When I introduce myself as a Professional Organizer, people often respond with, “Your house must be perfect!” This always makes me laugh. As far as I’m concerned, the only truly perfect homes are Martha Stewart’s and the White House. Both have professional staff to run them, clean them, and keep them beautifully appointed at all times. I do not have a staff; but I do have a comfortable, tidy and attractive home that makes me happy.
It used to surprise me that people assumed my home was perfect, and I often felt the need to respond, sometimes defensively. Just like you, I have long days and busy weeks when the laundry piles up and the mail doesn’t get read. I do not have a magic wand; nor do little elves appear to dust or wash dishes. What I do have is an underlying system of organization and regular maintenance that makes the chore of housekeeping easier. Yes, I said chore. This is another myth: that Professional Organizers love to clean. No, we don’t – not all of us. Having a FUNctional Home simply means that when things get messy, you can quickly regain control of your living space.
Striving for perfection can negatively impact the way you live your life. Too often I hear friends say they don’t invite people over because their homes don’t look as good as their neighbors’, or the pictures in magazines, or the homes on TV. Stop trying to attain something that isn’t real! You think your neighbors have perfect homes but you don’t see their closets, cabinets or basements. I do. Over the past ten years, I have seen lots of homes, big and small, simple and sophisticated, organized and chaotic. Every home has some area that gets cluttered or does not function well. The homes on TV and in the magazines are staged to look perfect. No one is actually doing laundry, paying bills or cooking on those sets. You will never see a sitcom table covered with art supplies all weekend because one child is making a diorama of Egypt and another is making a tri-fold science project on the life cycle of bees. Real life can get messy.
Perfectionism also causes procrastination: “When I have the time, money and space, I will tackle that project.” Does that sound familiar? “I won’t organize my office until I can do it right.” This logic sets up a vicious cycle where perfectionism causes procrastination; and deferral causes people to become overwhelmed as the situation worsens. More than half of the calls I get start with, “I am overwhelmed.”
Often, clients express a desire for a closet like the ones in the ads for California Closets or Elfa. As we discuss their aspirations I ask, “Are you willing to have only four pairs of pants, four blouses, three skirts, two dresses and five pairs of pumps?” Those pictures of beautiful closets are ads, selling an illusion of simplicity. The secret to being organized isn’t the fabulous and expensive closet; it is having fewer clothes. Of course selling the idea of having less isn’t as exciting as the glossy ads!
Believing that others have perfect homes and lives can also impact your self-esteem. Once you remember that no one is perfect, you can relax a little about your own flaws. At a recent networking event a woman asked if she could look inside my purse. Her intentions were sincere so I showed it to her. My purse was neat, which was really just a coincidence; but there were some loose dollar bills tossed in there, too. Immediately she shrieked, “You don’t have your money in your wallet! It’s not perfect!” She was truly shocked and I could tell she was a little pleased, too. She realized I wasn’t perfect (something I had acknowledged years ago). If only she could have seen the sink full of dirty dishes I had left behind in order to make that event – she would have burst!