How to be disorganized & unproductive, #2: aim for perfection

As I mentioned on Monday, I’m revisiting a series I wrote a year ago this month called “How to be Disorganized and Unproductive at Home,” where I covered six weeks to do that very thing well.

I ended up skipping the rerun of the sixth key — neglecting yourself — because we had just written a couple articles about that topic. Then after posting the fifth key on Monday, I planned on republishing the fourth key today. Well, that key is to not plan your time. Another topic we just recently covered here. And the third key — have too much stuff — was covered in our spring cleaning series back in May.


So instead, I’m reposting the second key to a disorganized and unproductive home, and it’s the one that really hits home for me. Perfection.

All photos are from Apartment Therapy

Are your expectations for your home so high that you find yourself not bothering to clean, organize, or decorate at all because you feel it’s just not worth it? Even on a smaller scale, do you find yourself letting the dishes pile up in the sink because you just don’t have the time to wash them all exactly the way you’d want, and sweep and mop the kitchen floor, wipe down all the cabinets, and rearrange the utensil drawer?

Today’s key is a huge one for me, and is one I’ve struggled with in most areas of my life since childhood. I’m guessing I’m not the only one here, so that’s why the second key to a disorganized and unproductive home is aiming for perfection.

I was one of those kids who would come home crying with a B grade on my paper. I got my first speeding ticket at 16, and when I came home crying, my dad just shrugged his shoulders and laughed. It’s only a ticket, he said. He knew me well — I’d never drink and drive or sneak out of the house, so a measly speeding ticket (for going 30 in a 25, mind you) was small potatoes.

This has leaked out into my spiritual life, for sure — it’s why rely on grace all the time. Showering yourself with it, and being generous to dish it out to others. I’ve learned this well first-hand, and I continue to daily.

Grace is just as important in our job. As we manage the home, as we juggle the many things on our ever-spinning plates, we need to extend ourselves a lot of grace. And for some of us, we just need to lower our expectations.

Now, I’m not talking about saying “Oh well” and praying that the laundry cleans itself. We still have to work hard, every day. But we need to regularly remind ourselves of certain truths, so that the lies that play in our head on repeat will start to die.

Here are some of these truths.

Almost no one lives like the pictures in magazines.

And if they do, it’s probably no fun to live there. Even those houses that were photographed for magazines were probably spit-shined from floor to ceiling twice over for that photo shoot. I know mine would.

When you have small children at home all day, your home will be messier than you’d like.

I have to tell myself this all the time. Sometimes I’ll take a step back and survey the living room — and yep, about 95 percent of the mess has to do with a certain preschooler and her imagination.

Just doing something is worthwhile.

Even though you can’t have your home exactly the way you’d like, just doing something is important. Imagine if you never cleaned or organized anything at all — your home would implode from the disaster. Your work has meaning. Your family needs you.

A perfect home will never make you happy.

Let’s say you are able to have the house beautifully decorated exactly the way you’d like, nary a dust bunny to be found, and all the toys in delightfully organized buckets that are hand-painted and not made in China. You’d probably sigh and say, “Okay. Now what?” This isn’t the goal of life — there’s so much more to pursue.

Mistakes are okay.

God has called us to be good stewards of our time and treasures, not to never make mistakes. He can’t love you any more than He already does. It’s okay to have a cluttered desk sometimes.

There are no grades.

The definition of a perfect home manager is not getting gold stars in cleaning, productivity, and organizing. Our homes are a means to an end, not the end in themselves. They’re the haven for the people we love the most. They’re where relationships flourish and grow. Those matter. Not the walls.

Aiming for excellence, not perfection.

When you aim for perfection, you’re defeated before you even start, because I’ve got news for you — you’re never going to be perfect. Neither am I. And if you’re like me, when you have false expectations that are unreasonably too high, you get even less done because you’re a bit deflated. You throw in the towel because your home will never be as ideal as you want.

And guess who reaps the harvest of a poorly-sowed day inflicted with perfectionism? You and your family. No fun there.

Change your expectations. Give yourself and your family members large doses of grace. Pursue excellence in your work, but not perfection. It’s not a contest.

And if you aim for an excellent day with just a few important things on your agenda, I’m guessing you’ll have a better day. That’s why pursuing excellence instead of perfectionism is a beautiful cure for a disorganized and unproductive day.

What are the truths you need to remind yourself regularly? What has been your experience with perfectionism?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Ths, I’m not exactly a perfectionist, but sometimes get stuck because of of it. I think perfectionism is often a good excuse for not doing what you know you should, at least it is for me. How comes I only aim for perfection for the things that are hard work or I don’t feel like doing?

    Since becoming a mother I’ve learnt to accept my own work, hard work, as is. And by doing this I actually get more done. That is, by doing something imperfectly, I’m closer to perfection than not doing it at all.
    .-= Monica´s last blog ..Homeopathy Basics Plainly Explained =-.

  2. Thank you so much for the reminder that our homes are a haven for the people we love most. The people we love most do not care if everything is tidy and pretty all the time. They care about us.
    .-= Veronica´s last blog ..She kills me =-.

  3. Was going through your menu plans yesterday…if I am not mistaken: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! Hope you have a beautiful year with many wonderful adventures, pleasant discoveries, peace and time fore you and your hubby!! May munchkins grow healthy and to your great joy! Thank you for your encouragement, honesty and wonderful ideas that you don’t keep to yourself 🙂 After coming across your other blog, we started thinking and the fact that you are making it with 2 kids as an expat inspired us..well, we have booked tickets to Turkey, November. We always wanted to travel and live abroad, but were so scared with a small baby. Thank you for broadening our horizons!! You have a gift in that.

  4. Awesome post. When my kids were little my home was like that magazine picture, immaculate. Until my hubby said he just couldn’t live like that, it was driving him crazy. I practically followed my guests around picking up after them, lol!

    So now it’s more lived in, I guess you’d call it. Clean enough for me, messy enough for him!

    ~ Nan
    .-= momstheword´s last blog ..ON THE ROAD AGAIN…… =-.

  5. Thanks. This is a great reminder to just “do something”, a problem I always have. If I haven’t time to clean all three bathrooms, what’s the point in starting? Ahem. Nice try – I should just get on with it. So, here I go to do just that. It won’t be perfect, I haven’t time to wash down the walls (I have a 3 and 4 year old boy so that’s not as bizarre as it sounds 😉 but the seat and sink and floor will no longer shame me. Here I go to grab the rubber gloves. Thanks for the kickstart.
    Karen (Scotland)

  6. Awesome post. I decided to take just one hour and do some uncluttering so I can at least feel better about my (not so perfect) surroundings.
    .-= Cintia´s last blog ..The Power of 1 (hour) =-.

  7. I used to be quite the perfectionist myself, and often just when I think I’ve conquered it, it shows up again in some unsuspecting area.

    This post is a wonderful reminder, Tsh, that simply being ourselves IS ENOUGH. Giving our all no matter what anyone else is doing, and being okay with both our chosen strengths and weaknesses.

    It can be so hard to get there, but it’s so joyous when we do.


  8. I feel like you wrote this just for me… I will be aiming for excellence today, not perfection. When you feel like something is attainable, it’s feels like a realistic goal to shoot for. I’m going to keep that in mind. Thank you. Love your comparison to Grace too.
    .-= PS~Erin´s last blog ..Spending Hiatus: Dreaded Confessions =-.

  9. I try not to be a perfectionist. Thank you for reminding me to keep myself in check!

  10. Angie in Asheville says:

    Sounds like we are peas in a pod.
    I struggle with this daily. In fact, I have a giant pile of paperwork to go through today because I don’t have the “perfect” system in place to deal with it every day. I have 5000+ photos on my hard drive (not to mention the 1000s in boxes) because I don’t have the “perfect” organization system.
    The part I find so hard to accept, is the catch up time needed to get back to ground zero with all the different disorganized areas. It is going to take me weeks to get things squared away enough to start doing a little everyday. Therein, lies the dilemma. Thank you for inspiring me to get a small bit of it done today.

  11. Constance Dewhurst says:

    Hi, I am looking for a paper budget. I really liked pearbudget, but I can’t seem to get on their website. So I am looking for an example of one on paper so I can put it in my Home Base Book. I am not really wanting to come up with my own if I don’t have to. Just wandering of you could help me. Thanks

  12. Could someone PLEASE Explain this to my husband????

  13. To look at my home, you might never guess that I’m a perfectionist. On the outside I’ve let it go, but I still feel tension on the inside. Thanks for the gentle challenge–“Just doing something is worthwhile.”
    .-= Stacie @´s last blog ..Feel Like A Failure? Encourage Another Mommy =-.

  14. I’m another ‘recovering perfectionist’… it really helps to have it spelled out like this. There are so many more important measures of a life than “she kept a clean house”.

    Thanks for the reminder today!
    .-= Karen @old beginnings´s last blog ..there’s an app for that… =-.

  15. Wow! Saw myself in your blog and your readers comments. The one thing I try to tell myself is that G will not remember how clean he house was when he is grown- he will remember how much time I spent with him in it!

  16. Wonderful post!
    I used to keep the house spotless(vacuumed all day long, washed the floor a couple of times a day, dusted daily, cleaned bathrooms daily). There was not much time left in the day to do anything worthwile.

    So I decided to “live” in my house and focus on doing other things.
    It didn’t work out to well in the beginning. If I couldn’t do a good job, I didn’t do it at all.

    Now, finally I’m trying to at least “do something”. Life is a little more balanced now.

  17. Thanks for this post. It is just what I needed to read!

  18. I find myself losing sight of how great my house is when I try to make it all as perfect as I’d like it to be. We bought a fixer-up and we’re fixing up as fast as possible, but it’s not moving along as I’d like and I can’t really entertain or unpack all my treasures and decorate at this point and that frustrates me. But when I see other couples our age who can’t imagine buying a house right now, I feel guilty for only seeing the imperfections in mine. I know we’re blessed to be able to do this at all, and shouldn’t feel so stressed by not being able to do everything at once. I think if I could just get ONE room done, I’d feel better about it, but it seems like the more we do, the more we’ve got left to do. Ugh. I’m praying about this.
    .-= Jenn´s last blog ..Andy =-.

  19. Oh, how I can relate to this post and so many of these comments. *Just do the next thing* and *I am here, give my best to this moment* have become my mottoes. With 5 kids homeschooling on the farm, I *know* things will never be anywhere NEAR picture perfect, but I want to have a picture perfect attitude inside no matter what the cover pages of my life might look like in a given moment.
    .-= Prairie Chick´s last blog ..Sometimes… =-.

  20. I knew I need this, when I saw the magazine picture immediately before you listed the steps to avoid perfectionism and immediately began beating myself up that I don’t have fresh flowers and a perfectly picked up kitchen in my house this morning. However, I have had fun with my kids outside, done school, and even flipped my mattresses. Thanks for the reminder that perfection is not the goal.

  21. Ahhh… we all SO need to hear this. I am constantly avoiding doing the first step because I know I won’t get to finish the job as well as I would like. (or worse: that the mess will just return another day) Such a good reminder to just do something – five minutes of work will get the shower cleaner than it was when I started.

    I have taken this to heart in allowing my toddler to “help” in the kitchen. In the long run, it’s better to eat smushed tomatoes, picked and tested by little hands, than insist I do things the RIGHT way.
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..Thoughts on My Day =-.

  22. I like how you used Apartment Therapy pictures, because I stopped reading it because it was causing me discontentment. 🙂 (Nothing against them in particular, but I have small kids and needed to learn the lessons in this article!)

  23. When I stumbled onto your website, the biggest thing that jumped out at me, and changed my life, was the doing ‘something’. I had gotten caught up in not doing, cause I couldn’t do what I thought I should or even the whole thing. Now I find such satisfaction in cleaning out one cupboard, or putting away one pile of stuff. By the end of the day, I’ve done many somethings, and I feel great! I’ve also given myself permission to do nothing (from one your reads) so I can do something with my babies. That is okay, and the right thing to do, to leave the dishes stacked, and instead stack and unstack blocks.

    The rub for me now is no one else knows or sees what I do… guess I’ll deal with that another time. : )

    Also, thanks for reminding me that my home is meant to be a haven for my family. You’ve inspired me to ask my family what makes our home comfortable, a haven, a place where our relationships can grow stronger, deeper.

  24. Thank you…I needed this!

  25. I have a problem with perfectionism. And it’ll usually be things that other people never notice that drive me crazy. A friend and I have figured out that it’s because when we’re the one doing something, we only see how far off it is from what we wanted it to be. We have a hard time seeing the results for what they actually are. Sometimes I have to step back and get a second opinion to see if it’s just me going nutso or if there really is more work to be done.

  26. Esther Bergling says:

    Today, if I can keep my bathrooms & kitchen cleaned, I feel good! If I dust & vacuum every other week, then I’m really happy. We love our home and I’ve learned, from 2o+years as the Senior Domestic Engineer, to let some things go….Blessings!

  27. This post resonated so much with me. I was the same way as a kid – bawling over a B grade, too. Having an “all or nothing” is not only exhausting, but unhealthy. I’m learning this more and more everyday in many aspects of my life.

    One thing I’m proud of is understanding that messes come with motherhood and small children and letting my little boy make his messes (while teaching him to clean up afterward). Like the saying goes, “Cleaning the house while kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing.” I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Book Review: The Complete Tightwad Gazette =-.

  28. I have learned perfection is another word for PRIDE (and that God isn’t so fond of that in me).

    Do I want to have a nice, clean house? Yes. But stopping at 95% organized is good enough – I can waste a whole lot of energy on that last 5%!

    My best response is learning to laugh at myself when I make a mistake. Amazing how that keeps me humble!
    .-= Sharon´s last blog .."For I Know the Plans I Have for You" =-.

  29. well i must say that this hit the nail on the head for me. i have been so stressed out on my maturnity leave with a 2.5 and 6 week old. I am possibly even OCD with my home. not healthy for anyone. I come from a long family history of alcholism and the transition from one child to two has been pushing me to drink and i am usually not that type. So last night i asked God for some help. I asked him to help me LET GO. And i could cry in gratefulness with what he has sent my way today. first, i had a very long and very overdue heart to heart with my husband which help a few brick fall off my shoulders. Then i came to my email and look at today’s topic- how perfect… no pun intended. Thanks so much to all those who have been down these road before me. love nik

  30. I’ve always struggled with perfectionism. Now I just strive to do my best, knowing that my best always changes. What I’m able to do or give one day may be different from the next, and that’s okay. Growing up, I was an academic and drove myself insane over grades. It’s taken me awhile to realize that the only subject that I really want to master is Life 101.
    .-= turnitupmom´s last blog ..Send the Very Best: Creatively Spun Stationery Giveaway =-.

  31. Ok, my house is close to imploding. I know it! I have let it go way too long and the stuff laying around is driving me nuts!

    I added to my prayer time that God would help me let go of my stuff and to use it to bless someone else. My mom called and wanted some old stamping stuff I haven’t used in *years*. It felt good to get 2 boxes of stuff out of my house into hers — though you really wouldn’t miss it from my house.

    I printed this quote out of a book one time and totally forgot to write the book title. Here it is anyway:

    “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating system that causes you to get stuck in details and lose sight of the whole.”

    That’s me. Now that I’ve made the mistake of wasting time tweeting, I think I’ll go dust a shelf. Gotta start somewhere, right?
    .-= Lisa B @ simply His´s last blog ..She Speaks 2009: Bloggy Purpose =-.

  32. Wow.. Hits home for me too.. Am the queen of striving for perfection and beat myself up earlier when my home wasn’t “like the one in the magazine”.
    Now I’ve grown(!!). I maintain a reasonably tidy home and am ok with things getting done, even if not done to perfection. I guess, life with a toddler and a husband does that to us.. Or is it just getting real and mature??
    .-= prerna´s last blog ..Being a Home maker: Five Reasons to Organize and Declutter =-.

  33. WOW! I absolutely agree with it all:) I am getting better, but I have struggled with perfectionism too. Finally after being home with my kids for 6 years while babysitting and working from home, I have learned to “deal” with the constant mess.
    It is not worth the stressful and crabby mommy that I become when I’m aiming for perfection. I have come to realize it is not a matter of life and death if the dishes are not done right after each meal or if the bedding does not get washed today… there is always tomorrow!
    .-= Tashia´s last blog ..7 Fat Loss Strategies For Busy Moms =-.

  34. This post was EXACTLY what I needed to read today! Thank you so much for helping me and my family with all of your insight. Some truths that help me get through the day/month/year when I am overwhelmed is to remind myself that I am just as good as the next guy and just as capable. I have really been focusing on worrying LESS about the state of the home and MORE about the memories with my children. So, instead of following them around and picking up what they leave behind, I sit down in the middle of it all and grab a toy. Thank you for all of your help in so many aspects of my life!
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..Day Five: Goodbye Elder Hunter =-.

  35. I’ve recently discovered your blog and I’m SO happy I did. Thank you for a wonderful reminder. This post falls right in line with a system/website I’ve had alot of luck with –
    .-= Jenny Rebecca´s last blog ..137:365 =-.

  36. This is something I have a HUGE problem with. Every single night, no matter how tired I am or how late it is, I have to get the house completely in order. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting a few glasses or a bottle into the dishwasher or putting away a toy that got left out. Other nights, though, it sometimes involves nearly cleaning my house from top to bottom. Why do I do this? Granted, it’s nice to wake up to a clean house in the morning, but at what expense? Ten times to one, it will be nearly destroyed by 8 am. From now on, I’m going to try to be a little less picky and leave some things for the next morning. I’m going to leave the bucket in the closet, and wait to scrub the kitchen floor until after the kids have dumped a full bowl of cereal. There’s no need to get on my hands and knees to scrub at 12:30 at night. Wow, how liberating!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Kitchen Knives: The Basics =-.

  37. This is so me. The day I received this I sent an email to a friend asking for prayer to help me get all my tasks done before the baby arrives. I am going to think on pursuing excellence instead of perfection. That day it was rough, but after I read your email I got myself up and cleaned the kitchen and picked up a bit because I was deflated for sure. Thanks for this post, really spoke to my heart.


  38. Oh my goodness gracious! This post was written especially for me! *Sighs! I am the type of perfectionist to where…if it can’t be perfect, then I tend to not even TRY. How lame is that, though?

    I think I need to bookmark this post and come back to read it every single day of my life until it is so ingrained in me that it changes who I am…for the better. Starting today, I’m going to start pursuing excellence – not perfection!!! <3
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Chocolate Zucchini Nut Muffins =-.

  39. Amen. I love this post Tsh.

  40. wow, really wonderful points. Honestly, I was thinking that they can be applied to life as well . As a mom, I often am worried about trying to do everythign perfectly, knowing all along that perfection is not possible. I really appreciated what you wrote. One of the aspects that I have struggled with in my life the last year or so is the criticism placed on moms by other moms. I sure wish there was some rule book that could be referenced to remind moms to take a step back and realize that no one is perfect. If we shouldn’t hold ourselves and our homes up to this level of perfection, we certainly shouldn’t expect others to be perfect either.

  41. naturallycheryl says:

    So what I needed to read today! I’ve been a terror to live with, a terror that’s been growing for awhile. We moved to a new area and it’s hard to make friends- everyone seems so perfect. I’ve felt so overwhelmed with everything I think I need to do that I’m frozen with fear of messing up or not finishing it. I’ve even been hard on my kids for what I see now as perfectionism. I’m ashamed of my actions but glad to discover it now only a couple years in. I need to work on being myself and not worrying about every little thing!

  42. Let’s say I don’t mind shoveling it but could they just make less of it? I tend to be a tidy as I go along person and I expect the same consideration from others. Do I get it? Of course not. They leave it for mom or the dw to take care of what they drop and run off from. So, I’ve learned to decide whether its worth leaving it alone so I can grab a few moments on the computer, read a book, knit or something enjoyable. So of course my house is a bit of a disaster, but I don’t look at it as my house since my dh pays the mortgage and makes all the decorating decision, which is basic clutter and with touches of started a project and left it undone. Thank goodness, its basic clutter, rather then delux clutter or hoarder bound clutter or we would be divorced. Fortunately he also has good qualities, he just doesn’t understand basic standards, though he does his own wash most of the time now because I ignore it. He doesn’t always fold it so it sits in a basket but its clean. I figure if it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t bother me. Why should I let his choices upset me or drive me nuts. I view it all as temporary and of course none of it is mine especially 99% of the messes. So who cares? I really do care, but caring for that which others don’t care, is over-rated. So I made a choice, I can live happy and ignore it or insanely angry, hateful and resentfull over all of it. I choose sanity, relaxation and happiness. It’s not 100% okay with me, but it could be worse. The kids are in college, though one commutes and the younger has a couple more years of high school. It will be interesting to see what the future brings will they be slobs like they perceive me to be (Its Dad, its Mom she should clean up after him. Yeah, right, I should be his shadow and follow behind him.) or will they be like their grandparents and whose house is not far off the magazine standards clean.

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