The Imperfect Goal of Perfection

by Katy on December 19, 2009 · 18 comments

Jessica Wolk-Stanley, Friendly Robot Studio

The Monday of Christmas week is a special kind of day, i.e., the day when you realize that as much as you may think you’re on top of the details of holiday giving, decorating and entertaining,  you’re kidding yourself.

Big time.

I dumped all my Christmas gifts on the bed the other evening to get a bird’s eye view of everything I’ve bought so far. And despite a successful last minute shopping push on Friday, there were still a lot of holes to fill. Yes, I had enough Christmas gifts for my niece and nephew, but my nephew’s birthday is on December 23rd, necessitating extra presents. And yes, I have enough gifts for my 14-year-old son, but I also drew his name in the holiday gift exchange with my in-laws.

Is it ever enough? And really, who am I comparing myself to? Am I trying to be better than these people or trying to be as good as those? Is there anyone out there who models that standard of perfection in real life?

I follow a local blog called Frugal Living NW mostly because the authors are mightily clued into the tricks of frugal living in Portland. But a column from the other day jumped out at me. Unlike the bloggers whose homes are always clean, meals are always healthfully delicious and whose lives seem to smoothly flow without incident, this column showed actual true to life messiness:

“Why do I post all of this? Sometimes I read blogs written by other women and think, ‘How do they do all of this?’ (whatever ‘this’ happens to be). I see one thing that someone is doing well and assume that the rest of her life is just as ‘perfect.’

I’m here to tell you it’s not. All of us let laundry pile up until we run out of clean underwear. All of us have a bag of garbage in the kitchen, waiting to be taken out, in my case for two days. And even the most precious Christmas picture requires 134 attempts (I still haven’t sent them out).

We want Frugal Living NW to be an encouragement to each of you, not a source of guilt or frustration. If you don’t have time to do a deal, let it go. Spending time with your family, taking a nap and staying sane is more important than taking advantage of every saving opportunity.”

Thank you. I know I can’t possibly be the only person whose clean laundry waits to get put away until the baskets are needed for the next round of laundry. Whose living room is decorated and camera ready, but has a bedroom that resembles a post-hurricane docu-drama.

Whether we admit it or not, we all compare ourselves to others. And I am hardly immune. I admire in others what I know to be lacking in myself. A friend whose house is always immaculate, a fellow soccer Mom whose slim figure fills out her stylish jeans just so. But here’s the important part, when I actually get to know these people I see that they are flawed in ways that balance things out.

Nobody is perfect. Nobody. And in this week where we try and be all things to all people, we need to recognize that we can do our best and it’s still never enough. I will get enough gifts for everyone on my list, but my bedroom will still be a mess.

Because the goal of perfection is well . . . an imperfect goal.

Do the holidays leave you feeling frustrated because you’re unable to tick off every box on your to-do list? Or are you that rare individual who’s able to provide perfection for everyone, all the while filling in your designer jeans just so? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

And if you are that perfect person, please keep it to yourself. I hate you.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda December 20, 2009 at 6:53 am

My mother has always said that there has only been one perfect person on earth and his name was Christ. So I just figure, if I do my best, that’s all that can be expected. My house is never going to be perfect because an imperfect family lives in it. We live in every room of my house! Although I love things in order, we can’t have it like that every minute of every day and still live.

By the way, I just glanced over at your reading list. I read The Other Boleyn Girl this year. What a great book! Enjoy!


Shannon December 20, 2009 at 8:09 am

I get accused of being “perfect” esp by my little sister of course. But actually perfection is never my aim. It pleases me to do certain things, and certain things I don’t really care about. For example, I love to make Christmas cookies and do crafts with my kids at the holidays because I figure those are the things they will remember. But we do one, maybe two kinds of cookies…don’t need the big festive spread. I don’t do gift wrap except for the boys presents from Santa, and just bag everything in last year’s gift bags. For decorating we do a tree trimming party w/ the inlaws every year a few weeks before Christmas so that they fell plugged in to the process which makes the whole thing less of a chore. On any given year we only decorate outdoors if we are really inspired to do so, like on the last warm day December. I don’t like to have to cook a big meal at Christmas so we just serve things like relish and veggie trays and cold meat & cheeses platters. I do love to decorate and use fancy plates and that; it makes me happy so it doesn’t feel like work. I guess that’s basically it…I have a ball doing the tasks I love, and luckily the husband fills in the gaps by doing some of the more menial things 🙂


Shymom December 20, 2009 at 8:40 am

This year I am way behind on Christmas. At this rate I will be completely ready in about 3 weeks. So I just had to realize that a lot of what I would like to do isn’t going to happen and just let go of those things.

I try to remember my mantra “Enough” and not get too wigged out about it all.

I figure as long as I have the major bases covered and I don’t have a total melt down doing it, then it’s a successful year.


Angela December 20, 2009 at 10:30 am

Great post.

My list is always being “downsized.” I’ll try to do too much, and then have to cut something out. That’s okay. Another trick I have is to keep things simple from the beginning. For example, we don’t buy gifts for many people outside the immediate family. I don’t feel obligated to send cards, I just do it when I have time or am in the mood. So it ends up being once every 2 years or so instead of every year.

Just last night we were visiting with friends and one of them said, “We’re all 5s. It all balances out.” I thought she was very wise for her young age.


Tina December 20, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I don’t make a list. I go shopping once. If I can’t find what I want/like, no problem, I purchase what I do want/like. What makes it home with me is what gets gifted. I always see smiles when the packages are opened.
I don’t cook “the” dinner any more. Kids are grown. If one of them wants to cook….fine; if not that is fine too. Dinner is usually better if it is not over-planned anyway.
Used to be too poor to worry about the details. Now, tho not rich, I have grown to be wise enough to realize you can miss the whole day worrying about the details and trying to make it perfect.


A. Marie December 20, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Katy, my dear, this is one of the many reasons I loyally follow your blog: the simple fact that you don’t pretend to be perfect. You tell us honestly about the domestic disasters, and they reassure the rest of us. (Hey, ask me about the time I started a batch of bread in the bread machine and left out the yeast.) So here’s to a happily imperfect Christmas for us all. Remember, Santa Claus is coming to town, not Martha Stewart!


Marie-Josée December 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Not only am I imperfect, I don’t even have the Christmas Spirit, and worse, this is the second year in a row. Last year we had a good excuse: we jumped on the opportunity to move into a housing coop and moved on November 30th. We didn’t put up a tree, nor did we do the usual traditions we have with our adult kids (then 18 and 22). We did visit our families, and I did host a New Year’s Eve party and gifts were gift cards. My son (the 18 year old) was NOT happy. He wanted to decorate outdoors this year, and I forced myself to accompany him to the store and put up the lights with him. His father and I put up the tree and decorated the house two weeks ago, and he insisted on having gifts wrapped under the tree. His wish list was comprised exclusively of books, and he declined the gift card option. My husband and I went gift shopping two evenings last week, and that got me a little excited, but not at all the level of anticipation I used to experience when my children were younger. I hope the spirit comes back !

I love your blog Katy, and I’m really glad you brought this up. I used to compare myself to everyone, and have mellowed out with time. I have come to accept that things are not as perfect as they seem with others, and even if they were, good for them! Life is unfair, and people are handed all kinds of different cards. I’d rather focus more on what makes me truly happy, and generating more of that in my life, even if it means not living up to all of society’s or my family’s expectations of me.


Katy December 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm


My goal for the holidays this year was “to not hate Christmas.” I am not pressuring myself and have enjoyed spelunking through the thrift stores.

It’s okay to not love the holidays.

Gotta set attainable goals.

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


liza December 20, 2009 at 8:17 pm

do you read the comic “For Better or For Worse”? if you do, maybe you saw the christmas one recently where elly’s friend is telling her how she got the cards sent out ages ago, all the packages bought and wrapped, the turkey bought and the stuffing prepped, finished the baking and decorating. elly is just staring at her dumbstruck. then her friend blurts out, “I”M KIDDING! i’ve hardly done a thing!” and they both hug joyfully 🙂

perfection isn’t that fun for the person trying to attain it or the family and friends involved! doesn’t it just stress you out? yes for me!


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl December 21, 2009 at 3:41 am

No perfection here. I have baked zero Christmas cookies, and I only started yesterday on making a scrapbook that needs to be done by Friday. Ahem.

But our tree is up, we’ve been listening to Christmas music, there are wrapped presents under our tree, and I feel content. Christmas is a good time of year.


Lisa December 21, 2009 at 10:57 am

I’ve given myself permission to enjoy Christmas however it turns out this year. I’ll cook and bake a few things because I enjoy it. At this point, I’m not even certain if we will have guests at our house. Any gift giving this year will be homemade items or objects from my own house that have been admired in the past.


Loretta December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm

– The Christmas cookies I baked with friends to give away as presents have almost all been eaten by my husband and kids.
– My Dad has just been admitted to hospital for surgery and won’t be released till after Christmas day.
– I haven’t written any Christmas cards (but there is a postal strike on, so built-in excuse!).
– Am spending today – which was set aside to bake mini gingerbread houses with the kids – in bed recovering from gastro.
– My 9 yo daughter is making home-made macaroni for lunch all by herself.
– We went to the local Carols by Candelight concert and had a wonderful time catching up with friends.
– We are having a b-b-q here on Christmas day so I don’t have to do any actual cooking (my husband will take care of that).
– Our Children’s Church nativity play was heartwarming, funny and uplifting.

Christmas time is such a messy time of the year, and I’ve given up putting pressure on myself to make it ‘perfect’.


atsquared December 21, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I fall 100% into the “imperfect” category… especially this year. As I struggle to pull my house together before my SIL’s family arrive tomorrow to spend the holidays, I have to remind myself that:
a. My husband is working night shift.
b. I have a 19-month-old daughter.
c. I am 38 weeks pregnant.

My gifts for my husband and daughter are not wrapped, my computer desk (which has recently been moved into the rec room in order to free up another bedroom for our upcoming new baby) is surrounded by piles of paper and “stuff” that doesn’t seem to have a home, and the dust/cat fur bunnies might very well amount to an entire other cat. Big breath… the tree is up, the fridge is full, and I am extremely blessed.


magdalena December 21, 2009 at 7:17 pm

One of the blessings of middle age is that most likely, the worst Christmas ever is already past. So the kids can’t make it on Christmas day, half the party guests never show, the bank doesn’t clear the gift-giving check in time for shopping…

It’s still Christmas. We go to church, read some good books, enjoy the food and whatever company is handy.

the greatest gift I got this year is that my husband is alive and making progress in his recovery.


Pat December 22, 2009 at 4:09 am

Like Angela I also don’t feel obligated to send cards, I do it every 2 years or so instead of every year. My sister keeps tally (there is always one in every family) and calls me the year I am suppose to mail them out to remind me. I’m very big on recycling and the idea of spending money on something that was created exclusively to become waste is against my nature. But I make a point on those off years to keep her happy. I am also a very tidy person. I can’t help it, but that is what makes me happy. I work with the most unorganized woman on the planet. It took me a couple of years to adjust but being unorganized is “her thing” just as being “highly organized” is mine (she used this description one year on my review in a very flattering way). I don’t, however, decorate for Christmas. My family does. I also don’t bake Christmas cookies (actually I never make cookies) but my husband loves to bake so that’s his job every year. My 15-year old got the decorating/cookie gene from him but she hates to shop (weird for a teen I know). So in the long run I think everything gets evened out somehow.


Erin December 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

I started my Christmas shopping on December 19th and will finish it tonight so I can get everything ready for “Friends-mas” tomorrow, mom’s and grandma’s on Christmas proper, and Dad’s on the day after.

I absolved myself of any holiday food shopping since that’s my mom’s department this year, and will basically be her ‘tactical support’ in the kitchen, making sure we get the Christmas dinner done, packed, and bundled over to my Grandma’s house in time for all the little ones to unwrap some presents and play together.

No tree, no fancy foods, no crazy amounts of presents this year. Just time well spent with people I love, because for me, that’s really what Christmas is supposed to be about. I had ‘gifter giver’s remorse’ this weekend that I am not buying lots of things for people, because I LOVE giving presents-the look on people’s faces makes it worthwhile. But I’m giving that up and getting excited about quality time instead.

I’m also trying to get away from feeling like I need to be perfect…what a lot of headache and worry for nothing! The best I can do is still pretty darn good most of the time. And then, it’s over. The day passes and who cares?!


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