Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Battling my inner perfectionist, or The house is too messy for you to come over

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Theoretically it was a great idea to invite friends over for a last-minute barbecue so the kids could play outside while the adults chatted. It was a near-perfect impromptu summer plan. But then I looked down and saw that the floor of our apartment was carpeted in papers and crayons and stray Legos, and I noticed the smears of toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. We couldn't let our friends see this mess, and I couldn't possibly get the place to an acceptable level of cleanliness by the time they'd get here. As I chucked a stray pair of socks and slumped onto the couch, I briefly considered calling to cancel rather than letting our friends see such embarrassing domestic chaos. 

Meet my inner perfectionist. She doesn’t come out often, thanks to years of reflection and conscious habit-changing (not to mention having two children and a business to run). But she’s still hoarding 23 article drafts because they’re not quite ready to put out into the world yet, and she’s always daydreaming about that time when her future self will magically have more time. Then she’ll perfectly do all the things that have been in need of doing – reorganize that overflowing file cabinet, transcribe all the notes of cute things the kids said from the tiny slips of paper on her desk, and complete and submit every last one of those article ideas.

It's all one big stalling technique, I know. Just another way to put off finishing anything for fear that it won't meet my own high expectations. Whether at work, on creative projects, or at home, the perfectionist/procrastinator in me can always throw up an objection to calling a writing project ‘done’ and she fears allowing friends to witness just how ‘undone’ our home environment is. ‘What does it say about me?’ she wonders. ‘What if the world thinks this is the best I can do?’

But the truth is, while it’s not necessarily the best I can do, it’s the best I can do right now, under these circumstances. It’s the best I can do without avoiding doing it altogether.

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In my yoga classes, I encourage students to practice being content with where they are that day. I smile and remind students that sometimes the balance just isn’t there in tree pose (especially when I’m the one doing most of the wobbling), and encourage them to believe that doing the best wobbly tree pose you can do today is better than not doing it at all. I laugh when, even after 15 years of teaching, I mess up my right and left while cueing students into triangle. Yoga’s unofficial motto is not ‘Practice makes perfect,’ but rather ‘Practice, and then practice again tomorrow.’  

I feel freed by the knowledge that there is no need to pursue perfection when it comes to the physical, and I long ago stopped caring how my poses look or how my practice measures up to my neighbor’s. In fact, I love witnessing the changes and fluctuations of the physical on the mat. So why is it so hard to translate that attitude off the mat?

Off the mat the stakes are higher. Moving beyond the physical and into how I run my business or my home, the way I am with my children, or who I am as a creative being feels way more personal than how steady my tree pose is or whether I mess up as a teacher (again). These imperfections, unlike the limits or weaknesses of a body posing on a yoga mat, reveal a core part of my being, one that perhaps I wish could be more polished than is possible. To invite the world to see your imperfection at home, at work, or with family is to be fully revealed for who you are. Sometimes it just seems easier to pretend or to put things off until another day.

Back at home, I realize I have three choices:

1. Decide our house is just too messy for our friends to come over.

2. Tell them to come an hour later and spend that time frantically throwing all our junk in the closet instead of being with them.

3. Invite our friends into our home as is and let them see our state of less-than-perfection.

The rational part of me fully recognizes that our friends don't want to come over to socialize with our house, they want to see us, to be with us. So I take a few minutes to tidy the most essential offenders, invite our friends to join us (and a few dust bunnies) for an evening together, and know that because they are good friends they’ll look at us rather than our unmade bed. After the hugs and shoving a few blankets off the couch I invite them to sit down, making a conscious effort to avoid explaining away our messiness. Instead we let ourselves be seen, just as we are, in our full imperfection. It’s a start, and the start of a great evening together.

Kerry is the Founder & Director of Bloom Yoga Studio, voted Best Yoga Studio in the Chicago Reader, Chicago Magazine, and Citysearch. As a practicing yogi, writer, and mother of three, Kerry is all about making the principles and philosophies of yoga real and accessible for day-to-day living. You can find Kerry on Google+.

Comments

  • Margaret Wednesday, 31 July 2013

    This really struck a chord with me. I have often flat out refused to initiate gatherings at my house because of the very "mess" preoccupation you describe. If I don't have time to make things just so, I won't put myself in what I perceive to be an embarrassing position. I guess I was raised with a picture of just how a home should be presented to anyone coming in from the outside, and it's hard to step away from that and realize that nurturing relationships by being more connected and inviting is WAY more important, in the total scheme of things, than whether those people experience a spotless environment when they arrive. It's a lesson I understand fully in concept, but can't seem to actually put into practice. And like you, I have often wondered how I was able to learn to leave perfectionism aside in yoga practice, and yet not continue that tolerance for less-than-perfect once I left the studio. Makes me think. Thank you!

  • Kerry Maiorca Tuesday, 06 August 2013

    I guess we've all been there, Margaret. I hear what you're saying about having been raised with certain expectations of what a 'proper' home should look like. It's still hard for me to let go of overflowing dishes in the sink when friends are over, but when I remember that my friends (thankfully) don't want or expect me to be Martha Stewart, I know it's 'a good thing' to just let it go and be with the people I love. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  • Deadre Lorber Saturday, 03 August 2013

    Thanks for this very genuine post, Kerry. I'm sure many of us have felt that "the house is too messy for company" before ( I know I have). I love how you are able to articulate during class and in your writing what it is that you are feeling, thinking about, experiencing, and processing in real, actual time.

    Thank you for being my teacher.
    Deadre

  • Kerry Maiorca Tuesday, 06 August 2013

    Oh, Deadre. I can't tell you how much our conversation today meant to me. I'm so glad this post resonated with you and I feel lucky to have you in class. You bring such steadiness, thoughtfulness, and joy to the mat and to everything you do. Thank you!

  • Barrido Energetico Friday, 16 August 2013

    Great post. Love it. I think the same way

  • Kerry Maiorca Tuesday, 27 August 2013

    Thanks very much!

  • Melissa Saturday, 24 August 2013

    Loved this post! This is sooo true for me -I could have written it! One of the greatest things that happened to me was having a new friend who always has a messy house! I am so thankful for her! She always invites people over and doesn't seem to care at all and it is so lovely! She just cares about seeing her friends and it has been a good model for me! When I think "oh my house is too messy" feelings of inadequacy and failure come up but then I do just as you have described and realize what it is truly important -time with friends. Regardless of the state of my house. It is real life :)

  • Kerry Maiorca Tuesday, 27 August 2013

    Melissa, I love your story about the friend who always has a messy house. You're right, it's empowering to be freed from caring about the small stuff. It's also pretty great to know that having my laundry sprawled all over the living room isn't laziness, it's just a way to provide inspiration (and permission) for others to live more fully and spend time on the stuff that matters! Thanks for the kind comments.

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