Friday, January 14, 2011

Is Your House Messy Because You're a Perfectionist?

Are you a perfectionist? According to the article, Perfectionism: A Double-Edged Sword (University of Texas at Austin Counseling & Mental Health Center, 1999), it's a myth that perfectionists get things done and do things right. Because perfectionists believe that every task must be completed perfectly, they often suffer from procrastination, anxiety and low performance levels. I know just how true this is. My husband is a classic perfectionist and I have perfectionist tendencies, as well.

Perfectionists are often gripped by anxiety when starting a task, whether it's home repairs, writing, crafting or cleaning. Too often, this anxiety turns into long-term procrastination. A perfectionist may have a picture in her mind of how her home should look. It should be perfectly clean and nothing should be out of place. She knows what she needs to do to get her home to this perfect state, yet she also has an underlying fear that, even with all the required work, things will still not be perfect. So, she does nothing.

What the perfectionist fails to see is that even little steps towards achieving the goal of a clean, decluttered house make a big difference. Taking care of one pile of clutter will not leave the house in a perfect state. But, it will make a difference. Decluttering another pile the next day, and yet another on the following day, will help the house gradually improve. Having a comfortable, clean home involves giving up on the notion that it can be perfect.

Our perfectionism is fed by images in magazines and on TV of perfectly decorated and clean homes. Decorating gurus give advice about how to make our homes look perfect. I once saw an interior decorator on a talk show (I think it was Oprah) state that it's tacky for people to have pictures of their children in their living room. She was an advocate of the living room being a showplace, a virtual museum in the home that would impress guests. I'm sure piles of clutter or any evidence that a family actually lives there would have been a huge no-no.

I've come to the realization that having a perfect home is not what I want. Sure, I want to be in control of the clutter and dirt. I need to keep it at bay so that I don't feel anxious and unsettled, which is how I tend to feel when things are too messy. The boys need to grow up in a home that is basically organized and tidy. However, we live here and we are human beings. Spending copious amounts of time on cleaning in order to create the facade of perfection doesn't serve me, my husband or my children well. It's okay if we have a stack of books on the end table. It's okay if we have toys on the floor during the day. It's okay if we have snacks on the coffee table. It's okay that we don't make the beds often.

Giving up on perfectionism in your home can be done. Make it better, not perfect. My house has come a long way since I gave up on the notion of having to clean under the furniture every time I vacuumed. You can get to the point where your house is comfortable and mostly clean, most of the time. But, it will never be perfect. And that's okay.


  1. This is so well said, Barb. I once heard someone say about their apparently clean and tidy home that they gave their house a "lick and a promiss". It was ready for company, but they "promised" to do other chores at another time.

  2. There are too many things I don't start because I know I can't do them perfectly. I'm working through it. My husband is a great inspiration, being my antithesis.
    I love that you mentioned the images we're flooded with. The other day I saw an ad for something showing this crisp white everything-in-its-place bathroom. I thought,"Someday...". And then said,"yeah, no" after I came to my senses. I agree with you that we're stifled by expecting perfection. From clean homes, to religion, to relationships, perfection is in a photo shoot, but not in real life.
    I appreciate your post. It's a good reminder to be happy that my carpet was vacuumed today and to not freak out about the fact that I had to skip cleaning up the piles on our bookcase shelves.

  3. This is a very good article. This is very well said.
    Toronto house cleaning services

  4. I can really relate to the procrastination that you mentioned in this post! I get anxiety about starting new projects if I don't think they will turn out Perfect- which, of course, they never do! And, I couldn't agree more with what you said about magazines and television perpetuating our perfectionism! I had never thought about it that way and I hope this will change the way I compare my house, self, life to those 'perfect' images.
    Thank you so much!