There’s a hot new catchphrase you may have heard or read; go for progress, not perfection. I can really relate to this idea, that there are times when I need to give up on perfection. It’s pretty common for professional organizers to have a relationship with obsessive-compulsive behavior. Notice I didn’t use the term disorder. According to the International OCD Foundation, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values. Being a perfectionist is not the same as OCD, it’s more so a personality trait.
There can definitely be pros about being a perfectionist but there are also cons. What homemaker hasn’t wanted to be as savvy as Martha Stewart, cook in as laid back a manner as Jacque Pepin and juggle work, family and the day to day chores with an Erma Bombeck type sense of humor? There seems to be an underlying pressure to not just have a neat and tidy home but one that is ready for a photography shoot for a glossy magazine. I love that my client’s think my home must be very well organized, neat and clean. It’s not that I don’t try to practice what I preach, it’s that I’ve learned to pick my battles and let go of my perfectionist tendencies.
Sometimes I’m really good at turning my head on some cobwebs or home improvement projects that have stalled. There’s a light switch plate in my bathroom that is covered with accidental swaths of paint that I never got around to cleaning or replacing. Now that I’ve confessed it, it might spur me on to replace the switch plate. Or not because I’m busy with repainting my home office, a project that I started 15 years ago. It bugs me, don’t get me wrong, but there have been bigger fish to fry over the years. I’m sure some of you have had a little renovation project that carried on for much longer than originally thought. It’s very common and it’s comforting to know that they are others who struggle with the same thing. Some projects won’t even get started if perfectionism is holding one back because they can’t find the perfect paint color, the time to organize hundreds of CD’s alphabetically or the perfect charity to donate to.
Interestingly, Dr. Randy Frost, who specializes in hoarding, speaks of people who both hoard and are so perfectionist that they can get nothing done. He gives the example of reading the paper: “Many people who hoard feel that they must read everything, or nearly everything, in the paper and remember it in detail. If they feel they can’t do this, then saving the paper has to do, even though they never go back to reread it. Most often what happens is that this task becomes so overwhelming that they don’t even bother to read the paper, they just keep it so they can read it later.” I find this fascinating.
So how do we let go a bit, loosen up and give up on perfect? As with other transitions of attitude, baby steps are easier than giant leaps. I remember asking my father why he hadn’t cleaned up the pile of cat puke on the living room carpet and he said that it was easier to clean when dry. Huh? Knowingly leave a kind of gross mess on the floor? I couldn’t imagine it but I tried it and he was right! Sure I would be mortified if a surprise visitor spotted a pile of yuck on my floor but then again, that’s small beans when it comes to the bigger picture. It’s rare but we all know that cats head straight for the nearest carpet when they blow cookies and I just put a paper towel over it until it’s easier to clean.
• “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.” Depending on what it is, that’s an awful lot of stuff to have to do yourself so try to pick your battles.
• Delegate tasks that other household members excel at and do the ones that really tweak your desire for excellence yourself.
• Imagine a project in its complete state and if it’s a little lopsided or has a small crack, look at the big picture as that’s how most others will. The cheesecake with a few cracks in it will be just as delicious as one without.
• Go for progress, not perfection. There should be more A’s for effort than there are.
• Don’t point little errors or mistakes out to others as they probably won’t even notice unless you announce it.
There’s an awful lot of editing, lighting, angles, tricks and Photo-shop work done on TV, magazines and the internet. It tricks us into thinking that older women don’t have wrinkles, rooms look significantly bigger than they actually are, kids don’t throw hissy fits and most homes aren’t a home unless they’ve been styled by a top interior designer. Don’t fall for it, it’s manufactured idealism and it tries to encourage us to attain the near impossible. Embrace the smear of paint that means you’re able to paint in the first place! Embrace a little cat puke, it means you have a loving pet that depends on your love and care. Embrace the mis-matched, the wrinkle, the crack, the lopsided, all of the little errors and mistakes, it means you’re human.