Perfectionism; not a good thing

tripletmom83July 24, 2012

I used to think being a perfectionist was a good thing. In fact I've heard lots of people brag about being a perfectionist. Then one day I saw on Oprah a woman who was perfectly dressed, perfectly groomed, whose house was absolutely filthy. The psychologist suggested that her perfectionism was keeping her from getting anything cleaned up. If she didn't have the time or energy or whatever to make it perfect she wouldn't do it at all. I have to admit, at the time, I thought that was just an excuse. But the other day, on one on the other threads someone quoted "Perfect is the enemy of good", and I got to thinking about that woman. That's exactly what her problem was.

Then I got to thinking about things that don't get done around here because I don't have the time, energy, or inclination to do it perfectly and here are some things I came up with:

I like to iron all my clothes before I put them away. But I seldom find the time to get them all done. So they sit in laundry baskets in the spare bedroom and I pretty much iron things as I need them. Sometimes I'll have two or three baskets going. So I decided it would be "good enough" to fold my unironed clothes and put them in my drawers. I'm still ironing as I go along, but it is actually easier to find things and my spare bedroom is so much neater. My "perfectionism" about my clothes was actually getting in the way.

Another thing I've come up with is the tile in the shower. I know there are people who wipe their tile down after every shower. That would be the "perfect" thing to do. But there is no way I can get my husband to do that, and frankly, I think it is a pain too. But I think it will be "good enough" to take a magic eraser in the shower with me once a week, and then wipe the tile down with my bath towel. I do this on my day off from work, so I can be the last one in the shower. So far it's working out well.

I think it would be very interesting to hear in what ways other people have found perfectionism has actually been the enemy of good and what they have done about it.

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At my office I would work on perfecting "whatever" spending hours sometimes. My boss would tell me 80% is good enough which I always thought was odd. But during our annual 360 feedback, one of my colleagues told me "you work on projects that don't add value". That hit home and has stayed with me and is my guiding principle when selecting projects at home or work i.e. Does this add value?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 7:57PM
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Fori is not pleased

Half-assed is better than no-assed!

Pardon my language. :P

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 12:07PM
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A saying on an old site I used to visit: "Done is better than perfect."

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 12:45PM
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This is so true, and it applies to my husband.

He is very handy, and quite competent at most household repairs, but finishing? - not so much.

He replaced our kitchen/utility room vinyl flooring. He ripped the old out, even moving the washer and dryer - and he got that area replaced within 3 days, using composition flooring in 12" tiles. Hurray! right?

Yeah, but - he got the rest done over 2 weeks, except for one FREAKING tile!! The floor sat that way for 4 additional weeks! WHY?

The answer is simple - once he put that last piece in, he would lose all possibility of "perfection". The job would be done, and any "less than" perfect bit would be there to remind him.

He's now doing the same thing in the master bath. It's been 3 weeks with most of the old flooring torn off. I have given him a deadline this time. If it's not done by the middle of August, I have someone I can and will hire to finish the job.

Perfectionism is a great big pain in the a$$ for those who have to live with it in others.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 9:10PM
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I remember seeing that woman on Oprah. She told Oprah she couldn't afford to go to a therapist for help, expecting Oprah to cover the costs, and Oprah told her to sell some of her jewelry. I loved it!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Oh my goodness , YES! I whole heartedly agree. The president where I work says all the time, "Our customers will pay for excellence but not perfection. Perfect is too expensive." I love that! I tell myself the same thing at home. Perfect is too expensive of my time and energy - good enough is good enough.

Now, someone convince my PERFECT mother. Her house was, is, and always will be perfect. It is amazing. As a kid, I didn't wee her clean 24/7. I really don't know how she does it. Well, I do know one thing: she is merciless when it comes to clutter. She has ZERO clutter. She gives away or throws away unneeded items and shops very little. That is probable 80% of how her house is so perfect!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 11:33AM
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I have to add - fori you really did make me lol with "half a$$ed is better than no a$$ed.". I say to my boss all the time, about system work arounds and spaghetti code programming patches: "I'm tired of every thing being half a$$ed. I want to do something whole a$$ed for a change!"

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 11:38AM
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I'm also finding that perfectionism plays a role in my indecisiveness. Can't decide which lamp to buy because I haven't seen every lamp that has ever been made and there may be one out there that I would like better. Same with furniture, floor tiles, carpeting etc. It's only a little easier with things that I get to buy over and over, or several of, like shoes and clothes. But I have to admit I have been known to take fifteen minutes picking out shampoo. Indecisiveness isn't just a problem with what comes into the house, but also what goes out. That can be an even bigger problem. Have you ever seen those hoarder shows? But I've only recently started to realize the perfectionism connection.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 11:06PM
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"I think it would be very interesting to hear in what ways other people have found perfectionism has actually been the enemy of good and what they have done about it."

I used to be such a perfectionist, I was just always that way, but really it was like a constant thorn in my side because no matter how much effort I put into things, they were never truly 100% good enough so I never felt good about anything I did. Over the years I've really learned that most of the time "near enough is good enough". I actually feel better about getting things done now because I don't devalue my efforts for not being quite perfect. I also cringe when people proudly say "I'm a perfectionist" because IMO, when you truly are a perfectionist you are really picky and critical (I know I was), even over things that really don't matter and no one else would notice.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 4:47AM
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I'm with you on the indecision issues. Too hard to make a decision; what if I choose the wrong way and then regret it?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 9:26AM
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Flylady has a saying something like "Housework,even if done incorrectly, still blesses your family." Meaning even a lick and a promise is better than nothing. I'm a perfectionist. At work I'd do a project, then double check everything. At home I'd say, "I'd clean the kitchen today but I don't have time to do a good job" and I'd go watch TV for a half hour. In that time, I could have cleaned the fridge or washed the floor.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 11:01AM
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I've often thought "I'm not a procrastinator, I'm a lazy perfectionist". I'm like jannie...if I couldn't do it right, right now...I'd put it off. And off, and off....

    Bookmark   August 8, 2012 at 6:05AM
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The other bad thing about being a perfectionist is that nobody can ever help you, because they could never do it as good as you. My mom is like that, very difficult to help. If I load her dishwasher, she will reload it. When I help her in the kitchen I am always asking her how she wants things done even though I have been cooking and keeping house myself for thirty-five years. Once I set the table and couldn't find enough matching forks so I used one from a different set and she flipped out.."WHO SET THIS TABLE?" I have made a vow not to do that to my own husband and kids. We are actually allowed to make mistakes and not be perfect. It makes for a much happier and relaxed family.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 9:12PM
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What a great thread. I think I suffer from perfectionism leading to procrastination myself.

Last night, I repeated fori's excellent phrase to myself, 'half-assed is better than no-assed' & dove into a mess I'd been avoiding, never having time to 'do it properly.' The mess is 90% cleaned now & I feel great, no worries that it's not 100%.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 10:06AM
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I was told growing up that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Well, that set me up for a lot of "not doing," because either I lacked the time or the knowledge of HOW to do it.

Now, thanks to that lady who posts her daily to-do lists for us, I am so reformed.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2012 at 4:57PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Interesting thread. I have thought about this subject quite a bit over the years. I agree that the concept...'being a perfectionist'....can be a negative and get in the way of productivity. But, if you know you have those tendencies, then you actually are made that way, born that way. And it can be a strength to you, if you don't allow it to become a liability.

I have always had those tendencies. I remember in elementary school, not being willing to turn in a penmanship paper unless it was perfect. If I had to cross anything out, I would rather throw the whole paper away and do it over. And I have no memory of anyone causing me to take that approach, by being too critical of my mistakes. I just think it is my nature.

I identify it as an analytical person, who is very detail oriented and sometimes highly organized. That has to be a good thing and has it's place. I think to know yourself and know you have those abilities, takes some figuring out how to make it an asset and avoid the pitfalls.

It is not the only beneficial aspect of people's natures. My husband is not that way. He can absolutely just get it done now. I appreciate that about him, because there are times when taking too long to think the whole thing through and do it just so is a pain to everyone and really unnecessary. It took time for me to appreciate that about him. But we have come to accept the differences about each other and try to make the most out of each person's strengths.

When you need to make a purchase, like a refrigerator or a car....I'm your person. Planning a vacation, spearheading a renovation...I'm your person. And although I am sure I'd do a great job with the finances, (g) my husband does a very good job and much faster than I would, more consistently and with less angst. Which is better than I would do.

I don't think there is one thing wrong with wanting to do everything the right way, the best way. Sometimes it is very necessary to take that approach. I think it is just that in today's world, it just isn't always possible or necessary and yes, it can get in the way. It's a learning experience figuring out when it helps and is important to do something perfect and when it isn't.

And if you think too highly of your own abilities and de-value others who have abilities that are just as worthy of appreciation, but different than your own, than you are the one who loses out. And hopefully, others who have 'perfectionists' in their life, also come to appreciate them.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 4:53PM
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"It's a learning experience figuring out when it helps and is important to do something perfect and when it isn't."

That's right, but I think by definition a perfectionist can not tell the difference between the two. In your example of the penmanship paper, that is fine, unless the paper never gets handed in at all because it is never perfect enough. Better to take the A- than to get the F.
No there is nothing wrong with wanting to do everything the best way, except that it is impossible. No one is perfect, and no one can do everything perfectly. Knowing when something is good enough is a pretty valuable sense to have.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 7:01PM
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"That's right, but I think by definition a perfectionist can not tell the difference between the two. No there is nothing wrong with wanting to do everything the best way, except that it is impossible. No one is perfect, and no one can do everything perfectly. "

I totally agree with what tripletmom wrote. For me, it was necessary for everything to be done a certain way and to perfection, even down to how I folded underwear and socks so I got so bogged down in the details that I was wasting time. And it *is* impossible to be a perfect at everything, and that's the problem with perfectionism, it's like an unattainable goal that leaves you feeling like you are always falling short of your expectations.

What I had to learn was that most tasks don't deserve that sort of high standard (such as folding socks or how the dishwasher is loaded), with other more important tasks you can only try to do the best job you can, but once you start expecting perfection imo it just leads to putting things off (what if I don't do it right?), or leads to disappointment because you can't see all of the positives and focus on the smallest of flaws.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 2:17AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Just to clarify, I did follow what I said with ' it's not always possible or necessary to do something perfectly.' So no one can disagree, that it's not possible to be perfect. or do everything perfectly. That makes us human. I probably never have done anything perfectly. But I might arrive at satisfaction with my efforts, when I know the results, although they might not be considered by someone else to be perfect, still I know I've done my best at something and that it is as perfect as I am going to make it.

I guess I'm not following that the definition of a 'perfectionist' is someone who can't see when needing to have something perfect is becoming dysfunctional as in your example, of never handing in the penmanship paper. Although I am sure we all have our own variation of what we define a 'perfectionist' to be. By your definition, then maybe I'm not even a perfectionist.

'Knowing when something is good enough', to me, is something that is an evaluation over time and a series of choices, where you learn for yourself what is 'good enough' for you and in each situation. A process that you learn rather than a sense, but that is a generalization. Maybe what you are saying is that some people may not have an ability to recognize that to start with, so they can't learn over time, how to apply it.

I think there is a difference between someone who has perfectionist traits and someone whose life is made dysfunctional by something that more resembles OCD. And the difference is reported to be, whether your approach is affecting your life in a negative way.

For example, trancegemini, in your example, of folding socks or loading the dishwasher. To me it doesn't take any more time to fold socks the way I think is better, or loading the dishwasher right, than to do them another way. As a matter of fact, I see the attempt to do something the 'best' way as having the result of saving time and making things go smoother.

I think we are all saying the same thing, that it is better to do your best and prioritize to make your life as functional and enjoyable to your and those around you, as possible. Maybe there is a gray area where it is a difference in degree, in how easy or hard that is for each person.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 6:47AM
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"To me it doesn't take any more time to fold socks the way I think is better, or loading the dishwasher right, than to do them another way. "

Wanting to do things within a reasonable standard is not the same as perfectionism.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 7:42AM
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Prairiemoon2, you are right. We are defining perfectionism differently. What you are describing, in my mind is just trying to do your best. Nobody can argue with that.And some people are just naturally good organizers and some aren't. But when I was trying to have all my clothes ironed I was trying to do my best too. Except that it was to my detriment. The fact that I rarely got it done didn't stop me from keeping clothes piled in laundry baskets waiting for that magic day when I would have hours to do nothing but iron. I know to some of you the solution must seem obvious but I just wasn't seeing the forest for the trees. I was being task-oriented, instead of being goal-oriented. The goal is not to iron, that is the task. The goal is to go to work each day looking neat and pressed. I am still accomplishing that goal by ironing things as I go. And of course that is pretty much what I was doing all along, only having to dig through baskets of clothes first. By simply putting them in my drawers immediately I have made my life so much easier. Is that a no-brainer? Well it obviously wasn't for me,I've had clothes in baskets for years! And I know I'm not the only one. In fact I'm willing to bet that that kind of thinking is the underlying cause of most of our "clutter" problems.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:04PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

That is an interesting example with the baskets of ironing, left for years. I would have that 'pull' to get all my ironing done at once, which I rarely get to do either. But my shirts that haven't been ironed hang in my closet and more often then not, I end up having to iron them the day I need them too. I think it's such a 'win' for you to have solved the issue by folding the clothes that need ironing and put them away to wait for when you have time. I still would prefer to have my clothes all ironed and waiting for me, because when I am planning on going out, the thought of having to iron first, is a negative for me, but I agree with you, getting that done every week all at once is an unrealistic hope. :-)

It's funny, I am not a spring chicken and yet, it took me a long time to notice that I am a detail minded person. Figuring that out, explained a lot to me. Noticing a lot of details in every situation, can be such a distraction. Some people do not have that trait and then they have the opposite problem of missing important, so I'm sure we all struggle to make the best of what we have.

Recently, I have also been trying to regroup and organize differently to be more productive and the idea of organizing my time focusing on certain tasks on certain days has always appealed to me. I'd always liked the idea of doing things that way. You know, like in the 1950s, when housewives had Laundry Day, Shopping Day, etc.? So I've been trying it. I got all my shirts ironed one day. I LOVED it! And I enjoy doing errands, and I set aside a day to do that, and that was fun. It is still a work in progress. I've been pushed off my schedule already two weeks into it but over time, I'll see how it works out.

I do find it a less stressful way to manage my time and I think it has some connection to the 'detail-minded' way my mind works. I don't really like to multi-task and maybe that's part of the reason. I see more to do about each situation then someone else might and I want to complete the task to the degree that I am aware of and if you have more than one 'project' on your plate, then the details start piling up and it gets overwhelming and stressful.

Any way, the reason for my comments on this perfectionism thread was just that I hate to see anyone feel bad about themselves in any way. I think we all try so hard to do what we need to do and to often feel that you are just not succeeding or worse yet, that something about you is 'wrong' in some way, is such a weight to carry around all the time. So I just wanted to encourage anyone thinking about this subject of 'perfectionism' to try looking at it from it's positive aspects, that's all.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 5:13AM
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I think though too that much of it depends on time constraints. Between work and the numerous diy projects I'm always trying to get done, I couldn't find a whole day to do washing, one for errands etc, there just aren't enough days in the week, and I do think for most of us that is what it is like and we feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything. So doing part of a task to an acceptable level is more realistic, than waiting for that big block of time to complete a task properly because that time never seems to come.

I don't think there is anything wrong with doing things to the best of your ability, but if a lack time stops you from doing that with many tasks then you have to prioritize and adjust your expectations, otherwise you put things off, and end up feeling like you're just not keeping up. But I think that is what perfectionists struggle with, if you can't do it "right" then you won't do it at all.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 6:01AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I completely agree with you trancegemini. I don't have a job I have to go to every day, so I can attempt to try to devote a whole day to a certain area of focus. Not to say that I don't have other constraints that interfere. In the 1950s, one income families were the norm, and now with two adults in a family working, you're right, there just aren't enough hours.

Priorities, adjusting your expectations, not putting things off when they are a priority, trying to keep up and stay on track. That about sums it up.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 8:03AM
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Prairiemoon. I think we have quite a lot in common. I too am a detail oriented person. And I also think multitasking is overrated. I really think I do my best work when I am focusing on one thing at a time. And it's not really a question of feeling badly about myself. I think it is more just being introspective and realizing what it is about my way of looking at things that may be standing in my own way.
And it is nice to be able to bounce these thoughts off other people on this forum, and to get another perspective.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2012 at 11:28PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

triplemom83, have you heard the saying 'Analysis Paralysis'? Not just detail minded here, but analytical to a fault. (g) And the more important the decision you're analyzing the more you can get paralyzed and can't come to a decision. That is another thing that I have to watch out for.

I'm shopping for major appliances right now and I take forever with it. It took me two weeks of research before I would commit to one. But, I'm happy with what I chose and cross my fingers it works out in the long run. That I don't mind, but 3 hrs on the computer yesterday, figuring out which oil to use for cooking? In my own defense, though, I have been unsettled on the best oil to use for at least three years, and just got around to finding the time to look into it, and now I feel settled about it and it's crossed off my list.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 7:14AM
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I suffer from 'Analysis Paralysis'. It took me 2 years of analysis to make a decision on paint color. Flooring decision also took 2 years. Like you said, the more important or bigger impact the decision has determines the level of paralysis I experience.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 1:29PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

mustangs, I can sympathize. I renovated our kitchen and spent a year getting the decisions made and the work done. It was such a job, and so stressful that I have not been in a hurry to renovate any time soon. But, it has been 15 years since and I have been happy with every aspect of the renovation and haven't had a regret. That experience convinced me that there was value in taking the time to make good decisions, it just does take a lot out of you.

Luckily, I married a great guy who can make a decision in a minute. So we balance each other out, most of the time.

Something that helps me when I find myself stalling and indecisive, is to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if I make a mistake or don't like the result. Especially with paint color, which I find very hard to choose. The last time we painted a room, I had the help of my adult daughter who can make a decision a whole lot faster than I can, and we chose the color the 2nd trip to the store. And telling myself all the while, what's the worst that can happen? You hate it and want to paint over it. Get one wall done and waste a gallon of paint and start over. :-) We both LOVE the color so it all worked out.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 2:01PM
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I never heard the term "analysis paralysis" before, but I sure know the feeling. Having access to the internet has made decision making way more complicated. Not only do you have a million different choices but you get to read all the reviews, and just when you think you've found the perfect widget you read about the one that blew up in someone's face.
The best thing that happened to me was discovering that we had had a slow leak in the back wall of our kitchen. The cabinets had to come out to access it which meant we had to make a decision to remodel our 32 year old kitchen. And we had to make all of our choices pretty quickly. That's not to say I didn't obsess over things, but I think I'd still be in "analysis Paralysis" if I didn't have a big hole in the back of my house.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2012 at 8:34PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

You are right, tripletmom, sometimes we need a little arm twisting, to short circuit our natural inclinations when they get in the way. I didn't have that push with our renovation and I spent 3 months picking out the wallpaper. Took the same wallpaper books home about 10 times and drove my DH crazy. (g) I have improved in 15 years though and I hope I would not do that again.

And that is so true about how the internet has fed into that over analysis, with so many choices AND THE REVIEWS!! Oh my gosh, and then you read the reviews and half of them are raving about it and the other half are saying it's the worst product since the Edsel. lol

If it was just a question of what you prefer, it would be so much easier. The aspect that really makes me drag it out longer, is trying to figure out whether it has some unseen toxicity or if there is some environmental aspect I need to consider. It gets very tedious.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2012 at 5:37AM
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