Messy Perfectionists: Can Perfectionists Be Disorganized?
Have you ever watched the popular sitcom Friends? This American comedy series follows the lives of six friends in New York City as they battle the daily struggles young adults typically face. One of the friends, Monica Geller, is supposed to be the perfectionist of the group. She is portrayed as someone who is obsessed with having everything clean and organized. However, during one fateful episode, one of her friends uncovers Monica's shameful secret: a hidden closet where Monica stores old things in utter chaos. How is it that the most perfectionistic, 'type A' character in recent television has a small room so disorganized that she is compelled to hide it in shame? Can perfectionists be messy? The answer is yes. Perfectionists can sometimes be messy, and they are wired to be messy. But, why? Let's find out.
3 Reasons Why Perfectionists Can Be Messy
After watching this episode of Friends, I started thinking about perfectionism; what it is and why can some perfectionists be messy. After all, perfectionism by definition seems to be the antithesis of messiness, right? After careful reflection, I came up with three reasons that explain why some perfectionists can indeed be messy. There might be many more reasons that explain messy perfectionists, and if you think of any, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. So, without further ado, here are some reasons why perfectionists can be messy.
1. They over-identify with work
One reason has to do with perfectionists' work ethos. Perfectionists tend to over-identify with their work. They believe that the most important thing in their life is work and that everything else is not as crucial. For example, tidying up their closet, kitchen, desk, or organizing their computer files is not a priority for them. They tend to think that "I will not organize this or that right now because I need to work." Therefore, they sometimes put so much importance in their work that they forget about the rest. The result is that the other aspects of their life end up being neglected and in chaos.
2. Perfectionists procrastinate
A second, much more important, reason is that perfectionists tend to also be procrastinators. There is a relationship between procrastination and perfectionism; they go hand-in-hand. Perfectionists create unrealistically high standards, which in turn overwhelms the perfectionist. This feeling of overwhelm produces stagnation where the perfectionist freezes as they are constantly anxious about how they are going to reach their goal. As a result, they procrastinate taking action.
When perfectionists procrastinate, they seek pleasant activities to distract themselves with. They do not want to do anything related to work. They do not want to organize anything or deal with any mess. Most importantly, they do not want to see parts of their life that makes them feel stressed (think of Monica's secret, hidden closet). So, they procrastinate.
For example, many perfectionists tend to struggle with messy desktops or computers. Their files and documents are all over the place. Typically, this mess is created by procrastination. It can be an overwhelming task to organize all the computer files. As a result, perfectionists procrastinate and even try to avoid seeing the mess in their screens. This goes hand-in-hand with a deep-seated fear perfectionists struggle with: the fear that they are not good enough. Perfectionists tend to fear failure and actively avoid being around mistakes. They lack self-acceptance; they lack that inner voice that tells you that it is okay to be messy, it is okay to make mistakes. In a nutshell, perfectionists tend to procrastinate and avoid any overwhelming activities, such as tidying up a mess.
3. Perfectionists feel useful in chaos
One final reason that runs a bit deeper into the unconscious minds of perfectionists is that they like to feel useful and they feel useful when there is a mess around. Going back to Monica from Friends, throughout the sitcom one can observe how she feels happy when she is needed. Monica feels glee when people need her help and when she can apply her organizational skills. She feels happy when she is useful. Much as Monica, perfectionists can unconsciously enjoy being surrounded by chaos and messiness. Namely because then they have something to fix. They feel useful. They believe that is it their role to fix things, to bring order and control to chaos. They allow the mess to happen because it gives them something to do; it makes them feel useful. And, they might not always be aware about it.
First Step for Messy Perfectionists
Before we jump into 'fixing' mode, I invite you to analyze how you feel about messiness. If you are messy, but this mess is the result of you accepting mistakes, accepting the mess, and feeling that you can sometimes let go of your obsessions, rules, shoulds and musts, then well done. It's fine. It is something that you should be proud of because usually perfectionists are very much seeking control.
However, if your mess makes you feel guilty, bad, ashamed, then maybe it might be a good idea to address this problem and find a way to foster a more accepting relationship with yourself where you deal with procrastination, guilt, and shame in a healthy way.
For instance, when there is a mess around you you might think along the lines of: "Oh, look at this. I was supposed to clean the desk. What kind of person am I that I do not have my work organized?" If your mess makes you feel guilty, makes you feel bad, makes you feel ashamed, then this might be something that you would like to address.
So, the first step is to reflect and realize what the messiness in your life makes you feel. And, then, we can start from there.
The purpose of this article was to, first of all, disprove this idea that perfectionists are perfect. No, they are not perfect. They can indeed be very messy, and they can be strong procrastinators. Second of all, realize that an important step is to understand the reason behind the mess. And, last but not least, invite you to reflect how messiness makes you feel so that you can decide what kind of action you can take from here onwards. I hope you found this article helpful. I wish you the best and, throughout your self-development journey, always remember that you are not alone. Take care.
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