Perfection or nothing?

October 8, 2014

One of my mentors when I was raising my children was Edith Schaeffer. Her book, Hidden Art, helped me to see that homemaking can be an art, a very important one, where you can use your creativity and intelligence to help make home a comforting, nourishing haven. Coming of age in the 70s, when it was all about having a career and abandoning the home, I soaked up her words as in a dry land.

One of the things she says in her book has always remained with me: if you want perfection or nothing, you will get nothing every time. Those words have really helped me over the years.

I have been pretty well cured of any perfectionistic tendencies I might have had. Having children and homeschooling them humbled me, and frankly, sometimes I feel like I'm too lazy low-energy to get all het up about things. Like whether the toilet paper is supposed to roll from the top or from the bottom.

Or maybe over time, her words have sunk in, because I find myself thinking of them often, in particular regarding housework, and more generally, about life.

I really dislike housework. Not the puttering around, picking up, watering plants, sweeping a little, wiping off counters kind of housework. The heavy-duty stuff, like scrubbing shower tiles, dusting ceiling fans, hauling the vacuum upstairs to vacuum. I'd much rather read a book with a nice cup of tea by my side.

But, I really like a clean house. What to do?

I used to feel unless I spent a good hour or more scouring my bathroom once a week it wasn't worth doing. So do you know what? I expected perfection, and I got nothing. That bathroom didn't get cleaned, and it weighed on me.

Now I do what my grandmother called a "lick and a promise." 

Every morning when I'm getting ready, I do something. A quick swish of the toilet, a 5-minute spray and wipe of the mirrors or counter, a scrub of the shower tiles while the conditioner is in my hair . . . and I've found I never have to "clean" my bathroom. It's never perfectly perfect, but it is always presentable.

A canister vacuum is a great help with this mind-set. I have a lot of square footage to vacuum. Once in a while I do move furniture, but more often I just git 'er done. And the "evidence" of what I've done is in that canister. I can at least know that that hair and dirt is not still on the carpet, even if it isn't perfect.

This letting go of perfection can apply to so many other areas in life, too. I used to feel angry and disappointed when my husband didn't come through for me on certain things. Not commenting on a new hairstyle, or comforting me about something I was sad about, or listening to me enough. 

When I realized he was a flawed and imperfect being (just like me), and wasn't always behaving up to my expectations, it was very freeing. Only the Lord can meet our needs and understand us perfectly. It's good to let other people off the hook.

The danger is in this kind of thinking: A marriage isn't the perfect happiness we thought it would be. We wanted perfection, so we divorce. And now we have nothing. The child in our womb isn't perfect, so we have an abortion. Now we have nothing. We ration health care for our elderly, or even in some places, pull the plug, and we are left with nothing, nothing left of honoring and caring for those who once cared for us.

Life is painful, and doing the right thing is often difficult. As much as I would love to live in a perfectly safe and happy little world where everyone was kind and the tea kettle was always on, it's not that way. We can't have perfection, but we should never settle for nothing. We don't give up. We keep believing the beautiful matters, and we strive for it, whether in our housekeeping or in our relationships or in the world.

But perfection will not come until we are in heaven.


  1. So heartfelt and eloquently written, Deborah. I think we can relate to many of the things you mentioned, the most important being our relationships. Nobody's perfect. Accepting this notion, theoretically, and in practice, is truly freeing. I really enjoyed this post; thanks for sharing.


  2. This was beautiful and touches my heart for this time in my life. Losing my husband 22 months ago has left me with a gaping void in my life. What's the use of doing things? So I procrastinate more than ever. Shame on me!

    I also read Hidden Art way back when and it had an impression on me too. Thank you for the reminder. Your post has inspired me.


  3. OK, girlfriend, this blog could be me... (except for the homeschooling part). A lick and a promise, I too learned that a long time ago. And realizing that only God can love me perfectly... oh that was freeing too when I learned that.

    Kindred heart... how blessed I am to have this heart tie online with you.

    Many good wishes for a beautiful day...perfect in its imperfections.

  4. I to appreciated Edith Schafer's written words . I too stayed home to care for and homeschool our children, and as a family we would do some cleaning and housework every day before we began lessons. All chores , especially making the beds and cleaning the rooms somehow made the whole day go a bit smoother and when lessons were done the children knew they had free time until after dinner.

    I love this post, everything you wrote...thank-you Edith , thank-you Deborah !

  5. I enjoy being at home and I strive to give myself the home I feel I deserve. No-one else will do this because no-one else knows what I truly deserve. I have the schedule to die for on my computer and phone. Even cleaning the drains and wiping the cutlery drawer are on this schedule. And fun activities too! Do I follow it? Mostly. If something is missed then I know that task will appear the next day/week/month. The pressure is always off. When we had children living at home I had a different type of schedule just to get everyone to their sports and music. Sitting with a cuppa and reading a book for pleasure? Between Christmas and New Year!

  6. You chose a gifted mentor, and this idea leads to more happiness in a home and in our lives.

  7. This was a beautiful post, Deborah. Amen, sister!!

  8. I like a clean house and a tidy one. So I do a little bit every day. I try not to have big cleaning days but spread the chores out. I just swished a toilet and dusted the living room. Hubby's gone to pick up Chinese food for dinner. It's turning out to be a very good day! Hugs!

  9. What a wonderful post, and words that I sorely needed to hear. My floor is disgusting, and I truly should have vacuumed today. Hopefully it will happen tomorrow. I do clean my bathroom, and (honestly) my house, as you do your bathroom. "A lick and a promise" is a phrase I learned from my mother, and her house, always welcoming, always presentable, was never, ever spotless or perfect. She made a beautiful home with broken rejects and thrift-store finds. :) I read Schafer's book last year, I think, and loved it. I was in a bloggers' book-club of sorts that read it together. Have you ever read "L'Abri"? I loved it even more! What a fascinating couple and ministry!

  10. Enjoyed this post! Has some pretty good ideas...very thought-provoking! Thanks!

  11. Lovely post today and very well said. Trying to achieve perfection can drive us completely mad and we would never get anything accomplished. I have found a nice trick for getting through all that housework - invite company over. That always spurs me on to do those dirty jobs I hate to do. The rest of the time I am happy with things a little less than perfect. I do love what you say about perfection in marriage. Accepting that nobody is perfect is so freeing. We can forgive them and also forgive ourselves for being human. I love the last of this post. You have summed it up so beautifully. xo Karen

  12. Very sweet and honest post, but sadly I've never been able to get into Schaeffer's books. Never. What's up with that?!!

  13. Dearest Deborah,
    Guess we live all a lot happier if we can let go of a lot of things that only weigh us down mentally that is.
    Cleaning the house I did a lot better in my younger years, it was a must-do-routine and somehow I got a lot more done. Yes, we are slower and we are aging... That's another thing we have to accept and learn how to gracefully grow old together.
    Like Karen, I do my best and can get a lot done in a couple of days, when company is invited. Than the bonus of all the hard cleaning, cooking is to let go once the company is being fed. And we enjoy the leisure of lots of left overs; no cooking for days sometimes and back to easier life.
    Magazines and movies all look deceiving but people everywhere in the world, rich or poor, need to use the bathroom and need to cook and eat. Sleep and get dressed to work so that produces loads of work; cleaning, shopping, cooking, laundering, ironing, mending etc. etc.
    But as long as we can find ourselves a little opening in each day for a chat with our mate, a tea and some nibbles (unsalted nuts + rice cake for me), that is called happiness. No high expectations but gratitude for being alive, for being healthy (again, not perfect but grateful for how we still make do) and counting so many blessings and fond memories as a family.
    Sending you hugs,

  14. Very poignant and meaningful thoughts Deborah. I was a product of the 70s career thing too and It has taken me such a long time but I am finally realising that we do not need to strive for perfection in everything. Like you as well I do hate housework-such a waste of lovely, therapeutic crafting time! I also give the bathroom a 'cat lick' as my mother would have called it!
    Alison xx

  15. This is a wonderful post :)

    Oh the ceiling fans. You had to remind me, didn't you : )

  16. I was really encouraged reading this post. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  17. A meaningful post and something I needed to hear today. Thank you........Rosie @ The Magic Hutch

  18. Hi Deborah, I love this post and it describes my life to a tea!! LOL I learned the lick and a promise method years ago and it has saved me a million times over. My house is clean and straight and yes, clean enough to look somewhat perfect without being perfect. We live here after all~~
    You are such an inspiration to me and I admire how you home schooled your kids. I'd say, you are pretty close to perfection my friend.
    Happy Thursday!!
    Blessings and Hugs

  19. Hello sweet Deborah! Your post was beautifu written with words pouring from your heart - thank you, dear friend, for sharing this lovely post.

    Thinking of you and wishing you a wonderful day. Love and hugs!

  20. Encouraging words, my friend, and wise. Marriage and parenthood are great teachers. I also home schooled my children, from elementary through high school. EEEE!!! Wouldn't change a thing. While I was instilling in them a love for Christ and for learning, my heavenly Father was doing exactly the same in me. ;) Boy, did we learn from each other, and between you and me, I think they taught me more. teehee
    Great words by E. Schaeffer...and by you, dear Deborah, lovely guest to receive one of the very raspberry October tea tags. :)
    I'll be in touch.

  21. Hello, I also was truly blessed reading this post! And I believe that very same quote has freed us from a self imposed perfection. Clean and tidy and something planned for a meal and a rest with tea and a good book, makes a woman happy and ready to love on her hubby when he gets home.
    The beautiful in heart does matter...
    Love, Roxy

  22. Beautiful thoughts, Deborah. Hidden Art is a book I read over and over in the earlier years of our marriage and child-rearing. My copy is tattered and torn and now I've lent it to my youngest daughter. Perfection is illusive - until that final day!


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