Why am I talking about perfectionism today? Because perfectionism is something that I’ve dealt with for as long as I can remember, but it’s recently come to my attention (via a snarky commenter on a recent post who thought she was setting me straight) that non-perfectionists may not truly now what perfectionism is, or how it affects people who deal with perfectionism.
In this person’s snarky comments (where she also insinuated that I have terrible work ethic, that I should finish my own projects before expecting a handyman to finish them for me (lol…what?), and that I should be able to install a shutter on a stone house in just a few minutes with a nail 😂), she said, “Rolling my eyes hard at the “I’m a perfectionist” mantra when you’re leaving things unfinished for so long…”
While I could laugh at the other nonsense, that part of her comment honestly confused the heck out of me. That made as much sense as saying to a person who suffers from agoraphobia, “Rolling my eyes hard at the “I’m an agoraphobic” mantra when you haven’t even left your house for year.” Ummm…yeah. The fear of leaving one’s house is a tell-tale sign of agoraphobia. And what are the tell-tale signs of perfectionism? The fear of starting a new project, procrastination, having unfinished projects, and taking way longer than necessary (i.e., much longer than non-perfectionists) to finish a project.
I guess people like my snarky commenter believe that a perfectionist is someone whose house is literally perfect — all the projects are done, everything is clean, nothing is ever out of place. Perfectionists live in perfect surroundings, right?
Ha! Nothing could be further from the truth! And you don’t even have to take my word for it. There are literally thousands of articles on sites like Psychology Today and Good Therapy that explain what perfectionism is, and how it affects people. It’s almost never good. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a single article that describes a perfectionist as a person who has it all together, whose projects are all finished, whose house is perfect, whose work product is perfect, etc. That’s just simply not what perfectionism is.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember. Do I like things to be perfect? Absolutely! Do I expect the things I do and what others do for me to be perfect? YES!! And therein lies the problem. There’s no such thing as perfection. No matter how hard we try, none of us will do things perfectly. And that desire for perfection along with the knowledge (and fear and dread) that things will never be perfect is where the tension lies for perfectionists like myself.
There are two main ways that my perfectionism has affected me throughout my life, and I can assure you that both of them are frustrating even to me, and hard to live with at times.
Struggling to get started on projects:
I can very easily get stuck in the planning phase of a project. I come up with a plan, scrap that plan, start over on the plan, tweak the plan, find new ideas to incorporate into the plan, start over on the plan again, and on, and on, and on the cycle goes. Why? Because of fear that I might start the project with an imperfect plan in hand, and then end up with a terrible result.
So I get stuck in the planning phase, and that phase can last weeks, or months, or even years, depending on the project. What it looks like to the rest of the world is procrastination or laziness. And while it may look like that, what the world doesn’t see is the turmoil going on inside the minds of us perfectionists. We want to start on the project. We want to get it done. But the fear of not getting it just right prevents us from jumping in with both feet and just getting started.
Struggling to finish projects:
Struggling to finish projects is the result of fear or dread that the perfect vision that I see in my head won’t be the reality when I’m actually finished with the project. And that reality is almost unbearable.
I notice this about myself with almost every project I do. I’ve always called it my “90% rule”. I’ve noticed that my consistent behavior is that when I get to the 90% complete mark on just about any project, I want to walk away and start on something new.
It’s not because I don’t have the attention span to complete it, and it’s not a lack of discipline. It’s a result of perfectionism. I always have this perfect vision in my mind of what a project will look like when it’s finished, and the idea that the actual finished project may not live up to that image in my mind causes me so much stress and dread that I just want to walk away.
Just like I did on the first half of the room, I drew my line down the center of the room (perpendicular to the front wall of cabinets and the back French doors), and then working from the previously finished half of the room and the center perpendicular line, I traced the squares on the side of the room next to the breakfast room.
But then I absolutely could not make myself start on the other side. Why? Because of an overwhelming sense of dread that the areas against the wall on the other side wouldn’t come out perfectly even with the ones on this side…
I sat there on the floor and planned and pondered and wondered how I could get them perfectly the same. I knew I couldn’t, and that led to an absolute sense of dread. As a result of that feeling, my natural response was to avoid it altogether. I didn’t want to finish tracing the squares. I wanted to walk away, avoid it completely, and start on another project.
I wanted to walk away and just be perfectly happy with the perfect vision I had in my head of what the floor should look like in a perfect world. So what did I do? I sat on the floor, phone on hand, and listened to an audio book while scrolling Instagram for about 30 minutes. Maybe longer. I really don’t know because I kind of lost track of time. I just wanted to avoid the situation and get lost in a perfect world I could create in my mind. In other words, I procrastinated.
After a period of time, I finally made myself get up and finish tracing those squares, with a pit in my stomach the whole time because I knew there was no way to get it perfect. And afterwards, was it perfect? No! Of course not! Perfection is not something that’s ever attainable, and that bothers me tremendously. But that’s the reality of living in the real world as opposed to living with the perfect images in my mind.
So that’s perfectionism. It can be brutal sometimes. It’s not a peaceful way to go through life.
The good news for me is that blogging for the last 16 years has been one of the most therapeutic ways for me to deal with my own perfectionism, and to find healthier ways to deal with it (like allowing myself to redo projects as many times as needed in order for me to be happy with the outcome). And I do think I’ve gotten better, and found more peace in my mind, as a result of blogging.
The fact is that if I weren’t a blogger who shared my projects very publicly, there’s probably no way I could have turned these rooms…
…into these finished rooms…
If I were just trying to do this on my own and privately, every single project in every single room of my house would be left 90% complete because that’s where my mind just naturally checks out and moves on to something new. That way, I would never be forced to live with the discrepancies between the reality of my finished (and imperfect) projects and the perfect visions I had in my head. If everything were left at 90% complete, I could have the fun of working with my hands and doing fun things, while at the same time, avoiding a whole lot of dread and disappointment when my projects don’t turn out perfect (which they never do, because again, perfection isn’t actually attainable).
So while my perfectionism did cause me to take longer on the floor than was necessary, and check out for a bit while I avoided the uncomfortable reality of the imperfection of the floor design, do you know what made me not walk away completely from that floor project this week?
You. You did. All of the people who read my blog, who want to see progress on my projects, and who expect (eventually) to see a finished product. That accountability that this blog and all of you bring to my life has helped me tremendously in my own struggle with perfectionism. I still live with it, and some of my projects do take longer as a result of it. But at least I do eventually get them done (or most of them, at least), and I have a house filled with beautiful (to me) rooms that I can be proud of. I wouldn’t have that without the accountability that blogging has brought to my life.
Addicted 2 Decorating is where I share my DIY and decorating journey as I remodel and decorate the 1948 fixer upper that my husband, Matt, and I bought in 2013. Matt has M.S. and is unable to do physical work, so I do the majority of the work on the house by myself. You can learn more about me here.