Perfect -- or good enough?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017



A long time ago I read Hidden Art by Edith Schaeffer, and I've never forgotten a line from that book. Paraphrasing, it went something like . . . 

If you expect perfection or nothing, you will get nothing every time.

I've thought of this quote so often over the years. I definitely have perfectionist tendencies. And, by the way, sometimes perfectionism is a good thing. If I need brain surgery, I sure hope my surgeon is a perfectionist! And being a perfectionist certainly was an asset in my career as a technical writer and editor. I had to be in order to spot punctuation and spellings errors. Being a perfectionist enabled me to do my job well.

But perfectionism, when applied to the daily habits of life, can be exhausting. And unnecessary.

I discovered that I wasn't doing certain chores because I didn't have time to do them perfectly. For example, the bathroom needs to be cleaned. But I don't clean it because I know I'll need X amount of time to make it perfectly spotless and shiny. I don't make my bed because I don't have time to smooth everything out, square up the corners, and bounce a coin off the top!

I think having children and homeschooling them finally put the kibosh on my ultra-perfectionism. There just wasn't time. And I do not have unlimited energy. And, being susceptible to depression, I learned the hard way that I had to go easy on myself.

And Edith Schaeffer's quote ran through my head so many times during those years that I finally started living it. 

After all, it's better to spend 15 minutes in the bathroom doing some cleaning than neglecting it altogether. If I don't have two hours to scour it from top to bottom I can at least spend 15 minutes and get it 80% done.

Perfection or nothing? 80% is better than nothing, and still pretty close to pretty good.

I'm not totally over it. I love beauty and beautiful things. I like making things look pretty.  It's a balancing act.

And while Pinterest and Instagram can be inspiring and provide lots of wonderful ideas, they can also put extra pressure on us to have our lives look picture perfect.

I ran into this disconnect between perfect images and reality this past week.

I've been re-learning to knit, and am making socks and fingerless gloves, and a few things beyond my small repertoire of dishcloths and simple afghans. While finishing up a glove, I tried to listen to an audio book, and missed a whole row. I finished the glove before noticing. So one glove is one row shorter than the other. It also has a slightly different pattern at the top than the other.


Now, no one would notice. Even when I put both my hands together I have to look closely to see the difference. But it was hard not to feel that I had "failed." My gloves aren't perfect. 

Why had I bothered? I could have bought a pair of machine-made gloves that were perfect, and saved myself the trouble.

I made a cheesecake this past weekend. I've only made cheesecake a few times in my life. But I know that cracks are anathema to the cheesecake "police." And sure enough, my cheesecake had a major crack right across the top.


I made a homemade caramel sauce to go over it, and also some strawberry topping. It was delicious.


But I couldn't help that disappointed feeling that it wasn't "perfect." Again, why did I bother? I could have just bought a "perfect" cheesecake and had a lot less trouble.

But I had to remind myself that perfection in many things is highly overrated. My life isn't supposed to be Pinterest-perfect. 

When I'm tempted to think it doesn't count because it isn't perfect or that my efforts have been wasted, I have to remind myself . . . 

It's supposed to be about love and kindness and offering up the work of my hands, cheesecake cracks and knitting mistakes and imperfectly cleaned home and all.

So when it comes to perfection or nothing, I'll aim for the best I can do, and be content with that.

*******

And . . . this will horrify you. Remember my stink bug infestation this past fall? Well, I did get rid of all the ones that I could find. But I knew that they can hide out in attic and crawl spaces during the winter, and sometimes come out on sunny days. I have dreaded that. But since Christmas I have only seen about 4 or 5 of them, and I quickly disposed of them. Okay, no big deal. I was coping.

Then last week I was going to unplug my toaster and put it back in a cupboard after my morning toast. And there, in front of my unbelieving eyes, I saw a stink bug crawl right out of my toaster!!!

I can't even . . . 

29 comments :

  1. Well I am a perfectionist living in a procrastinator's body. The conflicts are constant. I can deal with doing a half-hearted job on some things, but when it's something like knitting and sewing, I want perfection. It bugs me to see mistakes whenever I look at a piece I made. I would rip out the glove and do it again. I maybe won't do it right away, but if it's going to bug me, I set aside an afternoon to deal with it when I know I won't be rushed. When it's stuff like housework, I just calm myself by saying "the beds will always need making, or the garbage will always need taking out again next week" and I don't stress about getting everything finished up completely at the end of each week (which is what I used to do before kids and before working from home). I loved the last bit about the bug in your toaster ... haha! happens to the best of us. I had a HUGE moth flutter out of my wool basket this week and can only imagine the cluster of eggs it laid somewhere in there. ugh!
    Hugs to you Deborah, and keep on with your relaxing way of dealing with the housework etc.
    Wendy xox

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    1. I laughed out loud at your first sentence!! Love it.

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  2. I do the best that I can do and hopefully that is good enough.

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  3. Perfectionism; it's a vicious circle! Like you, I have had to learn not take myself so seriously. Now, I just try to do the best I can. Our family and friends will continue to love us even when the floor doesn't get scrubbed every second day. I think I like myself a little more too because I'm not expecting too much of myself or others. I am letting myself off the hook more than I ever did and I can even laugh at myself now which I was never able to do years ago. However, it still bugs me when my double layer cakes come out of the oven lop-sided. I used to blame the oven and whenever I had a cake in the oven, everyone had to tiptoe through the kitchen so the cake wouldn't fall. I have since discovered what the problem was and it wasn't the oven nor heavy feet walking in the kitchen. I was using extra large eggs. Go figure! Whew, one more disaster avoided!
    I so enjoy your posts, Deborah! Have a great day and enjoy those gloves you made. I can't knit.

    Hugs,
    Sandi

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  4. I sometimes think we are soul sisters.

    First of all this is a GREAT post. I too am a perfectionist - and I swear to you I JUST texted an apology to my hubs not even five minutes ago about being one, haha.

    I have definately had to forego perfectionism in my older years, I don't sleep, I am overweight and I am just TIRED. What energy I have I give freely to my family and friends. So the projects pile up, things aren't even close to perfect, but I am actually happier.....long as I don't dwell or obsess about it. I turn a blind eye to all the things I loathe about the house and just whistle a happy tune and thank God Above for the roof over my head and the love in my heart. Most days. : - )

    As for stink bugs - oh, Deb, I know about that! Last summer and the summer before last we had them too. I called Orkin and you know what they said? They said there is no spray for them on the market.....but they tend to nest in fireplace chimneys!!!! So all summer long for at least an hour I lit my gas fireplace - and eventually got rid of them - oh it was awful there for a while - ironically the first real bugs we ever had because I am a FREAK about bugs. They are NOT welcome here, either!

    So, ocassionally I will find one - usually dead - in the weirdest places - but I think I would actually have a heart attack if one came out of my toaster. Oh my gosh you poor darling, I shrieked for you when I read that and am sending a cyber valium for you right now, haha. HUGS! Thanks for keeping it real.

    PS Your gloves are awesome. I can't knit. Or crochet. Or finger weave. Or embroider.
    I admire those who can, but I can't seem to do it. Sad state of affairs. My daughter self taught and is soooooooooooooooooooo good at it all, even crewel (sp?) work!!!

    Hugs and love. ♥

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  5. With age, I am less of a perfectionist! I enjoyed your thoughts very much.
    Cheesecake with caramel sauce sounds delish!

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  6. Good for you to knit those gloves! It's all a balance, isn't it? I'm tempted to not try something again if it's a big fail, but I should pursue, realizing it doesn't have to be perfect. This is the second blog I've read today quoting Edith S.

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  7. Oh do I even dare comment on this post??
    What if I spell a word wrong? What if everyone thinks I had it all together and discovered I am but human LOL
    Well, I have learned to pray this prayer daily and often, Lord help me to do the best I can, and not stress over what is not done correctly.
    I can feel like a big failure in so many categories, but I do try to enjoy my life and ask God to bless all I set my hands too!
    Everything is fading and broken and scratched and covered with dust in this old world, but I just wanted to say this: Life is beautiful and the beautiful matters. It is just we think something is not beautiful, it is not always so! ;o) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... I bet your Hubby loved your cheesecake!
    Hugs, Roxy

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  8. I'm so exhausted these days, good is enough. I bet the cheesecake tasted delicious and the gloves keep you warm. Living in a house that is Total Chaos due to construction, I'm just happy to get 8 hrs sleep a night. The stress is probably stealing my life; it's certainly stealing the life out of my years.

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  9. Deborah,
    I don't even try for perfection anymore! It's not attainable! It causes stress and anxiety! You are correct when you say aiming for perfection is exhausting! That quote really says it all!!! I love your gloves and I think your cheesecake looks and sounds divine! How did it taste? I'm still thinking about that nasty little stink bug crawling out of your toaster, EW!.....and I am pretty sure when I make my toast in the morning I will be shaking the daylights out of my toaster before I put the bread in...I do not like those bugs either and yes they do appear on milder winter days. We've had two already! Enjoy the rest of the week Deborah! xo
    Linda

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  10. I had to laugh at your last line. Wonder where you'll find a few more.

    My husband is the perfectionist in the family and for many years he did not begin or finish projects because he did not like the way they were going and did not have time to do them right.His great-aunts loved receiving handwritten letters from him but for him writing a letter was a many-steps process. He would write a letter, have me read and correct the spelling, then he would laboriously hand write it again. I told one of his aunts about this and she laughed and said she'd love a letter from him no matter the spelling and errors.( Really, to get him to write and finish a letter took quite a few weeks.)

    You're right, surgery and probably fine house building requires perfection, as does Biblical research, but most life skills require very good effort and hard work , realizing the time required for perfectionism is not justified.

    Thought provoking post.

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  11. Two words about stinkbug infestation—diatomaceous earth.

    I am in agreement with all your points. Of course you know that perfectionism in publishing is cost prohibitive. I think perfectionism is pretty costly across the board.

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  12. Stink bugs, I hate them! The prehistoric looking creatures are here, not a lot but some. I pulled a tissue out of the Kleenex box on the table by my bed one night and had almost put in on my nose when I noticed something dark. I screamed, like a baby. Hate them. Vee above says diatomaceous earth...where to you put it, I know the answer is google it and I will. Lady bugs is what we have tons of here. Pretty much hate them too.

    Deborah, I'm not a perfectionist and especially not at my age now but I still catch myself feeling like I should be. Kind of like when I read Stepford Wives decades ago. Yes it was creepy but then why did part of me wish I could be as perfect as a Stepford Wife? I got over that, mostly.

    Wise post, Deborah!

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  13. I so enjoyed this post. Perfectionism is something I struggle with, too. And like Wendy, when it gets mixed with procrastination, it's a hot mess. I don't know how many unfinished sewing projects I have upstairs - I'd really hate to count them. I get so far and then I think, oh, this won't look good anyway, so I quit.
    Perfectionism is prideful, I think.

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  14. I struggle with this, too, and it can be sneaky in the ways it gets you. We also homeschooled, and you are right.....that sure shows you can't touch all the bases all the time! I remember I had to stop getting some of those homeschooling magazines because they portrayed such perfect families. That was not encouragement for me!
    I've been getting back to knitting, too. You are more ambitious than me, although I have been wanting to try fingerless gloves. My oldest daughter knits, and we get socks every Christmas!
    We've had interesting stink bug escapades in the past. What's worse at our house has been silverfish. Ugh! They are in the attic, which we never use. One of my fears has been that one would drop on me from a ceiling vent while I'm in bed....and it did! I thought I would die! I jumped out of bed, and danced around because I was sure it was still on me. My poor hubby was sound asleep when it happened, and thought I was crazy.
    I really enjoy your posts!
    Mary Lou

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  15. Hello Deborah, I do try to do the best that I can with certain things and hope that they come out good. I love your hand warmer you made and it looks great, yes only you know that they are a little different! I bet that cheesecake came out delicious anyways! I loved this topic and we can only try to do our best to be perfect in so many things.
    Take care and have a nice weekend.
    Julie

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  16. I completely understand all this, Deborah, and some of us have to struggle with perfectionism. I have taken out many sewing stitches because they weren't "perfect" even though only I would know. I read, in one of my devotional books just the other day: "But as important as human success can be, God asks us to look beyond that measure when looking at our lives. For we are valued not only by what we achieve, but also by our moments of failure and how we lived and loved in spite of them ". I loved that, and I hope you do, too.
    Have a beautiful day, my friend. xo

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  17. Ugh, Deborah, I feel your pain, both on perfectionism AND the stink bug, only for me it seems to be wasps and flies - and the beginning of spring and fall. You won't even believe what my construction crew found in my very limited crawl space under one section of my kitchen - about a 3 foot long wasp village (can't even call it a nest!). It was old, but I can imagine those occasional off-season ones trying to see if there's a room available. It's gone now, but so gross! So, take heart, we all get icky stuff.
    As for the perfectionism, it's really testing me as I purge to make room for these reno projects - purging that should've been done all along, but I was in that nothing trap you speak of. It's not perfect now, but my daily chipping away at the purging mountain is at least giving me a little peace, vs the anxiety of standing at the bottom wondering how I'll ever get to the peak.
    Btw, that cheesecake looks perfect to me. I know how labor-intensive those can be! I hope you have a great day.
    Rita

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  18. Hi Deborah, Oh no!! not a stink bug in the toaster!!
    This is such a great post on the topic of perfection. I can relate to being or trying to be perfect, but over the years, I have learned that what is imperfect to me, is actually perfect in the eyes of others. Not that this matters in the big picture because we should really try to please ourselves and let being perfect, to God!!

    Your cheesecake looks mighty perfect to me!! and your gloves are beautiful!!
    Have a wonderful rest of the week and weekend ahead. Blessings xo

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  19. I used to draw portraits (pencil drawings) when I was a teen and young adult. If there was ever anything in my life in which perfectionism applied, this would be it. It seemed I was never really finished with one because every time I would look at it, even though I considered it finished, I would see something that I thought needed to be improved on...an adjustment on a shadow here or a hair out of place there. The only thing that stopped that was when I would finally spray the "finished" drawing with the fixative I would use to set the pencil. There was no going back then. I have often wondered why I put the drawing pencils aside and haven't really picked them up again. I guess life just got too busy and I realized that there were other things more important. Although I do like things done right for the most part, I will find myself cutting a corner here and there just to get it done. Don't be surprised if you ever knock on my door and I asked you to wait a moment (or a day) before I let you enter...I may need to go make my bed...or run the vacuum...or...you just never know!! LOL! This was a really great post, Deborah :)

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  20. Ha! Boy could I relate...
    As I've gotten older I have allowed God to change me up a bit and those things that mattered most in the way of keeping my home perfect have certainly come to a halt!
    I'm sure my daughters are wishing I would have come to that place long become they left home.
    Not trying to be so perfect has certainly brought with it much peace and less stress. You are right, it is usually we ourselves that see the imperfection, not others.

    You have me a little nervous though with my grammer!! :-)

    Your gloves are adorable and that cheese cake is positively perfect!

    Great post, Deborah~~

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  21. It is hard when one is a perfectionist to let things go from lack of time (me too) or be disappointed when things don't turn out the way we want. I have a constant struggle to ease up on myself and after reading the comments, good to know I'm not alone.

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  22. I don't know that I've ever made a cheesecake without a crack, but that doesn't keep them from being gobbled up, lol! Yours looked amazing, who cares about cheesecake police? And I will be the first to admit that I am not a perfectionist, at all, even though there are times I wished I was one. You are right in that pinterest serves up a lot of anxiety, because of all the picture-perfect ideas... but I wonder how much of that is cropped, and edited, and made to look great, when in real life it may be that their cheesecake is cracked too? LOL! So go easy on yourself... :) And stink bugs, yuck! We have a ton of them here too. They have started showing up again everywhere. But one in the toaster, oh my... I better go check mine! LOL!

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  23. First of all, I'm so sorry about the stink bug! Are they like the Asian beetle infestation that seems to be worse around soybean fields? We now hire a company to come out in early fall when they're swarming and it gets rid of them all. Quite wonderful. About perfectionism, I think there's a big difference between wanting to do our best in whatever we're doing vs. being stymied by fear of a job not being done perfectly, so it's not attempted. I had two close relatives by marriage who were perfectionists. They never completed tasks because if they had, they might have to face the fact that it wasn't perfect. I definitely don't want to be ruled by fear (and pride). Your gloves look amazing and your cheesecake delicious. A crack is the perfect place to hold more topping. Great post!

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  24. I used to be a perfectionist when I was in school but have learned to let go over the years. The imperfections and flaws are what make life interesting!

    How dare that stink bug squat in your new kitchen! Hope that the toaster incident was an isolated incidence.

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  25. Now I was laughing at the end :) Our winter has been warmer than usual and this last week was super-warm. I find about 5 stinkbugs per day when it warms up. Crawling up the curtains or they got in a window or this, that and other. What is disconcerting is when they seem to just suddenly appear!

    As to perfectionism the minute I started reading this I thought about my quilting. I don't think that I've made a single thing that wasn't screwed up somewhere, lol !! :)

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  26. Oh, sorry, I can't stop laughing, but I know what that feels like. I live in the forest.....every creature that lives here wants to come in.....I even had a weasel in my kitchen once because I left the sliding door open one summer day. Let's not even talk about the mice, the spiders, the ants.....it's a constant battle. Mostly I win, but sometimes I get a 'lovely' surprise. My Mr. is a perfectionist and I used to be. I can get that way when I am planning a party or having a dinner. I need to clean everything....nobody even notices that I wiped down that shelf in the kitchen, but I feel compelled. I think we've all had that experience of cleaning everything in sight, only to have someone drop their keys behind the sofa cushion that you just didn't get to and cringe when they see all the popcorn crumbs and cat hair. haha! Or going somewhere special only to have someone point out the hole you didn't see in your favorite sweater, or the tag that was hanging out in the back. I once shopped after work in a dress that buttoned down the front and had opened all the way up without my even noticing. Thank goodness I wore a full slip that day. No matter how 'perfect' we want to be, there are naughty angels hanging over us that want a good laugh now and again.......xx K

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  27. I sure enjoyed your observations here. I am an old gal who had a passel of kids so I gave up perfection long ago, as you say. It is a good life lesson. I have been off pondering bigger life matters in recent months. But I enjoyed the pace and tone of your post and found it soothing. I perused your side bar too. So many nice blogs there. Seems like ages since I could just meander. Wonderful comments too. I feel like I have just had a hen session! Haha! Thanks so much for coming by.

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  28. Dearest Deborah,
    No way we can constantly have perfection in all we do and all we HAVE to do!
    Life is no picnic and neither an ongoing vacation!
    Before every trip I've attempted to leave my home spotless clean... just in the case IF something would happen to us on the road. That includes emptying laundry hampers, folding away laundry and ironing and putting it neatly on the shelves. Well, I did of course not manage to empty all my hampers but had a pretty neat place when we left for 7 days, 6 nights to Florida. Visiting dear friends, one that lost her husband suddenly, one that needs hospice care after her leg got amputated and one that is having to move out of her home. YES, forced by the bank after her husband screwed up so many times... She's considering leaving him too. Talking about changes in your life and less than perfection.
    As tiring as all the driving for me solo (Pieter is too old for such long distance trips) is, it is still a good lesson to be learned from life. We have little or no reason to complain and should learn to take life with a grain of salt; day by day.
    I've managed not to miss any weekly choir rehearsal, by doing this road trip in a short time and felt happy about it. Of course, the next day I was exhausted but I got over that feeling too.
    So what if baked items are not picture perfect; it still is a LABOR OF LOVE! And that counts and it is not the same as buying things ready made.
    Even though I did just that for my unfortunate friend in Miami, went to Costco and got 2 cheese cakes. One was caramel tres leches and one was guava. A bunch of fresh roses and some fresh fruit were welcome gifts that did lift her spirits up. Also a fragrant candle from Last Call...
    Admitting to having been a perfectionist, but after so many issues and especially health related, I had to give up on the biggest part. The French word 'Nonchalant' is now becoming more and more my life's motto and it works. My kidneys even have improved, something that I was not aware of being even possible! So I will go on with living less worried and more relaxed and less perfect; so what?!
    Hope you too can get into that groove as it certainly yields happiness.
    Hugs,
    Mariette

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