as long as I can recall, has always been something along the lines of:
    -Being surrounded in nature whenever and whenever possible, especially with the place I live in (whether it be trees, grass, the sea side or a glass ceiling to watch the stars all night).
    -Being in a small, yet tasteful house/cottage/apartment.
    -Having very minimal furnishings.
    -Being surrounded by books, mostly children’s books, they are so full of adventure, wonder and fantasy that they put adult’s books to shame!
    -No technology/electronics. I’ve never been a fan of electronics in general. I would happily live without TV and internet but I so happened to marry a person whose entire profession is centered on technology and the advancement of it. There is no escaping electronics now!
    -Being able to go out anywhere, but especially into the city.
    -Having children and exploring and sharing this wonderful world that is ours, with them.

    This was fun! :D

  • Trudi

    This really is a great insightful post as others have mentioned. I have/had way too many fantasy selves which I designed to please other people (looking fashionable, appearing smart and well read, having figured out the perfect career, having muscular legs, having perfect skin, appearing to have wealth yet humility, appearing not to have too much wealth yet taste and class etc). I could never just let myself be. Having all of these fantasy selves made me purchase more and more, and of course since I’m none of those things above, they just sat unused. Now I’m slowly starting to accept myself. Still, there are times when I feel out of place because I don’t look a certain way or I don’t act a certain way which is toxic because I never fully enjoy myself because I’m always worried of how I might be perceived. Thank you for the food for thought, Francine. I just feel like writing all of these conflicting thoughts down on a piece of paper.

  • Allison

    My fantasy self is a world traveler and adventurer. But instead of decluttering my fantasy self, I look to turn it into a reality! Saving up to move to South America next year :-)

  • Sue

    My husband and I have both fallen prey to this in various ways. He’s in the military and owns three nice suits. He never has an occasion to wear them, bc any time we dress up, he wears a dress uniform. Why 3, when 1 would more than suffice? I fall more in the category of setting up unrealistic goals, buying things to meet those goals, and then never using them. Sigh, a work in progress we are.

  • An advantage to donating your “fantasy self’s” things is that you can help someone else that is able to do these activities. Enabling someone else to make practical use of long-forgotten items is much better than storing the items for the sake of “maybe, someday”.

  • This is such an interesting concept. My fantasy self lives in the tropics. In reality I live in cool, gloomy Norway so this is really quite a stretch of my imagination.:) I tend to shop for things, especially clothing, that would be suitable for a hot, sultry climate rather than accepting I live in the chill North! This must stop.:)

  • This is so me! I’m cluttering up my life with my multiple fantasy personas: artist, hobby keyboardist, fashionista… Thank you for reminding me to live with who i am NOW, and not who i was or want to be.

  • Thank you for writing this post! My fantasy self over the years caused a great deal of stress that could have been avoided. Even now I have to keep myself in check because she likes to creep up from time to time like when I signed up to take Spanish when I really wanted to learn another language but I felt like that is the one everybody else is learning so from time to time you have to stop yourself and say is this really what I want to do or am I acting on someone else fantasy.

  • Barb

    Very thought provoking post & slightly dangerous…I, too, love books & in looking through some of my “artsy” ones came across Creative Cloth Doll Faces…and I had the idea to creative a cloth doll showing one (or more) of my “fantasy personas”. Maybe I should just donate this book…it isn’t helping me simplify my life at all!!

  • I still carry some clutter from wannabe and previous selves. Sometimes I think if I leave it stashed away, out of sight, out of mind, I might get to use it again someday. This post was a good reminder to take a fresh inventory of my present life and not fantasize about a “future” that’s already long past.

  • The Graduate

    When I was in high school and the first few years of college I was an avid scrapbooker. I wanted to hold on to all of these memories that I was experiencing…and the scrapbooking supplies to prove it. I will never forget when my college roommate pulled out her scrapbooking supplies…five times over what I had…and I thought I had a lot! I finally accepted that I would make one small scrapbook of the group of friends and get rid of everything else. Yes, it was sad not to see myself as creative and fun when I donated the supplies, but I got back more than I gave away…I got my actual life. Instead of speading an afternoon trying to catch up on scrapbooking past experiences, I went out with those same friends and made new ones, undocumented.

    So now, I do not have the millions of scrapbooks I thought I would have, but I have what is truly important: the friends and memories. We do not need scrapbooks to remember, we can do that all on our own. Nothing beats sitting around with them and having one of the GUYS say, “Remember the time we dyed Disney Princess Easter eggs together? Yeah, that was fun…” I am glad I realized that time WITH them was more important than trying to freeze every moment in the past. :)

  • Tradd

    I had accumulated several items that are an integral part of the wedding ceremony in my religious tradition. They are handmade and very lovely. Also expensive. As I get older (40s) and am still single, I realize that holding onto these items for “someday” wasn’t good for me. I would encounter them everytime I opened my closet. Ugh.

    I posted the items on Craigslist, but they are a very specialized item, and I had no takers. So I’ve now emailed all my friends, including my circle on Facebook, about the items. Someone can have them for the cost of shipping, which is minimal, compared to the cost of the items.

    It felt so good to release them mentally, although they’re not yet gone! :)

  • Leah

    Great post! My fantasy self still has less than I do – my fantasy self can pick up and move on a whim, which I clearly don’t do. But I do have a few fantasy self bits and pieces lying around, like the box of sheet music when I haven’t been a singer in 12 years. I’m proud to say that my knitting and sewing projects get completed an on regular basis, though I did catch myself looking at my fabric stash this week and thinking that I couldn’t do anything with most of the stuff there. Much of what has collected unsewn over the years is satin or brocade, which I don’t usually wear even on dressy occasions.

  • [...] Declutter Your Fantasy Self: Getting rid of what and who you aren’t [...]

  • [...] read the following on Miss Minimalist’s blog and it hit home in such an exact way that it is still traumatizing me a bit, days later: Once upon [...]

  • chery

    I love vintage stuff. I´m obsessed with vintage clothing and dressing vintage. However, I feel like it is never enough. I have to keep buying more vintage clothing because that´s who I want to be. I’m not sure I am. I´m not sure others see me how i want them to see me. The worst part is I don´t know how to stop or change.

  • I am working on this right now. I have two “fantasy” selves and they are dooking it out. The fantasy self of my childhood is much like yours and my grown up fantasy self is living on a off-grid, self sustained family farm in TN.

    My grown up fantasy self is winning!

    Great blog by the way!

  • It became clear to me when I started my decluttering journey a few months ago that my fantasy self was an excellent cook and therefore a good wife and mother. In giving up my condiments and cookbooks I had to face the reality that I’m just a good wife and mother that hates to cook.

  • [...] bought out of a sense of a fantasy self but are not realistically me.  I had a bird collection I developed when I fantasized about being an [...]

  • KT

    Clutter. The defines me. And I am so confused between my fantasies and my real dreams. May be one of them has to be brought true. But the fantasies of the past pull me back and pull me hard. May be I habitually like to succumb to them or may be I have kept them locked up inside myself somewhere. The example of a traveler traveling across the globe is the most apt one for me. I think I still have that fantasy. Pell me please something, something logically and something that would make some sense to me. I really admire that you did it and that is the first thing I would like to do with my life. Please help me.

  • “* A socialite with a closet full of cocktail dresses, with shoes and bags to match…
    when the social event of your week is going to the coffee shop?”

    Oh
    My
    Goodness.

    It has been quite awhile since I had one of those slap-myself-in-the-forehead moments.
    I covet gorgeous, high-fashion clothes. I attend art museum events and take mental notes on all of the brilliant outfits around me thinking that “someday I could look like THAT!”
    But I’m a RUNNER and a HIKER. And I work from home.

    While I’m not about to stop going to cocktail hour at the art museum, no one else at the art museum cares what I’m wearing, so why do I waste the mental energy (and closet space) on fantasy fashionista???

  • I had never thought of my clutter issues like this. You are dead right, so much of my stuff belongs to my fantasy self! Thank you for the insight.

  • Hello there! I popped over from Penny Dreadful! What an insightful post. This is soo true! I am a complete hoardaholic! You make me think to think about who I really am! Thank you and I hope you have a lovely day!

  • [...] try on that impeccably tailored olive-green power suit, just for fun, to give my Corporate Warrior fantasy self a little hello. But it’s just for fun, because I know I have found my sweet spot, and this [...]

  • Keet

    Oh. Wow. This really hit home (quite literally). This is probably my BIGGEST struggle & obstacle that prohibits me from achieving a home I can be at peace with. Somehow hearing someone else say it & bring it out makes me realize it has to go, once & for all. Nothing brings me more peace than a natural bare room yet me & my house are guilty of trying to live up to the fantasy of the creative-Bohemian-gypsy-artsy-fartsy-theatrical-free spirit-quirky character-from-a movie-or-book personality. This matches my oldest kids who I guess kind of set the stage & I just went with it. But they can do that with their own lives, it’s time for me to grow up, be myself & set my “fantasy self” free. Aahh. I can do this. I also bought 1 setting of fine china at Goodwill recently…why? I have no idea. I am a plain white Corelle girl all the way. :) Thanks for the post & the inspiration, gonna go declutter now. :)

  • [...] first was a post by the fabulous Francine Jay over at Miss Minimalist titled Declutter Your Fantasy Self. It begins like [...]

  • CJ

    Ohhhh I’ve had so many fantasy selves. When I was younger they were derived from wanting to imitate people I envied. I thought if I dressed like someone/ bought they things they had then I would magically gain their confidence, intelligence, looks or whatever it was that I envied in them. As I got older (possibly because I never allowed my true self to develop) I had fantasy selves because I didn’t know who I was. It’s something I still struggle with. I have a better idea of who I truly am, but, for reasons of self esteem, I find myself still wanting to change my whole wardrobe/house overnight in a bid to become entirely different. I KNOW this is stupid. I KNOW that I should focus on my actions and behaviour if I want to change something about myself or my life, but it’s so habitual to me to think this way. I find my fantasy selves change on an almost daily basis if I’m in a negative mind-set. Sometimes I almost completely lose sight of who I am because the yearning for a fantasy self becomes so overpowering. It’s the biggest thing I need to work on.

    • Manda

      CJ, I can totally relate to everything that you’ve said. More and more I find myself despairing cause I am now in my early 30′s and still don’t know who I really am. I’ve lived the life of so many fantasy selves its just taken me further and further away from knowing who I really am. I frequently re-invent myself when life gets too hard and I don’t want to face my buried feelings. Re-invention is the ultimate form of escape for me. Problem is everytime I convince myself that ‘this time is different’ and that I’ve found my true calling/identity/wardrobe whatever. And of course it never sticks. So much to ponder here…

    • Linda

      Yes yes yes!!!! Don’t give up on yourself, and I won’t give up on me either. Be gentle.

  • Megan

    This is just what im struggling with at the moment as far as decluttering goes…i am simplifying my wardrobe but the most difficult part is the dresses! I have a variety of fancy dresses that hardly get worn as i usually spend leisure time having coffee or lunches with friends not elaborate parties LOL! However its so difficult for me to let them go! I know it is more my fantasy self holding on but that ghost that sneaks up saying ‘one day you may need me’. Thanks for the reality check Francine:)

  • [...] one of her posts, she talks about decluttering your fantasy self (http://www.missminimalist.com/2011/08/declutter-your-fantasy-self/.)  Well, my fantasy self had a bicycle.  It was a shiny purple cruiser with a basket.  We bought [...]

  • Liz

    I am in the process of decluttering loads and loads of books and this has helped so much. Each box of books represents one of my fantasy selves. It was great to suss out which one and be able to face it and as you say look at your real self. A breakthrough moment – or rather many breakthrough moments. Thank you

  • [...] your alter egos. Are they still valid? Or have they run their course. Miss Minimalist writes about Decluttering your Fantasy Self. She writes about the stuff your fantasy self collects. Read the post, it is really quite [...]

  • Amazing post!! I’d love to translate into portuguese to publish on my blog, with the due credit… may I, please?

  • [...] original blog I was directed from, but the blog post that taught me about my fantasy self is from Miss Minimalist.  The post was smartly titled Declutter Your Fantasy Self. I realized that is so [...]

  • Diane Wright

    You pegged me. I live in a fantasy world. I needed to read that. Thanks so much

  • [...] Miss Minimalist, my inspiration for this blog, has an excellent post on decluttering one’s fantasy self. [...]

  • Lydia

    My ‘fantasy self’ would live in an apartment that is designed and decorated like something straight out of an Apartment Therapy house tour. My real self – :) -likes to sleep in piles of blankets on the floor and use strings of Christmas lights for decoration and stick photos straight on the walls with gummy tape instead of putting them in fancy frames. And my real self feels weighed down and overwhelmed by too much stuff, so while beautifully designed spaces with loads of expensive pieces and decorations are gorgeous to look at, I wouldn’t actually want that for myself.

    I love interior design and a well-designed space can take my breath away, but the more I read design blogs, the more I realize that most of the time, I get as much enjoyment from admiring a beautiful piece or uber-designed room than I would by owning it. There are so many great ideas out there, it’s impossible to own everything.

  • [...] here it is, Miss Minimalist’s fantastic post on decluttering your fantasy self – I originally saw it on one of my favourite blogs The Eco Cat Lady [...]

  • Lily

    Brilliant post.

    I think this is why our dining room and all its lovely china, silver, and crystal, plus the magnificent custom order table, are never used. We’re really more Corelle and stainless kind of people, and we’re sloppy eaters to boot, whose messes belong in an easy-to-clean kitchen.

    The other half of the fantasy is a reality, alas, because I am the keeper of many family possessions, either as souvenirs of the past or until another generation is born. They weigh me down.

    My grandfather was scrapbooking 100 years ago; we have cartons of his compilations in an attic. I discovered that my father had scrapbooks, too. It’s both interesting and depressing to see these, like looking in someone’s diary, although the individual items are not as significant as what can be inferred by the overall character of the compilation. Which means, yes, I could boil it down to a phrase or two describing their interests, and just chuck the scrapbooks. The only thing is, most of our family members, me included, have never wanted to take the time to read these scrapbooks and decide which to toss. Another category of family possession weighing me down. This is what attics are for, I suspect. The stuff no one wants, but no one wants to throw away, either.

  • Jane

    I did this awhile ago.After sitting down and being realistic about who I am vs. who I wanted to be, I got rid of the treadmill that had been used twice and all of the small kitchen appliances that were gathering dust. It is a start, but I’m sure I still have a ways to go. I realised that I don’t want things in my life taking up space and requiring constant cleaning and maintainance that don’t fit into MY life. This actually caused an arguement with my mother. She wanted to leave me boxes upon boxes of antique glassware that had been handed down through the family. I told her I didn’t want them. I was honest and told her that they weren’t my taste, I wouldn’t have room for them, and I felt silly holding onto the possessions of people long since past that I never even met when there were other people in the family who would appreciate them more as they actually had memories of the people they had originally belonged to. My mother was greatly insulted and upset, but I don’t want to hang on to all of this stuff just out of feelings of guilt and obligation. I told her this and stood my ground. I don’t think she’ll ever understand my position, but at least now she knows I’m serious and can make other plans.

  • I am one of those knitters that has a fantasy of owning a shop, knitting all day and not needing going to work… I have a bookshelf of multilingual crochet and knitting books and I only used one or two.. it’s pathetic ahahahah but then I have found out that I can resell them and get at least a portion of the amount I spent :) When I’m able to sell them all, I will never collect again.

  • [...] Minimalist has written a really great post about hanging on to stuff that belongs to our fantasy selves. I suffer from this with a lot of my [...]

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