Can You Teach An Old Ordered Mind To Like New Chaos?

My mind likes order. I like graph paper. I like nice tidy columns of numbers. I like neat printing.

I have a carpenter’s level and I know how to use it.

I also have blank walls.

I have ten pieces of art framed and ready to go on my living room walls. I have a plan for how I would like to arrange them. The layout is all nice and orderly in my head.

I would like the horizontal frames to have their centers at about my eye level. I would like the bottom edges of the vertical pieces aligned with the bottom edges of the horizontal pieces. I would like that bottom line to flow from wall to wall around the entire living room.

What follows is the conversation I have in my head every time I get all enthusiastic about finally hanging the art on my walls.

“But, the piece to the right of the window, between the window and the front door, needs to be above the light switch. So, I’ll hang that one a little higher. But, then the piece on the left side of the window, which is about the same size as the piece on the right, really should mirror the one on the right. So, I’ll hang that one higher too. But, then it won’t line up with the others on the adjacent wall.”

“And I know from experience, no matter how many times you measure, it is hard to get the picture hanger in the right place to get several frames to line up precisely along the same line.”

“Ugh. That’s too much math. I’m too tired to hang anything tonight.”

WHY do I make everything so complicated?

Why do I put myself under so much pressure? I’m hanging art in my own living room. I’m not presenting my wares at an audience with the king and queen.

Being a perfectionist is hard work. And generally a waste of time, unless you are, say, a surgeon, a crafter of fine timepieces, or the guy at the local burger joint who’s going to prepare my dinner. And even they don’t need to have their frames lined up within the millimeter.

This shouldn’t be stressful. This should be fun. I want to just throw all my art on the walls and enjoy it.

But can I do that?

Can I teach my brain that loves order and symmetry to not freak out at the thought of throwing art on the walls? I think I can. Over the last few months I have been slowly teaching my brain to not be so uptight.

1. I don’t use nearly as much hand sanitizer as I used to.

2. Last week I misspelled something on my grocery list and I didn’t crumple the paper and start a brand new list. (I did scribble it out and rewrite the word. I’m trying to relax my standards not lapse into barbarism.)

3. And I have a shelf full of dvds that have sat noticeably unalphabetized for weeks now.

I can learn to tolerate, nay, even embrace chaos on my walls!

And it starts now.

So, instead of the pressure and stress of measuring and calculating for hours on end to figure out where to nail the picture hangers, my first idea was to take cardboard and tape it to the walls to perfect my placement and then measure and trace onto the back of the cardboard and translate that to the walls to determine where the picture hangers should go…

WAIT. WHAT?? Yeah, that sounds a LOT easier. Way to embrace the chaos!

Here’s the new plan. There IS no plan. I’m taking the first frame, holding it up to get the general idea of where I think it looks good, then guessing approximately where the nail should go. If it the frame ends up slightly off from where I planned it, WELCOME TO CHAOS! On to the next frame! I have a pretty good eye for spatial planning, so I should be okay, but if I run out of wall before I run out of art…well, there will be one less piece of art up on that wall. I’ll hang it in another room.

I’ll let you know how my experiment turns out.

Becoming a non-perfectionist is a slow process. It’s the way my brain is naturally wired. And I must say, for most of my life it actually served me well. It drove me to excel in school, in athletics, and in my career.

But, at some point you realize your idea of “only good enough” is probably more than that. It’s probably “plenty good enough”.

At some point you realize perfection doesn’t really exist. You will always wish you had done something differently, because THEN it would have been perfect.

At some point you realize the benefits of trying to reach this nonexistent state of perfection no longer outweigh the costs.

Hello, point. I’ve hit you.

3 thoughts on “Can You Teach An Old Ordered Mind To Like New Chaos?”

  1. I love this post. Have you been hanging out in my head? My daughter recently said of her brother, “He is crippled by his perfectionism,” and I felt such huge guilt, knowing the source of it: Me. I’m sure there is some perfectionism gene and I’ve passed it on to him.

    I think we can never eradicate it, but we can tame it. Yes, try your plan! I was once just like you when it comes to pictures on walls, but I’ve become much more comfortable with imperfection. (It helps that I’m also comfortable with having lots of holes in the walls.) I’ve decided I’d rather have ever-so-slightly not-quite-hung-right art on the walls than no art on the walls.

    Life has conspired to give me lots of opportunities to grow in this area. (Sighing here.)


    1. Your son will eventually tame his perfectionism just as you and I are learning to. We all just have our own time tables for when it hits us. I agree you can never eradicate it. My pictures still came out semi-evenly-spaced. Not exactly chaotic, but it wasn’t stressful! That’s all I was going for – to get them ON the walls without giving myself a stress headache. I have one left to hang and then I’ll post pictures on Facebook. And of course, I’ll explain profusely why the window trim isn’t painted and the door needs another coat, because my perfectionist brain will need to explain to the world why the scene isn’t perfect. Hey, I’m trying!


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