Letting Go of Perfectionism


Once upon a time when I only had four kids, a woman from church came over to drop something off. She asked to use our bathroom. When she came out she questioned me on whether or not my bathroom was always that clean and “perfect”. I told her it was. She laughed and said it was ok to tell her that I had cleaned it up before she got there and that there was no way that it could be that clean with four small children. I assured her that I wasn’t lying and that my bathroom always looked like that. “Impossible!” she exclaimed. Realizing that she was never going to believe me, I changed the subject.

If that same woman were to come to my house today the state of my bathroom would be completely different. Most of the time, I would be extremely embarrassed for her to use our facilities. It no longer has that “magazine look” to it; instead it has that “I have 11 children and we have lived in our house for 18 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and I have no money to fix things and dang it, I’m tired” look to it. I’d worry less about if there was soap and a hand towel in there {although I would make sure they were} and more about whether or not there was toilet paper and no toys stuck in the pipes when she flushed.

I have changed my standards through the years out of necessity. I am a type A personality living in a not type A household {seriously, I think they are all type F- Frat House personalities}. It took a long time to figure that out, but the more children I added to our family, the more I had to accept the fact that while I may want perfection at all times, perfection is not attainable at all times. To be honest, perfectionism is pretty much NOT attainable in my house. I also had to accept that most of the time just getting things done is more important that it being done exactly the way I have in my mind.

As my children have grown I have been able to delegate more responsibilities to them. We have specified chores for each person {our chores are on a weekly schedule and each child has one main chore a week besides making sure their own rooms are clean} and we have a specific day for deep cleaning {Deep Clean Monday… my favorite day of the week!}. What I have found is that even though we have these systems in place, these are kids we are talking about and kids just aren’t going to do the job the way I would… nor should they. They are not miniature adults with type A personalities. They are kids who are blind to messes and simply want to have fun and they want me to join in. They don’t truly want to clean, at least not as they get older, and they simply want to get it done with the least amount of work possible. That’s completely normal.

For many years I killed myself going behind them to reorganize or re-clean. They never knew I did this as I waited until they weren’t around. I didn’t want to give them a complex, after all, they were trying to help and I didn’t want to discourage their efforts. However, the more I did this the more I realized that it was making me miserable. I would be angry and resentful. Why couldn’t they just do it right? Why did I have to do all the work? Why couldn’t they see it from my point of view?

The more I thought about it the more I realized that I was doing my entire family a disservice by going behind everyone to make sure everything was perfect. Instead I decided to show my kids how I expected each chore to be done and then I let them do it. I corrected them when they made mistakes but I also decided that perfection wasn’t so important. If something wasn’t done just so, well, I would live… we all would live. Turns out I was right.

It’s not to say that I still wouldn’t rather things be magazine perfect… oh how I am envious of my friends who have gorgeous homes that are decorated for each season or holiday, who don’t have smears of ketchup above their trashcans in the kitchen, and who always have clean hand towels and beautifully smelling soaps in their bathrooms! I still long for all of those things; but I have come to understand that in a small home where 12 of us still live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the insistence on perfection can and will drain all of us of happiness.

Wanting everything to be perfect can also drain us of our desire to do anything at all. If we know we will be disappointed because things aren’t exactly so, we may decide not to do anything. When this becomes our thought process we have to retrain ourselves to think that doing something is better than nothing. Just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of our time. Are there times when perfection is a must? Absolutely! But most of the time we fool ourselves into thinking that everything has to be perfect at all times.

We need to give ourselves a break. If we constantly worry about having everything perfect we will drive ourselves insane. We will be overworked, over-stressed, and we will take the joy out of simply living and being. Sure we need to take care of our responsibilities and we need to insure that what needs to be done gets done, but we need to manage our desire to have everything simply perfect. When we wrap up so much time and energy into perfection we lose time and energy that could be spent with our family and friends doing things we truly love.

Letting go of perfectionism takes time and practice. Believe me, I struggle every day. I grew up in a family that exuded perfectionism. “What would others think?” was a question that was constantly on our minds and we tried to hide all imperfections from everyone. Our house was immaculate and we always had all our ducks in a row so to speak. But we weren’t truly happy- I wasn’t anyway. It was stressful always feeling like you had to be perfect. I don’t want that for my family and so I am trying my hardest to let go of that need for perfection.

I once told a friend that not everything has to be perfect and that sometimes setting the bar lower ends up with better results. I think she took that as I always set the bar low, which is not the case. Often times I go above and beyond what is considered what people ordinarily do, but when I do it is because I want to and not because I feel I have to.  I also insist that the kids “do things right” so they don’t simply slack off and cause themselves more work {or me more work!}, but rarely do I insist on perfection anymore.

Letting go of perfectionism is difficult. It’s not about giving in to chaos but it’s allowing others to see you in a light that maybe isn’t as flattering as you hope. It’s allowing others to see that there are areas in your life where you struggle, that you sometimes settle for less than you want, and that maybe you are having trouble “doing it all”.

Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes it is messy and overwhelming. Life is the ketchup on the wall, the clogged toilet, the peeling paint, and the deep fryer in the middle of your kids’ messy room when your priest comes over. It is the stain on your shirt at your interview, the keys you left locked in your car, the report that you lost on your computer, the over-drafted bank statement, the hairs that are out of place in the family picture, and your teeth that you forgot to brush as you rushed out the door because you overslept and are now late to work.

Life is perfectly imperfect. We are too. And that’s ok.

Be gentle with yourself. You do not need to be perfect. It’s ok to simply be you.

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