Done is Better Than Perfect

I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist – not that I achieve perfection, just that I really want to. Sometimes it’s paralysing, but I hadn’t really considered how that impacts my decluttering efforts until recently.

Right now I’m not doing great at my attempts to eat well and cook properly (more on that later) so while I think about how to get back on that particular wagon I have some more thoughts about decluttering.

Anyone who’s dealt with perfectionism already knows how it goes – you intend for your efforts to be perfect, to be the best ever, and that’s daunting, so you procrastinate about starting whatever it is, and get paralysed, and eventually you don’t do it at all, or you start it really late and rush it and it turns out to be pretty mediocre, and then you feel bad and move on promising that the next thing will be perfect. Repeat. It’s very frustrating. I know this about myself (I am definitely a perfectionist, and I am the Queen of the Procrastinators – if procrastination was a sport I would be representing Australia at the Olympics). But I hadn’t until recently considered how this impacts my decluttering efforts.

But it does.

I want to get rid of things in the correct way. The absolutely most optimal, least wasteful way. I tell myself that anything that looks like it might be worth some money I’ll sell. I tell myself that each item to be donated has to go to the optimal recipients – the right charity, the right people who most need it or will get the most use from it or are the most deserving.

It’s not difficult to see where this is going – I sort things out to get rid of and then they sit there forever while I put off listing them online or I wonder who exactly will want the thing and could most use the thing, or I delay taking it to the right charity because it’s far away and I don’t have a car. And nothing happens except that I get stressed when I look at it.

Then the other day I joined this facebook group for giving away free stuff in my city, mainly I think because I wanted to get some free stuff that might be useful. And I ignored it for a bit, and then I was looking at this bag of bedding and these old rugs and my local charity shop doesn’t take bedding, and this was a cubic meter of stuff I didn’t want in my tiny one bedroom flat. And I remembered the group and I tried posting it all. And people wanted it. Within two days most of it was gone, and I’m just arranging pick up for the last little bit now. And then I listed a bag of unwanted fabric I’d sorted from my craft hoard and that went too. I had assumed the only way to get rid of unwanted craft items was to a school, but off they went this morning to an ernest young man. I was never going to phone up a local school and arrange to donate this stuff. I don’t have kids, I don’t know the schools, and I hate phoning up strangers. Overall this has been a possitive experience – the people who’ve taken stuff have been delighted with their new possessions and not only have I reduced my clutter, I feel all warm and fuzzy for making them happy. And best of all, they come to me to pick stuff up. It’s not actually perfect – in my ideal world all of these items would go to the neediest of people who could most use them, not to whichever group memeber was on facebook when my post went up who responded fast enough. But… well. It was the difference between not doing it at all and doing it like this. Done is better than perfect – and it’s not like this stuff was making its way to the needy, it was sitting in a pile under my kitchen island. Now it isn’t.

Then there were the ornaments I’d been thinking of selling. I took a good hard look at them and priced a couple up on ebay, and realised it wasn’t enough money to go through all the bother of posting the items to the people who bought them. It’s not that I can’t use the money, and I know it all adds up, it’s just that I’m a busy person with a job and hobbies and stuff to do and friends and things I want to get done and evenings after work where I don’t want to do anything at all and realistically I just wasn’t going to do it. So I put all that stuff in a bag and took it to my local Red Cross shop. They can sell it and use the money to actually help people.

Of course this problem applies to sorting as well as disposing of items – it’s way too easy to get hung up on how to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. The process always causes anxiety for me. And in the past I’ve used the method of disposal to assuage my negative feelings – you know, I don’t need X thing, there’s proabably a struggling family who would love to have X thing. But right now my goal is to get stuff out the door. I have limited mental energy and willpower and at the end of the day I appear to not be capable of doing this stuff “perfectly”.

The takeaway is this: listen to Shia LeBoeuf and just do it. Do it however you need to do it to make it happen.

I think those of us who like to think we have a social conscience, an environmental conscience, have a lot of anxiety about the part we play in consumer society. It’s tempting to try to erase our guilt over what we’ve bought by disposing of it in the most virtuous way possible. If you are actually capable of following through on that then I applaud you, but for me (and probably for many of us) we’re not so much disposing of unwanted things virtously as keeping them forever while we fantasise about our virtuous intentions. That is not the same thing. Face reality about how much effort you’re really willing to go to, and then just do it however it has to be done to actually happen.


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