Unf*%& Your Habitat: The Perfection Paradox

If Voltaire were alive, and spoke English, and liked to curse, he might say something like, “Perfectionism gets in the way of unfucking.” Of course, he was French and somewhat classier than that, so his version contains no f-bombs and is far more quotable: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” The perfect is the enemy of the good. Smart guy, that Voltaire.

So let’s talk a little bit about perfectionism here, shall we? So many people are so quick to call themselves perfectionists. “Oh, I can’t half-ass anything. I’m a perfectionist.” Perfectionists are all or nothing, which is all well and good, unless it results in, well, nothing. Perfectionism gives you a ready excuse not to do things. Perfectionism expects 100% and will not accept anything less.

Here’s the thing: 15%, while not 100%, is still better than 0%. Doing something is better than doing nothing. It’s easy to say, “Well, if I can’t do everything, and do it completely and perfectly, I just won’t do anything at all.” It’s easy because it’s lazy. After a statement like that, whether out loud or in your mind, it’s easy to convince yourself that you might as well not even try, because your results will be imperfect. Which is really convenient, because you’ve just used your own perceived absurdly high standards as an excuse for continuing to surround yourself with varying levels of chaos and filth. You further convince yourself that nothing is good enough unless, at the end of an exhausting and frustrating day of marathon cleaning, your surroundings are picture-perfect and immaculate. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance, however, when we hold ourselves to a standard of a gleaming, shining showroom of a home and then we look around and we’re in a messy, cluttered house with clothes languishing in baskets and the detritus of our everyday lives littering countertops and floors. All because we’re too perfect even to get started.

Perfectionism presents itself in two opposite yet inextricably linked ways: overworking in pursuit of a goal, or laziness in avoiding it. Overworking happens when you just keep going in order to achieve 100%, often to the detriment of your health or sanity. Laziness comes about when you do absolutely nothing under the excuse that if it won’t be perfect, it’s not worth it. And while we’re being so proud of ourselves for having such high standards, everything’s going to shit all around us. So we can couch our laziness in proclamations of perfectionism, but in reality, we’re leaving ourselves in situations that are so far from perfect that the process of actually beginning, or making progress, or improving in any way is beyond our reach. Tumblr user prehyped, a charter member of Team UfYH, summed it up like this:

Perhaps the mentality is formed in school, where you literally do not receive credit for your work until it’s finished, turned in, marked. But in areas of life where it’s more about maintenance and gradual steps to accomplishment, just the act of STARTING is an accomplishment in itself. Doing something is better than nothing, because in this case, something actually counts. It doesn’t matter if the whole kitchen is clean, but the dishes being put away is something! The house might not be vacuumed, but if the dusting is done, the dusting is done!

And when UfYH talks about how marathons can be a bad way of going about things, I realize this is why, because it’s still working with a mentality of reaching a finish line, not considering things unfucked until EVERYTHING is unfucked. It’s still the idea that we’re not successful or truly worthy of recognition for accomplishment until we’ve checked every box.

On Team UfYH, we avoid marathon cleaning by doing these things called 20/10s. Basically, it’s 20 minutes of work followed by a mandatory 10-minute break. I advocate 20/10s because people who are used to marathon cleaning may not realize how much you can actually accomplish in 20 minutes. Regardless of how much it is, it’s always more than you can accomplish in 0 minutes. And it’s 20 minutes less that you have to do next time around. For all of our perceived perfectionism, to be totally frank, you’re never going to get there if you don’t just fucking start. You have to do something. And if you do a lot of little somethings, one day you’re going to look around and say, “Wow. This is so much better.” It may not be perfect, but it’s good. And eventually, you have to learn that good is good enough.

Let go of your (real or perceived) perfectionism. Embrace “a little at a time”-ism. Trust me, you’ll end up so much closer to perfection once you stop trying to be perfect.

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

13 thoughts on “Unf*%& Your Habitat: The Perfection Paradox”

  1. Yay for unfucking your habitat!  I unfucked a giant pile of marking (well, really only two sets of papers, but I had put them off for almost too long) and feel so much better! I set my timer and marker for 45 and took a timed 15 minute break.  I am going to be employing this method a lot from now on as I really don’t do well with unstructured time.  If my time is unstructured I sit at my desk watching tv on the internet and feeling sorry for myself!  Thank you for the inspiration to get shit done!

  2.  Laziness comes about when you do absolutely nothing under the excuse that if it won’t be perfect, it’s not worth it. And while we’re being so proud of ourselves for having such high standards, everything’s going to shit all around us

    Lord this is me to a freaking T.  I’m working on it but it’s hard.

  3. Stop reading my mind, PoM! I have so much trouble getting stuff done because it drives me up the wall if I can’t get it exactly right. Even worse if it seems completely futile – why take 10 minutes to pick up all of Lexie’s toys when she’s just going to throw them back on the floor 10 minutes after I’m done? Why clean up the desk when I don’t have anywhere us to put the stuff and at least now I know where everything is? Why come up with a logical system of putting away the dishes when no one else follows it and then it’ll just piss me off that it’s wrong?!? (Seriously, stop burying the large glasses I use every day behind the tiny juice glasses that get used maybe once a week.) I’m trying to get better about putting laundry away as soon as it’s done and tidying up little things, but I just hate that it’s never done.

  4. Since your last UFYH post I have been conscientiously thinking about it each night.  I kept my kitchen clean and managed to keep the house in order (minus a couple of rooms that haven’t even been touched yet).  It is so nice walking into a clean kitchen early in the morning.

  5. I am working on the perfectionism problem, but mine never felt like an excuse for laziness. It was more that the picture in my head of how I wanted things to look, compared to how everything actually looked, was so overwhelming that I just shut down and gave up. When my choices were to cry about the insurmountable piles of work or hide on the internet, hiding on the internet usually won. Things are much more manageable with my new mantra of “Every little bit helps.”

    1. I think we get so attached to that picture in our mind that we forget that we actually have to make steps to achieve it. My house will likely never look like my “dream” house. But that doesn’t mean it has to look like a shithole, either.

  6. The increase of unfucking talk recently has been doing wonders for us. I’m not the perfectionist type, I tend to have the I-have-better-things-to-do complex going on. The “a little at a time” idea is ace though, and something I feel I can actually manage.

  7. I really do like the unfucking concept. I’m a victim of that perfectionism, because once I start cleaning, typically I can’t stop cleaning. Therefore, I didn’t do it very often, because it was simply exhausting and time-consuming.

    BUT, if I don’t go at it with the mentality of “it all has to be pristine and perfect!” I can actually get a hell of a lot more done.

    It’s weird how that works.

  8. I have a bit of the Perfectionist attitude but it swings more so toward the Do It Perfect side than the Don’t Do It At All end of the spectrum. There are times when I really wish I could just do a project or task relatively well but then it nags in the back of my head. So, I end up spending more time, more energy getting it PERFECT.

    I think the 20/10s help because it makes me STOP and throw my hands up at a certain point. Then, after those 20 minutes, I can see that though the project is not complete yet, the world has not also ended. I can return to it later and spend more time on other things that need attention also.

    And I do throw my hands up. When the timer goes off (I HAVE to set a timer), I literally throw my hands up and say, “Mx! Stop! The Time!” I take ten minutes and see if I should return to the task for another twenty or move on to something else – you know, like Dinner or Sleep.

    It has been So Helpful. I’ve also started evaluating The Importance of a task. I have things that must be done every day like cleaning dishes out of the sink, making the bed (SO GOOD!), and washing my face. Those are High Priority. Other things are grouped by deadline, need, or just fun projects. It has really helped me prioritize my time. And it meant that I devoted more time first to household repairs than the button sorting project that is just a fun craft though it took SO LONG.

    So, yeah, perfectionism is under control and the similar fixation issue on secondary tasks is being managed. So Unfucked! yah!

  9. may not realize how much you can actually accomplish in 20 minutes.

    This is so true. I work with a list of fun/no fun things to do. Only to start with doing (f.e) the dishes and realizing you can continue with the next no fun thing in the time plotted.

    After a statement like that, whether out loud or in your mind, it’s easy to convince yourself that you might as well not even try, because your results will be imperfect.

    And this is perfectly timed because someone butchered some of my fictional stories and I felt a bit like ‘Well whatever I’ll just stop and poo on you!’  But not everything has to be perfect, especially if you already have fun/get satisfaction from being on the way.

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