Everything Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect: Fighting Lifestyle Stress
I hear it every week–the anxiety women feel about keeping up with their homes. This should come as a surprise, because housekeeping has never been easier. We have machines that clean the floor, the dishes, the laundry. Machines to cook the food. We have running water and electricity and store-bought clothes. This is reality, yet to hear me talk, you’d think I was a scullery maid, not a SAHM with grocery delivery service!
Yet the women* I talk to express great angst about their homes. Too much clutter. Too many toys. Too many clothes. So many rooms to paint. So many house projects to get the home “updated.” And so much guilt if you ever feed your kid fast food or hot dogs on a busy night.
Yet the solutions we often hear don’t always serve us well: Simplify. Declutter. Tidy up. One in, one out. Create a capsule wardrobe. Choose minimalist decor. Meal prep.
Insofar as any of these lifestyle trends decrease stress, I’m all for them. Challenging excess consumerism and fostering contentment are worthy goals. Owning less and simplifying our space and schedules can make our lives so much easier. However, I sense many women are more stressed by these trying to attain to illusive ideals, than by the “problems” these ideals try to solve.
For example, my parents never seemed stressed by the generous amount of toys we had as kids. Granted, the toys weren’t allowed to live in the living room. But with 5 kids, plus others my mom babysat, and neighbor kids, having a lot of toys was useful and fit with the season and situation we were in.
Sometimes I long for the 90s, when purple paint, green carpet, and knickknacks abounded. Back then you could feed your kids Kool-aid, send them outside unsupervised, then welcome them back to a toy-strewn home and a Kraft Mac-n-Cheese dinner without feeling like you were failing as a parent.
Either you’re thinking, “The horror!” or “Those were the days!” And either reaction is a pendulum response to the modern narrative of a beautifully curated life. The counter-narrative we need to preach to ourselves each day is, “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.” This was one of my biggest take-aways from visiting India, where the people I met just made do with whatever they had and seemed pretty grateful for it, too.
So where is all this “lifestyle stress,” as I’ll call it, coming from? After all, women’s magazines have always depicted impractical aesthetics as ideal. Now, HGTV, Pinterest, Instagram, and other forms of media spread trends with a speed and force like never before.
Yet it’s not our surroundings, our wardrobe, or even healthful meals that will make our lives work. These things appeal to us for many good reasons, but also because they give us a sense of control. If I can just control how my house looks, or how I appear, or what I eat, then I will be in control and life will work smoothly. I promise you, it won’t. You can’t plan your way out of life’s messiness.
Of course, being healthier and less materialist are absolutely good goals. But living under a weight of anxiety over not living up to the fable of these lifestyle trends is not healthy. And it can become reverse-materialism when we spend so much time thinking about stuff–having the right stuff and getting rid of the wrong stuff.
I, too, get stressed out about tidying my home. But one thing is certain: I will never get it even close to perfect. With the help of my husband, I’ve accepted that we will own more now than in any other period of our lives. We will have more mess. And that’s okay. Being a young family is a season, one filled with fun, giggles, and ridiculous amounts of toys. It’ll all go away someday, and we’ll probably even miss the Legos and paper crafts everywhere.
Realizing this doesn’t mean the angst all evaporates. But if you continue to struggle with lifestyle stress, I suggest trying some of the following:
- Take a break from media that reinforces ideals you don’t buy.
- Focus on defining the values you do want to live by. For example, isn’t being hospitable better than having a perfect house?
- Write down 5 things you’re grateful for each day.
- Take a break from non-essential shopping, so you can practice contentment with what you have.
- Reflect on what appeals to you about certain ideals. Identify what’s helpful and unhelpful about these ideas, and how you can apply what serves you and discard what doesn’t.
- Serve someone outside of your comfort zone. It may bring some perspective, as well as joy, to your life.
Amazingly, Jesus addressed worry over these same topics over 2000 years ago: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Check out the rest of Matthew 6:25-34 for his solution to this age-old problem.
*Do men feel this way too? I have no idea.
Have you experienced this “lifestyle” stress? What ways do you fight these feelings?