How Perfectionism Holds Us Back From Clutter Free Living
If you’re like me, you have a compulsion to do things well … I mean really, really well!
It’s a habit I’ve had since I can remember. I’ve heard this trait referred to as “being driven”. And sure, it’s served me well with being determined, taking action, and accomplishing what I set my sights on.
But when “being driven” becomes perfectionism, it can actually stop us in our tracks. We can become paralyzed with taking the next step because we don’t want to make a mistake. Which is really a shame, since there’s often no reason we can’t circle back and edit our initial actions. Or build on those “lessons” and try again.
Never trying may mean never failing. But do we really want to stay stuck in a no-growth safety zone? Or would we actually prefer advancing towards our desired goals? And ultimately achieving them?
Today, let’s break down 3 ways how perfectionism holds us back from decluttering what we no longer need, use, or want in our lives …and consider some small tips on how to get it done anyway.
I generally speak about uncluttering the excess physical stuff in our homes. But ultimately, it’s really our habits formed by our mindset and our emotions which lead to the clutter in our lives.
When we identify and shift the feelings that don’t serve us well, we set ourselves free. Now we can write a new chapter about where we want to head next. Doesn’t that sound enticing?
#1: We Don't Get Started
Think about it: the internal pressure to do something perfectly can become so intense, we postpone doing anything.
We talk about how we ought to clear out our overflowing wardrobe. We readily agree that our kitchen cabinets are overdue for a Fall pruning. We know it’s time to plow through our boxes of pictures and photo albums. But our effort stops there.
After all, we really want to nail the effort and do this right. Shouldn’t we first research the best way to declutter? (by the way, that’s over here) And then what to do with everything … Sell? Donate? Toss? What if the kids want some stuff? What if we toss the wrong things? Etc, etc, etc.
You see what’s happening here? We may not consciously think about it but we decide that if we don’t start, we don’t risk the chance of being mediocre with the task. It’s fear of failure—of appearing “less than” that results in the hard stop peril of perfectionism.
Instead, take a deep breath. Inhale, hold for 3 beats, and then slowly exhale. Now, just begin small. Pick a room and then work on one counter, one drawer, or one closet. Keep it short. With 30 minute sessions, think of how that will add up with making noticeable progress.
And along the way, we can fine-tune our approach. We don’t need to have it all figured out right from the onset. But we do need to get started, right? For a perfectionist, the first step is usually the hardest one to take. So review this post, A Universal Definition of Clutter … and go!
#2: We Struggle With Making Decisions
When we do finally move ahead with clearing space, our things take on heightened meaning.
Pitching ordinary items like mismatched food storage containers or stained clothing is a no brainer. But uncover the stash of birthday cards from your kids, the ugly vase from dear Aunt Susan, or your Rolling Stones T-shirt … now what?
The tension rises in our chest or fills our gut. Our emotions are in a tizzy as we seesaw with indecisiveness over which sentimental items to release. Perfectionism strikes as we struggle to make the right choices. And then when we can’t choose, we stop once again.
All The Feelings!
While I don’t advocate making decisions when emotions are running high, I do recommend returning to your decluttering session the next day. But right now, pause to assess what you’re feeling. Is it sadness? Worry? Fear? And think about why you’re feeling the emotion.
These underlying emotions warrant a little examination if your space clearing goals are to be achieved. When it comes to sentimental things, it’s common to associate the item with the person or event. So it follows that we are unable to let go of the unused or unnecessary thing. After all, it’s like throwing away our loved one or our past!
But remember: the item was given to or made for you with love. So it’s about the intention, not the actual thing. And no one can take away the memory of the enjoyable things you did like attending that amazing concert. Also, check out this post, How To Release Other People’s Stuff Without the Guilt.
Yet there is only so much room in the house. Focus on retaining a few of the items that best reflect the giver and that you love the most. Savor the memories that arise as you sift through the stuff. And then let go of the rest when you get back at it tomorrow.
#3: We Feel the Weight of the Unfinished Task
When the decluttering gets difficult, we tell ourselves any number of stories about why we need to stop now.
Perhaps that we don’t have the time to finish. Or that we have room for all our stuff after all. Maybe even that we’ll get to it another time.
But deep down, we know it makes sense to release things that are hidden in drawers, cabinets, or closets. It’s time to let go of what we don’t use anymore. Time to release the excess throughout the house.
So once again, perfectionism gnaws at us. On the outside, it’s business as usual. But on the inside, we feel conflicted. This is exactly why we didn’t want to dive into such a challenging project!
When we start to ruminate about getting this done perfectly, it’s time to pause again for perspective. We can sure be hard on ourselves, can’t we? So take another deep breath here. And adopt a different mantra: progress, not perfection.
In other words, don’t let the “all or nothing” outlook shelve your decluttering project indefinitely. Instead, embrace the notion that this is not a race, and no one is watching or judging you—really!
As perfectionists, we are our own worst critics. And it’s possible that we felt judged a long time ago, when we were very young. It may not even have been over something significant … doesn’t matter. The point is, we adopted the habit of perfectionism to protect ourselves.
But now it’s time to shake that off because it’s exhausting, don’t you think? Start with little steps. Track your progress so that you can refer to it when you feel overwhelmed. Stick to a decluttering schedule that works best for you and then do it! And remind yourself that you are “right on schedule” when doubt and anxiety creep back in. This post, How To Start Decluttering When Overwhelmed, will also help get you unstuck.
Remember: this is your decluttering journey. You get to set the pace, no one else. And you can also choose to loop back and make new edits as you go. Because uncluttering is rarely a one and done, nor is it a simple linear path.
So take your time. Appreciate the things and savor the memories associated with your stuff. Then make your selections based on what matters most now … and what will get you to your next life chapter!
Space clearing is not an overnight process so don’t let perfectionism keep you on the sidelines!
When you consider that your things accumulated over many years, you can cut yourself some slack with the timeline to pare back.
Remember to be kind to yourself. Lighten up. We are all perfectly imperfect.
Now start releasing things slowly but surely.
For more inspiration, check out the resources below!
Related Topics & Resources to Explore
5 Free Tools for Motivation to Declutter
How to Harness Your Midlife Transition & Avert A Midlife Crisis
4 Tricky Truths That Put The Brakes On Decluttering
How To Declutter Your Mind & Dial Back Anxiety
Video: Good Enough Is Good Enough
Where are you at in the decluttering process? Still thinking about it? Midway but running out of steam? Or chugging along? I’d love to hear your triumphs, tribulations and everything in between! Drop a comment below…and thanks for stopping by!