When something doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, planned, and envisioned; or when life throws you a curveball, what do you typically do?
Roll with it, baby!
I stew on it. I dwell. It makes me feel stuck and it’s hard to move on.
If you answered #2, it’s OK! It’s an incredibly human reaction. And up until very recently, I didn’t know there’s a term for this: expectation hangover.
Have you ever heard of an expectation hangover? I hadn’t either until I listened to a podcast featuring the author Christine Hassler. Listening to the podcast, I had lots of crazy “Aha!” moments ( you know I love these!) when I considered the relationship between expectation hangovers and clutter.
Let’s start with the overall concept of what an expectation hangover is.
I haven’t personally read the book Expectation Hangover: Free Yourself from Your Past, Change Your Present and Get What You Really Want by Christine Hassler, but it’s on my to-read list! If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, then I highly suggest reading her book.
For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll share the book description because it gets to the heart of what Christine talks about on this podcast:
“When our expectations are met and things go according to plan, we feel a sense of accomplishment; we feel safe, in control, and on track. But when life does not live up to our expectations, we end up with an Expectation Hangover. This particular brand of disappointment is profoundly uncomfortable and can cost us valuable time and energy if not treated and leveraged effectively.”
I’m going to add to that: An expectation hangover can also cause a tremendous amount of clutter in your life.
Let me give you an example with a personal story.
When I was dating my now husband, and we had our first Christmas together, there was no gift under the Christmas tree. But, there was a note that simply said: Check the garage.
In that quick moment, I developed an expectation of what was going to be in the garage. I was sure that he bought me a car!
This expectation was based on my thoughts of “Well… what else could there be in the garage?!” Plus, I was young and just out of college, and my car at the time was literally falling apart. I was too consumed with thinking, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe that I’m getting a car for Christmas!”
Only when I walked into the garage… there was no car.
Instead, there was this giant, industrial-sized humidifier.
My husband was SO proud of himself for finding what he thought was the perfect gift. Our house was very dry at the time, and I had been complaining about my cracked skin. So he solved that problem and got me this enormous humidifier for our living room.
To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. I had built up this grand expectation in my head, and so quickly — I mean it’s a short walk from the Christmas tree to the garage. Plus, this humidifier was definitely not attractive. It was a monstrosity.
We brought the humidifier up to the living room and plugged it in. It worked just fine. But in the years that followed, every time my eyes landed on that thing, I’d feel that pang — the expectation hangover.
But I couldn’t just get rid of the humidifier. It was something that my husband bought for me because he thought I’d really like it. I felt bad about myself for having an incorrect expectation, and for not meeting HIS expectation of being really excited to receive this humidifier. And so, it stayed in our living room for years until finally, we moved and I was able to get rid of it.
That humidifier became a piece of clutter in our lives because of expectations on both ends that were not met. And this is exactly how expectations can lead to clutter.
When I asked members of Clutter Boss Academy what type of expectations they’ve had in the past that have led to clutter, I got some great examples that aren’t all that uncommon, either:
1. Some people expect to have grandchildren and save stuff for their grandchildren… without their children even married yet. Or knowing that their children are not going to have children. But they’re still hanging onto stuff because they’re hanging onto this expectation of having grandkids someday.
2. A woman expected to get a new job. The first two interviews went great, and everything was pointing in her favor. She went out and spent a ton of money on new clothes since she knew she was getting this job and a much bigger salary.
Only things didn’t work out that way, and she didn’t get the job. But she couldn’t bring herself to return the clothing because that meant letting go of the expectation of getting a new job. Now she has a closet full of clothing, new with tags, that she hasn’t worn and it’s all from this expectation hangover.
Realizing how so many of us have expectation hangovers that lead to clutter, I put a lot of thought into how we address this moving forward.
It all comes down to this: Responsibility for that expectation is on our own shoulders.
Remember that nobody is a mind reader. The best thing we can do to avoid expectation hangover is to communicate.
After many years of marriage, I finally realized what makes me happy on big occasions — receiving flowers. That’s why I now have a very clear expectation of flowers as my gift on my birthday, anniversary, and holidays. I understand that my husband is not great at giving gifts, and that’s OK — because that’s MY expectation! It’s not his responsibility. Now that we’ve removed the expectation of giving gifts, we have much better events together because we’ve gotten rid of the emotional clutter that comes with expectations.
If you have an expectation in life and then life throws you a curveball, what can you learn from this curveball? What can you learn from that expectation that has not been met? How can you change your expectations moving forward?
Sometimes, thinking about this stuff can be a little bit painful. But once you recognize the clutter in your life and how it’s attached to expectations that have not been met, it opens up this door of opportunity to have a conversation about expectations with others, or even just yourself. By reframing your thinking just a little bit, you can start to move forward, you can let go of some of your clutter, let go of emotional clutter, and have a better experience next time you’re thrown a curveball.
Life never goes how we think it’s going to, which is actually a beautiful thing; but not if we let ourselves dwell in the expectation hangover phase.
Go check out this book. If you have an experience with an expectation hangover and how it resulted in clutter in your life, please share it below! These are all incredible lessons for everyone, so we can all learn, grow, and know that we’re not alone in having clutter, having expectation hangovers, and in life.
If you’re not sure how to tackle clutter problems, I encourage you to join Clutter Bootcamp. There is a whole community in the Prioritize Your Sanity group who are learning how to manage expectation hangovers, and they’re ready to support you!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for my weekly podcast, “It’s All Clutter,” to follow more tips like this!