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  • Writer's pictureKate Roff

The mental load of being a perfectionist

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Hello - my name is Kate and I'm a recovering perfectionist, specialising in living room pillows always needing to be plush and upright, stacks of paper randomly neatened and a kitchen bench that needs to be void of life after every meal.

My perfectionism comes out in the way things look. Panic cleaning before guests pop over who really couldn't give two shits if the crapper is clean (and I live with boys, so two shits is an understatement), arranging areas so they look aesthetically pleasing (to me, no one else) and throwing out passive aggressive huffs if people dare exist in places I've just finessed.

And that's on top of the 124 tabs open in my mum brain at any given time. She can be a lot.

So, why do I do it? You don't need to be a psychologist to realise perfectionism lies in insecurity. Often feelings of not being enough, the fear of being judged, trying to meet the Insta aesthetic, among many other reasons. And yet, I know on some level that it's bullshit, but I often persevere because my lizard brain is doing the best it can with the information I have, which really boils down to being in control, or more specifically - feeling safe.

Oof. That's a biggy.

A big part of starting The Messy Minimalists was to embrace more of the messy and learn to move with some of my perfectionist tendencies in a softer, more sustainable way. Kind of like moving with the tide instead of fighting it.

So, how do pillow plumping, magazine straightening, surface wiping A-types do this exactly? I've come up with a few practical tips I've been trying out to gently lean into the concept of progress, not perfection.

Focus on the fundamentals important to you

When I really drill down to it, I can highlight about three areas which have the most impact on me. Making my bed, having the kitchen bench tidy and clean, and giving my living room pillows a plump (I know, it's an illness). Now, here's when it gets a little gnarly - I want you to drop one of your fundamentals on the days when you are rushing. For me, it's often making my bed (I think I can hear a wellness influencer screaming into their morning matcha). Think about your mornings and how you feel when you're running through the motions of getting ready. Do you feel panicked? Agitated? Like your brain might explode a little bit? If you answered yes to any of these - it's time to take the load off yourself - even if it's just one task. This is more an exercise in unlearning some of your conditioning which led you to being a perfectionist. And guess what? Life resumes regardless, and before you know it you'll be sipping on your latte at work responding to that passive aggressive email Sandy from accounts sent you at 5:30pm on a Friday.

Communicate your needs with your family

This can't be all on you honey-boo. So, start communicating your needs to your loved ones. Here's an example - we have bunk beds for our son, which means making both beds is like doing a hiit session. There's a lot of huffing, tucking and pulling (I'm having flashbacks putting on skinny jeans). With some guidance (and bribery), he is learning to make it himself. I know, I know - they'll never do it the same way you do (my eye twitches when my husband wipes down the kitchen bench and leaves water stains). The art of letting go can be jolly challenging, but worth it for your sanity.

Hire help (if your budget allows)

I know this is a super privileged stance and it's not for everyone. But here's the guff. If working full-time, trying to maintain a social life, and looking after yourself (and other humans if you have them) is giving you heart palpitations, you might want to consider outsourcing some of this load - particularly if you are a perfectionist. Think about it this way - you're not so much buying their cleaning/organising services, but more freedom for yourself and others. Which brings me to my next point.

What do you love doing outside the house?

I found this question really confronting to start with because I had to think really hard about it (and kind of struggled with it to be honest). Which indirectly addressed some of my perfectionism problems and how much energy I was throwing behind keeping up the facade of a picture perfect home. A life hack I have been learning to curb this is to get out of the house. Sounds so simple, but in reality - when you're anchored by perfectionism, your mental checklist of 'to dos' is much larger than those that don't have these tendencies. Upon further inspection, the things I love doing outside of the house include going to the gym and hanging with my workout buddies, grabbing a delicious coffee and writing, and going on family walks in nature. This ain't rocket science folks, but very quickly overlooked when you're in a perfectionism funk.

Consider unfollowing accounts on social media

The dopamine hit you get when you're looking at beautiful interiors in homes across the social media sphere can be next level, right? Ask yourself - what other feelings do you get when you're scrolling through these accounts? Is there a sense of lack and helplessness? Does it evoke some insecurities about how your home looks and feels? Even some jealousy creeping in? If that's the case (and it has been for me many times), I'd consider unfollowing for a while. Like the filtered faces and unattainable bodies we are exposed through on Instagram on a daily basis - same goes for the houses and aesthetics splashed across these channels. They're designed to hook you in, and prey on your vulnerabilities, and as your overprotective, online fairy godmother - I'm going to wave my magic wand and and keep it real with you.

The goal is progress not perfectionism

My dearest readers, you are SO MUCH more than the picture you present. Really think about that. I adore interior design and absolutely love having a home which aligns with my aesthetic preferences, but I can't let it define me. Our homes are living, evolving, messy, moving beasts. They're also proof of life, of laughter, happiness, sadness, creativity, and most importantly - love.

The mental load of being a perfectionist can be an exhausting, lonely journey. I know, because I often find myself on it. If you find yourself spiraling down the pit of perfectionism, I hope you can re-read this blog as a warm and friendly reminder that you are enough as you are.

Yours in the messy life,

Kate x

Images: licensed images courtesy of Canva.

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