143. How to let go of IDENTITY CLUTTER

There is a type of clutter we ALL have in our home. It is identity clutter – you know those items that for someone we are not – but rather for different versions of ourselves: our past self, our aspirational self, our socially-compliant self, and our test self. 

I walk you through these four types of identity clutter, how they challenge our sense of self and what we can learn from them. 

Make sure to get the download worksheet of the four types and clutter questions you can ask to help you decide what to do with the identity clutter. 


What is identity clutter?

Identity clutter are things in our home that are 

  • Who we used to be (past self)
  • Who we wish we could be (aspirational self)
  • Who others think we should be (socially-compliant self)
  • Who we think we are, but we aren’t sure, probably just following a trend (test self)

How do trends contribute to identity clutter?

A lot of our identity clutter comes from trying out trends. And it makes sense that we, as humans, would follow trends. There is safety in being part of the community, there is a sense of status we can display, and we are looking to others to inform us on what is socially acceptable. 

However, the more we move from trend to trend, the less we actually take time to get to know who we are and what we like BEYOND the trends. 


The physical burden of identity clutter

The more obvious problem that identity clutter causes us is the use of space. The more space we give to storing these items, the less space we have for living our life. 

The important question to consider here is: how do I WANT to use my space? This should also be an intentional and purposeful decision. 


The emotional burden of identity clutter

Whenever we see these items stored in our home, we are constantly reminded of who we AREN’T being. It can cause feelings like shame, or loss, or guilt, or frustration. 

It can also cause overwhelm because it adds to the list of options of how we should spend our time and the person we should be. It can cause decision fatigue if a very subtle way. 


When to declutter the identity clutter?

In my experience with decluttering, it happens in waves. We start with the low hanging fruit, the hard ‘no’s. As we come back to these spaces from time to time, we keep refining and editing down from the bad/good to the ok/good then to the good/great. 

The identity clutter, sentimental items and items we think are valuable are ones we often leave until a later stage as they require more examination and thought. 


Why is identity clutter hard to get rid of?

Each of these versions of ‘us’ can be hard to let go of. From mourning our past selves, to honouring our upbringing and all the ‘stuff’ that comes with that, to acknowledging the parts of our aspirational selves we are ready to let go of. You can listen to the When Shopping Isn’t Making Your Life Better episode for more on the motivation behind our ‘trend’ self. 

Each of these types of Identity Clutter brings along its own need to learn from, accept and integrate the lessons this item of clutter has taught us. 

Make sure to get the free download to help you walk through questions for each type of identity clutter, and decide what to do about it. 



Products recommended here may include referral links to Amazon. If you click through and buy something I may earn a commission, at no cost to you. 


This simple pleasure is a shout out to all the cold Canadians who are on their first days of Fall. This heated shawl gets me through the colder months. 

It is also my go-to when I have a migraine or when my kids want a little extra comfort while sick. 


Full Transcript (unedited)

Welcome to the podcast, where I aim to keep all of the episodes 20 minutes or less, so that we can squeeze in these virtual coffee dates, where I talk to you about the concepts that you can apply to your life and make it more simple on purpose. And all I share and all I coach on my aim is to help you live with more peace, purpose, and presence, and passion. Let’s look for ways to get passionate and enjoy our lives. Here’s something fun that happened this week. This week, I ranked 70, on Apple, Canada self improvement podcasts. And really this is thanks to you guys. So thank you for being a listener, thank you for listening, thank you for sharing, and especially thank you for leaving reviews, those are so appreciated. If you are a listener, and you haven’t left a review yet, I really encourage you to do that. And I really do read them and love to hear what you guys have to say. So that I can use that information to just keep refining this podcast into something that’s going to serve you again and again. So today I want to talk about the topic of identity clutter, which is a term I’ve talked about in the past, but not really given a full episode too. So identity clutter are those things in our home, that are four things, I’m going to lay them out here who we used to be so kind of a past self, who we wish we could be. So an aspirational self, who others think we should be. And I call that a socially compliant self, and who we think we are, but we aren’t sure we’re just trying out this trend. And I call that like a test self. And as I was decluttering, I could see all of these versions of me that I was trying to be all of this identity clutter, there were the cross country skis that I really wanted, but then I tried it and I never enjoyed it. There were the special flowers that I had for baking but I actually don’t enjoy baking, I just wanted to have the end product without doing the work. And now I’m actually gluten free. So that isn’t even a hobby that I consider anymore. And there was decor and knickknacks of all the this mishmash of styles because I wasn’t really sure of what I really liked, I was really just looking at all the latest trends and trying the safest ones and just trying to be an adult really. And it just felt like a mishmash, especially when I consider how trends come into play with a lot of the purchasing decisions I made, I feel like trends cause a lot of identity clutter. And it really makes sense that we turn to trends for the things we bring into our homes in our lives. Because we are really driven with this inner need to fit in, fit in with the tribe conform to the social norm, we we desire to be part of the crowd, that’s their safety in numbers. And it’s very primal in us. It’s not just this phenomenon that happens in high school. And a part of us is also looking to others to learn what’s socially acceptable, like let’s say you’re at a fancy restaurant, and you see someone cut the kernels off their cob of corn, and you’re like, yep, that’s totally was gonna do that totally was gonna cut it all fancy, totally was not going to just pick it up with my bare hands and eat it like a squirrel. So we’re looking to others to kind of inform us on what’s socially acceptable. And we also want to appear up with the times, it’s a sad fact that what we wear what we own, it does present an image about us, we are saying something about who we are. And what we want to tell people is that we’re relevant. And even if you can kind of take it back to some historical roots that showed your class or your caste, your status, your place in the world to an extent. And now we can simply follow trends to put us in this certain class of people. So we’re just trying to say something about ourselves in a way feels good to fit in. And I think maybe we don’t actually really truly know who we are, I say that we have to simplify in order to know who we are. And we have to know who we are in order to simplify. So it is this parallel process of these two things merging together. Because when we’re just moving from trend to trend, we don’t really take the time to get to know ourselves and know what we really like beyond the trend, what outlast the trends and I think about this a lot with the clothes in my closet because I can easily get sucked into all the latest trends but I have to always ask myself, but what do I really like? Like what would I want to wear year after year after year that I would feel great in and like in my closet. And that goes with our homes too, right guys? So we do live in this era where we can be a little bit of everything, instead of all in on what we are but I think this is a cool thing. I think it’s cool to try everything and just try things on and see what you like. But I noticed it was a problem in my life when I just kept accumulating the possibilities and never took action. Like I could make beeswax candles and do acrylic painting and I read a book about backyard chickens and crochet and do embroidery and all of these things just became identity clutter in my basement. They also caused me a lot of decision fatigue, because there were just too many options for who I should be, how I should spend my time, and it all felt overwhelming when I couldn’t really quite understand it. So I think it’s really important to address the identity clutter in our homes, I think it causes a couple of big burdens for us. And the first one is obvious, it takes up physical space, right? The more space we spend storing things, the less space we have for actually living life like living a life that we won’t have, if you have a guest room full of scrapbooking supplies, you don’t have a guest room, you have a storage room, right? So if a guest comes over, you don’t have room for them. And I don’t say this to talk to you, or shame you. I say it because I’ve been there, first of all, and also because when I realized this hard truth, it helped me to decide what I wanted. And maybe you’ll decide you want a storage room, it’s always your choice, maybe you’ll decide you want a room for scrapbooking. Or maybe you want a room to store bikes. The point is, you should intentionally purposefully decide how you want to use your space. Another burden of identity clutter, and I think it’s the more deeper insidious one is that emotional burden. When we go into our closet, and we see those clothes that we aren’t wearing? What do we feel there’s there’s a mixture depending on what that item symbolizes, right? Maybe we feel shame, maybe we feel a sense of loss. Maybe we feel guilt that we spent it money on it, and we never worn it when we’re rummaging through our basement, and we come across a box of family dishes that we were given. But we don’t really like them. What are we feeling we’re feeling guilty. We’re not honoring these dishes, when our spouse mentions that bike that we have in the carport that we never use? Well, first of all, we feel defensive, but then we’re also frustrated with ourselves, right? Why do I have this and they don’t even use it, I, I should use it, I should make a plan to use it. And I think this is just causing a low level of tension and stress that we have when we’re surrounded by these constant reminders that we aren’t being that person, we think we should be reminding us of a version of ourselves, that’s hard to let go off. So I want to get into the types of identity clutter, and why they’re hard to let go off. As I was decluttering. My home, I noticed that I would do it in waves. So I did that first wave through the majority of the house. And it was labor intensive. It was a bit emotionally taxing, I’d never done it before. But many of the decisions in that first wave were pretty easy to make. Because I was separating out those hard nosed, I don’t want it. And as I kept going through back to the same spaces over and over again, I could refine it down. I could say okay, now what, like I want to separate now from bad and good. And now I want to separate from okay and good. And now I want to get even deeper, I want to do another way, what else feels like clutter, what’s the good versus the Great. So I’m gradually refining gradually editing. And it does get harder because the more detailed you get, so to speak on decluttering. The more you’re facing these more sentimental items, these items that you think are valuable, or maybe you’ll need it one day. By the way, I have an episode on if I need a one day, that’s Episode 90. And you’re also starting to look at the identity clutter items, you’re starting to face those parts of yourself that you just haven’t really taken the time to face before. As a side note, I always encourage people to just start decluttering with that low hanging fruit. Because decluttering is routine. It’s a muscle you build skill in over time. It’s routine, you start making it the habit you start making. So if you can just run through your house and take care of that low hanging fruit, this is broken. This is definitely a no I think that is just such a great first step. But I want to talk about how to face your identity clutter, how to consider what the hurdles are in decluttering it and at the end make sure you stop by the show notes and grab a download I’m going to add a download to this episode. I’ve listed these four types of identity clutter and questions for each type that will help you learn from that clutter and decide what you want to do and how to move on with that clutter. So let’s talk about the past self clutter the items we have for who used to be the most common one I hear is looking in our closets we see clothes for a job we used to have a career we used to have a different body size we were and I know having kids meant that my own wardrobe had four different sizes in it one point or there might be items you have for a hobby you don’t do anymore. These items looking at these items and thinking of Yeah, that used to be me I used to use this thing I used to wear this thing. I used to turn to this thing. Those are hard to let go because we are closing that chapter and especially if you’re stepping into a new identity if you’ve left a job if You’re tired, if you’ve had kids, and now you’re at home, whatever, if you’re going back to work, stepping into that new identity, it might feel shaky, it might feel kind of like walking into an empty space. I know, that’s really how I felt when I decided to stay home with my kids. And maybe even if we’re honest with ourselves, maybe we’re angry about where we are right now, maybe we’re mad, we don’t fit these clothes anymore. Or we’re mourning that we can’t use these things anymore, for whatever reason. So there is a sense of loss somehow. And if we aren’t too clear on the self, we’re stepping into the self we want to be now that sense of loss can feel really scary. Instead of like possibilities and renewal, what it actually could be

the next type of identity, clutter that aspirational clutter, who we wish we could be. And aspirational clutter is actually a term that’s been coined for a while now. But I really liked the language around it. So I’m going to lump it into identity clutter, a very common type of aspirational clutter, our books, books we plan to read, when we decide that now’s the day, we read the Greek classics, when we decide that we’re going to get back your chickens. When we decide now we’re going to learn sign language. And guys, these are the books on my bookshelf, when we decide that we’re going to be this person, but I noticed it’s also in supplies, for projects, in clothes, even in even in my actual clutter, where I’m holding on to types of clutter that I plan to recycle rather than throw in the trash because I aspire to be someone who’s eco conscious. So my identity clutter is actual clutter. And I think this is a trickier one. Because we often just project this clutter onto our future self like our future self will have time for this, they’ll make space for it, they’ll have motivation for this, we don’t treat it like a now problem, which it is we just store it for the future. But I always say to my clients, your future self will have what you give them right now today. So if you want your future self to be using that item, and you don’t want it to be considered clutter, then you need to take an action today, like you know, today metaphorically like very soon. Don’t just keep storing it. The other part of aspirational clutter is the idea that we actually need to challenge this notion we have of our ideal selves, our ideal selves, what we’re going to be doing in our day, what’s our ideal day, a lot of this is built up by default, without much thought about what we really want our lives to look like. I think we all know the Pinterest template on what our ideal selves should be doing. From that morning routine to that morning exercise to the shakes for free lunch to the you know, the whole night routine, like there is a template that we’ve naturally adopted on what we think our ideal self should be. But we have to ask ourselves if that’s actually what we really want our lives to look like. And what comes out as the top priorities for us, at the end of the day, isn’t going to be the same template that works for everyone else. And I have works in air quotes, PS. And I tell you, if subconsciously, deep down, you’re trying to shove yourself into a mold of an ideal self that you actually don’t want, you will consciously never get there. And you’ll hold up your real self and your ideal self. And you will constantly feel tension and frustration and shame that you aren’t that ideal person yet. But you actually don’t even really want it. It is so defeating and you can let that go.

The third type of identity clutter is the clutter of who others think we should be that socially compliant self. This is the type of clutter that’s often given to us handed down from family and friends of hobbies and things they think we should be doing or ways we should be parenting. And this type of identity. clutter is just like personal values. We’ve just adopted it from those around us. But we haven’t really challenged to see if it’s what we want. So maybe you grew up in a home where all of the women were great bakers, or tea drinkers, or all of the women were downhill skiers, maybe you have all of this stuff to be what you’ve been raised to be. So this type of clutter can be hard to get rid of because it might feel like we are disrespecting, or dishonouring. That culture that we grew up in another hurdle with this type of clutter is that it might also mean that we need to really learn how we want to redefine the roles that we find ourselves in like, what do we want to be as a mom, what kind of role do we want to play as a mom or a wife or a woman? Because maybe we don’t want to be the mom who sews maybe we don’t want to be the mom who decorates for every holiday. It leaves us in this unknown spot where we’re saying Well, what do I want to be like? Do I want this to look like, and those answers are always going to be coming from us from within. So that is a process that we need to go through. To start, I know even just trying on different things to see what we want it to look like what we want this role in our lives to look like whether we’re being an aunt or a mom, or a wife, or an employee or a sister that we need to start tuning into us. And let’s wrap up with that final type of clutter. The type of clutter I call, it’s like our test self, it’s maybe we think we are but we aren’t sure, but we’re just kind of following this trend to try it on. And I think this clutter is most apparent in things like our clothes, or shoes or decor. And I think it can be hard to let go of because it might feel a little bit like we’re letting go of a sense of status or a sense of security of fitting in of being part of that that communal atmosphere or communal brand, whatever we’re identifying with. And on the other hand, I think it’s also easy to let go of this clutter because the trend comes and goes. And if that trend is out, well, we’re probably just going to shove that item down into the back of our closet or into our basement. And I would go back to the shopping episode that was a few episodes ago about just the motivation behind why we bring these items in, I think that’s the most important thing that you can pay attention to, to these things that you’re buying to keep up with the trends or to test something out, is to really tune in to your motivation Why? And ask if you like that. So I do have a little worksheet for you. I have some questions that are going to walk you through each of these types of clutter. And I would encourage you to print it off, walk around your home and pick one spot one single spot. Don’t Don’t be an overachiever, just like take a walk with me. Let’s do small things together. So look at like your bathroom cupboards, or a kitchen pantry or the carport or a closet. And ask yourself what kind of identity clutter do I see, of course, there’s might be a mix, but just pick one item that you know like, Okay, this represents this type of identity clutter. And I have the mindful questions for each of those types of clutter that I want you to use, I want you to ask yourself them, I want you to challenge yourself, I want you to learn from this. Because if decluttering my home has taught me nothing. It’s taught me that all of this is valuable if you’re paying attention. Everything you do in life offers you something if you’re paying attention to it, I’m paying attention to what I had brought into my home, why had brought it in there, how it was making me feel, what I wanted to do about it. And how I was going to do that all of that was such a growing experience. But you can start small, you can start with just one thing and I encourage you to do that. Let’s wrap up with a simple pleasure. And this is a very fall inspired simple pleasure because I pull this out every fall. And this is a heated shell or like a bigger type of heating pad. I got one with points a few years ago, many years ago actually and it just follows me around the house once fall comes. I put it on my bed at night to heat it up. I wrap it around my feet almost every day because apparently my feet have just forfeited their interest in circulation and they’re just cold stubs every day guys 39 is fun. I wear a blanket admits to an indoor volleyball game. This is who I am now I would take my heated shell if I could sit near an outlet. The heated shell also comes out when I have a migraine when one of the kids are sick or just wants that comfort. And you know I think this is a good way to test to see if something has real value in your life.

If that heated shawl died today, I would go out tomorrow and replace it. So this is something that is truly a pleasure in my life. I’m going to link to the one that I have in the show notes. And if you are a cold old lady like me, check it out. Alright friends, have a great week. It’s been a pleasure.


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