Progress not Perfection: A Mantra for the Overwhelmed

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Do you find yourself feeling anxious, heart racing, with an inability to focus on one thing?

You may be experiencing feelings of overwhelm. I know, because I have this feeling A LOT.

I look at my kitchen and see the pile of dishes that need to be washed. A quick glance to the left, and there is the disgustingly dirty stovetop. Oh and what about the refrigerator with drips, sticky spots and old leftovers. Queue the feelings of overwhelm.

The way my mind works, I know all of those things need to be done, and I won’t be happy and relaxed until the entire list is completed. But then as I start to put the clean dishes away I notice crumbs in the drawers. All of the sudden my list of kitchen clean-up to-dos has become several pages long.

No person could accomplish it all in a day or even a week while also tending to their other responsibilities.

This is just one brief example of how I become overwhelmed quickly, and it happens in every area of my life. Instead of feeling accomplished with what I get done I often focus on what I didn’t get done.


My loving husband is constantly reminding me that my to-do lists are outrageous and no one could accomplish what is on them. He tries, oh boy does he try, to help me slow down, take a breather and recognize that no matter what I get done there will always be more to do.

the girls show how to relax
If only I could relax like my kids.

I recently heard the phrase, “progress not perfection,” and it stuck with me. It’s not a new saying, in fact, it’s been used in 12 step programs for decades, but it was new to me. Or more likely I’ve heard it before, but for the first time I was ready to really hear it.


When I take a moment to think about the times I get overwhelmed they are almost always based on my need to have things perfect or nearly perfect.

This came up recently because I have been struggling A LOT with this home organization project I took on this year. I decided to tackle a different area of the house every month and start with our office. The office is currently the most disorganized room in our house. It is also one that I have had on my to-do list for a long time.

I even wrote an article about how to overcome the biggest challenges when it comes to decluttering. You would think that would have helped me, but it didn’t.

I now know it’s because I am paralyzed by the need for perfection.

Every time I walk into the office (or as I sit here in it now typing) the list of to-do’s get longer and longer. I have now made a list so long that I can’t even figure out where to start. Now I sit three months into this yearlong home organization project, and I have spent a total of two hours decluttering and organizing. A far cry from the 15 minutes a day that I recommended.

before and after picture of 15 minutes of decluttering

I need to start living a new mantra “progress not perfection.”

Instead of trying to get everything in the office exactly as I want it I need just to get started. I need to make progress and know that as I see the progress, I will be motivated to keep going.

There are so many areas of my life that I am struggling in right now. In all of them progress instead of perfection is the answer.

I am going to try, keyword try, to remind myself of this new mantra every time I start to feel overwhelmed. After a few deep, cleansing breaths, I will pick one thing that needs to get done and do it. I know I can do this and so can you.

Who wants to join me in my quest for progress, not perfection?  This can be decluttering, quitting a bad habit, getting in shape, losing weight. Whatever your challenge is right now let’s work together. The answer is progress, not perfection.

I'd love to hear from you.

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