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What started as “feeling under the weather” and having a bit of a sore throat early last week turned into being flat-out sick mid-week.  So instead of photographing things I’ve worked on, painting in my studio, and getting things ticked off the to-do list, I was blowing my nose raw and redecorating my nightstand with coughdrops, saltines, a thermometer, and an array of beverages.  While I didn’t appreciate the little detour my week took, the kitties loved the extra snuggles and hardly left my side.  I’m still dealing with a cough and fatigue, but I am definitely on the upswing.

Since I didn’t get to take those new pictures and work on putting new posts together, I am picking up a post I started writing a few months ago.  I looked back over my drafts and this one made me smile as I reread what was already written and I thought it was worth dusting off, finishing, and posting.

combating the inner creative critic | miss mustard seed

Whenever I work on a project, a soundtrack plays in my head and has played for as long as I can remember.

When a seam is a little wonky, a finish is scratched, I get some wall paint on the trim, or I hack off curtains instead of hemming them properly, I think – Well, I don’t do perfect.  And I don’t.

There is a lot that I can do and will do, but my work is always riddled with little mistakes and won’t pass close inspection from the Perfection Police.  As I’ve worked on various projects over the past few months from painting the living room to making a slipcover for the second-hand recliner, that familiar soundtrack repeated in the background.  Well, that little wrinkle is okay because I don’t do perfect.  It’s okay that the right front of the arm is just a little higher than the left because I don’t do perfect.  I can leave that unseen seam unfinished because I don’t do perfect.  

This thinking led me to wonder – if I don’t do perfect, what do I do?  And it came to me.

I do better and done.

combating the inner creative critic | miss mustard seed

When I first started sewing, painting, and learning other DIY skills to improve my home and nurture my creativity, I went into those early projects knowing the results wouldn’t be very good.  I wasn’t bothered or deterred by that, though, because I focused on two things.  Number one, I could make whatever I was working on (a piece of furniture, a room, a pillow, etc.) better than it was before, or at least more to my taste.  And, number two, I could get a project done and there is something that feels very good about that.  So, I never set perfection as a goal and focused on getting something done and making it better.  And, if I don’t make it better, the work makes ME better and sometimes that’s more valuable.

If you’ve bought the sewing machine and you’re too intimidated to use it or if you’ve bought the can of paint and you’re too worried it’ll be the wrong color or you’ll mess something up, I want to encourage you to reset your expectations.  Done and better instead of perfect.

If “better and done” is a little too vague, here are a few specific ideas…

  • Try those new skills on something that doesn’t matter at all.  Paint a piece of furniture you hate and couldn’t possibly ruin.  Sew some scrap pieces of fabric together just to get used to your machine.  The point is to get used to doing something, not to make something amazing.  I made an embroidery workbook a couple of years ago and I love it, even in all of its wonkiness and imperfections.

combating the inner creative critic | miss mustard seed

  • Make something that has no purpose except your own growth.  I’ve knitted and crocheted several random squares and rectangles and hats that won’t fit anyone’s head I know just for the purpose of practicing stitches and tension without any pressure.

combating the inner creative critic | miss mustard seed

  • Make something that is so ugly, it makes you laugh.  I’ve done this unintentionally a few times and it really does relieve the pressure I can put on myself.  When you can laugh at mistakes, failures, and missteps, they aren’t quite so scary.
  • Focus on quantity instead of quality.  This isn’t practical with every kind of project or endeavor, but in so many cases, quality comes with quantity.  I’ve become very good at painting rooms because I’ve painted almost every surface in every home we’ve owned and I’ve helped other people paint their rooms.  I’ve put a lot of miles on rollers over the years.  It’s hard to not get good at something when you put that time in.

combating the inner creative critic | miss mustard seed

  • Try new things with friends.  It’s always more fun to jump into something new when you have other people spurring you on, learning with you, teaching you, or laughing with you.  I’ve shared before that I started oil painting when one of my Instagram friends issued a challenge to paint 100 landscapes.  Three of us painted landscapes together, messaged each other questions about oil painting, shared our victories, and asked for help when we struggled.  I don’t know if I would’ve finished all 100 paintings or even stuck with oil painting if I didn’t have that support in the early days when painting can be discouraging.

I know, for many people, the soundtrack when they work on projects or set out to learn something new might be critical and judgmental. I am taunted by those same inner critiques at times and, as I’m sure many of you know, striving to silence them with perfection is ineffective.  However, better and done seems to do the trick…

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    29 Comments

    1. Brigitte

      What a wonderful expression! When I started papercrafting 18 years ago, I was terrified of making the “wrong” cuts on my first sheets of paper. My daughter is an artist and said “Just pick a paper you don’t really like and make that first cut. Who cares what it looks like?” and she was absolutely right. It really does get easier to become comfortable with what you create, the more times you try.

      • Kim Price

        Such good advice ! I wait on things for the perfect time, the perfect fabric, paint color, etc. Better and done is a great motto and just what I needed to hear,thanks Marian

    2. Rebecca

      How freeing these shared thoughts are. Thank you.

    3. Janet

      I took me nine years to put up the gallery wall in our bedroom. Constant questions…do the frames have to match. Mixing black and white with colored photos, the layout. Finally this year we put up an organic gallery wall. I love it. Still a few tweaks needed, but it is up. It will aways be a work in progress, but I am so pleased I just did it. Great post.

    4. Linda

      So true. So often I find myself being intimidated by trying something new, whether it’s some craft or a new recipe or doing something I’ve never done before. Perfection is definitely over rated. Go easy on yourself and enjoy yourself…..life is short. What are you waiting for?
      Sorry you’ve been sick🤒

    5. Rhea

      Thank you so much for sharing your WISDOM!

    6. Susan

      When learning to watercolor I was initially unable to even start. That clean, white watercolor paper was so intimidating and pristine that I couldn’t bring myself to ‘mess it up’, ‘make a mistake’ or create something that would be ‘ugly’.
      A message similar to yours prompted me to dive in. No one was looking over my shoulder, I paid for the paints and paper so no one else was fiscally impacted by my efforts and, if I created something heinous, I could just put it away and try it again. No one else would be weighing in or judging.
      I granted myself permission and that was the key that unlocked the door that had kept me from starting in the first place.

    7. Maria

      This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I have been in the middle of updating our kitchen for what seems like forever. And the majority of this time has been spent wondering if I have the skills to do the job “perfectly”. HA!! For some reason I have been questioning every decision and every brush stroke. After finishing the latest cabinet door I noticed a stray cat hair embedded in the paint – I spent 2 days going back and forth on whether to sand it all and repaint the door. My wise husband brought me back to reality by reminding me that the little cat hair, who will only ever be seen by me, is part of this story. It’s a snapshot of where we are in our life right now. I did not redo that door – and have adopted another one of your mantras for the remainder of this project – “done is better than perfect”! Thank you Marian!

    8. Betsy

      Your timing for this is perfect. I’ve had the bug to make a quilt for our guest room but I haven’t made a quilt in years. I decided to move forward and purchase the supplies this afternoon. I’m jumping in and will try my best. Wish me luck!

      • Betsy

        P.S. to me your embroidery book is a work of art from the moment I first saw it.

    9. BeverlyO

      This is one of my favorite posts from you – ever! I can relate to it in earnest. I recently started reclaiming a space in our home as my own creative working spot and have been taking my time and only completing short, easy projects. Then, another space required some attention and I had to work there for a while. When I returned to my original space, I started looking through photos to reference the way a corner had been before and found photos from long, long ago when I first started claiming and making this home my own. What a difference the entire home has taken over the years! Did I like it back then after I finished whatever project I was working on as an improvement? Yes! It was far better than before. Does it look like that now? Usually not, but I like it now, too!

      • Patricia Kasparian

        I needed this post today. I just started a slipcover for my sofa and it’s a tad wonky on one arm. I put it away to take a break on Sunday. I’ll go back to it with this with this post as my encouragement for getting it done even if it’s not perfect. Thank you, Marian!

    10. Jo

      What is that art book you did that copy of that lovely painting from please?

    11. I

      I just made twenty Valentinr cards and sent them with the new US stamps. And I am sure no one I sent these cards to will recognize the mistakes I made. But instead they will certainly appreciate the thought and effort I put into each one. And I enjoyed making each card ! And by the way have you seen the adorable Valentine stamp this year ? I just love the new trend that brides are putting old stamps on their invitations these days. I guess you could say I just love stamps ! So it’s the thought that counts and also the time you put into any project that counts not the perfection of the result ! Happy creating and get ready for March which is National Craft Month !

    12. Mieke Dinkelaar

      Thank you! That is just what I needed to hear!

    13. Valeri Johnson

      My husband used to critique everything I did but I always told him “a good enough job done is better than a perfect job undone”. Eventually he agreed and has since adopted my motto. We get a lot more done now,

    14. Celeste

      I did a painting of a lion that is SO bad. He’s the most emaciated, pathetic lion. Every time I see it, it makes me laugh. It reminds me of how far I’ve come and that I am still in need of a lot of practice. Sometimes failure is just what we need to propel us forward.

    15. Mary Jane Everett

      Yes..this!

      My other mantra is, “No one will look at it as closely as I do.” What might be obvious mistakes to the maker, may never be noticed by anyone else. As long as something isn’t so “wrong” that it makes me uncomfortable, I can leave well enough alone and move on to the next project.

      Thanks for your wisdom!

    16. Babs

      I have always felt that perfection is highly over rated and leads to paralysis. There is nothing more scary than a pristine piece of white watercolor paper but you just have to jump in. It’s just a piece of paper!

      Glad you are feeling better.

    17. Josie

      Thanks, I needed this. I so much dwell on perfect as evidenced by my many projects left undone because sometimes perfect is unattainable.

      I look at pics of projects posted online that look perfect but they don’t always reveal that they are not perfect. The pics are not up close.

      You give wise advice.

    18. Dawn Harris

      A saying that has helped me time and again is “an imperfect something is better than a perfect nothing.” We all need that encouragement from time to time.

      • Lana

        In our early years with this 1870s house we had trouble finding an electrician willing to take on some needed work, which was a bit demoralizing for these first time home owners! A friend who is an electrician stepped up and as he came up from the dirt floor cellar I asked ‘ Is it fixed?’ And he replied ‘It’s better’. So that is the standard I’ve adopted as I muddle thru many home projects- ‘Is it better?’. It lets me sleep at night!

    19. Cheryl

      Thank you Marian, I needed to hear that!

    20. Katherine

      I am an avid quilter and make a point of always creating a label for each quilt. The gal who machine quilts many of my completed tops loved the one with the label that read “Done is better than Perfect” !

    21. Becca

      Your embroidery workbook is lovely! Please share a post on that if you haven’t already! And your photos of your imperfect handiworks are beautiful! Thank you and feel better!

    22. Kristine

      This…this is one of my most favorite posts you have ever written! This little insight into your heart and spirit is such a treat. I loved reading this, and will absolutely take it to heart. I think in some ways I unconsciously already practice this approach. I recently sewed a few pillows that were not the right size for the corresponding form, and in the process of scrunching them in, some of the seams ripped. My husband made note of it, and I airly informed he it was an easy fix. On the other hand, we have a beat up, can’t-make-it-any-worse table that we use in our family room. I have been wanting to paint it for years, and finally picked out a paint color I like. I am in recovery for back surgery right now, but should be able to take a run at in in April. Can’t wait! So glad you are feeling better!

    23. TAG

      This was a timely read. Just last night I was talking on the phone with my son who is 30ish and mentioned that I finally hemmed the mountain biking pants I gifted him for Christmas. He is tall so we purchased unhemmed pants. I told him that they were the most frustrating thing I ever sewed and it may be a little “wonky”. My husband asked “what is wonky?” My son reminded me that they are just mountain biking pants. He was right. Better and done was more important than perfect. Now he can get outside for some winter mountain biking!

    24. Anita

      Perfect! I always say that if anyone ever sees that little dribble, wrinkle, or whatever else I see wrong, they are just looking way too hard. My work is always the best I can do, and the overall is what really matters.

    25. Henriette

      Frequent reader here, but not a commenter. This post . . .powerful, amazing, wise. Possibly the best I have read here. I am always amazed at what you accomplish and have just assumed it is all perfect because it certainly looks so!!
      I have often been paralyzed on projects because I feared not having them be good enough, let alone perfect. Someone I care for very much is a perfectionist and never finishes projects. It is sad really because this is a very creative and talented person. The creative world I live in runs rampant with perfection police, many of whom don’t hesitate to share their negative opinions.

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    Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

    I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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