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On Having It All Together

2012 August 24
by Sarah

I don’t have it all together. Most days I feel so far from having it all together that the idea is laughable. And yet, my perfectionist self longs for just that and my pride longs for other people to think it.

You’ve all heard the anecdotes of parents explaining to their kids about giving your best effort and that’s all that counts. That kid who says, “But what if my best isn’t good enough?” That’s me. I can feel so defeated before I even start that I don’t try at all.

Needing to be perfect or trying to meet unrealistic personal expectations all to often keeps me from doing the good things I could be doing or, more likely, the simpler version of the grand vision in my head.

Let me tell you some more ways I don’t have it all together:

  • Clean laundry often sits in laundry baskets for days because it’s such a drag to put it all away. (In reality it usually takes me about 10 minutes.)
  • I dust when I notice surfaces changing colors. (Didn’t that lamp used to be black?)
  • Our basement looks like the Room of Requirement/Room of Hidden Things. Seriously, it’s where things go and are never seen again.
  • Speaking of the basement, I still have boxes (plural) from college to sort through. Uh, yeah, I graduated over 7 years ago.
  • I have struggled for years to have consistent quiet times with God.
  • I spend time reading blogs instead of working on my own.
  • I cannot for the life of me accurately estimate how long it will take me to do something. I take my best guess, but I’m usually wrong. (Thankfully my husband is much, much better at this than I am. And I have improved slightly in some areas.)
  • We bought an IKEA wall shelf years ago and it is still in its wrapping, leaning against the bookcase in the office, waiting to go up on the wall.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

God has granted me perspective over the years and this struggle does not have the grip on me it once had. I have been known to say, “Eh, good enough”—and not just when I’m frustrated. Sometimes I have to swallow back the perfectionism and realize that no one else will care or maybe even notice what I am trying so desperately to perfect.

At my first job out of college, my direct supervisor used to tell me to just do a good enough job and hope no one complains. If someone complains, then you can go back and fix it later. That drove me insane! I never did understand him.

Now I’ve been doing this mom thing for over a year, and I’m still trying to figure out a good system for balancing the unending to-do list while keeping my child alive and happy. Shouldn’t I have this on lock-down by now?

Sometimes I still struggle with wanting to be super mom and comparing myself to others who seem to have it all together. But the reality is that no one has it all together. You might think they do, but something you can’t see is getting the shaft or they have a virtual assistant or hire a cleaning service or something. We are all just humans. Flawed. Imperfect. In need of God’s grace.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’d be able to hire someone to clean my house for me. (Optimism, perfectionism, and procrastination can be a wicked combination, let me tell you.) I get in over my head and just want to quit. At the same time, some challenges loom so large that I don’t even know where to begin and I quit before I even start.

There are many wise women out there who have great ideas and lots of experience in kid-wrangling and running an efficient household. I am thankful for those who share their knowledge and experiences on the internets with newbies like me.

One of those women is Tsh Oxenreider of Right now I am working my way slowly through her ebook, One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” This ebook is great because it simultaneously compiles lots of tips and tricks for simplifying your life (thus giving you more time for the things that really matter) while breaking them up into manageable chunks and checklists. Checklists! Be still my compulsive heart.

So I’m making progress. Slowly figuring out a flexible system that works for me as head housekeeper and cook, bookkeeper, blogger, gardener, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. Will I ever have it all together? Nope, but that’s okay.

9 Responses Post a comment
  1. Lynnette permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Lists. Learn to put things on the list like: watch Sam sleep, make Sam giggle, read a chapter in a book, quiet time. The satisfaction of checking it off takes away the perceived “guilt” of not doing something more productive.

    I once heard someone explain that a perfectionist will procrastinate because they know they don’t have time to do a chore completely – like not cleaning a room because I don’t have time to also clean the closets (cupboards) so therefore, the room won’t be clean so why bother? So I determine that I will clean ‘this portion’ of a room and I am much better!!

    And, it’s funny, because when I look at you, I think you do have it all together! And then I read your list – which could very well have been written by me!

    Great post. Share some tips!

    • August 24, 2012

      I like your list suggestions! I remember you are a list person too. :)

      I resemble that procrastinating perfectionist! That’s why I’ve been digging the de-cluttering list I talked about in early July: it’s all in little chunks. I need that too.

      One great tip from 52 Bites is “eat your frog.” It’s doing your least favorite to-do item first and setting a good tone for the day. I’m still working on this one, but it really helps me win my mental battles when I practice it. Apparently, Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Ha!

  2. Barbara permalink
    August 24, 2012

    Bless you, my dear sister in Christ! You are in SUCH good company! I agree with Lynnette, lists are very helpful. The satisfaction of crossing things off that list is very pleasing. There will always be the debate of whether to get all of the house clean at one time, or to live with it perpetually partly clean. The latter is so much more do-able for me. Hang in there. You are doing just fine!

    • August 25, 2012

      Thanks for the encouragement, Barbara! I agree that lists are very satisfying and sanity saving too. My sleep-deprived memory is not what it was once was! I need the constant reminders from my lists (just like my mother – haha!).

      I’m with you on house cleaning too. With two dogs and a kid, things get messy around here quickly. I want to keep a clean, orderly home yet not miss out on the living because I’m too busy cleaning. I’m trying hard not to accumulate too much “stuff” (and getting rid of much of our unnecessary “stuff”). Less stuff means less time spent taking care of that stuff that is just going to fade away and perish one day.

      I’ve appreciated the tips and tricks you’ve shared as a veteran!

  3. Mary permalink
    August 24, 2012

    I have struggled with perfectionism my entire life, so this post hits close to home. Just this year I have realized a few things that seem to have helped me quite a bit.

    First, perfection is a good thing. God is perfect in every way. It is a quality that should be admired and desired. I don’t need to feel guilty about wanting things to be perfect or wanting to be perfect myself.

    Second, my source of perfection is Christ. He has justified me, he is currently sanctifying me, and he will glorify me. He will finish the good that he started in me (Rom. 8:29-30, Phil 1:6). One day I WILL be perfect.

    Third, I don’t need to depend on my own current perfection for good relationships, material goods, or other needs. Ultimately, God is the one who builds my relationships (Eph 2:22), grants me favor in others’ eyes (Gen 39:3-4), creates my reputation (Gen 12:2), and who provides my every need (Ps 34:19, Phil 4:19, Matt 6:25-34). One day, all of this will be perfect too.

    In the meantime I can still strive for good, completion, and perfection, knowing that God often will give me strength to succeed and always give me grace when I fail (2 Cor 12:9). When the fear of failure is removed, striving for good becomes a JOY instead of a chore.

    Obviously I don’t even live out this philosophy perfectly yet, but I have noticed that when I am in this mindset I worry less and procrastinate less. It’s a lot easier to confess my failures to God, thank him for his forgiveness, and move on — rather than beat myself up over things. It’s easier not to burden myself with false guilt over things that don’t actually matter. And I don’t worry about other people’s imperfections so much because I know that he has the power to change them just as much as he has the power to change me.

    Anyway, sorry for the novel on this. It’s just a topic that I have been pondering a lot recently.

    I looked at the list of projects in the One Bite at a Time book, and it looks great! I may have to download that one.

    • August 25, 2012

      Mary, thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. You bring up excellent points; I’m going to try to focus on that perspective more. I’d never really thought about striving to be Christ-like and my perfectionism in quite that way before.

      In the business world (apart from that first boss anyway), I used to get praised for my “eye and drive for quality.” At home, I have more things to juggle so I have to be careful about using this gift (and my time) wisely.

  4. Dottie Parish permalink
    August 25, 2012

    Sarah, I love this post. I’m a perfectionist/type A and can’t get it all done – even now with kids grown. A friend gave me a small stuffed elephant that said “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.” This idea has helped me.

  5. Liz permalink
    August 25, 2012

    I love lists too… But, no! We will NEVER have it all together while the kiddos are in the home, b/c as soon as we feel like we have gotten into a groove with them–the go into a completely different stage…. and it all changes. AGAIN. 😉 You’re little man is so cute!

  6. Karen Stevenson permalink
    September 1, 2012

    Hey Sarah – the laundry basket sitting with the clean laundry resonates with me – I think it will take “too long” to put away…..such crazy mental processes we go through.
    I think perfectionism can be a curse and rooted in not feeling one is good enough (as I felt and have been working through in Celebrate Recovery) – I think it is also based in unrealistic expectations and trying to do more than one could possibly do – and thus I have had to accept and continue to work on accepting my limitations. It sometimes seems like a never-ending battle! Anyway, as you have surmised, you are not alone!

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