The Perfectionist Trap


Perfectionism is a trap.

I received a comment from Jo a couple of weeks ago which underlined the connection between perfectionist tendencies and uncontrolled clutter. Here is what Jo wrote…

Being a perfectionist, oddly enough, can also contribute to not starting. I spent years waiting for a block of time to tackle some jobs (so I could do a good job, by which I meant a thorough job from start to finish in one go), but now I find breaking the job up into smaller parts – and being willing to do a good rather than perfect job – is the only way I ever accomplish anything – whether it’s decluttering, housecleaning, reading – just about anything. Having blocks of time is a luxury not often found if you’re working long hours/have kids/have aging parents/have health problems.

Jo is so right, the idea that you need to tackle the entire task all at once plus the need to do it perfectly can certainly make a person hesitant to even think about beginning their declutter mission. The prospect of not organising perfectly or there being no perfect decision as to what to keep and what to part with can paralise a person from even attempting the task. The fear of getting rid of something that “May be useful one day” can create such fear of loss of control that it can make the situation worse rather than better.

The fact of the matter is there is no perfect decision and yes sometimes we might regret having decluttered something but in reality those regrets are only as big as we build them up to be in our minds. I am sure we have all discovered something that we could have used after removing it from our homes. If it was being used that infrequently it makes more sense to borrow one occasionally from a neighbour or friend or find an alternate way around the situation.

As for being perfectly organised — I have said it before and I say it again — once you declutter your home, the organising almost takes care of itself. If something is being used on a regular basis you will naturally store it in the most convenient location. However, even that isn’t an exact science but since you will now have less stuff and more space, moving things around will be so easy who cares if you have to do a little tweaking every now and again.

Considering the method of decluttering that I promote here at 365lessthings I don’t think I need share my thoughts on how disruptive it can be to attempt a large scale — drag it all out at once — declutter. I have done plenty of these in the past and cleanly I learned nothing from it otherwise I wouldn’t have needed to start my current declutter mission. This time I believe that my slow and deliberate approach has taught me so many lessons about conscious consumption, pointless attachment and the freedom or living with less that in future I should l only need a little maintenance occasionally. I hope never to have to conduct a big purge ever again.

I googled the words hoarding and perfectionism together is found a couple of links you might be interested in checking out…

Understanding O.C.HOARDING.D *  A Perfectionist who lives with clutter *  Squalor Survivors

Today’s Declutter Item

I am sure this isn’t the last you will see of the baseball souvenir clutter. Slowly but surely we are breaking the ties with this kind of clutter.

Things that made me happy, made me laugh, made me feel grateful, fascinated me or I thought were just plain awesome.

  • Ignoring my perfectionist tendencies and delivering some of my handmade craft samples to a local store for consideration.
  • Having the car for a change.
  • My ability to improvise.
  • Sharing creative ideas with my son.
  • Finally making a decision on what stick blender to buy to replace my broken one- Another perfectionist tendency I have is trying to make the perfect choice when buying things. Though it is admirable to be a conscious consumer it almost paralises my decision making process.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Guest Post ~ An exercise in truth telling A Guest Post by Cecily Paterson 365 Less things has inspired Cecily to begin her own decluttering journey. She lives in a small town of 1500 people and last month started a column in her […]
  • The Importance of Honesty Cindy's Weekly Wisdom On April 13, Ideealistin wrote:  You asked for the readers’ ways of decluttering without even trying. Mine is … honesty! Once I managed to admit to […]
  • Day 335 Half-Way Through Cindy Bogard's Weekly Post I’m half-way through my decluttering journey. At the end of May, my friend Janet sent me a link to, and from there I found Colleen’s blog. I […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Hmmm, this post really got me thinking. I’m not really a perfectionist when it comes to decluttering, but in alot of other aspects of my life I am. I procrastinate on projects at work and at home if they are too big, too daunting, or if I just plain don’t want to do them. You reminded me that it’s easy to get these projects started & done when they are done in smaller, easy to manage steps. Thanks ! 🙂

    • Hi Erin,
      welcome to if you haven’t commented before and thank you for leaving a comment today. It is funny how I start writing post like this one and then realise things about myself. I knew I was a bit of a perfectionist but the little bit of research I did brought to light how these tendencies affect my life. I am glad my post has helped you to see how your life if affected and how the slow and steady approach could help you with that.

  2. Wow. You keep coming up with new stuff I never thought about. Thanks.
    I am knee-deep in a cabinet declutter and the baby is asleep, so I better get off of here and get it done. 🙂

    • Hi Megan,
      I even surprise myself with the things I learn in the course of writing these posts. I am glad they are being a help to you. I hope the baby stayed asleep long enough to get your declutter job finished.

  3. I just came to the same kind of conclusions and have been decluttering just one small space at a time.It is working for me but what has surprised me the most is what I am learning about myself along the way. It has been a real eye opener and made me think deeply about lots of issues and make small changes accordingly.

    • Hi Liz,
      that is exactly what I found too when I started decluttering this way. I had had plenty of stuff purges in the past but I have found like you that when you do this slowly and deliberately you learn so many things that will help you never to get to this point again. It has been a pleasant side-affect to my decluttering process although confronting at times.

  4. My story. Ouch. My name is written all over the article.

    But; Good news. TPTNM (The person that nags me) wanted to get me a bedspread. I wisely turned it down – I really don’t know where I should use it: to hide even more clutter which lies on my bed? I have lived 20 years without one, so I probably don’t need one in the future!

    • Yes! Be yourself, and do what works for you. Who made the rule that we “had” to have a bedspread anyway??

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      maybe TPTNM can see some improvement in your living conditions and just wanted to reward you for your efforts. I used to try to encourage my daughter to keep her room tidy by redecorating every now and again. It didn’t do any good. I waited until she left home before doing it this time and I made the items myself so that was inexpensive and fun. Now I have a lovely tidy guest room instead of an area that looks like a bomb went off in.

      • No, TPTNM actually sees no difference. She just asked me so she could buy more. But then, she doesn’t look into my closets. Boy, there is a huge difference there and it hasn’t stopped yet! I’m loving every second of it! But, well, she isn’t a declutter type I guess.

        And yes, the mysteries of the bedspread. Who invented it? Probably not a declutterer I guess, lol. 😛

  5. Yesterday, when I was clearing our living room, my husband said: “Oh, you are keeping on throwing “the stuff” away?” I was clearing a small spot that had bugged me for quite some time. After I started to do “one thing at a time, any given time”, things started improving. I had a perfectionist trait that lead to doing NOTHING AT ALL. The kitchen used to be a mess. Dirty dishes, things on the table and on the counters, and so on. Either I did all, cleaning top to bottom, or did nothing. Usually nothing got done. Now, I try, at least to do something, so I have less to do latter. But it’s a hard habit to break. You want what you did to show. You want to look at a room and say: “It’s transformed from complete mess to complete tidiness.” But, as the post said, we never have that much time. So, as Colleen has taught us with her blog, let’s do one thing a day, because, then, we are DOING SOMETHING. lol

    • Hi Andreia,
      you sound like my daughter she is an all or nothing kinda gal when it comes to cleaning. I must make sure she reads this post and have a discusion about it with her. I will make sure she reads your comment.

    • Make before and after photo’s! Then you can see the difference!

    • I have this all or nothing attitude. While decluttering under my kitchen island I found 4 really nice rolls of shelf paper. I have never used because it was overwhelming to completely empty all of the cabinets and do all of the shelfs. But with this new one thing at a time attitude, I started last night by just doing one shelf a night. So what if it takes me 3 weeks, in the end I will have all clean shelving and I will have used up something that was taking up space under my kitchen island. Cheryl

      • Hi Cheryl,
        I don’t believe you have comment here before so I would like to extend a warm 365lessthings welcome to you. I hope we will hear from you often.
        Isn’t it amazing how we do this to ourselves – always looking at the enormity of a task rather than just breaking it down into doable chunks. I am glad that I have helped you to see another way and that you are having success already.

  6. I am so happy to see this post – this had to be my number one issue that led to an overwhelming amount of clutter and also poor housekeeping, and once I realized it, the realization changed everything. Thanks, Colleen, for keeping this in the forefront of my mind.

    May I also suggest an excellent article from Small Notebook – I found it while checking out one of Colleen’s links from a couple of Fridays ago. It’s about how a perfectionist mindset actually sounds inside your head, and like me you may recognize yourself! It was funny and right on and also made me feel less like a weirdo 🙂

    • Hi Jo,
      I loved that link, there were a couple more suggesting reading articles at the bottom that I am going to have to go back and read later. Thank you for sharing it with us and thank you for inspiring this post in the first place.

  7. Crystal Tillman

    *raises hand* For most of my teenage years I was a perfectionist. If I didn’t have time to clean my whole room, all at once, I would leave stuff laying around for weeks! This increased my tendency to be super disorganized because I have to have something where I can see it, to know where it’s at. (I can’t stack peas behind green beans in the pantry, for instance. I’d think we were out and put them on the list to buy more.)

    I learned about breaking things down into steps when mom pointed out the flylady system on a local morning show. (“That’s what you need! Sounds just like you!)… Sometimes those of us who have the most trouble don’t realize there’s another way to doing it other than all, or nothing. Taking things a step at a time has made stuff loads easier.

    Thanks a bunch for the reminder!

    • Hi Crystal,
      it sounds like you managed to overcome this issue just by realising it was problem and learning that there is a more effective way of do things. What a great lesson to learn early in your life. As you suggest sometimes we can continue to chase our tails just because we don’t realize there is another way or how to go about it. When we do find our way we often shake our head and think “That was so simple why didn’t I think of doing it this way before!”.

  8. I used to be the sort of person who, when mum told me to “Clean my room” would have to pull out everything and start with a huge mess on the floor because I wanted to do it ‘properly’. I like that expression “perfect is the enemy of the good”. Now I prefer to do things little and often (so nothing’s ever perfect!)

    As part of your weekly mission, I got rid of a set of Matroyshka nesting dolls. I have one lovely handpainted set – which I gave to my daughter – and donated her cheap, mass-produced set.

    • Hi Loretta,
      I actually think that I caused my daughter to be that way simply by being too insistant on her doing a good job. If I have to be truly honest here I would say that I expected too much from her and made her feel criticised for not doing the job perfectly. I must make sure I talk to her about this and help her to see there is a better way and that I am sorry for my error in judgement. For all you mums out there whose children are still young, let that be a lesson to you. It sure is a fine line between thinking you are teaching your children to do a good job and pushing them over the edge. Parenting is so very much NOT an exact science and we do the best we can.

      • Hi Colleen,
        My mom was a lot like you and I’m so glad she told me before her death that I am a good person even if I don’t always do everything perfectly. I always felt like I was never good enough, never doing things up to her standards. She raised me the way she was raised and she did the best she could. It’s now up to me to learn to live my life with little less overachieving.

        I’m already seeing the difference in my life. The less clutter I have, the easier it is to maintain the “perfect” (in my mind) household. I used to be exhausted at trying to keep my place looking tidy. The more I declutter, the easier it is to maintain a cozy home.

        • Hi Anne,
          parenting is like all walks of life in so much as you only know what you learn. I am glad you and your mother had that chat, I bet it meant a lot to you. Anyone with their own children soon realises what a difficult task it was for their parents to raise them. Even when we think we are doing all the right things we can go wrong and to makes things even more confusing – what works for one child may not work for their siblings. Oh well C’est la vie.

          I am glad you are realising the benefits of decluttering. It is a wonderful thing when your home takes less effort to keep clean and tidy.

  9. Really helpful post Colleen, thanks. It helps me realise what I have learned – it pulls vague understandings into clear focus and I think it will help me help others (as do many other posts I am catching up on from your archive) – I have 2 people lined up whom I hope to be helping (by invitation) to do some decluttering in their home. I do love the psychology of the what’s and why’s behind how we hoard and creat chaos when we long for clarity and simplicity.

    Oh, and I do enjoy your 5 reasons to be grateful. Makes me think of mine.

    • Hi Katharine,
      when I first started my mission to declutter my home I just wanted to do it slowly without disrupting the household while working parttime. It wasn’t until I started to blog about it and subsequently began investigating the psychology behind clutter and then also stumbling onto the minimalist movement that I really started to see the importance of the whole picture. Learning about myself from my clutter and taking steps to improve my behaviour when it comes to acquiring stuff and clinging on to stuff has made a huge impact on my lifestyle. I am so glad that I began this journey and it gives me great pleasure to share those lessons with my readers. Now here you are helping your friends as well. The ripple effect can make the world a better place.

  10. Another wonderful post…not being able to do it all at once left me with inertia for years…now that I’ve gotten started I’m on a tear…could be that I saw the show Hoarders for the first time last night too!

    • Hi Kelly,
      approaching your decluttering with the one thing at a time view can, like in your case, open the flood gates to enthusiasm. We can go from not being able to consider the idea of getting starting to not being able to stop and the job can get done very quickly. Just don’t forget to take the time to learn the lesson you need to learn about your clutter. Why you accumulated all that stuff and how not to make the same mistake in the future.
      Seeing that Hoarders show would sure scare you into getting started. I only watched it a couple of times and that was enough for me not because of the state peoples home were in but because the show didn’t seem to address the issues very well nor give much insight as to the psychological help they were, I hope, giving these people to help them recover. I found it annoying.


  1. Faran med perfektionism says:

    […] som jag har börjat säga sÃ¥ här lite pÃ¥ skoj, men när jag  läste ett blogginlägg skrivet av Colleen sÃ¥ tyckte jag att det handlade om mej.  Att ett rörigt hem kan bero pÃ¥ att man är […]