New Year’s, Planners, and the Culture of Perfectionism

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

I devour what I’d call “Pinterest culture” gluttonously; picture-perfect home decor walkthroughs, DIYs that transform Dollar Tree items into chic dupes of designer products, and seemingly preternaturally organized households with color-coordinated storage solutions.  I know that even for those people who actually are devoted to organization and successfully keep their lives in order, this is still the most pristine, painstakingly staged depiction of their lives, put together with the intention to inspire.

But for some of us (even those of us well aware of the care with which the image as cultivated), it intimidates.

I’ve always been a sucker for the allure of a new year; I love the symbolism of new beginnings, and the idea of having a fresh start, or a slate wiped clean.  But the problem for people like me when it comes to a clean slate is that, along with it, comes the overwhelming fear and anxiety of sullying that slate with anything other than absolute perfection.

One frustrating trait of mine that I’ve grappled with all my life – never realizing it was a common trait among people with ADHD – is a crippling need for things I try to be perfect, if I’m going to bother investing time and effort into it.  If I’m going to stay on a diet, it’s calorie-counting and going to the gym everyday, or I might as well just lay on the couch and stuff my face with pizza.  If I’m going to keep an orderly house, everything needs to be organized by color, size, and purpose, or I might as well just throw all my trash straight on the floor.  If I’m going to embark on a project, I need to be certain that every word, every line, every turn of phrase is Pulitzer worthy before I write it, or I might as well just, what the hell, sit and fart on my keyboard.

It’s very black and white thinking, and as you can imagine, is absolute hell come New Year., and it has not, in any way, been helped by Pinterest culture.

Even something as simple as committing to a planner is just a battle fought against this awful, existential, function-versus-aesthetic-versus-purpose mental backdrop.  Everywhere I turn (YouTube lifestyle vloggers especially are a big vice of mine), there are people talking about their planner layouts – their stencils, their stickers, their special pens and pencils and markers – and yes, they are absolutely gorgeous, and yes, they make me want to get organized, and yes, every year I go out and get a planner with all the bells and whistles, and yes – then I fail to really actually use it.

It’s the same with stationary, notebooks, canvases, sketchbooks, especially if they are of high-quality or aesthetically pleasing themselves.  I know some people are inspired to use items because they are drawn to or attracted to them, but for me, it actually holds me at bay.  It feels like nothing I could ever put into it would live up to the standard of the vessel.

I don’t need to tell you why this is warped thinking, but I also don’t know what to tell you about combating it long term.  It remains difficult for me – painful, even – to write in a planner or a notebook if my handwriting isn’t pristine, the quality of my words isn’t up to par, everything isn’t perfectly bulleted or color-coded, etc.  But I can tell you, this year, I opted for a much lower key planner.

Instead of a planner with day, week, and month views, inspiring quotes on every page, a dozen pages of stickers to decorate, a plush leather cover, etc.,my planner this year is bound in a heavyweight cardstock, features a simple monthly layout (and that’s it, no day or week views), and has back-to-back, a single dotted page (for bulleted lists, charts, habit trackers (what I’m using it for), etc.) and a page with four simple boxes: Goals, Tasks, Tracking, and Notes.  The habit tracker I drew has smudged lines, and the highlighter bleeds through the margins, and you know what?  I don’t love it… but it doesn’t kill me.

And it doesn’t overwhelm me.  I like my little planner, and it’s not ugly, but it’s not loaded down with unnecessary features and it doesn’t feel like a piece of art – it feels like a tool, which is what it should be.  I don’t care if the damn thing was gilded in gold and studded in diamonds, if it’s not helping me keep track of my crap, it’s worthless.

So if you’re like me, put down that leather-bound Moleskin journal, and stop Googling Pinterest spreads that give you heart palpitations from just considering their intricacy.  More, more, more doesn’t mean better, better, better.  Do you really need a 200 page planner with hour-by-hour time allotments on the daily pages??  Are you actually going to spend hours tracing stencils and positioning stickers to track your Girl’s Night!-s or Yoga Class-es?  Or do you just need a pre-constructed, pre-determined place to write down what you want to do, and cross off when you do them? Then take the stress of expectation (and perfection) off your shoulders and downgrade.  It’s ok, really.

Is staying away from “pretty things” a long term solution?  Of course not; expecially when, to me, a “pretty thing” can be as simple as a blank page.  But if I’m trying to build a habit and routine, then the tools that are supposed to help me do tht need to be something I can reliably and comfortably use, not something that (paradoxically) makes me feel like a hack when I use it, and like a failure when I don’t.

I’ll unpack all the other worrying issues with perfectionism and such later.

At least now I can pencil it in.