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Perfectionism has a price. Are you willing to pay it? Is your family?


I hear from a lot of women that they feel they are a “Perfectionist” and it’s said in smug sort of way that indicates they feel it to be an absolutely superior virtue. I’ve heard all the variations of it, my towels have to be folded a certain way, or only *I* can load the dishwasher the right way, or even a right way to vacuum so that the marks in the carpet go exactly the right way. Or even – I can’t possibly go to sleep unless my kitchen is spotless or all my shoes are put away.

I know these people think they are doing a good thing and God bless them – or as they say in the South “Bless their little hearts”. But I’d like to present a differing opinion on perfectionism. It has a cost and most people don’t ever realize it.

I’m all for doing a good job and you certainly want to try your best when you are doing a task, but to declare that there is a right way to do something that only you know, or to set yourself up as the authority for all things household-related is actually a form of bullying and it can be extremely hurtful and belittling to your family members.

You are saying that it’s” Your way or the highway”, both to yourself and to the people who live with you.  How could that not lead to resentment, unnecessary stress, and hard feelings on both sides.  No one wants feel incompetent, or to be told – often in an unkind tone, that their work is never good enough.  It isn’t even kind to yourself.  You feel that unrelenting pressure to live up to your bully standards, even if it isn’t convenient for you. You must clean that kitchen to that standard of perfection every night, even if you are exhausted, because if you don’t, you’ll feel like a failure.

The problem with this is that you are spending your precious, irreplaceable time with “objects” rather than people. A friend from work said his wife was such a perfectionist that she vacuumed three times a day. And all I could think of was his three young children sitting on the couch holding their feet up so this crazy lady they called Mommy could run around freaking out about a stupid carpet! No time to play today kids, Mommy’s got a carpet that needs cleaning…

And heaven help the family member who offers to help you. You’ll likely end up by redoing the work, either right in front of them with a few scathing comments, or later on when you notice it isn’t up to your standards.  Ouch!  Just think if you lived with someone even more perfect than you and she criticized all your hard work and well-meant efforts.  You’d be crushed!

The inevitable result is that you end up doing most of the work because you can’t feel happy with anyone else’s efforts.  So then you feel put upon because you have to work so hard all the time and no one wants to risk your wrath by offering to help.  It’s just a never-ending cycle.

[bctt tweet=”Family life is hard enough without that extra-prickly layer that perfectionism adds in”]

As you may have guessed, I have had some personal experience along these lines.  I’m not going to say who it was because I don’t believe in bringing up unpleasant stories about family members, but believe me, you remember the sting of those harsh words for years to come, even after the person is dead and gone.  They may well have done some nice things and you may have some good memories of them, but those bad memories are stronger, and just like a red sock in a load of white laundry, the bad memories color the good ones.

Family relationships can be hard enough without that extra-prickly layer that perfectionism adds in.  A few words – kind or unkind can make a huge difference in how someone feels about their home.  Now that two of my sons have their own homes, I try very hard to never criticize things about it, for just that reason.  In fact, I make a big effort to find nice things that I can admire and comment on.

So, what is YOUR perfectionism costing you? Have you ever thought about how your husband or children feel when you push them away or criticize when they offer to help?  Years from now, how do you want to be remembered?

What is driving this almost-compulsive need for perfection? Listen closely to the voice in your head. Is it a mother, a grandmother, or an overly harsh teacher? Is it just a feeling that you aren’t good enough – because you are, I’m sure of it. We’re all basically pretty good people with a few small faults.

[bctt tweet=”So, what is YOUR perfectionism costing you?”]

I think sometimes it’s kind of like anorexia.  They say that people with that disease feel strictly controlling how much they eat is the one thing they can control in their lives.  I wonder if perfectionism is the same way.  There are so many things you can’t control in life, but I guess you can control the way your towels are folded or your silverware is put away.  I don’t know – perfectionism is definitely not one of my particular flaws.

Just a thought – I’d kind of like to try a little experiment.  If you are one of these perfectionist types, what would happen if you tried to do something unperfectionist-style?  I mean just as an experiment.  Go ahead, go to that linen closet and mess up those towels.  Go ahead and go do it now. Just mess it all up and then shut the door and walk away. It will probably trigger a feeling of extreme uneasiness, maybe even a panic attack. But just wait it out and keep repeating to yourself – it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Resist all urges to fix it or to apologize to people about it. No one cares but you. Seriously.

Just try to let it be for a couple of days and soon I think you’ll find that it really doesn’t matter. It’s a silly thing floating around in your head is all. It’s just a linen closet for heaven’s sake! No one in this universe, other than your crazy (mother, aunt, mother-in-law, or your overly compulsive friend) cares what you do in the privacy of your own linen closet.

Now breathe and go make some fun memories with your family. Go have some ice cream, take a nature walk, or go jump on the trampoline with them. Maybe throw in a round of Monopoly or miniature golf. Those are the memories you want them to have of you twenty years from now.

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of photostock at

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8 Comments on Perfectionism Rears its UGLY Head

  1. I am SO GLAD TO HEAR THIS!!! I thought I was the only one who felt this way. I am *not* a perfectionist, nor am I a great housekeeper, because I’m just not like that. But even when my house was “company clean”, I would get snide comments from other moms who just had to point out that they couldn’t ‘live with all this clutter’ or ‘my husband would leave me if my house was this messy’ (that one came after 6 weeks of hosting DAILY play practices for 23 kids in MY HOME as a volunteer to raise funds for our group!!!) Or the ones who felt the need to tell me about how often they vacuumed their garage. (monthy, and yes, I said garage)

    Yes, too much mess is a problem, but I totally agree with you that it can become too much!

    Great post!

    • Women can be unbelievably MEAN to each other and I never understand that. And vacuuming the garage? My husband would think I’d have lost my ever loving mind if I ever did that. That’s exactly the kind of bullying that comes with perfectionism.

  2. First, thanks for linking up for Saturday Sound Off. 🙂

    Second, I think the difference with perfectionism and bullying is how it is approached. I am definitely a perfectionist but I don’t criticize anyone, on purpose at least. I have really calmed down in almost every area on my life with this… kids will do that to you. But, when it comes to myself, I am still a perfectionist. I credit that for getting me where I am today though.

    I don’t think it is always a bad thing. Like I said, it just depends on how it is approached when dealing with others.

  3. This post is my new anthem. i have never ever been a tiddy person, but the feelings of short coming and failure still echo in my head. THank you so much for such a great post.

    Thank you even more for stopping by my blog from the writer’s workshop, otherwise I wouldn’t have found your lovely blog!!

  4. I always love it when I find time to read your blog – everything always seems so applicable and real for life.

    I know that I have issues with perfectionism – not in the OCD “I must have a clean house ALL the time,” but more to do with school. I know it has to stem with the fact that the only way that I can not be a failure is to exceed in school. (Of, course, forgetting all the other things that I am good at. haha)

    My sister has issues with the whole cleaning thing – when we both still lived at my parent’s house, she would get really angry at everyone for being so messy and never cleaned anything well enough and then wonder why no one wanted to help her clean. Poor girl.

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