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the imaginary perfect

From lamps to sofas to shoes, sometimes the quest for the "perfect" item just gets in the way of appreciating what's right in front of us. Photo: Pottery Barn

When I was thirteen years old, I suddenly found myself caring about fashion in a way I never had before (yes, I was the girl who obliviously and happily wore two braids, out-of-style hand-me-down jeans, and ruffled plaid shirts all the way through seventh grade.) I have a very clear memory of the first time I went shoe shopping all by myself, with my dad’s cash clutched in my hand.

Was it fun? Freeing? Exciting?

Actually, it was totally stressful. See, I had this picture in my head of the shoes I wanted: the detail, the color, the shape. I could see them so vividly I could practically touch them, and I was sure that if a dorky teenager like myself could visualize such amazing footwear, then certainly a designer out there had already beat me to the punch.

But as I went from store to store, it became clear that the shoes in my head did not exist in reality.

My incredible shoes were nowhere to be found…not on that shopping trip or ever since. And because I couldn’t find my “dream” shoes, I didn’t want to buy any shoes. I finally bought a pair that seemed like the next-best-thing, but I felt cheated, not to mention wracked with insecurity: sure, the shoes were OK, but were they good enough?

I’ve experienced that same disappointment on countless shoe-shopping and purse-shopping expeditions since: I can usually find clothes I like well enough, but shoes and bags are almost always a little bit disappointing. And now that we’re fixing up our house, I go through “perfection paralysis” with many of the purchasing details we need to make. Sure, I like that flooring, but do I like it enough? Those pendant lights are nice, but they just aren’t what I had in mind…(and neither are any of the pendant lights at any of the other stores or sites I’ve browsed, either.)

Yesterday I posted at The Happiest Mom about how fear can get in the way of making decorating decisions. And suddenly it occurred to me: for years I’ve just thought I was extremely discerning (read: picky), but maybe this difficulty in “settling” for what’s real and right in front of me comes from fear that I’ll make the “wrong” choice…which makes me want to hold out for some theoretical perfect choice that’s out there, somewhere. (Maybe.)

There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion about what you want your home to look like, but at some point reality has to win out. When it comes to decorating our homes, most of us are held in check by something: budget, practicality, availability, time, et cetera. That’s just life, and something we’re better off facing and working around.

Because I’ve found that – whether it’s shoes or purses or lamps or throw pillows – the harder I latch on to the imaginary “perfect” I’ve created in my head, the more difficult it is to see the very real – and possibly even better – alternative that’s right in front of my face.

When we started planning our kitchen renovation, I carried around dozens of torn-out magazine pages featuring “perfect” kitchens I wanted to emulate, and my wish list was long and ambitious. One by one, we’ve had to eliminate many items off the initial list and substitute some of our hoped-for options with more realistic alternatives. But it’s been great practice: with each compromise I make, it’s getting easier and easier to let go of the ideal and embrace reality.

Our finished kitchen (which I will share with you soon!) won’t look just like the imaginary perfect I carried around in my mind so long, but it’ll be even better: it’ll be real, it’ll be ours, and I’ll be able to do the dishes in it (after being without a sink or dishwasher for two weeks, oh boy, am I ready!)  And the real kitchen I can cook a meal for my family in is better than a hundred of the “dream” kitchens in my head.

Now if I could only learn to feel the same way about shoes…

Have you ever been disappointed when you couldn’t find an “imaginary perfect” item in your head?

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