Sunday Sanctuary: Hope, Perfection, and Learning to Let Go


There’s nothing like the feeling I get when I walk into my home and see polished floors, clutter free counters, dust free end tables, and those freshly vacuumed floors. The bathroom – oh the bathroom – is a thing of beauty: spotless glass showers and streak free mirrors and gleaming sinks.

gleaminggreatroom1I experience my home like this about once a month, when Hope comes.

Let me be frank: at heart, I’m a bit of a hot mess when it comes to natural tidiness.  I am at my creative best when there are no cluttery distractions around, but the “during” process means a misplaced coffee cup, stacks of papers, and open cabinet doors.

I love food and cooking, but an observer arriving after I’ve cooked dinner will typically find spatters of olive oil on the back of the stove, flecks of spices like pepper, garlic, and oregano scattered across the cook-top, and a poor leaf of spinach (or two) plastered underneath the pot after failing to land in it.

Now, I’m pretty good about regular dusting. I never mind scrubbing toilets. I gain great pleasure from those odd jobs like cleaning the shower drain, dusting baseboards, and removing all the smudges on light switches.

But mops and brooms and I have never gotten along.

I’ve finally resorted to vacuuming my hardwood floors (which makes up most of my main floor) with a nifty “floor genie” attachment, and I praise that Shark Vacuum to be worth its weight in platinum. Still, the only way I’ve managed a sparkling kitchen floor isn’t a perfect mop, but to get down on my hands and knees with a bucket and a sponge.

That’s why I am so grateful for Hope: a woman reflective of her name. In a three-hour period of time, she manages to leave my bathroom sparkling, my kitchen without a stray crumb or smatter of olive oil, and every inch of wood floor gleaming.

The downside after the moment of elation at the vision of all that beauty comes at the next moment: I want everything to stay perfect.

I don’t want to cook and return the spatters and crumbs and errant spinach leaves to the kitchen. I even ponder perfectbathroomshowering in the guest bathroom, which has a shower curtain instead of a glass door.

In Hope’s wake, I am frozen like a bunny is when she senses a hawk nearby: paralyzed.

Then, there’s that wild moment when the perfection demands a witness: John arriving home to see our well-tended safe haven. A neighbor popping over unannounced, asking for a cup of sugar or an opinion on the latest HOA saga. A girlfriend stopping by for a visit and lingering over coffee and conversations.

I’ve accepted this wild moment as a natural part of being, just human nature. We all want those moments of being perfect housewife to be noticed, just as we all want our stories to be considered prize-worthy and our appearances to receive admiring glances from strangers.

I’ve also accepted that those perfect moments are so rarely seen because life is inherently messy.

I have long held perfectionistic tendencies, especially when it comes to my environment. A messy room was a source of scolding when I was a child and a deep sense of shame when my mother would throw up her hands and scour my room whilst I was at school. A messy house led to many an argument with my first husband, who never quite understood why I couldn’t prevent the girls from strewing their toys about, or keep up with the mountains of laundry a family of four produced.

When my house is perfect, that’s the moment when I believe my mother would nod at me in approval and my ex-husband would be wowed at my obvious new self-discipline.

Fortunately, John doesn’t see my natural messiness as a detriment to our relationship. That acceptance has allowed me to loosen up when it comes to believing that a perfect home would win me approval, acceptance, and love. I am loved for all of me: wild hair, stack of papers and books, and a spattered stove.


That love has translated into me finally finding my way as the caregiver to my home. I tidy up at the end of most days, or at least on Friday afternoons.  I clean a toilet the moment I notice it needs a little attention.  I run the vacuum when I see crumbs hiding under the cabinets and and swipe dusty coffee tables as I gab with girlfriends on the phone.

And once a month, Hope arrives and rescues me from anything I’ve overlooked.

Despite the moment of wanting the house to stay perfect, eventually, of course we must use those immaculate spaces. I shower. I cook. I sprawl on the couch and the coffee table become littered with journals and books and magazines and glue sticks.

The spell breaks. I release that momentary flashback of needing the house to be perfect in hopes that someone will approve of me.

The acceptance of who I am as a housekeeper and the balance of that one moment of gleaming floors giving way to the natural messiness of life has become a domino effect of my other spaces of perfection. I allow my hair to be curly and messy instead of maintaining standing appointments for bi-weekly blowouts. I run errands without make-up, and don’t cringe when I run into a neighbor or friend.

Most importantly, loosening my grip on my perfectionist tendencies has allowed my creative life to blossom.

As a child, if I couldn’t perform a task perfectly the first time, I was unlikely to try it again. This meant my dreams of rolling skating like the Olympic ice skaters was a one-time trip around the garage til I fell and painting without the paint-by-numbers made me give it up because my pictures on the canvas never resembled what I imagined in my head.

As an adult, I was less likely to attempt something I could fail at, even writing, because getting the words on paper as elegantly as I desired to convey them. I wanted a first draft to serve as a polished document.

Just as I’ve learned that an spotless house doesn’t prove my worthiness, I’m now learning that I don’t have to craft a migrationdayflawless story in order to be a valued storyteller.  Not having artistic skills as a painter doesn’t mean I can’t find pleasure in dragging a brush around a canvas or discover joy in creating a collage.

There are those times when we experience an impeccably perfect moment during the act of creation, but just as it takes Hope to help me obtain that moment of household perfection, I’ve learned that having other folks assist me with the editing and polishing allows me to have that moment of creative perfection.

It’s up to me to continue creating, though, because if I were to choose to live within that perfection of one story, I’d never unfold new ones.

And the rest of the creative process is just that: process.  Just as life is inherently messy, so is creating.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Create a Life You Love: Straightforward Wisdom for Creating the Life of Your Dreams. She resides in Dayton, Ohio where she practices the art of living with the Man of Her Dreams.

When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

3 Replies to “Sunday Sanctuary: Hope, Perfection, and Learning to Let Go”

  1. I am a recovering perfectionist and relate to many aspects of this article (the scolding for a messy room – the refusal to try something new if not guaranteed success). I’m still working on finding joy with the paintbrush 🙂 … but in other areas of life, I am learning to let go and simply be me.

  2. You have Hope. I have Allen and Sharon and without them I’d be hopeless! I really love the total honesty of this — and the humor and joy! I know I’ll never be perfect but there are tons of ways I can be better!

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