There’s something you should know about me…I am a recovering perfectionist. In my early twenties, I channeled that unhealthy tendency into dieting and working out.
But I haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years. (#stretchypants)
I’ve shared my ex-perfectionist ways with my Instagram friends a time or two but never really delved into it on the blog. I decided to really spill the beans on my messy journey from the pursuit of perfect to embracing what I call intentional decorating and a lot of “been there, done that, avoid this” type advice for any of you who might be feeling like your home will just never measure up.
“PERFECT” CREEPS IN LIKE FLOOD
When we bought our first home, the only furniture my husband and I owned was a hodge podge collection of stuff that followed us from first apartments and dorm rooms. Our new-to-us 1940’s cottage warranted some new purchases. No doubt.
But I turned that legitimate need into never-ending wants.
At the time, Pinterest was just taking foot in the online world. With every new Pin, my expectations for our home rose higher and higher while making me forget about little things like timelines or budget or spousal approval. (Whoops.)
I had craved this first home for so many years for so many reasons, and finally we had it. But my temporary elation with the purchase of the house was quickly overshadowed by a compulsion to “finish” decorating it. And by decorating I mean obsessing over every little detail and resenting 90% of my home because it wasn’t how I wanted it yet. I poured all my spare time and energy into dreaming, scheming, (and complaining) about our new house.
I might be a professional now, but back then I was a designer’s worst nightmare.
After several years, impulse buys, splurges that I would soon regret, and several come-to-Jesus moments with my bank account and my husband, I’ve learned a thing or two about how NOT to approach your home.
Probably the of my most humbling point for me (even more so that returning a cart load of throw pillows to Target because I had overdrawn my checking account) was when I recognized a feeling…The one that reminded me of my early 20’s when I was running 6 days a week and weighing myself three times a day. It was in a different context this time, but I knew the familiar feeling meant that I was once again chasing perfect. That was the low point…and then some really good stuff slowly started to happen.
I let go. I gave up. And I learned a lot of lessons.
One of my biggest turning points in this journey away from perfectionism was the realization that a “perfect home” only existed in my mind.
THE “IF ONLY…” LIST
For the longest time, I could never fully appreciate the great aspects of my home because I was so focused on the things that I had yet to change. I let these areas distract me from acknowledging the progress I was making and create a sense of compulsion around decorating.
Do you ever feel that constant nagging when you look around your home? You think things like…
“If only I could just replace that awful sofa.”
“Ugg, if only my trim color was white.”
“If only that rug would just disappear.”
“If only I could start all over from scratch and just get all new things.”
And I’m sure you have lots of other things on your personal “If only” list. Here’s the thing, friend. If we aren’t careful, the “If only” list goes on indefinitely no matter how many updates or new purchases we make. (Think of the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”.)
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about making intentional changes that help your home better function and better reflect your style and values. And setting goals to get some big projects done is SUPER important. (In fact my friend Jackie has a great book on this topic.)
It’s both my job and my passion.
However, I think many of us have an unhealthy dissatisfaction about our homes that blocks us from getting to a place of what I call intentional decorating. And all the resentment and worry and feelings that our home will never measure up are exhausting, right? If perhaps you’re ready to throw in towel on chasing “perfect”, I have some new paths for you to try…
1. Gratitude & Goals
The thing is if we still believe in the notion of a “perfect home” we will never-I repeat NEVER-be happy with what we have. Being grateful for the home we do have (even if it isn’t our dream) doesn’t mean that we lose sight of the goals we have to improve it…It means we have a healthier outlook and more patience during the process.
2. Focus on progress over perfection.
I first heard this advice from Lara Casey referring to business, but I think it relates to so many areas of our lives and most definitely our homes. Here’s a big one…ready for it?
There is no “finish line” to cross in your home. There is no moment when the final puzzle piece is placed.
Think of your home less like a puzzle and more like a garden. Some things will get planted and others get weeded. The landscape will change over the years. What we’re really trying to do is create an environment that speaks to us, not a picture perfect room that’s Pinterest worthy,
3. A realization of substance over stuff.
It’s not about the stuff. It’s just not. Perfection focuses on external appearance of things. Intentional decorating realizes that the “stuff” is just the representation of something deeper. Learning how to select, layer, and live with physical items to convey a deeper sense of self is to engage in the creative process on a very complex and deeply personal level. NO WONDER so many people can become overwhelmed when trying to do so!
4. Quit obsessing over the details.
Attention to detail is one thing, but obsession that causes you to lose sight of the big picture is something else completely.
Here’s a tip…you can almost spot the difference between attention to and obsession with detail by the following…Obsession with detail feels like panic or a relentless drive to “get it right”. Attention to detail instead constantly reimagines or questions things like, “What if I tried ____?” or “Wouldn’t it be interesting if I did ______?”
One accuses, the other questions. Do you see the difference? Once comes from a place of fear and the other from a place of creation.
5. Recognize and fight the comparison trap.
No, you probably don’t have the most amazing home on the block. So what? Yes, maybe your sister-in-law’s house is ginormous, and she has an unlimited budget to fill an entire cart at Home Goods while you settle for some new tea towels. Good for her. You have to STOP comparing others’ homes, budgets, and situations to your own.
And while we’re on the topic of things that make us feel less-than, let’s chat about Pinterest for a sec, ‘mkay? Pinterest should be used a tool, not as a mirror that makes you judge and resent the state of your home (or cooking abilities or fashion sense or lack of a workout routine). #toughdecorlove
(If that last one struck a nerve check out my post on 5 Healthy Ways to use Pinterest.)
Realize when you feel comparison sneak up and fight those thoughts of “Home Shame” that pop into your head. Remember the good stuff like creativity and intentional decorating can’t happen when you start from a place of shame.
Check out Homes for Sale in Atlanta, GA.
This big crazy journey led me to develop Decor Coaching. When I work one-on-one with my sweet clients, I’m not just helping them pick out color schemes, floor plans, or a great rug. (Even though that may be end result of the process.) I’ve done traditional interior design in the past, but my current approach is much more collaborative and takes a deep-dive into the “why” and “how” before we ever get to the “what”. My coaching clients come away from our work together not only with ideas on what to look for and what to buy, but they have a better sense of themselves, their home, and of interior design in general. Make sense?
This is the same thing I want for you, friend. Even if we never work together, I hope that you are able to let go of the myth of a perfect home and begin to create a meaningful space that truly helps you live more fully.
If you’ve reached this far, you probably have a hunch that it’s worth the effort:)
PS: Are we friends on Instagram yet? I share a lot of behind-the scenes, inspiration, and coaching tips with my IG friends and I’d love to meet you there!
This is the perfect timing for this post. We just bought a house, and it needs a lot of work. It’s in no way a fixer-upper, but there’s definitely signs of neglect (and a lot of the finishes just aren’t my personal style). We’ve already repainted one wall twice, and I’m now spazzing over choosing the right colors everywhere else, because I want the house to be perfect. And if you can imagine me spazzing over paint, you can only imagine the pressure i’m putting on myself to pick the right light fixture, rug, dining room table, etc. So much so that I’m doubting myself, and my sense of style (which I’ve always trusted), ANYWAY, thank you for this post. It was a good reality check 🙂
Yes, yes, yes Danielle! I totally get it-been there, sister! I’m so glad you came across this post, and I hope it helps keep you encouraged. Remember these things take time, so try to have patience with yourself and your home in the process:) Keep me posted on how things are going down the road.
TRUTH.Thank you so much for your post. I look forward to one day working with you, if you’re still coaching in a year or two! We bought our house last summer, built a basement suite (that we currently live in) and rent the upstairs out. It’s a great business plan, but I dream about the day I move upstairs and get to decorate the home I fell in love with…I know I’ll need some help!
What a great way to save money and build equity, Ashley! (Smart lady.) I would LOVE to work with you in the future, but here’s my encouragement for now…Make the basement suite feel like “home”. Invest in some decor that you know could be used upstairs eventually. (A gorgeous lamp, great coffee table, a cozy chair) You still want to feel good in your space-even it it is temporary! You deserve that:) All my best and keep in touch.
Such an insightful (I will not say “perfect”) post and comes at a great time for me as well — I am totally guilty of going down that compulsive decorating path (laughed out loud about your Target pillow binge wakeup call!) and playing the “what if” game, fixating on one thing or the other. But simply relaxing, being grateful and appreciating where we are now is finally starting to sink in. Thanks for the insight!
Thank you, Gina! I’m so glad to hear it…It’s hard for those of us who really deep down care about how our home looks. When we push past the compulsion, usually it’s got nothing to do with vanity. We really want a space that makes us feel more connected to ourselves our creativity because we need that to function and feel at peace! Still we have to find that balance. Glad to hear we’re on a similar “journey”:)
The garden metaphor made me gasp- the perfect example! I love to garden and have a very relaxed view about gardening. I only buy plants that make me smile, not following any garden ‘rules’. My philosophy is that some plants will flourish and others may die, but that’s all ok- there are so many plants out there that make me smile, I just have fun experimenting which work best in my climate/soil/sun. And the best part is that some plants that I had low expectations for have surprised me with how happy they are. THAT’S exactly how I need to look at my house! Thank you for today’s post- I feel better already!!
(Now- can we talk about the Pinterest expectations of being a mom?) 😉
I’m so glad to hear this, Nicole! (I’m not a gardener, so I wrote that metaphor hoping it would resonate even more so with those who are:) I love what you said about about the plants with low expectations…Sometimes things play out in an environment differently than we think based on seeing them in isolation. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Pinterest mommy guilt. (If I see one more homemade sensory table or another 5 tired rainbow birthday cake…) Thanks for popping by and saying “hello” today!
I love this post. Recognizing the difference between obsession with details and paying attention to details really struck me. Such an important point. I’ve definitely fallen into the obsession trap one too many times and it’s the worst when your in the middle of a project, because it can make you spin your wheels or get stuck. I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind!
Thanks, Jackie! I’m sure you could share a thing or two with all of us on this topic too. Having a project manager background, I’m sure that adds a whole other level to things! Thanks for stopping by:)
You give so much great advice Heather! I’ve been in my home for 16 years now. We had it built and when we first moved in my son was 3 and my daughter was a month old. I remember watching HGTV and getting so overwhelmed by all of the home projects I wanted to do, but didn’t have the time or money. This was pre Pinterest. I like the idea of DIY, but when it comes down to it I don’t have the patience and I’m too much of a perfectionist. I’ve learned my home will never be 100% done. It evolves in the same way I do which has been a lot in the last 16 years. I have to keep reminding myself as well to focus on progress and not perfection.
Very good points, Dawn!! Our homes do change and evolve as we do and our family does. I’m also mostly over my DIY phase too…only if it’s a really good one that has a big payoff!
Elizabeth @ The Little Black Door says
Well said my friend. Something we all need to remember!!
Lauren @ l'amour chez nous says
I reall appreciated this! I totally tend toward that perfectionist side with my home. I just want it to look perfect all the time, to the point where I stopped blogging for a while in frustration of never getting it as good as I wanted it to look! (And you also described my sister-in-law to a tee by the way;). I’m now in a new home (we moved in 4 months ago) and I’m consiously practicing gratitude. Thanks for this 🙂
Glad to hear it, Lauren! I wish I could go back and have a healthier attitude about our house…My best advice? Dream, learn, and plan. Don’t rush it:) All my best with the new house.
cassie @ primitive & proper says
i saved this post to read it and then somehow never came back to it… so glad emily shared it today and reminded me. i loved this and agree 100%! it’s so hard to fight that pull, and your tips are spot on.
Thank you sweet friend!! We gotta’ stick together in this anti-perfectionism stuff, huh?
I love this post. I’ve just moved into a new-to-me house, and I love it! But I’m constantly having to remind myself that all the layers and customizations take time, especially when you want to be thoughtful about it, and you have boundaries on your time and money. Great post and clear thinking. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Michaela! All the best with your “new” home. Hope that you find some ideas and advice here to help:) Glad you sopped by today and said “hi”.
Whitney Caves says
Everything you said here is so true, and it reminds me of how I felt when I moved into my house. I started enjoying it so much more when I learned these lessons! What you wrote about gratitude and comparison is especially true for me. Really, this is good advice for life in general:)
So, so glad to hear it resonated with you, Whitney! Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know. Hope to keep in touch:)
Whitney Caves says
Definitely! I just found your blog today and I really liked it. I’ll definitely keep reading!
Beth of designPOST interiors says
Oh Heather this is why I love you! You can take the most mundane-seeming design topics and make them so transparent! These “little” things that swirl in our minds really have such an impact on our lives. I needed many of those gut checks up there so thank you!
Thank you, friend! Hey, you want to come to Kansas City in September for a design meet up with Gwen (Makerista) and Elizabeth (Little Black Door)? You and Summer could road trip it-hah! I mean, I’m sure the kids could fend for themselves for a weekend, right?
Great read! As we get ready to move yet again…..?
Oh friend-I hope you find ways to make your new place “homey”;)
Sarah Dover says
SO MUCH YES. I was a mess of a perfectionist when I was in school. I still am, but it seems to be much different when you’re out in the world being a “professional.” The core areas of my life are like a hodge podge of ideas that are being executed concurrently and really never see an end because I just don’t have the time, or desire to allot the time, to sit down and finish them. Luckily, it’s much different when I’m working with clients!
I TOTALLY get that, Sarah! The only time I’ve made major progress in our home (since getting into this line of work) is when I treated myself like a client…established a budget, really spent time on the inspiration phase, and didn’t allow indecision to cloud things. (Which is what I usually do. So many options!) Thanks so much for stopping by. I checked out your shop and it looks LOVELY! I’m in Springfield, MO so only a couple hours from Tulsa. The next time I’m in town, I’ll try to pop by the shop:)
Sarah Dover says
Aw, yay! We’d be happy to have you here 🙂
Such a great post! We bought our 1940 fixer upper last year in a wonderful neighborhood. I go back and forth with myself about letting go of the fact that it won’t all get done quickly, only as time and money allow. Some weeks I’m ok with it and others are more difficult. We have come a long way in a year so it’s always nice to look back to see how far. Your house has amazing curb appeal btw!! So charming!
Oh my gosh! This spoke to me like you wouldn’t even believe. I’ve always wanted an old farmhouse to restore, but instead we are living in my childhood 1990’s ranch-style home. I love our location but I loathe the lack of character in our home. I recently quit my teaching job to stay home with our two kids and have started blogging. Needless to say, the funds to completely overhaul our home are just not there. I have started to stay away from Pinterest, but I needed this! Thank you!
So glad this resonated with you, Erika! I stayed home from teaching to start my business and I totally know what it’s like to have tight funds and having to wait on home projects. My advice? Even though you can’t do the big stuff, find ways to bring joy into your home in the little ways…Rearrange a room just for fun, reframe a piece of your favorite artwork, splurge on a fun lamp that makes you smile, and of course a couple colorful new throw pillows will brighten any room:) I hope you’ll stay in touch as I’ll be talking a lot more about finding contentment in our homes, no matter the situation. All my best!
Donna Marie says
I too am a perfectionist and I hate it, but I think you are born that way! I have read that you have to keep reminding yourself not to be perfect–nobody is. I am trying not to dismiss my home because it is not the home of my dreams that I moved from. Our home now is a not-so-charming 43-year-old house that has had some wear and tear done to it. We are slowly fixing those things, but it is hard! We came from huge bedrooms to small ones. Lots of room to decorate, to little room to decorate, etc. etc. and it is difficult to express my sense of decorating, but I try!!!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, Donna. It can be SO challenging adjusting our expectations and even way we approach our home in a new space. I hope you’ll find some tips on the blog to help you relax into your space and find your new decorating groove (even if it isn’t your dream home:).
WOW!!! This post truly spoke to me… it’s like everything I’ve been thinking/feeling about my home & kind of started to apply to my everyday life. Just moved into a big beautiful home that I through out the whole building process would post #dreamhome, but after living in it for a year everything has become #nexthouse. This is my home just need to stop focusing on dream home & more on makeing it homeSWEEThome. Definitely, keeping you in my back pocket when I get the opportunity to “finish” decorating my house! 🙂
Beauty all over, I loved it!
Lilia Robberts says
Me and my husband are ready to buy our first home! We are so excited! I thought the advice about not turning the legitimate needs into never-ending wants. I always want a perfect home with perfect decorations. My goal now is to be happy with whatever I get. But in the mean time, I do want to find the perfect home in the location I desire.