Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Perfectionist's Guide to Domestic Imperfection

I'm a perfectionist.

Before you write me off thinking my house is spotless and I have a meal plan pasted on the fridge and freshly-baked bread in the oven, hear me out. I've often felt like a perfectionist on the inside but had trouble reconciling my far from perfect environment.

Thoughts like, If I'm a perfectionist why are there more weeds in my yard than flowers? Why are there 8 loads of laundry at any given time? Why is there any entire family of gnomes living in any one of my closets, concealed by the clutter and mayhem that seems to pile up at an alarming rate?

Often perfectionists may look very imperfect, so I've been told. I thought that was just nonsense but it makes sense. In the past, if I could not complete a project in its entirety, I simply wouldn't do it at all. Unless I could clean the entire bathroom perfectly, I wouldn't even take 90 seconds to clean the toilet. The incompleteness of it all gave me a rash.

Often perfectionism is construed as laziness when really it's just an all-or-nothing state of mind.

Unfortunately, my vision for orderliness has not meshed well with motherhood and homeschooling and the absolute mayhem that ensnares me every day. The school-year is sheer academic and domestic survival.

I always think that the summer will somehow save me.

Anticipating my summer self as Martha Stewart on a steady diet of Red Bull and espresso, I imagine that I will clean every closet, label and alphabetize everything, paint the shutters, slipcover my furniture, reupholster the torn-apart seagrass ottoman, plant a garden, cultivate flowers, read loads of books to the children, and rid my house of every last speck of clutter.

I wish I could say that's an exaggeration. It is not.

{Delusions of grandeur anyone?}

Tempted to give up / wallow in sedatives for the next 16 years, I told myself there had to be another solution. Any solution. Even an imperfect one. And therein was the answer. It's nothing new or mind-blowing but putting it into practice, telling myself this is the only way for now that anything will ever get done, has been absolutely mind-blowing for me.

Are you ready?

Baby steps.

My new mantra? It's better than it was.

That plus a big dose of acceptance.

I'll give you an example. Nearly 5 years ago we moved into this house. I put stuff in the kitchen cabinets rather hurriedly. Patterns and needs change over time and nothing in the kitchen was working for me anymore. Noth. Ing. I wanted to scream and curse every time I opened a drawer or door, usually because something fell out and hit my head or toe. I wanted to get the kitchen organized over the summer from top to bottom. I wanted to do it all in one day. I had a system in my head, a plan in place, but I knew I would not have a whole day to do it.

My solution? One drawer at a time. One day I did 4 drawers. It took 45 minutes. Four drawers in my kitchen were perfect: clean, organized, functional. Over the period of several weeks, I had a working kitchen.

This is not a difficult concept for most people. I guess I am just slow to learn.

As I mentioned, perfectionists tend to see things through the lens of all-or-nothing . And most of the time life just doesn't offer that luxury. I will probably not have the whole house clean and organized all at the same time until my kids are grown...and by then I'll be too tired to even care.

I function better, think better, and am nicer to others when I have visual peace and an orderly environment. I just do. But the other 4 people living here? Not so much. Something's gotta give and seeing as how I'm largely outnumbered, that something...someone is me.

I have a feeling that many times I will only get the toilet clean before I'm summoned to do something else. Instead of seeing how the rest of the bathroom doesn't match the clean toilet, I can choose to bask in {not literally of course} the clean toilet and be thankful that it is no longer a science experiment.

Tonight I'll go to be knowing that I have an organized kitchen even though those drawers may be surrounded by closets full of clutter and the gnomes. And on the days when the world is just too messy to handle, I may just crawl in among the neatly folded dish towels and take a nap.


Postscript: I wrote this at summer's end. It's now October and I can confidently say that my new mantra is indeed working. Bit by bit, small task by small task, I'm making progress.


  1. I LOVE your blog. I don't know how I found it but I'm so glad that I did!

  2. I know just how you feel. Clutter drives me crazy...but I do have clutter spots in the house...and it is usually my stuff. The funny thing is, at work, when I go into someone's office...I have NO problem helping them get organized but my desk looks like I just threw papers aimlessly on to it. I agree...little by little.

  3. An all-or-nothing state of mind . . . that is the explanation behind why there were no completed craft projects in our house. I wouldn't allow myself to sit and do them unless ALL of the housework/laundry/etc was done . . . which was never the case with four little ones.

    I also understand the "basking" comment. When I get a drawer or a closet in order, I find myself going back again and again, just to take a quick peek at what I accomplished.

    Great blog . . . great concept!


  4. I learned a long time ago that perfectionism and procrastination are the flip side of the same coin...similar to heads and tails on a quarter. You can not have one without the other. That is why we long for perfection but can not accomplish it so we procrastinate having piles of laundry, mounds of dirty dishes etc. Try doing things without them being perfect. It took me a long time to realize not everything needs that energy. Lots of household chores need to just get done, perfectionism NOT required.
    A recovering P/P coin

  5. I can so relate to all of this!!! Thank you for expressing it so well and being willing to be so transparent. I have pockets of organization {and I do bask in them!}, and few routines that serve me well, and then I have areas of complete disaster that are so embarrassing! It is definitely a process. I love your mantra! Blessings!!!

  6. I definitely relate to that kind of perfectionism! I too, am learning that working on something for 5 or 10 minutes is better than not at all. It's definitely a process, but I notice a huge difference. I completely understand having "visual peace" it's really wonderful! :)

  7. I have not learned this yet, and I desperately need to! I think I particularly need to apply it to my "To do before Baby" list that keeps getting items added to it with very few getting crossed off. It's doubtful, for example, that I'll be able to do a complete pantry overhaul when I don't actually fit in the pantry all that well right now!

  8. Baby steps are a good thing. I used to think that having a perfectly clean house came at all costs. Then I had kids and realized spending time with them was more important. I am so glad I did, because they grew up in a blink!

  9. I could be your twin! You have once again perfectly expressed how I feel, think and work. I want to do it all and I want to do it now. Never mind if that means staying up for five straight days and not speaking to anyone. At least at the end it will be done. I'm trying to learn the baby steps thing too, but I find that I move at a much faster pace, trying to accomplish as many baby steps as possible in the shortest time so I can get to that stage of done...or is it called "perfect?" I have so much left to learn!

  10. SO glad you literally don't bask in toilets.
    That would be so freakIE!

    and, I am like you. My house, as we speak is in shambles. Time has expired, I must deal with it tomorrow. Perfectionist central. It sometimes makes me ill. I have to keep reminding myself of baby steps. That's for sure.

  11. Sometimes I organize a drawer (okay, maybe one drawer, once a year) but then I just like to open that drawer and sigh a contented sigh. Ahhhhh...nice. And it doesn't matter how crappy my bedroom looks, if I make my bed, I feel happy just seeing those straightened covers and pretty pillows in their places rather than strewn across the floor. It has only taken me 30+ years of my life to realize this. Baby steps.....

  12. the "all or nothing" insight is something that occurred to me just now when i read your blog. i am also a "perfectionist" but i find myself slacking off on my domestic duties (and it is funny because i just wrote about it in my blog the other day).

    thanks for the "all or nothing" mindset, i have now resolved what confuses me sometimes about being a "perfectionist". i won't do it unless i do it well. so better to put off what you know you can't do with utmost perfection.

    that said, i also started being a little more practical in terms of handling my time. my closet is my first project. instead of fixing everything in one go, i fold my clothes, one little batch at a time and it's looking better and better by the day and soon enough... maybe perfect.

  13. Scooper,
    Love the title of this article.
    Yup! another posting straight from my heart.
    Are you SURE we're not related?
    I totally agree with a little bit of organizing/decluttering every day does make a difference.
    Love ya!

  14. I am *SO* glad to have found your post this morning. You are truly speaking the words of my heart. And though I don't home school any longer (we did so for over 10 years) I completely relate to what a school year is like in our home!!
    Baby steps ... that is awesome! Sound advice! :o)
    I may print your article and post it "neatly" on my fridge as a reminder. :o)
    I hope you have a great day - thanks so much for your post!! :o)
    Sincerely - Trish

  15. number one excuse: "If I don't have time to do it *right* I'm not gonna do it at all."

  16. Just had to give you a huge thanks! literally all weekeend I have been chanting "better than it was". maybe just to myself but had to let you know...

  17. Came over from The Nester. You just described me in this post. To a tee. It's frightening, actually. I am a homeschool mom with a house on the market. Two kids to school, a preschooler who just wants to play, and a baby. I have told myself for years that I'm lazy. But I am not! I am more afraid of doing something less than perfect than I am going for it and having it turn out okay, or to any standard that Martha wouldn't approve of.

    I will say that I found FlyLady and she changed me. Since the Spring I have been greatly improved. I did her routines for a couple of weeks, then got bored with it and gave up. Little did I know, something stuck. My house was reasonably clean and I wasn't even purposefully doing my routines, but I was unconsciously hanging on to a couple of them. As soon as I realized that, I got back on, full force. It has brought a peace to me, even though I haven't necessarily lowered my standards, I am finally okay with my efforts. I can't entirely explain it, but I am certainly enjoying the rewards.

  18. Wow. This is me as well. I recently cleaned out the pantry and organized it. I was so proud! Even though other areas of my house are dreadful. This is an interesting take on perfectionism. I have often noticed that if I can't complete a project that I won't do it at all either. I need to learn baby steps (as well as delegating too)

    I hopped over from the Nester, and I'm so glad I did. You got me at the pic of the Eiffel Tower, as I'm a lover of all things French such as yourself.

  19. Bravo!... exactly- the-way- I - feel !.... I have thought these very same (well almost, but very close) words to myself. Of course not thinking that ANYONE feels the same way. Wow. I have also came to pretty much the same conclusion, doing something is better than doing nothing at all, but it is so hard! My kids are grown now but it doesn't make it a lot easier. I still don't seem to have "time" to start AND finish anything at the time I start it... so I still struggle but I have improved over the years. It feels never-ending. I read you post on the 31 days of Grace post and followed it to this post... I am so glad I did... Grace definitely get me through every day!
    Thanks for your honesty and insight!


Share your thoughts?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin