I used to wake from a dead sleep, crawl out of bed and slog into my closet to ensure my shoes were properly lined up.
I once declined joining my family for a beach day because I “needed” to clean the stove.
In fifth grade, I cried when I received a B in math.
The fruitless pursuit of perfection used to devour my joy. My tunnel vision only allowed me to view the imperfect minute details that needed tweaking, while real life lived outside that tunnel.
I experienced blips of relief when everything was “in its place,” but these moments were fleeting and were quickly wiped away by a new email flush with to-dos, a small human walking into my home and living life, or the general passage of time.
It became so out of control, I would premeditate solutions to conditions that would bust through the delicate tunnel of clean glass I had built. I used to put up “Take off your shoes! I just cleaned the floors!” post-its around my house and enforce those notes with an iron fist—or more post-its. It was exhausting and alienating.
Motherhood took a wrecking ball to my glass tunnel.
Parenting a human demanded attention to the bigger picture, demanded a release of my obsessive attention to unimportant detail and demanded that I live a disheveled, smudged, unorganized life.
I had to lose a piece of myself to learn to live in this new life.
Surprisingly, the hole that was left after ripping off my Patch of Perceived Perfection (now on sale at the Container Store) was filled with happiness—authentic happiness that persisted long after my clean floors were splattered with baby food.
I now fancy my life to be more of a rainbow kaleidoscope than a glass tunnel. It’s always moving, utterly confusing and “perfectly” symmetrical.
Because my love for lists has survived the removal of my Patch of Perceived Perfection, here are my instructions for how to build the base for a kaleidoscopic life:
Build a fort.
Nothing shakes up a perfectionist more than the building of a haphazard fort. Let’s grab all the pillows, blankets and moveable furniture we can find and build a makeshift hideaway.
When I learned to not only deal with a mess, but actually create it and (gasp) enjoy it, I was liberated. I gave up mopping in favor of fort-building.
Do what matters.
Working on projects that matter, spending time with a loved one, nurturing ourselves with good food, going for a walk, or taking a wrinkly bath are what it’s all about. An organized inbox and spotless floors are not what we’ll fondly look back upon at the end of life.
My moments of happiness were so fleeting during my Reign of Perfection because I relied on transient circumstances for comfort. Focusing on what matters stabilizes me when my toddler spills a jug of orange juice on the floor, a red shirt gets into the whites or my unread email count climbs into the triple digits.
Honor the need for some order.
While striving for mental, physical and spiritual “perfection” is draining and futile, a bit of order can be nice. Let’s set aside concentrated chunks of time to reset the messiness and reclaim a bit of organization. The key is not to make this resetting and reclaiming our entire life, but to mix it into life.
Because constantly living in chaos can be just as tiresome as constantly striving for perfection, I set aside a few hours a week to organize, check off important to-dos, and clean some toilets. Yay.
Ask for help.
A symptom of the epidemic of perfection is believing we have to do everything on our own. Not true. Life takes on a richer texture when we allow others to chip in and we offer a hand in return. This reciprocal exchange of energy pops the bubble of isolation and infuses fun into the mundane.
I hired a bimonthly cleaning lady, organized a childcare exchange, and became comfortable using the phrase “Hey, would you mind _____?” with my family.
If we love something, let it go. If we love the idea of perfection, let it go and we’ll likely find that it returns to us in the form of imperfect contentedness, balance and fun.
My postpartum release of perfectionism instilled an appreciation for the muddy shoes of my loved ones, the pile of sandy clothes in my closet and my brownie-batter-splattered stove.
Interestingly enough, what finally allowed me to achieve the state of satisfaction I believed perfection would bring was letting go of perfection.
Now isn’t that just perfect.
Author: Bailey Gaddis
Editor: Evan Yerburgh