I’ve not been a crafty person. I used to wish I was but unfortunately, I’m not good at the things I’ve tried. Not instantly good at them, at any rate, and that’s something I expect. Demand, even. If it’s not perfect, it’s crap or something like that.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism my whole life; it’s been a problem since my school days. Over a lifetime, it has led to many an abandoned or unstarted project.
It’s imperative to be the best, after all. Because if you’re not, then you’re failing. And by “you” I mean me. Other people’s efforts are fine if they aren’t perfect; I only demand perfection from myself.
I used to do arts and crafts, mostly because other people made me. I wasn’t allowed to skip art period in school. I was obligated to work on the “useful” gifts sent by an elderly aunt. But I hate pretty much everything I ever did. When I got old enough to resist, I stopped doing crafty stuff.
There’s a whole complicated nature, nurture, environment thing going on that led to the development of my perfectionism; suffice it to say, it has gotten in my way often. I give up because it’s apparent that the end result will be a “failure”. Or, I never start, too afraid to try because I know what I’m contemplating will be imperfect. If you aren’t an expert, why make the attempt?
There are, in boxes in my parents’ house, arts and craft projects from my youth. Among the things they’ve saved is an (empirically) ugly clay castle, various pieces of painted pottery and wood, and some random and mediocre paintings. There are crafts as well: a macramé towel hanger, a rug-hooked pillow, some utterly useless embroidery. I hate all of it and have asked my parents repeatedly to turf them. They’re proof positive of my fallibility. They’re not perfect.
Once I was out of school, I gave up. No more drawing. No more crafts. No more home-made cards or gift-wrapped presents. My imperfectly executed creative endeavours were abandoned or hidden from view. I have a secret stash of rather awful acrylic paintings that never see the light of day.
Then came Pinterest.
For the uninitiated (perhaps someone on some far-flung island is reading this), Pinterest is a social media platform made up of images and links grouped by account holders into a variety of topics. You create your own profile sub-pages called boards to save what intrigues and impresses and you can upload and share with the community as well. The types of collections created by Pinners seems infinite: art posters, cutlery, photos of sunsets, funny rabbit pictures, sexy boots, knitting projects, puppies, inspirational quotes. If you can think it, there’s a board for it.
I hesitate to hazard a guess on the number of boards devoted to various crafts.
Some people collect driftwood and make artisanal signs.
Some people make cards and paper products.
Some people make jewelry. Or pottery. Or tie-die clothing.
Some people build furniture. Or carve model trains. Or make pallet projects.
It doesn’t matter what you think of. You’ll find examples of it on Pinterest.
And now my friends are getting in on the act. They make driftwood windchimes or decorated terra cotta pots or earrings or seasonal napkin holders. This would be bad enough. But they share them. I get homemade gifts now. And honestly, they’re kind of awesome. Not perfect but good enough. Full of love. And my friends had fun. For them, it was the process, not the result.
Enter Marie Kondo.
Okay, it’s not all down to her. I’ve been sorting, reorganizing, and perfecting my home space for years. It’s an anxiety thing. But Marie expanded my range. I’d always left certain categories of products alone. For instance, I don’t get rid of Christmas ornaments. Or gifts from people you love or who love you – those I’m required to hoard forever. Or cards. If someone gives you a card, you are obligated to hang onto it until the end of time. I have boxes and boxes of cards marking this birthday or that special occasion. They have become a heavy weight over time, sitting there in my closet, taking up physical and emotional space.
And then I heard the question Marie Kondo asks: Does it spark joy?
Did the cards spark joy? Who could say? They might have, perhaps, if I ever looked at them after putting them into decorative storage boxes. But I never did. They stayed in my closet eternally, vaguely annoying me with their presence.
But what do you do with old cards? It’s not like I can donate them to a thrift store. And, I don’t feel comfortable putting personal things in the recycling. I don’t think random strangers need to read the sentiments a co-worker wrote on a “Get Well” card sent to me following an accident. I could have shredded them, I suppose, but that promised to be a lot of work and my shredder requires an hour break to cool down for every thirty minutes of use.
Which brings us back to Pinterest.
And crafty people.
Who I am now one of, apparently. Because among the many crafts and projects on Pinterest are ones using nothing but old greeting cards.
Picking a project to attempt took a fair bit of time. What would I make? Would it be a candle box of stitched-together cards? Perhaps not; I sew poorly, mostly because I hate doing it.
How about a paper Christmas tree made of stacked card circles? Or a garland? Or some ornaments? Gift tags? The possibilities were never-ending. One thing was certain though; I was going to need stuff. Crafting is no longer just kitchen scissors and school glue.
I decided I would make a Christmas wreath out of card circles. I could have cut the circles by hand but that seemed like a lot of work when punches are available to do the job. And they come in cool shapes!
Going into a craft store is like entering an alternative universe. No matter that before I stepped in, I was a rather talentless perfectionist. Once inside, my feelings of inferiority were buried by the desire to own and try everything. Maybe they use subliminal air fresheners? All I know is that I walk in and become convinced I’m destined to be a jewellery maker. Or a scrapbooker. A designer of centerpieces. A model home builder.
It’s easy to get distracted and sucked in. Focus. Card wreaths.
I collected myself and headed to the appropriate aisle to acquire punches and glue. And maybe some embellishments. Some glitter. Perhaps a prefab wreath to work on? That would be easier than cutting out shapes from a cardboard box. Also, a special pad to cut things on when using a sharp knife, and a straight-line cutter because I’ve always wanted one, for no real reason. Kind of like my low-grade desired to own a laminator. It’s an absolutely unnecessary want.
None of it is cheap. Crafting does not save you money, at least in the beginning when you’re acquiring the supplies and toys. Craft stores make my Visa start to salivate.
It’s not going to be a money-making pastime any time soon either. My “masterpieces” will not be making an appearance on Etsy. I’ve made three wreaths so far, two round and one that’s sort of squarish. They are, especially the first one, shockingly imperfect.
But I enjoyed it. To my very great surprise. I thought it would be on par with cleaning the refrigerator. Something I had to do to get rid of the cards, enthusiastic supply purchasing notwithstanding. But, I liked standing in the kitchen and listening to music as I punched out circles from each superfluous-to-my-life card. I liked stabbing boxes with knives as I carved out wreath templates. I liked figuring out the right amount of glue (too little and the circle lifts off, too much and it seeps through leaving the circle looking warped and icky). I even liked playing with the glitter though that part was a little stressful. My perfectionist tendencies came roaring back and each sparkle placement was agonized over.
And then the first one was done. At first, I hated it. All I could see were the problems and where I went “wrong” – how it was imperfect and not nearly as good as the pictures on Pinterest. It wasn’t symmetrical. The colours didn’t scream “Christmas-festive”. I left too big a gap where the ribbon threads onto the wreath. I thought about throwing it away, hiding the evidence, burying the tools I spent too much money on, and forgetting the whole thing happened.
And, I could have. No one was home for the first crafty attempt. I might have too; I’ve done it in the past. Imperfect things are never shared, never spoken of, and never attempted again. But as I thought about destroying it, it occurred to me that maybe I could try something different. Maybe I could take a break from the ever-screaming demands of perfectionism? Isn’t that part of the whole eating disorder recovery thing I’m working on?
I hung it up on my office door instead. I took a picture. I sent it to my friends who loved it and gave me ridiculously over-the-top praise which I gratefully received. And then I started the second. When it was finished, I hung that one up too.
They’ve been up in my house for almost a week. I’m starting to look at them with affection and a little bit of glee. I made that! It’s not great art but it’s something and I did it. And even better, the cards are no longer a millstone.
Sometimes you just need to look at things with better eyes and a gentler heart.
Does perfectionism hold you back?