Progress, Not Perfection

Everyone who takes the time to talk to me tells me the same thing, “I want to do what you did, but I don’t know where to start.” And let me tell you, neither did I. I had a finished image in my head of what the house would look like: no clutter, clean, lots of natural light, suddenly decorated by a professional, basically looking like two adults, a baby and five cats don’t live here. But I had no idea how to get there.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get there. I had to come to terms that what was “ideal” isn’t reasonable, and that progress is important–not perfection. But before I could convince myself of any of that, I had to believe I deserved a clean home.

My house always has reflected my mind, and my mind has always been depressed, overwhelmed, and cluttered. I never believed I deserved to live in a clean home. I was messy inside, so obviously I deserved to live in a messy outside.

So I started literally focusing all my attention on a single affirmation: I deserve to live in a clean, organized home.

That’s it. Just that one sentence. I said it out loud every morning I woke up and every evening before bed. I literally wrote it down in my planner. I told my therapist about it. I decided to just say it over and over until I believed it.

And one day, I believed it a little more. And the next day even more. And the next week more than that. And eventually it just felt like a fact, like one more thing that I just knew to be true.

So, okay, I believe I deserve it. Great. Awesome. Does that mean cleaning fairies will come overnight? Does that mean the world will just provide me with a new clean house? I mean, I hear the answer is “no,” but I’m still holding out hope the way I’m still positive my Hogwarts letter got lost in the mail.

Anyway. No. No one showed up to fix my house for me, god dammit.

So affirmation number two replaced the previous. I now knew I deserved it, but needed to believe I was able to achieve it. My affirmation became “I am capable of cleaning and organizing my home.”

Again, I said it out loud over and over. Told my therapist. Wrote it in my planner. Slowlyyyyy believed it. And then one day I said “fuck yeah I’m capable of this!”

Aaaaaand then I cried looking at my house because was I capable? This was a huge fucking mess. This was 28 cumulative years of depression and mess and bullshit. I wasn’t sure I would actually be able to fix this.

So okay fine, maybe one more affirmation. The third and final affirmation was “progress, not perfection.”

A therapist once told me I had “unrelenting standards.” I told her to check the legitimacy of her diploma because lol no I don’t. I live in filth. I’m not a perfectionist! “Why don’t you clean your house, then,” she asked. And after a bunch of circuitous rationalizing nonsense I finally said, “if I don’t start, I can’t fail.”

OH WOW. I’m a perfectionist!?

And then she spent the rest of the hour explaining that sometimes we give in to our perfectionism and become the stereotypical perfectionist. But sometimes, she told me, we procrastinate to avoid failure, or even intentionally fuck things up to prove to the world how much of a perfectionist we definitely aren’t.

You owe me $200 now by the way, which is what she charged me for that info.

I’m of course speaking solely of myself, not trying to diagnose you. I don’t know why your house is the way it is, but I do know why mine was!

So round three: progress, not perfection. But this time I didn’t just say it, I tried to practice it. I washed the dishes and put them away. Is the kitchen now magically perfect? Fuck no, lol. But is it cleaner than it was before I did the dishes? Hell yes. Progress, not perfection.

Once I proved to myself that progress was good and healthy and obtainable, I finally felt ready to take on the real project of my nightmarish house.

I deserve to live in a clean and organized home. I am capable of cleaning and organizing my home. Progress, not perfection.

Now that I finally believed that magic triad, I began. And every time that I was ready to call it quits for the night, I would look around at all I had achieved and say out loud, “progress, not perfection.”

My new affirmation is “don’t put it down, put it away,” but that’s a whole other post.

I feel it important to take a moment and say: all this rah rah I can do it nonsense is awesome if it works for you, but I need to remind you that I also spent 18 years in therapy and finally was correctly diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and put on a mood stabilizer that worked for me. The affirmations were great but the store bought neurotransmitters really made it possible.

If you are not capable of cleaning and organizing without some store bought neurotransmitters or therapy or help from others, or whatever else, that’s okay. You’re not bad. You’re not broken. You still deserve to live in a clean and organized home, and there are still ways to make that happen. This is just my account of what worked for me, not what I expect to work for everyone.

I believe in you.

Happy cleaning!

–M

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