Is Aspirational Clutter Slowing Down Your Training?

by | Apr 13, 2023 | Gear, Mindset

Whether we’re talking about physical or mental aspirational clutter, you might be making your training harder—or at least, much more crowded—if you’re not occasionally clearing out the gear or the goals that you’ve set for some idealized future version of yourself. Instead, it’s time to focus on who you are now, what you actually want to do/be, and how you can make moves to get there that feel aligned with your life right now.

“Aspirational clutter is anything you’re keeping for a future version of yourself. Clear it out if you need more mental or physical space for who you are right now,”  organizational expert (dream job!) Taryn Williford wrote over on Apartment Therapy. “Aspirations are great, of course, but not if they come with baggage.”

I have a confession: I’m a gear person, always have been. When I was 15 and saw Blue Crush, I immediately used my savings from waitressing to buy a surfboard. I don’t always go for the priciest of gear, but I have been known for always wanting to have the gear to do the thing. Give me a gear-heavy hobby, and I am stoked. Those of us with this tendency tend to inherit it from a parent (in my case, my dad also went out and bought a surfboard so we could surf together. It is the reason I have a massive scar at my hairline but that’s a whole other story).

We only surfed a few times, if I’m being honest. It wasn’t even that I desperately loved surfing, it was that I wanted to be the type of person who desperately loved surfing. And to do that, owning a surfboard was step #1. Except it wasn’t, right? Renting or borrowing a board, taking lessons, swimming in the ocean… those would have been good first steps.

I see a ton of articles that talk about getting started with something, and the first step is to break the goal down into tiny steps. That’s great. But then, here’s where I notice a huge problem. Most of the articles break down the example goal by starting with the thing that you need to buy. For instance, if the goal is to get into running, often the #1 thing is “buy running shoes.” But if most of us are honest, we already own a pair of sneakers that we could at the very least start run/walking in.

Getting the gear should never be step #1. That’s how you end up with mountains of this aspirational clutter.

I’ve chilled out on this in recent years as we’ve traveled and moved so many times. But I still catch myself bookmarking the “perfect” hiking pack when I already own one that will make it through another season of the hikes that we do. And I know we still have plenty of that aspirational clutter lurking around, including a surfboard that’s still waiting for me to return to my Blue Crush roots back in NJ. Nothing I can do about that surfboard at the moment, but I have ditched a few pairs of tights that I was keeping for when I was five pounds lighter, or packed five more pounds of muscle onto my butt (different pairs of tights for those two conflicting goals, obviously… my aspirational clutter doesn’t even really know what it wants me to be!).

We see this A LOT with wearables these days. While we’re not necessarily opposed to any of them, we are cautious around the ‘why’ when it comes to hitting that “Buy Now” button. Why do you want this wearable? Is it because you think it’s going to change your life? Spoiler alert: It isn’t. Or at least, it alone isn’t. How you use the data could make a change, certainly, but are you willing to actually analyze the data and make changes as needed, or are you getting it because you think it’ll make you ‘a real athlete’ (my usual reasoning for most impulse purchases).

And of course, there’s also the metaphorical aspirational clutter we have with our training and our athletic life. There’s the idea that I “should be” doing yoga classes three times a week, or running more miles because someone else I know is running more miles, and so on. Aspirational clutter is that do you keep saying that you want to do but haven’t gotten around to actually doing, that you just keep putting off. Maybe it’s time to ditch that aspirational mental clutter. Actually, it’s definitely time to ditch the clutter. (And yes, there are some things that would definitely be a positive for you, like doing that morning yoga routine. But if it’s just sitting in your brain taking up space and making you feel guilty, stop wasting your time on the guilt and let yourself let it go.)

(If you hear these shoulds loud and clear, check out this podcast we did with sports psych expert Alison Pope-Rhodius!)

My few rules for deciding if something is aspirational clutter:

  1. Does it make you feel guilty, but despite the guilt, you still don’t use it?
  2. Do you look at it and think, “When I have/do/get X, I’ll use this”?
  3. Do you look at it and think, “I should XYZ, but I’ll do it later.”
  4. If it’s electronic, does it currently have charge or, flip side, is it fully charged and has been for more than 6 months? (Rarely used items will usually have lost their charge over time, or will be totally charged because they’re never used)
  5. Have you used it in the past year?
  6. When you look at it, do you picture yourself using it as you are now, or do you picture some alternate reality version of you that you “want” to be?


What to do with aspirational clutter:

  1. Sell it or swap it or donate it.
  2. If you can’t make yourself get rid of it, store it out of sight. Very out of sight. As out of sight as possible. Basically, we’re trying to get to a point where you can get rid of it without feeling the guilt. (I’ve done this a couple times by asking Peter to put a note in his calendar to dispose of whatever item I’m struggling with after 6 months if I haven’t pulled it out of the box and used it by then. It softens the blow, since you’re not the one parting with it!)
  3. Enjoy the feeling of letting go of unrealistic expectations of your future self, and enjoy setting some new aligned goals that fit the athlete you are now.

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