I was born with a personality that loves order. I like things done a certain way. I love having all my ducks in a row. I love routine. I feel most at peace when my house is clean, tidy and free of clutter. I’m constantly moving things around which drives my husband batty, but it is cheaper than buying new stuff.
My husband is very tidy but he could live just fine with mess. In fact, my husband Dave is one of the most laid back humans I’ve ever met. Dave doesn’t understand the ducks in a row thing. He thinks ducks are for playing with in the bathtub or for throwing around. He loves fun and anything in his sight that looks like a toy could be used for fun.
My perfectionism became a problem when our kids were teens, because teens make messes. For example, our teens were known to just show up at 10:00 pm, make pizza and leave the dishes everywhere. Teens tend to leave a trail everywhere they go.
Family gatherings were the worst for me when I was in the height of my perfectionism. I would have the meal planned weeks in advance. I would have the table set with the matching place cards and everything looked great, Martha Steward and Pinterest had nothing on me! But after I had finished cleaning the house and the table was set I often discovered a new mess or something out of order. My blood pressure would begin to rise, and I would start washing walls, and cupboards, and attempting spring cleaning projects not yet done. I’d being to yell at everyone to “clean up”!!! Dave was no help. About the time I would start washing walls, he’d say to the kids” We need something from the store, who’s coming with me?” and they’d all leave me, washing walls, alone! Worse yet, there was nothing needed from the store. My family were all just trying to get a break from me and my out of control state!
My daughter’s comments caused me to rethink my whole perfectionist tendency. Perhaps all my frenzy could be avoided. Perhaps I could do my best and then just let it go? You see the cost to my own well-being was huge, and by the time guests arrived I was already emotionally spent.
It took some time, but I’ve come to learn that I can lay perfectionism aside. I can choose to leave some mess. Sometimes I leave a bit of mess on purpose just to prove to myself that I can. I’ve learned to walk away from the kitchen, even when its not all cleaned up. I’ve learned that I can give myself permission to be less than perfect. I still want people to feel comfortable in our home, but I don’t want to be so worked up, that I’m no fun to be with when they arrive.
Dave and I have developed a system. It only took 24 years to find this solution. When it comes to entertaining, Dave cooks the main course, I make dessert and set the table. He likes to cook. I don’t. I make sure I’ve cleaned the house a few days prior to company coming, and just touch things up the day of. I don’t let myself wash walls or have a meltdown. In fact, of late, while Dave is cooking, I’m not allowed in the kitchen at all, so I read a book or do a crossword. I relax, so when the doorbell rings I’m ready to have fun with the people, who are really coming to see us, not a perfect house.
To all my fellow perfectionists out there, meltdowns or not, without us there would be no beautiful smiles (most dentists are perfectionists), beautiful architecture (most architects are perfectionist), perfect railroads … The key is to find balance between perfection and reasonable standards. We need to give ourselves permission to let loose every once and a while, and let things be less than perfect.
If you can’t relate because you are laid back, hug a perfectionist today!