I wanted to touch on the subject of perfection for a long while, as it seems to be deeply linked to one side of minimalism, as the search for a curated collection of perfect items for a perfect life. I think perfection is a dangerous concept though, as it can lead to much insatisfaction. Here are my thoughts on the subject.
When I started editing my items in 2011, my objective was to curate a selection of perfect items. If I was to favour quality over quantity, owning only few items, they had to be perfect, didn't they? So I made lists and started spending time and energy searching for the perfect leather jacket or the perfect tea pot. Only, this mindset lead to many purchase mistakes - assuming more expensive would be more perfect for example, or making unnecessary upgrades under the pretext of getting closer to perfection.
Perfection & ConsumerismThat's when I started questioning the very idea of perfection. Does a minimalist really need to spend that much time and money running after the perfect material collection? Then I took my marketer's (top) hat (and curling mustache) and considered the problem differently. Films, series, ads are bombarding us with images of perfection all the time. They stage well-thought scenes, landscapes, interiors, outfits, displaying perfect lives. We do this too, selecting the best pictures worth instagramming, and we are faced with the seemingly perfect life of our friends on social media.
I think the consumerist society feeds off our desire for perfection, offering better, newer products with the promise to help our life reach perfection with a little help from our wallet. It is a run forward to an idealistic future, that will be reached if only I find the perfect [item of the moment]. Only, it saps our energy, money and time, and keeps us from enjoying our current items and being content about our life.
What is the Alternative?These past three years, I have been guilty of this "search for perfection" specifically within my wardrobe, spending time and energy crafting the perfect wardrobe list, then looking for the perfect items to cross off. But I only started appreciating my wardrobe, and actually spending less time and money on clothes - as intially planned when I started wardrobe editing - when I let go of the idea of perfection, and started making the most of what was already in my closet instead.
The curation process then shifted from perfection to adequacy. It may sound like a game of words, but the difference is actually huge. An adequate life is one tailored to your needs, taste and constraints. It is personnalized, and, with a bit of experimentation, self discovery, advice searching, trial & error, an adequate life is achievable.
A "perfect" life, on the other hand, is often set by external standards - it has to include this and that according to the norms of society, regardless of your own situation. Besides, it is ever changing as brands and trends define what this year's "perfect trench" will look like. It is therefore unstable and impossible to reach.
My alternative suggestion is to look for the adequate items, instead of looking for the perfect ones. What does it change? First, it means you define your own criteria. What does your adequate item need to be like? Second, it means you don't have to scout every single option out there, you can stop searching as soon as you find your adequate object. Finally, it means you should be less tempted to upgrade - as long as your items remain adequate to your needs, it doesn't matter if there is a better one out there.
What About New & Shiny Stuff?Now, there is always an attraction to novelty, and even with a minimalist mindset, one still wishes for new things regularly. However, the shift of mindset is huge on that matter as well: you aren't waiting for the new, perfect thing to be acquired in order to enjoy your life now.
Also, when you do buy something new, I noticed you enjoy the new acquisition better because you see it for what it is: a little gift to self, or a tool to make your life easier and more enjoyable, and not a promise of perfection and ensuing everlasting happiness (which doesn't happen and disappoints, when you are on a search for perfection).
Finally, let's mention the paradox of choice. As Barry Schwartz explains, one of the dark sides of having a lot of choice is that the more options you have, the less satisfied you are, because you wonder if you made the right choice, and if that other one you didn't choose wasn't better after all.
Looking for perfection makes us particularly vulnerable to that: how can you be sure you did pick the perfect item, and that there isn't a better one out there? When you go for adequate, though, as long as the item you pick does meet your needs and make your life easier, it doesn't matter if there is a better option out there, this one is just fine.
I really started feeling content about my current situation, enjoying my collection of items and spending less time and money on items once I understood this. I let go of perfection to focus on fulfilling my needs, and taking the time to enjoy the moments I was using what I already owned. What about you? What is your definition of "perfection" and how do you select the items that enter your life?