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.}

203 comments to Declutter Your Fantasy Self

  • Dear Francine,

    to be honest, I don’t know where and how to start. A few days ago I discovered your blog and I couldn’t believe it. You describe exactly my inner wishes that I could not name before. I am from Germany, aged 43, married for 8 years. Still maidenly in a way and maybe not-at-all really grown-up… but slightly hoping that now things can change, that I can change them by myself.

    At the beginning of this year, I tried to start with a certain “project”: not to buy any clothing for the following 6 months. Maybe for you and most of your readers this does sound not so spectacular, but for me as a real fashion victim it was a formidable challenge.

    Unfortunately, I failed after 60 days. I felt myself not strong enough to refuse to all the lovely seduction in pastel – but inside, when I started to buy again, I did not feel good… although I tried to ignore this rather successfully.

    Imagine, I do have 4 (four!) wardrobes, the clothes are crushing me… I even did have nightmares on them. I have been a real shopaholic for years. Please note, we are not rich, I am a housewife, not bored, not desperate (only a little) – we are a “normal couple” of the so-called middle lass. The stuff I bought was Zara etc., from time to time a designer dress. Pretty much never worn, LOL.

    Further, our space (of my husband and me) is way of overloaded with decoration stuff, most of it are gifts from family members or friends. Many of them are things that do not please me any more (have they ever pleased me?).

    And these things were the first I decluttered!!! It felt oh-so-good throwing them away… yesterday I “cleaned” our really nice wooden kitchen table which used to be covered with letters, newspapers, stuff.

    Now there are only two nice glass bowls with fruits (we love fruits) and I had the idea to surprise my darling also with a single rose that I placed on the table in a small glas vase. When he came come, he was overwhelmed.

    The beginning is done! I have started and sure I am going on, right today.

    Your incredible truth-speaking and, yes, live-saving postings (I am not exaggerating, please believe me) has changed something in my head. Something from which I hope it will lead me to be able to BREATH free again in my sweet home, to have a clean wardrobe, to find again myself.

    I am conscious that this will last months, especially to ged rid of the clothes… my target is to have one wardrobe for my – well sorted – clothes. O-N-E. This idea makes me dizzy and still seems unimaginable, when I look at all the stuff… but my husband is supporting me, he is more than delighted about my change of mind.

    I’ve been living in or with a fantasy-self for years. The “socialite” fantasy myself… I own about 90 dresses, can you imagine? I know, it will not be easy to separate from a greater part, but I cannot stand the masses any longer.

    Ebay… a love-hate. You are SO right when talking about it. It often nearly hurts when a dress goes away for a fraction of what you spent. In the past, I’ve already been giving a lot of clothes to the Red Cross Organization as well. I am going to manage with both strategies.

    What strikes me is your statement that when you see something nice you “automatically” think about eventually having to sell it on Ebay one day… I do understand this so much! It makes me smile because this way of going into a store is incredibly helpful. And, of course, one in – one out.

    Dear Francine, PLEASE excuse mistakes I made in words/grammar, I am writing this comment in a quite excited mood and not far away from tears. And I know, my English is not at all perfect. I’d like to excuse to everyone who will read my comment.

    In fact, I could comment on every post of you I have read so far. When I realized that, I ordered your book yesterday since I feel the need to carry your words with me wherever I am.

    Time to finish this comment, please excuse if it was too long – I am in a mood of floating a bit.

    With my best wishes for you and all your readers,


    And… my nickname “Feechen” means “little fairy”. ;-)

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Birgit,

      I’m touched by your comment, and thrilled that you’ve found inspiration in my writing. The beginning of a minimalist journey is quite exhilarating–and it gets even better! I think you’ll find decluttering to be quite addictive. :)

      Wishing you all the best, and a warm welcome to our community!

  • […] von La Sista Minimalista stieß: Fantasien entrümpel. Sie wiederum bezog sich auf einen Post von Miss Minimalist, die ich auch sehr gerne […]

  • Sarah Clark

    Oh my goodness…this post really hit home.

    The dobro I want to know how to play, but I really don’t want to spend the time learning…

    The two boxes of adorable skinny clothes, but I’m not skinny- not even close….

    The deceased grandparents awesome Western artwork, but I’m not that into hanging huge Western scouting scenes on my walls anymore….

    The small emotionally charged nicknacks that all fit snug inside an old vintage blue suitcase, but how often do I look in there and reminisce?….

    The cardboard boxes…the moving constantly for seasonal work…the hauling, lifting, sorting, taping, finding room… I don’t want to do it anymore. My fantasy self has little else besides her dog and cat and can roam the country at will….living a life to remember, not staying in domestic blissful ignorance with her stuff- unhappy. I want to make my fantasy a reality, but not the fantasy I’m holding onto by keeping stuff.

  • […] to declutter; here are some of my favorites on the subject: Twenty Questions to Clear Your Clutter Declutter Your Fantasy Self (this sounds strange, but the concept is great) How to Declutter How to Get Rid of All Your Crap […]

  • […] came to minimalism through Miss Minimalist’s post about decluttering your fantasy self.  The idea of a “fantasy self” made me realize that possessions are often sentimental and […]

  • […] you really want to achieve, but something you feel you should do, or that would suit your fantasy self. Now, if you don’t truly want to get in shape and live healthy, that’s a problem […]

  • […] on November 5, 2011.  An email from Samantha read, “minimalism, thought of you,” and linked to “Declutter your Fantasy Self” by Miss Minimalist.  I had commented to Samantha a few times that I felt cluttered, overwhelmed […]

  • […] to you, to make sure your goals are realistic.  While we sometimes buy things to fulfill our fantasy selves, we also may set goals which are not in keeping with our actual lifestyles.  Your end goal should […]

  • Leticia

    I am so happy I stumbled across this post! I have been decluttering for 6 months and needed another push forward on my minimalism journey. I had managed to let go of a heap of sentimental clutter, but fantasy self clutter is a whole new level for me to explore! A lot of maybe items have now just gone up on eBay! Thanks again

  • Debra

    I have just found your site and it’s great. I am decluttering more and more each day but clothes are the hardest (apart from the kids memorabilia). I have a question, how do I know what clothes items to keep…what if I don’t know if I love the item? Am I the only one who is confused about whether I love an item or not? I once threw a maxidress out because it was unflattering but since regretted it, I really loved that dress!! Any tips welcome.

  • Jessica

    This is great… I’m just starting on my minimalist journey. I now have a much smaller closet, less books as I transfer to kindle reading… but the sentimental clutter and “fantasy self” clutter is hard to get rid off…. I’m still not at a stage when I can let go, but at least I am recognising that some stuff I am keeping from nostalgia, rather than a true love of the item.

  • […] og man kommer i utakt med den man egentlig er. Hun lister opp en mengde eksempler i blogginnlegget sitt, så det er ikke vanskelig å kjenne seg […]

  • […] Jay, author of The Joy of Less and the blogger behind Miss Minimalist, has a word for this:  it’s called your Fantasy Self.  We all have one.  It’s the […]

  • Sue

    I have read this post and the comments over and over, feeling so relieved that I am NOT crazy, I am not the only one who collects stuff for a fantasy self. Most importantly, I now feel like I can stop spending and spending to fuel a life that doesn’t exist. After years of getting deeply into debt, and thinking that maybe I am just a compulsive spender, you have shown me what my problem is. Thank you so much.

  • […] mindsets: Recognizing that I have enough and living in the land of enough, decluttering my fantasy self, keeping old stuff based on fear, resisting the desire to acquire,  loosening the grip of […]

  • Loren

    I’d just like to put an idea out there. Do you think its a common thing amoungst minimalists that we have very good long term memories? Or photographic memories? This is true of me. I was just wondering about everyone else?

  • rhinotee

    I was so afraid of change, that I held on to stuff that drained me emotionally, physically and financially…among those things were boats, a jetski, a boat slip and many more “things” that I thought defined me. This spring I decided enough was enough and sold it all. I have rented a space at a local antique mall/flea market and am selling stuff on a regular basis. It is truly a blessing to free myself of the responsibility of owning it. It has also provided me an opportunity to enjoy the empty spaces I am seeing in my home. I have a long way to go, but am excited about the journey!

  • Andrea

    I just wanted to let you know I read this post and it inspired me to make some changes in my life today! Thank you!

  • […] by Declutter Your Fantasy Self, by Miss Minimalist, I decided to take a deeper look at just who I am, because maybe I’m only […]

  • […] interesting way of thinking of this is the notion of fantasy selves, put forward in an excellent post over on the blog, Miss Minimalist. She proposes that much of our clutter accumulates as a way of […]

  • Amelea


    i have to say that after reading your posts on this website, i think that I’m finally ready to take that leap into minimalism. I’m just so tired of keeping up with the fashionista joneses. you’d think that if i were an artist with a very goth bent, I would be different. it turns out that i’m not. I’m realizing that i do the same thing that you have written about.

    my fantasy self has lots of hobbies and needs a lot of accessories. my real life self does not have the time for this… I really only need to have some black dresses, a few black skirts, and boots. (maybe jeans too…) So why do i bother at all with color? Because someone said that i have to. now i realize that i don’t have to. having this season’s trendy color is a part of my fantasy self. i have a few burgundy things, a brown dress, white work shirts and a hideous blue paisley sweater that i love, but other than that, i don’t really need all of the other items that i’ve accumulated to “fit in” with my co workers. thanks to websites like these, and others like, I now realize that I don’t need to own everything under the sun to have a signature look either. thankfully, I already own a lot of great pieces, and i’m going to make the most of my “less”.

    thank you for writing and keep up with the posts, i love hearing about your thoughts.

  • Wanda

    I never read about a fantasy self before but the term is absolutely accurate. My real life has been filled with negative, hurtful people and experiences and I guess my fantasy self was my way of getting through all that. Well, now this fantasy self has to go! The idea of “getting ready to live” and accumulating things to use in that life must stop. Turning my stuff into cash is probably a good place to start. I won’t recoup all that I have spent but every bit will help pay off debt. Thank you for this article. I plan to read your book and other articles. Thanks too to the other people leaving comments. Sharing your lives has helped me also.

  • […] of this is hard because it means letting go. Not of things, but of my self-image and ego. I read this post a couple of years ago at Miss Minimalist and it blew my mind, cast me down and ultimately, helped […]

  • […] we don’t have the means to support them or we simply outgrow them. Either pursue these dreams, or shed the clutter that accompanies them to make room for what you truly see yourself […]

  • Crochetmaniac

    What do you do if you have been assigned the role of keeper of the family heirlooms and photos by the rest of the family?
    I inherited nine 18-gallon plastic containers of photos alone when my parents died. I’ve been going through them a little at a time, tossing tons of them, and am down to three after over two years. I wish I had an attic to put them in until the kids are ready to take them! When I finish these, I will go through 3 more containers of my own photos, and be ruthless tossing more of those!

    • Mer

      The plain unvarnished truth is your kids will not be seriously interested in having more than photos of their childhood( only the very best ones even of those), a few of the best pix of you and their dad when you were young and a few special ones of grandparents – especially if they knew/know them. They will NOT care about pictures of great aunt so and so or third cousin Alfred. Make an album of their childhood and another of you and and their grandparents and maybe a few of the best of the collateral relatives that’s two albums or three at max for each child. Put them in a secure bin not in a hot or damp space. Tell them they will be required to take them when they move out – even to a shoebox sized apartment. Further tell them they can throw them away if they desire. (Likely they will digitize them.) storing one bin is not clutter so do not think of it as such. Pick albums that pictures slip easily in and out so you can add and subtract when a better pix is taken. I did exactly what I am telling you. It was a big emotional job but the physical relief you get at the end is fantastic. Keeping a few of ‘only the best’ is the best way to pass a little of the past on and have it be a pleasure for your descendants – not a burden like you were delivered. Pick a time of year that it is possible for you to spread everything out for a week or two on a table and gather some shoeboxes or the like to keep your categories straight. It will go quickly once you get rolling.

  • Em

    This post just helped me realize few more things that I could declutter, and why I’m holding onto them so much. Like my box with beads from which I used to make little animals and stuff, ages ago. I don’t do that anymore ’cause it only feels like creating clutter and I don’t even have time for it or the patience anymore. Or the cross knitting sets with the fabric and threads and everything, or some of my jewelery that doesn’t fit who I am anymore but I look at it dreaming of all the nice occasions where I could wear it, but where I’ll never go, most likely. I’m just not that kind of person right now (meaning these few years) and I have no idea if I’ll ever be. My life is good now and I don’t need to hold on to these things. If ever I become crazy about beads, I can just buy it all then, can’t I :) Similar thing with my old toys. Most of them I’ll keep anyway because I’m very attached to them and I’m not ready to let them go, possibly never will be. But a lot of it is just crap or things that someone else would love more than I. When I’m back home from England, I want to settle these things, pass them onto someone who will use them and let go of my fantasy selves who are just product of my past images and past hobbies. I wonder how will that feel ’cause the beads box is one of the things that I never before really considered to get rid of. I knew I wasn’t using it but still I felt like it has its place in my life. Well now I see that it actually doesn’t and it hasn’t have for a long while.

  • Tina

    I had a huge collection of various kinds of papers for art projects I never got to. I finally have been filling up big bags and donating my things to the park district and a preschool. It’s
    a start. I’m going to give away at least a bag a week. My fantasy self was going to make all kinds of collages and assemblages which I realized I was never going to do. I’m glad to realize there are others who have fantasies of doing things they don’t do.

  • […] in mind your real life, and not your fantasy life. Miss Minimalist has a great article on how to “declutter your fantasy self”. At first I found it hard to separate my real […]

  • I am so grateful for this post because I have realised that most of the crap weighing me down and the things that stop me from living are those related to my fantasy self, the person I think I ‘should’ be. I’ve been decluttering for four years and don’t have a lot of things left…but the ones that ARE left are the hardest to let go of, because I hold onto them for psychological reasons. Because I believe they make me the person I think I should be. EEkk time for a reality check! Time to take a deep breath and puuurge!

  • […] Miss Minimalist says it much more eloquently than I am able. […]

  • […] 5, 2011: I learn about minimalism through this post by Miss Minimalist. January 2012: I spend several weeks purging the boxes under my bed and in my […]

  • […] life and aren’t just physical manifestations of–what miss minimalist calls–my fantasy self.  I realized that a few of my recent purchases were just that.  They were items that I simply […]

  • Tina

    I am almost 65 and returned again to this blog.
    I was cleaning out my mom’s condo and realized her fantasy self was best dressed woman of the year or something. She had all kinds of fabulous evening gowns and dressy suits. She mostly worked part time and got meals on wheels.
    I almost cried over the uselessness of the purchases she had made over the years. When I was growing up she always made herself lace ensembles that she wore once or twice and once she had a leather suit she wore 3 times. I guess it explains my own disinterest in clothes.

  • […] read Miss Minimalist’s post on decluttering your fantasy self a long time ago but decided to apply her advice only […]

  • TinyinTucson

    Not so much a comment as just wanting to share my journey with others :) Here’s my fb post from today, when I let go of my fantasy of being a horse-girl forever. I’ll also be a horse-girl, but that’s a huge part of my past, and doesn’t reflect my present self. Thanks for the support and guidance Miss Minimalist! :)

    One of the principles of minimalism is to let go of our “fantasy selves” and be just us. The present, daily kind of us that doesn’t use hairspray and doesn’t need 3 inch heals (your present you might need those things, but mine doesn’t). Here’s Miss Minimalist’s take on it: To that end, today I got everything out of my tack trunk, spread it out on the floor and decided what to keep and what to sell. I’ve been considering doing this for 14 years. I am not kidding. Minimalism is not easy y’all, and I really just started down the official road to minimalism, but I’ve been considering getting rid of this stuff for 14 years. Now, with the smell of leather and dirt and horse wafting around my house making me both homesick and nostalgic, I’m surprised to feel mostly… relief. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my albeit -very- short minimalist path, it’s how much relief comes from purging my life of dreams I know I can’t live right now and focusing on attainable joys. It doesn’t mean the dreams aren’t there, it just means that my present life, the one I’m actually living today, has more mental, emotional, and physically space in which to bloom. So let me know if you want any horse stuff

  • […] of talking about lost potential and grief, Francine Jay calls it her fantasy self. She found herself holding onto items that her ideal persona – the person she wished she was […]

  • Tina

    Have been looking through my hobby
    stuff again and sorting some more. Gave away a lot of paper back books I was going to read “some day”. I can always take them out of the library when I’m ready. Hope to empty a bookcase and give it away when I’m done.

  • Susan

    What an eye-opening post! This is the perfect inspiration for me to box up my collection of glass serving pieces that has been sitting in the pantry–untouched for two years & only used on a few occasions in the last 10 years. I’m ready to give up the fantasy of hosting quaint little get-togethers with fancy finger food displays. Funny thing is, a few months ago I was suggesting to my husband that we go through the garage & attic to clean out the excess. I think he was starting to get a little overwhelmed with my efforts to minimize (he’s keen on the idea, but not quite as proactive as me) when he opened the pantry & suggested I get rid of the glassware. I hadn’t really thought too much more about it until reading this post, but now I believe those dishes will be a good addition to a friend’s yard sale that will benefit missionaries:).

  • Tina

    I think for a lot of people they are “walking the runway” or receiving an Academy Award. An
    acquaintance has 2 $7000 purses. Or maybe more.
    A friend has 12 real fur coats. This troubles me which is why I read and reread your blog and other minimalist blogs.

  • Kitty

    Holy mackerel! This post truly hit the nail on the head for me! I had finally come to realize that my fairly large collection of patterns (cross stitch/crochet/sewing/quilting) was for the fantasy me to make. A year or two ago, I took a hard look at my collection, deciding whether or not I thought I would EVER have the time or inclination to make it in my lifetime. I sold a lot of stuff (kits & patterns) at our towns annual yard sale and I hope to sell the rest at the next one. Your post really clarified what I have been doing all these years. I still occasionally struggle with the desire to buy stuff, but I remind myself that if I really want something like it, I can probably find the pattern for free online. Thanks so much for your insight!

  • […] de The Joy of Less, dont l’interface rudimentaire fait un peu repoussoir, mais qui recèle de vraies pépites dans ses […]

  • […] Joy of Less, dont l’interface rudimentaire fait un peu repoussoir, mais qui recèle de vraies pépites dans ses […]

  • Tina

    I looked at some earrings and realized I had enough to wear different earrings every day for a month. So I don’t need more until I can get rid of 5 pairs. It’s been so cold I’ve been wearing sweaters and sweatshirts over T-shirts every day. Who needs more?

  • Marjorie

    Glad I ran across this today. Big fan of your books/blog which have helped me reduce a lot of unnecessary possessions over the last couple of years. I’ve been making another decluttering push this new year and I was having trouble letting go of some books. I decided to re-read some of your posts and found your article about holding onto objects that represent a fantasy self. I realized I’ve applied the fantasy yardstick to my clothes and kitchen utensils but not other objects. I had managed to convince myself that these are serious literature books that I love and therefore their purchase and storage was not frivolous or impulsive like the unworn cocktail dresses or the unused cookware I donated. Even though they were unread, I still apparently needed the ego boost from seeing them sitting on my shelves…and if I’m entirely honest the ego boost I would get from others seeing them on my shelves. Aren’t I so very smart for owning books like these?! Writing this comment down here has helped me admit to my folly. Confess, repent, and donate! I’m going to pack those turkeys up tonight and donate them this weekend along with all of the other stuff that somehow managed to survive the last purge. Then I’m going to donate the giant book shelf that they are sitting on and regain about five square feet of living space…and perhaps free up whatever neurons in my brain that were used trying to sustain this fantasy!

  • Tina

    Re- reading unclutter your fantasy life. More craft stuff is going. I am going to Xerox 2 crochet patterns and give away 2 books. More beautiful papers are going to the library and park district for crafts. Was at a rummage sale and saw some gorgeous papers and faced the fact that I only use my lovely papers about once a year. My fantasy self wears scarves and shawls, my real self wears jeans and T shirts.

  • lisa

    I enjoyed this post. I lean toward minimalism and really don’t have too many things I don’t regularly use, but I do have two dozens of foreign language textbooks I started collecting in high school because my fantasy self is multilingual (in reality I barely speak English :P). I know I should get rid of them, and maybe one of these days I will. I don’t have that much junk in my place that I think I’m allowed to hold on to them for a little longer though…

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