Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on Perfectionism

I am a perfectionist. And I'm not ashamed of it. I used to be ashamed of it, so much that I decided I had to stop wanting anything that seemed good to me, because I thought maybe I was being selfish and expecting too much. But I'm over it now (or so I tell myself), because I've realized some things:

1.  Something in me needs to experience perfection sometimes.
2.  Telling myself I can't have anything that's perfect makes me really, really want everything to be perfect...and it also makes me angry.
3.  There is something divine about the whole, unblemished, perfect somethings we come across in life.
4.   It can be satisfying, and even healing, to create something so perfect that everything about its very existence makes me smile and sigh with contentment.

I could probably add a lot more to this list, and I just might do that...later. But for now I want to elaborate a little on my philosophy of being okay with perfectionism, and how I got here.

I have an obsession with cleaning my bathroom very thoroughly. It's quite extreme. It started when I was given the assignment at age 12 of cleaning the bathroom every week. It was simple enough. I did all the basics my mother had shown me, then stepped back to take a look at my good work. It was good work...but not quite good enough. There were just a few more things that could make it even better.

So I took the shampoo bottles from the shower and lined them up by the sink, along with every item from the medicine cabinet...every tube and container and vial. I washed and polished each one before replacing them in the cabinet (which I had just cleaned). Then I organized the drawers that held the hair brushes and barrettes and straightened the towels under the sink. I took a butter knife and a rag and cleaned every spec of dirt from the baseboards. I washed out the trash can and even cleaned the toilet brush and its holder, as well as the plunger (as I said, it's quite extreme). When I finished many hours later, I surveyed the fruit of my labor. It was perfect. Just the way I wanted it. The bathroom was so clean, I was almost inclined to curl up right there on the floor with a book (which I actually ended up doing later).

This became a standard ritual. Somewhere along the way, my mother noticed. "Didn't I ask you to clean the bathroom this morning?" She asked me at 4:30 in the afternoon as I replaced the now clean plunger and trash can beside the toilet. "It should only take you an hour, at most, to clean the bathroom. It doesn't need to take a whole day." But for me, it did. I just couldn't stand not cleaning the bathroom perfectly. Anything less seemed like a waste of time for me. And eventually, I put this idea even further into practice.

If I was too tired or too short on time to clean the bathroom perfectly, I simply would not clean it at all. Coming from a family of eight children, a bathroom that goes more than a week without being cleaned can be nothing short of disgusting and disastrous. And it was just that. Because of my love of very clean bathrooms, I got into the habit of running to close the bathroom door when the doorbell rang if it was not a week when I had cleaned the bathroom. I was torn between two worlds: Perfectionism and Stark Reality. I believed I could only be happy when I dwelt in perfectionism, but my dealings there became less and less frequent as my expectations increased. 

Thankfully, I've overcome this vicious cycle in my time as a housewife (for the most part). I've developed a method to keep me in reality and yet still allow myself to visit "Perfection" if I feel so inclined. I've decided that I need to allow myself to be as perfect as I can be in certain things, just because I like them that way, but only when I prepare and plan ahead, setting aside time for one specific something that I desire to do perfectly. And so, during that period of time, I can obsess and tweak as much as I want--after all, I'm not taking time from something more important or drawing out something that could take less time. No, I'm spending time that I've set aside for something specific simply because I want to.

So now my bathroom cleaning goes something like this: Most of the time, I sweep the floor, scrub the tub and toilet, wash the mirror, and wipe down other surfaces as needed. Not all at once, just as needed. And then when I get the itch for a perfectly clean bathroom, (usually during holidays or when company's coming) if I want to, I set aside time to scour the bathroom from top to bottom. And the result is dazzling. No guilt. No regrets. Just because I like it that way.

What are your ideas about perfectionism? What do you have to have perfect, just because you like it that way?


  1. I wish I had the time to scrub every spot of the bathroom. Oh how I HATE dirty bathrooms.
    I love that you got it so clean that you curled up with a book. But my favorite part is that when the door bell would ring, you would run and close the bathroom door! Haha we have SO been there!

  2. A friend of mine shared this post on facebook. I don't want you to think I am a stalker or anything. I just loved this post. It is exactly how I feel. I have been trying to verbalize this feeling for a while. In fact I have a technique of how I can get things done, without obsessing about their perfection - I squint. If it looks good when I squint, then I am ok. Otherwise I don't get anything done, just like you did with your bathroom growing up.

    Anyway...thank you. This was very helpful.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I just started this blog, and my whole purpose is to reach out to people (specifically women) and share my experiences and encouragement and hopefully get theirs in return. So thank you! And feel free to share this with anyone you want.

  3. This post fascinates me. I'm kind of the opposite of perfectionist. I get a bit down about my ever-widening definition of "good enough". Sometimes I wish I could be just a bit more of a perfectionist. Thanks for giving us a peek inside your brain!

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  5. We perfectionists are in a constant battle with ourselves. It's hard to accept anything that isn't 100% the way we want it to be. I still struggle to see the overall good in the picture because I tend to focus on what's wrong with it. I'm like you when it comes to cleaning the bathroom. It's all or nothing for me. But my problem is I don't feel like cleaning it from top to bottom that frequently... then the mess builds up and bothers me so much! I also can't stand for others to clean it because they just wipe here and there and call it clean. Well, it's not! I actually get angry when people say they've cleaned something, and it's still dirty. My sister did that the other day when cleaning the bathroom, and I had to clean it again because it wasn't good enough for me - it wasn't perfect. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I'm glad I'm not the only one who can take a whole day to clean and organize the bathroom. :) I like how you've adjusted your cleaning habits based on self-inspection. Always be prepared, but do what you want when you want to do. Good thinking!

    1. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that we are both picky about bathroom cleaning...just one more piece to add to our list of frighteningly similar characteristics.