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How to Get Out from Under the Thumb of Perfectionism

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Y’all, I am the firstborn of six children who has a scrupulous conscience and a family history of anxiety. I have never liked to practice or fail at something. If I’m not naturally good at X/Y/Z, I’d rather quit before I try. It’s not a very endearing quality. Fortunately, albeit painfully, motherhood has positively wrecked me and my perfectionistic tendencies—picked me up by the back of the shirt, wagged her finger in my face, scolded “Get over yourself!” and dropped me in a heap. If you also struggle with perfectionism, I’d like to share three tips I’ve learned from the confines of my laundry room, literally and metaphorically.

1. When possible, you decide when your work is done.

On the rare occasion I’ve washed, folded, and—gasp!—put away all whites and darks and delicates, someone wets the bed or spills a smoothie, and instantly another load is on deck. Leave the heap and shut the door (well, if it’s pee sheets, you might not want to wait on those, but please just leave them in the washer). Only you can decide when to clock out—and you must.

2. Let go of the unnecessary.

It has taken me too long to permit myself to quit folding my children’s clothes. I take a load out of the dryer, grant my kids the kindness of turning everything right-side-out, stuff their drawers, and walk away feeling downright rebellious. My very “selective” children have an average of two favorite t-shirts, and if I neatly fold their miniature wardrobes, they will immediately destroy their drawers in an effort to find those exclusive pieces. Folding their clothing was the most senseless waste of my time for a solid five years. In my house, clean clothes are necessary—folded are not. 

3. Don’t let perfect get in the way of very good.

While pregnant with my third child, I remember telling a dear friend that one of my nesting projects was to organize my laundry room. I wanted to install shelves for rags and detergents, find a collapsible drying rack to attach to the wall, buy a compartmentalized hamper for keeping things sorted, and even hang something cute on the walls. I got quickly overwhelmed looking online and in stores for these items at a good price and with the right aesthetic. I got completely stuck. The unfinished (and unstarted) job sat grimly at the back of my mind and grew more daunting each day. My friend helped me see that I was overcomplicating the task—that at the root of my multi-step project was a simple desire for more organization. It didn’t need to be fancy to be functional. I found five-dollar mesh hampers on Amazon—the really cool ones you drag across the dusty floor of a college dorm basement. I bought three colors—white for hot, blue for warm, black for cold. (Don’t come to me for any actual laundry tips.) When one is full, that’s my cue to dump it in the washer. I can see exactly what I need to do. It’s already sorted. It’s ridiculously simple and likely obvious to anyone else, but it took me a while to get there—because I was letting perfect get in the way of good.

Tell me, reader—are you a perfectionist? If so, how do you get out of your own head?

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