Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist~


I have a natural tendency toward perfectionism.  This was also reinforced by my mother’s constant admonition, “If a job is worth doing…”  come on, finish it with me, “It’s worth doing right.”

I learned over the years (from the time I was small) that if I couldn’t do it, do it right, and finish, I didn’t want to start.  Cleaning, projects, crafts, you name it.  I can’t stand knowing it won’t be perfect so I don’t want to start or finish.  I just exist.  Now, honestly, I do have exceptions to this.  For example:  when it comes to quilting or sewing, my idea of perfect is not “without flaw.”  My idea of perfect in that realm, cooking, and a few other areas is, “Finished.”  When it’s done, it’s perfect… even if it’s flawed.

However, this has never translated naturally for me, to other areas.   For example.  Cleaning the bathroom.  You’ve heard people say that this housewife or that one gave some part of their housekeeping job ‘a lick and a promise’.  I can’t DO that naturally.  If I start to clean, I haul everything out of whatever it is, scour it within an inch of its life, possibly repaint/paper/surface in some fashion, and then start OVER again.  Because I want it “perfect.”  And if I can’t achieve that perfection, I don’t attempt it at all.

Yeah.  Ask me how that’s workin’ for me.  Sigh.

So, in the past year or two (especially since being diagnosed with asthma and all the joyous garbage that goes with that), I’ve tried to do something different.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t necessarily satisfying, but it is effective in its own way.  I call it “efficiency cleaning”.

Take my bathroom cleaning today.  It needed it for a long time.  Yes, we’ve kept the toilet clean, the mirror and sink wiped, and the floor mopped/swept.  However, that’s what I call a “lick and a promise”.  Basically, I’ve kept the biggest parts of the mess under control while not really keeping the room CLEAN.  (see, that perfectionism thing again).  Today, I did something different.  I’ve been doing this a lot lately and it really does make a huge difference around here.  I cleaned.

Pick yourself up off the floor.  I’m not talking about “get it done one way or another”.  I’m talking about not letting yourself get bogged down in minutiae.  So, I went in the bathroom, got my wet rag and squirt bottle, and wet down the wall.  Yep.  I had to scrub walls today so I just did it.  I didn’t stop for ten minutes and fight a corner of dirt that I couldn’t get easily.  I just scrubbed the wall.  When I was done with one wall, I went to the next.  If something didnt’ come off easily, so what.  I kept going.  And going.  And going.  While I wans’t the Energizer Bunny, I was consistent.  I pulled tape from around the shower and scrubbed.  I didn’t get it all but I got off what I could.  I scrubbed everything I could and then rinsed the rag, put away the cleaner, and stopped.

What a concept.

Is that bathroom “clean” in my preferred method?  No.  Is every particle of dirt gone?  No.  Is most of the dirt gone?  Yes.  Isn’t that the point?  Get the dirt gone?  Is it better to have 95% of the dirt gone or none because you’re waiting for that 100%.  If you keep waiting, there’s that much more dirt to get off later when you finally get around to it.  But, if you scrub off that 95%… and then the next time you get 1 more percent… and then the next time maybe one more… pretty soon, you’ll have that thing 99% clean (you can not keep it 100% clean.  It’s impossible. )  Even if you only get 50% of it clean it’s still 50% more clean than it was.

I’ve taken this approach to everything.  If I see a door that is dirty, I clean it.  I used to spend days agonizing over the fact that I didn’t have the time (or lately the strength) to clean all of the doors in the house.  So what?  So I only have one clean door and seven dirty ones.  So.  What.  At least I have a clean door!  Next time I have time I can finish the others or I can do one more.

If every time I go into the bathroom,  I wipe the sink when I’m done, it’ll stay clean.  If every time I go into the kitchen, I move the junk from my little “china cabinet”…  it’ll always be nice and clean.  Sure, the island might have stuff not put away on it, but at least the little hutch is clean.  Something is clean.  I can walk into that room and sigh with the realization that there is one clean spot in that room.

Do I still want all of my house spotless at all times?  Yep.  Do I still want to clean every bit of it all at one time rather than piecemeal?  Yep.  Am I finally realistic enough to realize that having something partially clean is better than waiting for the “rainy day” to come for me to clean it?  (we live in the desert… we don’t get many rainy days)?  Yep.  I finally get it.

And I think things will stay nicer looking living with imperfect cleanliness rather than perfectionistic waiting.

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One thought on “Confessions of a Reformed Perfectionist~

  1. That kind of attitude means you actually get more done than you would if everything had to be done perfectly. Because nothing would get done at all. Good job.

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