Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist, Pt I

perfection housewife“Perfect without Perfection.” — Plaque on my front door (click here for the whole “a-peeling” story)

I have a confession: every two weeks, I take leave of my senses. For 24 hours every two weeks, I will fish a single piece of paper out of a trash can, pick up a grain of rice from the kitchen floor, and move a lone pair of socks from a laundry basket. I’m telling you, every two weeks, I am crazy.

You see, every two weeks, my step-daughter and I clean our house. We clean the bathrooms, vacuum and wash the floors, dust every surface, empty every trash can. We wash sheets and towels and bathmats – even the welcome mat. We scrub the kitchen within an inch of its life and sweep the front porch of every leaf. And oh my gooshness, when we are done the place looks fantastic. It’s breathtaking, my friends. It is … perfect.

And for 24 hours after we’ve cleaned, I’m addicted to perfect. I don’t want anything in the trash cans or the laundry baskets. I don’t want a single crumb on the floor or on the counter. I want that little drain thingie in the sink to be spotless. I want to keep it perfect.

Perfect is exhausting, of course, and silly. Trash cans are meant for throwing things away and laundry baskets are what we put dirty clothes in. Life is meant for living. After a day of picking up every speck from my gloriously clean kitchen rug, I come to my senses and let it go.

I absolutely admit it: I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s better than it once was. I’m aware of it now and can feel the tight sensation in my chest when I really want things to be the way I want them. There was a time I was absolutely sure about exactly how things (and I) should be. I really thought that if I could get things “perfect” then I would be safe and happy and nothing bad would happen. In fact, it was the opposite: I would be frantic and anxious and cause annoyance (if not exasperation) in the people around me. I understand better now that everything is as it should be and that miracles can unfold in what initially looks like a disaster. I know that life is messy. And yet there it is: for me, perfection has a magnetic pull.

As I observe my tendencies and their ramifications, I am immediately faced with the question: what is perfect, anyway? Without even looking too deeply at it, I can see that “perfection” is a completely subjective thing. The “perfect” purse for me is one that I can strap to my back, has a pocket for my phone, and I got for $2 at Goodwill. I’m guessing many would completely disagree about its perfectness. It’s confounding when I think about it this way and it makes me want to put my head down.

In my perfectly imperfect journey with perfectionism, a big part of letting it go is recognizing what I’m doing, relaxing, and then looking beyond the surface to see what I’m really after. Sometimes, what I want is control – over my environment, other people or my life. When that’s the case, it helps me to remember that everything is always changing and that change is the very nature of life—and this can help me let go of the single tissue in the trash can. Other times, I have the belief that my perfectionism will make me impervious to criticism or judgment. When that’s happening, I can seek out some tender loving connection (to myself or another) that reminds me that I am okay just as I am and of the positive contributions I make even if they are small.

There are other fuels for the perfectionist fire. Tomorrow I’ll share about the routine that is enflaming my perfectionism right now and what we’ll do in class to ease into a state of “perfect without perfection.” For now, my question is what is it for you? What gets in your way and stops you or undermines you? And what are you learning that helps you get unstuck? I’d love to hear all about it.

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