Housekeeping Driving You Crazy? It’s Time to Choose ‘Good Enough’ Over Perfection

Free yourself from the constraints of perfectionism when it comes to a tidy house
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Free yourself from the constraints of perfectionism when it comes to a tidy house

Years ago, I remember hearing about a movement centered around “good enough parenting.” It encouraged parents to do the best that they could and not despair if their efforts sometimes fell short. At the time—unmarried and childless—the concept meant little to me. Now, as a mother, I can definitely relate.

This idea of finding contentment in being “good enough” gives me permission to make mistakes. More importantly, though, it encourages me to try without the discouragement of possible failure. As a wife and mother to two very young daughters, I apply the “good enough” principle to other areas of life besides parenting. Namely, I’ve found it helpful for housekeeping.

I am a perfectionist by nature. When I was a newlywed, the thought of cleaning house overwhelmed me to the point that I avoided it at all costs. If I couldn’t do it absolutely right, I didn’t want to do it at all. It paralyzed me. The floors were covered in dust bunnies and crumbs; the bathroom was grimy. When the filth became too much, I would enlist my husband to help. We would spend hours cleaning the house from top to bottom. It was a cleaning system that just didn’t work.

After having my first daughter and moving to a smaller house, I was inspired to change. But with a young toddler, I knew I couldn’t set my standards too high. Here are a few tricks of the domestic trade to help you find a healthy balance and have a clean home.

01. Develop a rhythm, not a schedule.

Our house is small, so it is feasible to clean it weekly. However, it is not possible to clean it all in one day or to clean on the same day each week. I have small (and messy) children, and my timing is unpredictable. I can plan on cleaning the bathroom every Tuesday, but if my 1-year-old is running a fever and wants to cuddle on the couch, cleaning has to wait. I have a rough idea of what days I want to tackle certain weekly household tasks, but I don’t pressure myself to stick to a strict schedule.

02. Shoot for one task a day.

I often have one bigger housekeeping task I’m trying to get to each day. This could be finishing the laundry or doing meal prep for a few days. I don’t always get to that one task, but I try not to pressure myself to do more than one task, either. Dusting while the girls are playing in their room? Manageable. Dusting and vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floors in one go? Stressful. Free yourself from the need to get everything done at once.

03. Let go of hospital-worthy sterilization standards.

If you clean on a regular basis, there is no need to be thorough to the point of perfection. Sometimes—such as when we’re having guests—I will move the dollhouse out of the way to vacuum. Most of the time, though, I won’t be so painstaking. When I vacuum or dust, I mentally tell myself, “Remember, you don’t have to do this perfectly.” I can hit the missed spots next time. Most likely, no one but me will even notice.

04. When you can’t clean, don’t clean. Maintaining order is key to a happy home.

One matriarch of a big (and happy) family we know shares this wise advice on structure: “The happiest homes aren’t necessarily the cleanest. They can find peace in order.”

There are a million and one reasons that prevent us from getting to our to-do list. There is no such thing as an “illegitimate” reason to avoid cleaning. If you aren’t able to clean that day, week, or month, you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. You know your reasons. And you know that you will get to the necessary tasks as soon as you can. You can still bring harmony to the chaos by keeping the mess organized. Dirty dishes near the sink. Toys in one corner instead of scattered about. Unread mail and receipts in one pile versus ten. Having an orderly, not necessarily immaculate, home is a beautiful thing.

05. Do your personal best. Leave the rest to Martha Stewart.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are some tasks I’m better at doing, and there are some tasks my friends are better at doing. I know, for instance, that I have a natural ability for noticing little things out of place. And I find it easy and satisfying to restore them. There are other things I’m not so aware of. Instead of focusing on that, I center on what I can do to maintain peace and beauty in our home. For the things I’m not a natural at, I look to experts for advice and go from there.

Finally, remember this—your effort matters, regardless of how small it is. It doesn’t matter what other people think about your intentions and endeavors. Whether you managed to put one dish in the dishwasher or scrub a whole sink’s worth today, know that what you are able to do out of love truly is good enough.