52: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect
52: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect
It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect
Always live up to your standards — by lowering them, if necessary.
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook
It was so sad. I stood in my daughter’s bedroom looking at her wood floor. I hadn’t seen it in years. But I had driven her to college a few days earlier and now I was starting nostalgically at her partly cleaned up room. I could see the floor, there was nothing on the bed except bedding, and there was even a little room on her countertops.
Even though I am a very neat and organized person, I had never forced my kids to clean up their rooms. The rule was that they couldn’t leave one smidgeon of mess in the rest of the house, not even in the family room, but their bedrooms were their domain. As long as we didn’t have to work around, step over, or move aside their stuff in the rest of the house, they were in the clear.
This had led to some fancy footwork on my part. When they called from school or from their father’s house, asking me to please find a missing something or other in their rooms, I had to tiptoe my way across a floor covered with papers, duffel bags, sports apparel, receipts, and more — all the detritus of teenage life. I allowed this mess for three reasons: 1) because I remembered my own very messy teen years; 2) because they had to live in two houses, mine and their father’s, and that made it much harder for them to stay organized; and 3) because I was too busy to bother with trivia like a messy bedroom that wasn’t hurting anyone except its occupant. When I had people over I just closed the kids’ bedroom doors.
A wonderful psychologist and expert on stress management named Harriet Braiker wrote the breakthrough book, The Type E Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody. Harriet said: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”
Women in particular, with all their multitasking, really need some help in letting go. Does anyone actually remember if you baked everything yourself the last time you entertained, if your kids’ clothes looked perfectly pressed during the five minutes before they got mud on them, or if you have sent out Christmas cards every year without fail? Does your family remember if you used paper plates instead of china at the last big gathering? And does it really matter if your teenagers have messy rooms, when the mess only hurts them and no one else?
The only rule that I did have for those messy rooms involved laundry. The kids were too busy with school and sports and volunteer activities to do their own laundry so that was a “service” that I provided, but only if the clothes were in the hamper. Even if the clothes were in front of the hamper on the floor they did not get picked up and washed. The kids quickly adapted to that rule and used their hampers.
The funny thing was that once the kids went off to college and were in charge of their own rooms, they got a lot neater. And now that they are in their mid-twenties, their own homes are extremely neat, with everything in its place.
There’s only one problem. Their rooms, which I now use as guest rooms most of the time, are still pretty messy. The kids claim they are still too busy to go through their things and dispose of them or give them away. At this point, I’m thinking that I might as well leave everything, since they’ll have their own kids soon enough, and those rooms will look like a treasure trove to my grandchildren!
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