The Mental Clutter of Perfect
Years ago when I was going through my coaching training, my very astute leader, Elaine, picked up on my need for perfect. I don’t’ remember how the conversation started, but I do remember wearing sandals and my toenail polish was chipped. During our conversation, she looked down at my foot and said, “I’ll bet that chipped polish is driving you crazy, isn’t it?” Boy, did she have me pegged. I hadn’t had time to deal with it before class, and it had really, really bugged me to leave the house with it like that.
Shortly after that incident, I learned about Flylady, and subscribed to her email blasts for a time. I credit her with helping me develop routines at home that I relied on for years. What really stuck was how well she understood that perfectionism keeps us stuck. It keeps us from starting something if we don’t have time to do it perfectly, it raises the bar higher than we can ever reach and makes us less satisfied with our lives.
Back then, I wouldn’t clean my floors unless I could sweep and mop everything at once, shake out all of the rugs, and put clean ones down. The result of this was that I didn’t do it very often, so instead of getting the worst of it taken care of and looking decent, I didn’t do it at all. It looked and felt terrible, hardly perfect. Sometimes that old saying,” if you’re going to do it, do it right,” keeps us from doing it at all.
As always, becoming aware is the beginning to making change, then redirecting ourselves without judgment. I still have to challenge myself to let go of this mental clutter years after becoming aware of it. You may have watched my Breather videos and noticed that they are not perfect. Some may say they are not very professional. But I knew that if I waited until I thought they were perfect, I would never post one. So there I am, scratching my leg and all, and actually very happy that I can put something out in the world without worrying about being perfect. Not pretending to be perfect is great progress. Elaine, I’ve come a long way from chipped toenail polish making me crazy!
So how is the mental clutter of perfect showing up in your life? What are you not doing because you don’t have the time to “do it right?” Find some task or project at work or at home and just start, and quiet this harsh critic in your head. Any progress is good, getting unstuck is even better.
I often see the words, “once and for all” noted on magazine covers and blog posts when it comes to getting organized and clearing clutter. It’s irksome. It’s so misleading and sets people up for feelings of failure. It reminds me of too-good-to-be-true weight loss solutions. You don’t eat your fruits and vegetables once and for all; you start over every day.
I think it’s good news that you cannot get organized once and for all. It takes the pressure off. You can set up systems that work for you, a filing system for instance, and not reinvent the wheel every time you need to file paperwork. But you still have to file the papers. There is no “once and for all” about that. No amount of pretty folders and nice bins are going to get the job done for you.
We are all tempted to get the “perfect” supplies for our organizational projects only to be disappointed that they don’t work. That’s because it’s work to do the work. I know, that sounds obvious. Just like eating healthy and exercising are also obvious. We resist the obvious solution. It’s work to lose and maintain a healthy weight. It’s also work to get and stay organized.
The key is getting systems in place that work for you, having a home for everything, and spending time every day, yes, religiously every day, putting things where they belong. It does not save time to let things accumulate; it only drains your energy as an undone thing. And if you have too much stuff, it’s impossible to put things away. No one I know doesn’t keep acquiring stuff, myself included, so clearing out the old can never be done once and for all either. So, go deal with your mail or your clean clothes that aren’t put away yet, and while you’re at it, eat a carrot or two. You’ll feel much better.
I came across a crotched piano runner my Grandmother made for me when I was sorting through my linen closet a few weeks ago. I don't love the piano runner now and never did. But yet I kept it in my special linens bin because I love my Grandma, and she handmade this for me.
What a tripe whammy: gift, homemade, Grandma. Guilt from three angles. Any one of these can make getting rid of something difficult. But three of them? What’s a girl to do?
One of my favorite methods is to try to find a good home for the item. I think many of us wish that what we have a hard time parting with will be enjoyed by someone else.
Some things are just too hard to donate. Maybe it’s because we never really know what happens to them. I donate many things, most of the time without a second thought, probably because they don’t have any feelings associated with them.
So each month that I go to my book club I bring a bag of things that I want to find a good home. Many times I have great success with this and feel a bit like the matchmaker. My friends take home something they love, and I get the satisfaction of seeing my things appreciated again or maybe for the first time.
I just sent a note out to the family to see if anyone wants the piano runner. If not, to book club it goes next month. And if no one wants it, I feel better for at least trying to find it a good home, and that makes the guilt go away, triple whammy or not.
Clearing Memorabilia Clutter
Until this past weekend, I had pockets of memorabilia throughout my house. All of it was contained, nothing I considered out of hand, but I hadn’t looked at some of it in years. I decided I wanted to pull it all into one place and go through it to see what still had meaning. Key concept here: Still had meaning, not meaningful years ago.
So what did I find? I found the very first real, store-bought -from-Hallmark valentine I got from a boy in 4th grade. It gave me loads of smiles then. And I’m sure the basketball tournament ticket stub from 8th grade was once very meaningful. I’m guessing someone significant made meaningful eye contact with me at one, or maybe two, games.
What did I feel for both things now? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Why did I still have them (and more of their brothers and sisters)? Because I hadn’t looked through the spiral-bound School Record pockets since… I honestly can’t remember. Or the jewelry boxes in deep storage. Or the baby clothes I thought I had already given away.
It was great fun to do this with a friend. She brought bins of cards, letters, pictures, and we hooted with each other over some really funny stuff. We lit a roaring fire and burned some things, recycled, pitched, and packed other things for goodwill.
It wasn't easy. Some things were very sticky. When in doubt I kept some things and got rid of others. There are no right answers.
At the end of the night as we were sipping gin and tonics in front of the mound of burning ash, we thought these things were worth keeping in mind:
Of all the things we keep, I think memorabilia is the most ripe for feelings of guilt. I truly believe that we are most restored and at peace in our homes when we are surrounded by things we use or love, and we cannot be if we are keeping things out of obligation. The more we release and let go of these things, the more free we will feel, and the less sticky everything becomes.
My husband and I both enjoy cooking, so it’s easy for condiments to accumulate, hot sauces, oils, Thai flavors, you name it. I decided to go through them yet again not long ago, thinking I could make a pretty quick job of it since it hadn’t been very long. “Very” is quite subjective though, is it not? I think it had been about six months, which didn’t seem that long to me.
Once I got started it didn’t take long to find things to clear out. I was actually quite surprised that I found as much as I did (six or seven things, or so). As I shut the frig, after clearing and wiping down the door shelves, I wondered why I still had so many that either we didn’t use or had expired.
I realized that I was living in “just in case.” What if we need or want______(fill in the blank)? Also, so many of us have been taught that it’s a shame to waste food. That gets in the way, too. When I was growing up, and we were putting leftovers away, my dad would say, “Shall I throw it now or later?”
But throwing it now or later – what’s the difference? We sometimes use the crutch of wanting something to be spoiled beyond use before we give ourselves permission to get rid of it. Let’s save ourselves the guilt and energy drain and deal with it now. And maybe not buy any more condiments (or, fill in the blank) for awhile.
I opened that frig right back up and threw out three more things, things I just felt guilty I wasn’t using, and things that I was just going to throw out six months from now. Who knew what oyster sauce could teach us?
I love sharing what I've learned, improving things, food, books and being a mom.