Last night, I hosted a thank-you party for my co-workers who are part of a fundraising team for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I work with a great bunch of people who put in a great deal of time and energy to raise money for this important cause. Though I am considered the team leader, I never feel like I’m doing anything alone. People will come up and congratulate me on doing well at our many events, but the thanks really goes to everyone, some who prefer to remain behind the scenes. They are the people who provide ideas, supplies, baked goods, and raffle items that make the fundraiser a success. I am only the face on the front. Tonight will be a night for them to relax, have something to eat, and meet the former Martha Stewart.
A Martha Stewart Story
Once upon a time, there was a young woman with three children who owned a beautiful old farmhouse in a lovely small town in Maine. The woman loved her home and spent many hours decorating to make it look and feel beautiful. She painted bright colors on the walls and placed decorative objects in just the right locations so it would look aesthetically pleasing. Because she had three children living with her, she knew that her home could not be kept at a constant level of perfection. Maintaining that would leave her with no energy to do anything else, so she learned to let go of that ideal on a day to day basis. She felt content with her home except when she knew she was having visitors. It was then that she set free her inner Martha Stewart.
One day she received a call from her parents saying that they were coming up to visit. Her parents lived about an hour away and usually gave pretty good advance notice of any visits. The woman noticed the familiar increase in energy. While going through her daily routine she saw herself straightening things out as she walked from room to room. She would fluff the couch pillows then fold and place the throw blanket perfectly over the arm of the couch. In the dining room she would take out some tall candles from the buffet table and place them artistically on the center of the dining room table. Maybe she’d put a decorative table runner there, too. While doing a load of laundry, she would find herself straightening out all the shoes and placing them side by side on the floor. If there were too many out at once, she threw the extras into a large shoe container with a cover giving the illusion that her children came through the door and placed their shoes in perfect order. This went on and on for hours. She never stayed long in one place but went from room to room, each time looking at it with a new eye until she reached a point of perfection. Last but not least was the vacuuming. A quick run through of the house with the small black canister at her side, left the floors feeling clean and grit free. No dog hair, no small rocks, no sticks, no food. Any small toys were at risk for annihilation. The Hoover did not discriminate. She began to watch herself as she frantically tied up all loose ends and realized that she had become someone else. She was being a perfectionist! She was channeling her inner Martha Stewart.
This pattern of becoming like Martha Stewart when receiving guests continued for many years. As she got older, she tired from the illusion of perfectionism. She started to let go of some of the details. Would anyone really care if she hadn’t steam cleaned her carpets before they came over? Would anyone judge her for a couch pillow that wasn’t perfectly positioned? She then thought, “So what if it does? That has nothing to do with me.” She began to think about what is really important to her. What did she value when she visited other people’s homes? Did she care if they had dishes on their counter or if the bathroom towels weren’t folded perfectly on the bar? She realized that none of that mattered to her when she was at someone else’s home. What mattered was the kindness and welcoming nature of her host/hostess. It was the quality of the visit, not the condition of the home that was important to her.
Fast forward many years and the day of the party. The woman, conscious of her compulsion to over-do to the point of perfection, begins looking at things that can be let go. The wall that was repaired last weekend was still not painted. The sheet rock had been plastered and sanded but that’s all. It did not match the rest of the walls. She checked in with her energy levels and decided that painting the wall on the day of the party would be over the top. She let it go. No one would care. Did she wash all the windows to clean off the dust and dog drool? No, the worst looking windows were the lower ones and it gets dark early anyway, so cross that off the list. The house had been cleaned a couple of days ago and looked perfectly presentable. There was no need to re-do everything that day. She decided to concentrate on the food and spent most of the day in the kitchen. People were coming to eat and relax, not to critique her housekeeping skills.
The party was fun and relaxed and the food was delicious. We talked about our children, what was going on in our lives, and had a few good laughs. We enjoyed ourselves. The moral of the story is that I have learned to let go of all the extras that cause stress. If you find yourself being perfectionist about something, take a look at it. Perfectionism is usually centered on fear of failure. What do you fear? What will the outcome be if you let it go? What is the worse thing that will happen? Being a perfectionist in any area in your life causes more stress and can leave you at risk for depression and other mental health problems. Take a look inside at what you really value and use that to guide your actions. While my inner Martha stills shows up from time to time, she is must less intense than she used to be. I’m learning to stop, breathe, and look at what is really important. It’s more relaxing and enjoyable to approach life from that perspective. In the end, what I will remember is the fun I had with my friends, not how clean my house was.
Yours in happy non-perfection,