what steve jobs’ perfectionism has taught me

Posted on July 17th, 2013

It truly is an oddity. It’s become a talking point among friends. A joke at first.  I can’t buy a couch. And it’s come to hold up a mirror to a few fundamental sadnesses about life.

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Cold comfort: It took Steve Jobs 10 years to buy a couch.

Indeed, I’ve never owned a couch. I’ve inherited old ones when I’ve moved into the various rentals I’ve traipsed between over the years. I bought my first apartment late last year. I’ve been sitting in it… on the floor. Actually, on my yoga foam roller on a bit of old carpet a friend passed onto me. I work from this set-up. I meditate here. I eat my meals from the one – yes one – chair I have (I sit on the floor, eat from the chair). I’ve lived like this for seven months. And, yes, I know it’s sad.

I struggled to know what it is that stalls me from buying a couch. Or a dining table. Or chairs. I’ve been trying to find a sustainably made one that ticks off all My Simple Home boxes. My criteria is tight; I’m a painful perfectionist who can’t buy a pair of undies until I know the manufacturing history and carbon mileage of them and determined that they’re the best design on the market such that my rare purchase of a new pair of undies (I own eight pairs currently) is not wasted.

But that’s only part of it. It’s this too: to buy something so… committed (THERE, I SAID IT)…is a big deal. Couches are commitments. Right now, I can pack up and take off with a moment’s notice. In fact, I’m about to next week. I don’t own a fridge either (I bought a place with an inbuilt one). With a couch (and a fridge) you can’t fly. At least it feels that way.

So since it’s a big deal, and reflects more than just seating apparatus,  the potency of my couch-buying decision is magnified. And, of course, the more potent, the more I freeze. I can’t make a decision because it’s come to matter so much.

We stall on decisions when there’s fear. Indecision flags fear for us.

And so it reared it’s head: commitment niggles me. When things niggle me, I bubble-wrap them in perfectionism. No one can accuse me of being scared of commitment when I can just turn around and and say I’m merely being a perfectionist. And so my fear can continue, unchallenged a little longer. I’m seductive like that.

And then I came across the above picture of Steve Jobs in his lounge room. A concerned friend sent it to me.  It could be me. That’s my lounge below.

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 2.23.03 PM

My lounge. The similarities are uncanny.

I dug around to find out the genesis of the photo. I’m sharing it, and pivoting this post from it, because it’s interesting. In Jobs’ biography, author Walter Isaacson explains that for most of his life Steve Jobs lived a spartan lifestyle, his home furnished with  the barest essentials: a chest of drawers and a mattress in his bedroom, a card table and some folding chairs in his dining room for when guests came over.

He was such a perfectionist and obsessive that…he couldn’t buy a couch! Here’s what his wife Laurene said in the book: “We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’”

And in a 1996 Wired article Jobs discussed buying a washing machine:

“We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them. It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.”

“We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make,” Steve continued. “We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.”

I do this. With dinner plates. Running shoes. Holiday destinations. Except the debate is in my head because I don’t have a wife. And I’d not want to subject anyone else to the torture of my perfectionism. And fear. And truth be known, when friends do raise the issue, I snap at them. Dismiss the issue. Barge forward onto another topic. More bubble-wrap.

In the hospital at the end of his life, apparently Jobs churns through 67 nurses before he finds three he likes. “At one point, the pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face when he was deeply sedated,” Isaacson writes. Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked.

I read this now and it leaves me immeasurably sad. Some people don’t ever get to puncture their bubble-wrap. They flog themselves stupid all their lives to be positioned such that no one will ever be able to challenge them on their fear. Jobs could churn through 67 nurses because he was rich and powerful and a known “perfectionist”.

Ultimately, though, perfectionism and indecision masks the fear we’re not enough on our own.

Do you reckon indecision and perfectionism flags stuff for you? I do rather love the way it expresses itself in different people…always quirky!

 

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  • http://annaliesemaree.me Annaliese

    I wish this could be me.
    I told my husband yesterday I didn’t want a huge dining table anymore, I’d rather eat japanese style round a coffee table.

    “But what about guests?” he says.
    And so the monstrosity is taking up space, and I find it hard to think because of so much large stuff!

    I read a pin on pinterest yesterday:
    Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction;
    Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus.

    Don’t buy a couch, you will be better off without :-)

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  • Emma

    I’m a “perfectionist”. I’m “shy”. And really scared of so many things. What other people think of me mainly. How I am perceived and that anything I do or am isn’t good enough.
    I just realised how incredibly tired I am of it.
    Thanks for keeping on sharing such insightful, inspiring and real straight-in-the-gut posts.

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  • miamoo

    My perfectionism is an excuse. Because it’s easier excuse yourself out of it than risk falling short of your expectations. I fight it every day and it’s bloody worth it!

    Shake it off and let it go. You want a couch? Buy the damn couch. And breathe.

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  • Judith

    I don’t know if I think perfectionism and fear hide feeling like “not enough,” but they do complicate living a truly free life. There is no perfect decision. You know this.

    My husband and I deliberated on buying a couch for seven months, sleeping/eating/living on a mattress in the living room. It was only after we determined the purposes we wanted it to serve, and ways we wanted it to function that we found one we liked.

    I know this is a bit different from your situation, but I think the best way to respond to “perfect” is to identify what matters most to you and go from there. Good luck. I’m sure you’ll find the right fit. :)

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  • Rachel

    Great perspective . Well said.

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  • http://www.happymumshappykids.com.au Marija Castellari

    Hi Sarah, with permission, I’d like to challenge you on your fear, in the hope that one day you get to puncture your bubble wrap (…I wonder what life would be like without it?)

    In most cases of perfectionism, there are three primary structures that hold it in place:

    1/ All or Nothing Thinking Style– e.g. either it’s the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ couch, or it’s the ‘wrong’ couch. This can drive idealism (or idolism).
    2/ Sameness (Matching) Thinking Style – Looking for ways to match the idealism (or idolism). So the couch has to match ALL of the ‘right’ (or ‘tight’) criteria (e.g. My Simple Home boxes)
    3/ Rules/Standards – Decisions are based on certain rules/standards (either your own values (like sustainability), beliefs, principles, standards or quality) or other’s rules/standards.

    In the context of buying dinner plates, running shoes, undies and couches etc you share how you debate this in your head. In which context do you NOT do this? Correct me if I’ve misunderstood, when it comes to exercising this thinking style doesn’t dominate – you just get out of the house each day without a particular plan, but aim for at least 20 minutes daily. Awesome – the good news is that you have flexibility in other contexts, which can be expanded to other situations if you thought it would serve you better.

    A Secondary level to the above structure is something you mentioned…‘The fear we’re not enough on our own’ i.e. conditional self esteem. Therefore, if I don’t buy the ‘right’ lounge, I won’t be good enough. You are not alone in this fear – more good news…you can also change this thinking! That’s a whole other article ;)

    Then the other component that can sneak into decision making is identifying with this thinking – ‘I’M a painful perfectionist’. You also have the power to gain flexibility in this thinking – woo hoo – it doesn’t have to define you; you are more than you’re behaviours! I wonder what would happen if you could be playful about your perfectionism – experiment with it?

    Where in your body do you feel the authority to make decisions? Do you give yourself permission to make mistakes?

    So we started with thinking styles, and then the other element is the meaning we give to things. In your mind, a couch currently means commitment. I wonder what else could it mean? You are a meaning-maker, and that’s empowering, because a couch can mean anything you want it to mean.

    Sarah, I hope you feel immeasurably happier.
    From, a reformed perfectionist

    (Interestingly Sarah, anecdotal evidence suggests a possible link between auto-immune diseases, and All or Nothing Thinking Styles, where the body’s immune system recognises something as “good” or “not good”.)

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    lilapud Reply:

    Nice Marija, I like this … interesting and helpful, plenty to think about here for girl prone to the All or Nothing style …

    I particularly like and ‘get’ :
    “Then the other component that can sneak into decision making is identifying with this thinking – ‘I’M a painful perfectionist’. You also have the power to gain flexibility in this thinking – woo hoo – it doesn’t have to define you; you are more than you’re behaviours!:)”

    I think this is an area a lot of us could benefit from looking into more! It’s hugely liberating. I think you have made some great suggestions and done it very gently and politely, well done, I admire that.

    Li. :)

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  • Marie

    Thank you for writing about this, I can so relate and now I don’t feel like a freak! Very timely too, as I spent all this morning debating about whether I should buy a sofa bed off ebay. I didn’t in the end. Maybe this post is a ‘sign’. I spend so much time thinking about whether to buy a particular item in a store (clothing/furnishing), that I walk away with nothing. My husband says I ‘take away the joy from purchasing something, because of all the thinking I put into it’, but then I think purchasing things isn’t joyful…full stop! It’s temporary/fleeting joy and leaves you plummeting back to your baseline of happiness. If that makes sense. If you need to buy a couch because you’re uncomfortable/back issues etc, then buy one…second hand! Don’t buy one to fill a ‘space’. Good luck!

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  • Caz

    Your perfectionism, and your willingness to share your finds – such as the products you use, has saved us all a lot of time and research! So a very BIG thank you, and…. which undies are the best to buy??

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  • Charles Cuninghame

    Great article Sarah. As a recovering perfectionist myself I can really relate. I found this quote in a book the other day and it really made me sad for all the crap I put myself and others through:

    “Of all the burdens we inflict on ourselves and others, perfectionism is amongst the weightiest.”

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  • Emma

    Pretty much, yeah! Hm… Maybe I should work on that ha ha.

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  • Linda

    Go buy a couch from a secondhand charity store and if you don’t want it any more donate it back. It’s really no biggy, perhaps you are over thinking it? Sounds like Jobs was a classic over thinker – making mountains out of mole hills. It’s not commitment, it’s an innate object. At the end of his life we are talking about his couch, or lack thereof. Really, I hope my biography is a little more exciting!

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  • Sarah Lynn

    Have you ever tried doing a coin flip to help in making decisions?

    You have to decide if heads means yes (buy a couch) and if tails then no- don’t need one (or whatever answer works for your question).

    Then you flip the coin and before you look, you look at your feelings.

    What do you want to be there? Which answer to do really wish to see come true?

    This will tell you what you really want to do, without overthinking it (which I like to do). I consider so many options, look so many things up, that in the end, I am totally overwehlmed and then can’t make a decision. Then I brood over it for weeks or months – still paralyzed with indecision.
    Just heard the coin trick last week at a motivational speaker, Hermann Scherer, will try and use it next time I become paralyzed by my perfectionism.
    s
    PS: You don’t even have to look at the coin at the end. :)

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  • JK

    You know what they say about communication?
    It’s impossible not to communicate.
    Even by staying silent, you communicate something.

    I think it’s the same with commitment.
    It’s not that you don’t commit by shying away from commitment.
    You just commit to a weird state of limbo, designed by your fears, not by you.
    And life’s too short for that, couch or no couch.

    Written as a former perfectionist who discovered that liking yourself and letting go make life so much happier

    And Sarah, is it the same for you when it comes to work or other projects (like IQS)?
    And if not, why not?

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  • Mel

    Buy the couch, or don’t buy the couch. Just don’t decide not to buy it because you are sticking to a principle or set of circumstances which were once relevant but are no longer. I too often find myself continuing on with a way of thinking and stick to my guns because that’s what I have become comfortable with. Sometimes we just need to accept it’s time to do something different. Changing is hard (I HATE change and find myself resisting it over inconsequential things.) If your situation is now different than it once was (that is, you were a renter and by extension could move on whenever you chose, but are now a home owner and more permanent) then go ahead and pick a couch. You’ve already made the commitment in buying your home. Furnishing it is just confirming you’ve made the right decision. You don’t need to be lavish about your choices, but you should make them.

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  • M

    I have known to be an over-thinker when it comes to some things in life also.

    I bought my first apartment this year too and have had a lot of fun furnishing and decorating it.

    It’s good to spend time in your space and its good to put energy into finding things you love. I do believe this will give you a better result rather than just hitting up the local homemaker centre and getting the same stuff as everyone else.

    Having said that though life is for living. You can’t let yourself be crippled by indecision. Like with most things in life, I believe moderation is the key. It’s good to shop around and make informed choices, but not let the goal of perfection bog you down.

    A good tip is to check out Gumtree. I bought a stunning round solid timber table for $200. It was well made and pre-loved and it looks beautiful in my apartment. You really can pick up beautiful items full of character shopping like this. Its also perhaps a more responsible option rather than buying flat-packed everything. There are probably greater finds in the table department rather than for couches, but it’s worth a look.

    It is good to be a thinker and it’s good to make responsible decisions, but sometimes I think allowing yourself to be happy in the moment instead of worrying about little details is the smartest choice.

    I think there’s real beauty in learning to let go a bit!

    Good luck with your search :)

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  • http://coming jane

    Hi Sarah this is the first post I’ve read of yours and I can’t believe the couch thing – we are so similar in our thoughts! and the perfection thing! and the fear thing! – they’re all tied up together! I came to this blog because I have just finished reading this:
    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/entertainment/music/and-thats-the-way-he-likes-it-20130709-2pnua.html
    I haven’t read all the comments above but would like to and yes please – sign me up – feel like there might be a few like minded people on this site!

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  • Deanne

    When the right couch comes along you’ll know. I’m all for not getting stuff if you don’t love it and need it. So, I’m not convinced by the fear and commitment argument – perhaps its just not that important. You’ll find an interesting piece when you’re least expecting to.

    However, I get Jobs obsessions with design! It took my husband and I three years to buy a clean white sugar bowl that we loved, and we still haven’t bought a coffee table. We inherited one (that we don’t even like) from my business.

    If it’s not beautiful and simple – it’s not worth having.
    The world is full of enough junk!

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  • Deanne

    AJ – I love your comments.
    Recovering perfectionists like myself love having people around like you.
    Love the reality check. Keep it up!

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    AJ Reply:

    Thanks!

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  • Lisa

    My partner over analyses everything, purchases, menus even what to do on a Sunday. Not fun to live with. I feel like he is stuck in a theoretical state of purgatory, and I’m battling to get him to move from a practical state of limbo.

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  • http://www.adamcordner.com Adam Cordner

    Sarah I’ve witnessed your indecision first hand, and it makes sense.

    I hate the feeling now of having things, even the apartment I own is leaving me with the feeling of being tied and cluttered in my head.

    I can sit polarized for days dwelling on one simple idea. It sucks. I’ve had friends and family call (which I never answer) to check I’m “in my hole” and not dead, it’s become expected that I disappear when I catch an idea.

    Before I can get to the bottom of that idea I have to clean out everything. I’ll throw out all unnecessary things, shoes, furniture, even photos in an effort to focus, or de-clutter.

    I once got so frustrated with my lack of production and progress that I put everything on the street except for my mattress, and then I felt like I could get to the task at hand.

    I know I went a little off-topic here but something about “the couch” triggers a little panic in me.

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    Ms London Reply:

    Hi Adam

    Wow – your post really spoke volumes to me! I actually would like to throw everything away and start again – will check out your blog.

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  • http://coming jane

    Adam that was priceless! Certainly made me laugh. A little extreme don’t you think – putting everything on the street!! (love it – there I go laughing again!) – but I can certainly relate to where you’re coming from!

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  • Son

    You are way over thinking it

    Close enough is good enough, I say. Just keep moving forward!

    With 30 staff and 2 kids, I don’t have the time to over think much…

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  • http://www.best-books-for-kids.com Felicity

    Two books I’ve read recently which may be of interest to people in overcoming this mindset: “The Good Life” by Hugh Mackay and “The Happiness Trap” by Dr Russ Harris.

    They certainly helped me.

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  • sheree

    I don’t understand not having a couch due to perfectionism. What I suggest is getting a second hand couch from a site like gumtree. Reducing the demand for new couches to be manufactured and saving a couch that would otherwise end up as landfill.

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  • rachelle

    Hi Sarah,

    I did not buy a couch until I was 37. Like you I had hand me downs or lived in shared accommodation. It look 12 months I find a couch I liked. I had no experience in what I liked or what other furniture I would buy. After months on apartmenttherapy.com looking for ideas I made my decision (a US based site but great for ideas). I am glad I spent the time to research and look. I would have rather been surfing but I am happy with the result. Everyone loves my couch – a friend wanted to buy it. I bought a couch because I figured I was spending a heap on my mortgage and there did not seem to be much point if I was sitting on the floor. I wanted to make my living space a home instead of feeling like it was a temporary stop. There really aren’t that many couches in existence that would fit all of your criteria. My suggestion.

    1. Print pictures of all of the couches on your maybe list. Or put them side by side on one computer screen.
    2. Think about the other things you will have in your room.
    3. Think about what colours you are drawn to – these should be included in your interior.
    4. Buy something with a washable cover if possible.

    Can I suggest mid century modern. It is huge in the US, not so much here as yet but I think that will change.

    See all this from someone who knew nothing about furniture or interior decoration several years ago.

    Your perfectionism stops you making a decision because you don’t yet feel like an expert in this field. Give it time. There is also an element of commitment – but some of the beauty in travelling is having a nice place to call home when you return.

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  • Patricia

    Sarah I cant equate perfectionism with having your problems buying couch.

    But I somehow get the feeling maybe, just a guess, could it be a form of self-denial
    that by denying yourself these basic items eg couch, because the less you have, makes you feel better and ok about a lot of other things you may acquire or have access to, or been given with your job.

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  • Lopsy

    Hello Sarah and everyone,

    I wasn’t going to post cos there was so much I wanted to say in response to your post but I couldn’t really find the words….and also because I find when I write it doesn’t really convey what I really feel or mean in that really connecting with someone in a spoken dialogue. So , I’ll try…first of all thank you for sharing your feelings to us…and for total honesty which allows all of us to breathe and work through our idiosyncricies and insecurities. Firstly, I do not for a moment think that it is sad that you don’t have a couch and that you sit on the floor and eat off your chair…. it s not sad. Please don’t label yourself in this way. My personal opinion is that its pretty cool actually and appeals to the slight hippy in me…I guess. Sad to me is all the people who conform to some conventionality that we have to have partners, husbands, children, houses, cars, great careers, lots of friends, a food processor, ( you get the picture…) and a sofa to make them feel complete. You are a human being not a sheep and if you don’t feel like having couch or a fridge or fucking house…soooooooo whaaatttt!!!!
    I don’t know you personally but from what I can see you don’t have a fear of commitment. You are commited to trying to look after your health and your AI the best way you can, you are committed to your blog and share so much about life and humanity through that, you seem pretty committed to your work and the team that surrounds you in that, sounds like you are pretty commited to interesting and kind friendships….But most of all, to me you seem to be fairly committed to being a free spirit and to having a soulful sense of freedom. Whats wrong with that…. Sure freedom or a passionate desre for it can make life a struggle in some ways. It can be bloody god damn lonely…it makes you feel different and sometimes probably a little bloody lost…?? ( please excuse the swearing …Im a bit prememenstural at mo and because I can relate to a lot of what you have said here today strikes a chord deep inside of me somewhere and I can feel a need to defend you slightly and the choices you have made). Im 48 and I got a sofa six months ago and only because someone was moving out of my apartment block and was giving it away!! Ha! Why didn’t I want one. Practical reasons for one..my flat is a small studio and so I eat, read, watch tv and relax on my comfy bed. But theres more to it that that…just like with you. I live in London and I rent. I come from New Zealand and used to live in Sydney. I need to know that I can just go at any point and quickly. I don’t want to be tied down and I certainly don’t want large material household items to have to get rid off quickly. I know a lot of its psychological and that’s okay too. Sarah you like to wander from what I can see and you are a true seeker and adventurer so maybe its okay that you have to mull over decisions and cant always make them or don’t want to…. I think your life and lifestyle is enviable…the vision I have of you …getting in your car and taking off with your surfboard and your bike, in your green short is beautiful. With my Graves disease exercise is very difficult for me….but I am constantly thinking about where I want to go away on holiday next…and hows this for weirdness…I only like going away by myself! Anyway, i have raved on a lot here but I hope Ive managed to get my point across….? and that is to embrace the fact that youre a bit scared of conventional conformity on some small things and that you have a terrific life which is so interesting and lived-in. Maybe theres a little bit of a nomad in you and that’s totally cool..and the last thing a nomad needs is a couch. I think you are a swell gal…please don’t go changing. Youre perfect at being Sarah Wilson and frankly if I was one of your friends yur lack of a couch would certainly not be a talking point…. they need to get a life.
    I hope I haven’t come across as being over the top here but I feel very strongly all of this having to keep up with and/or being the same as everyone else…. I belong to a group called Gateway Women ( look them up ) run by the fabulous Jody Day for women who are childless by circumstances and we learn all about blowing all these old, no longer necessary pressures and expectations that we put on ourselves in soooo many ways. Yo don’t need to justify your fears or quirks…you will come to terms with them or try an heal them in your own way..when you need to. Keep rocking the life unexpected! love Lauren x

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    Bonita Reply:

    Beautiful post Lopsy.

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  • Georgia

    Couchless Sairs you crack me up. You and Steve Jobs xx

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  • liv

    Second that!

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  • Marnie

    It made me a little sad reading this article about you but thank you for being so honest I have recently discovered a fantastic book that I think you might like to read, it is changing my life, ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ by Louise L Hay. I hope you enjoy it.

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  • Jolien

    Sarah, great post, I love it. And I share your sentiments – your stubbornness to commit to a purchase (or other decision) when your heart isn’t truly in it; your acute awareness of others worrying about that protest…

    Let me share this quote that is very dear to me, from dancer Martha Graham (it says it all and I can never read it too many times):

    “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

    I hope all that talk of bubble wrap and fear (which – believe me – goes on in my head too) is just rubbish. I hope it’s just a blessed unrest. Don’t you feel more alive than others?! I do.

    Xxx

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  • Alex

    I usually LOVE your posts Sarah, but this one left me feeling irritated. I get that its not really about the couch, its about fear, paralysing indecision, perfectionism. All of these states can be serious and detrimental to living an authentic and peaceful life. I do get that. However, maybe its because there is so much stuff going on in the world that really matters, that this article seems so indulgent to me. To use that cliche – its the ultimate first world problem. I think we all need to stop searching for perfection and seek instead contentment and gratitude. There is no perfect option, life is messy and unpredictable. Let’e enjoy the good stuff and stop obsessing about the stuff that really doesn’t matter. One of the best ways to get out of our own self absorption is to think about what we can do for someone else. Perfectionism is the killer of joy and connection.

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  • Liz

    Ha ha! Just bought a couch. I had a panic attack the day it arrived. I thought I’d ruined the house. We’d bought it only recently and if I could have taken on the last owners furniture, I would have. It would have been easier and less risky than deciding for myself. But, to grow, I think we need to make and live with our own decisions. Even those that aren’t perfect. I think that’s how you overcome the tyranny of perfectionism. However, Jobs was a genius. We have all benefitted from his work. I wonder, could he still have been a genius and not let rather perfectionism take over his whole life?

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  • http://www.tosoglobal.com Michelle Waite

    Some recent thoughts I had on perfectionism…I’m torn. Some good, some bad…as with everything I guess.

    http://tosoglobal.com/2013/04/22/flirting-with-perfectionism/

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  • http://www.therogueginger.com Erin

    Sarah, I am moving for the 16th time in 10 years. And in that time I have owned none of the major household items. Things have been given to me through friends and family. Or I purposely moved into homes that were partly furnished. Everything has been passed on and never really felt like mine. When my housemate informed me that she would be moving on, I went into a mini panic. Tossing up between moving into another furnished home or should I stay. This meant buying ‘the stuff’ that all my friends’ homes have. I do have perfectionist qualities when it comes to buying said stuff, like does it tick all the boxes for my values and lifestyle. After some long walks I realised I’m not scared and it’s not my perfectionism, but I’m just a natural nomad who does not like being tied to things. I like the fact I can pack up and go. And whatever I buy, or you decided to buy, it can be given away just like the items that were originally passed onto each of us over the years. We don’t have to own them, just use them.

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  • Karen

    Hi Sarah,

    Nice post, as always. So pure, you are, in your thinking.

    Here’s my experience: I bought a couch 30 years ago. After we had it a few months, I decided I didn’t like it and put an ad in the newspaper in order to sell it. One woman called and came to look at it. She asked why I was selling it. I told her I had made a mistake in my selection of it. She left and I never heard from her again.

    Time passed and I kept the couch after trying it in various rooms and settings. Thirty years later, I LOVE that couch. I have moved it thousands of miles with me and it became part of our lives.

    I read once that we choose our houses but in time, our houses create us. It must be the same with furniture. In my case, we bought a traditional style, a well-loved design over the centuries and a very good quality piece. Putting those elements together caused a fusion of love and comfort and safety over time. Trust the process. Choose with love, and the universe works its magic.

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  • Alison

    Hi Sarah

    I’m the opposite – I live in a flat surrounded by great vintage pieces that I’ve picked up over the years. However the flat is a rental and I’m drowning in debt – and I wonder daily how I’m going to get through the next ten years as a single parent, let alone make a decent life for myself. I really feel like I’m carrying a house on back rather than walking through life holding my kids’ hands.

    So I’ve decided in the next few months to let it all go. Sell as much as I can. Move into a share house to reduce my debt and co-parent with my children’s dad from his place.

    Hard to predict what my guys will remember most about their childhood but I’m tipping a heavy bookcase is not going to be the thing they want to take with them into adulthood – regardless of what I thought it would bring to their home.

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  • Sally

    I don’t understand the Steve Jobs love. Sure the man was a success on many levels but did he ever concern himself with the Chinese factory workers who “churned” out his designs? Makes me sad to here he “churned” through 67 nurses before he found any he “liked”. Endless Chinese factory workers, endless nurses…just fodder for the rich and the smart who should know better. Depressing post.

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    Sally Reply:

    here = hear. Sorry Sarah didn’t mean your thoughts were depressing, on the contrary I appreciate your candour about your insecurities it’s helped me in the past to read about it.

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  • http://www.healthybursts.com Anita Fredericks

    Hello Sarah!
    You are a beautiful person, just the way you are. “Embrace the totality” as Debbie Ford always says – if you weren’t person you are, you wouldn’t be able to achieve the amazing things you have achieved. You are an inspiration to me (& so many others).

    Suggested by Hugh Mackay, “the good life is one defined by selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way”. I certainly see you willing to connect with others in a useful way – you are inspiring a change of consciousness that will go towards humanity making a quantum leap forward.

    Enjoy your travels & don’t worry about the couch!

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  • Lizzie

    I am 46. I have owned numerous flats and houses in 4 countries around the world. I have never owned a sofa. In the same way that I have never had a husband, nor children. I believe in not having something unless it absolutely keeps you up at night thinking about how much you love it. Once I had a chair made. I spent hours finding the right fabric. That chair has moved everywhere with me and people fight to sit on it. Three years ago, my boyfriend, whom I could not commit to 22 years ago and who eventually came back to find me, asked me to commit to him. The way I feel about him keeps me up at night and so I tentatively said yes but did nothing about it. My friends and family think its hilarious that I can’t commit. Last year a rescue dog found his way into my home and into my heart. Now he (and his endless hairiness) have messed up my perfect empty house and has thrown my life into chaos. Knocked off balance, I’ve got a ring on my finger and we’re getting married in February (I’m keeping it low key and am terrified!). The dog has stolen the chair and so we are now looking for the perfect sofa…

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    mw Reply:

    Cool ! All the Best ..

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  • trevor otto

    In all things one should live from the Heart. I suggest to do what your Heart desires and then appreciate it, then your apartment will be an expression of your heart. How can there be any failure in that ?

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  • Marisa

    Life has a fynny way of pushing us forward no matter how much we try and control it…..

    Sarah, you have provided me with boundless inspiration and you are an amazing person (even thought I don’t really know you) so whether you buy a couch or not is irrelevant to me but what I would like to say to you is……you are much too full of life to be frightened of it and to allow it to control you.

    and thats what it comes down to….fear. Or your percieved concept of what frightens you to the core.

    don’t let fear hold you back from something that may be wonderful…..with or without a couch. :)

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  • Fi

    It’s either perfectionism or obsessive compulsive :) I think they go hand in hand actually, 2 qualities I have anyway :) definitely go for the jardan couch worth the investment, has your name all over it, suits your style :)

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  • Fi

    It’s either perfectionism or obsessive compulsive :) I think they go hand in hand actually, 2 qualities I have anyway, along with indecisiveness :) definitely go for the jardan couch worth the investment, has your name all over it, suits your style :)

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  • Patricia

    And again,

    I put this question to you Sarah, does it bother or concern you that you don’t want to have/buy/own a couch. Or is it only your friends that are bothered by it. Really if it doesn’t bother you and you only think of it when your friends raise the issue, then you don’t have a problem.

    As I said in a previous comment, people can cause anxiety and anguish by making you feel you have a problem. When you may be perfectly happy really not having a couch.

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  • http://www.liveloveyumwell.com Live Love Yum

    I agree! It’s a couch! Get over it! Being do indecisive actually means you care more about material possessions than you let on. I lived in a small bachelor pad for years and just had a $75 sofabed …whatever worked, nothing fancy. Nothing ventured, nothing gained…nothing lost.

    P.S lots of people have couches…they still fly. You’re so wrapped up in bubble wrap I think you forgot the real reasons why…

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  • http://www.liveloveyumwell.com Live Love Yum

    But it is that simple….if its not – then there’s stuff you just need to let go of. Life’s too short. It’s all BS.

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  • Gabe

    I hear you sister. Am in a similar situation to you but the Melbourne winter forced my hand. Just like I crave warm food in winter I craved cosiness in my house. So I brought a nice simple couch on gumtree, not high end but not crap either. It’s covered in a blanket made by my gran. Got a couple of nice rugs from my mum. And put my books on my splurge bookcase (for all my anti-stuff instincts, I’m one of those people that needs books in my home). And that set-up, while super simple to some, is making me really content. Good luck with working out how to make yr home feel good. You’ll get there x

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  • Trevor Otto

    Well said Stace

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  • http://www.iamcuriousmellow.blogspot.com antonia

    Thank you for such an insightful post.

    I am one of the lucky ones who can make decisions quickly and easily. I actually never thought much about this — other than it has made my life easier in many ways.

    Interestingly, however, I am becoming more obsessive compulsive. I suspect that this, like perfectionism, also masks the fear that we’re not enough on our own, as Fun Things To Read on Friday states.

    Steve Jobs was an inspiring man in many ways. But his need to control and “do it his way”, ultimately contributed to his untimely death.

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  • Sharon

    I understand the angst of buying a couch from a commitment point. After a break up I left with just my stuff, left all the furniture behind and had to start again. I didn’t want to buy furniture as I didn’t want to feel tied down. I needed to buy a wardrobe but didn’t want to as they are so hugh and cumbersome, and costly, so it got me thinking about options. I ended up purchasing a $80 build it shelving unit from Bunnings that I can pack up in a box and take with me. As it happened I moved, again, and I was able to pack up my wardrobe in a box that fit in my car and take it with me. The same for my non hanging clothes. I didn’t buy a set of drawers but rather a metal shelving unit from Target that I can pack up in a box and take with me. Whilst I didn’t look at the products background i did consider the usability of these items and that they can be used for many functions in a home if I ever have a place with wardrobes etc. I didn’t get around to buying a couch as I found a really good idea to make large square floor cushions from recycled fabrics that can be placed anywhere, can be moved around, can change the covers and so on. So you don’t have to buy a couch but you could buy something functional that allows you the freedom you want.

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  • Michelle

    This is uncanny. I thought I was the odd one out. My last home contaminated of my belongings, every single item, with black mold. Just awful!! I threw EVERYTHING OUT…Clothes…my fave recipes books, old things, new things, all furniture…everything!! …and the relationship too..ironic!I relocated and I now live with simplicity and a fully self sustainable veggie garden. Until recently, my new home was “empty”. It had no fridge, no couch, no wall hangings, washing machine…even beloved indoor plants or a dining table, only a mattress in my bedroom. I was content. I liked the simplicity of using my yoga mat for my dining table and for a couch. I enjoyed casually sitting on the stairs of my townhouse for a ‘change’. My friends were ‘awkward’ when visiting, and the landlord thought it was odd but with a ‘pleasant’ smile. Yet, for me, it felt fantastic. I have lived in many ways…with everything, and with nothing. I have always found more contentment when I have had ‘nothing’. It used to be a little to do with commitment. But, now…I just prefer less. I’m not sure if there’s an underlying reason. I love to shed the unwanted and I adore a simple life..but with an intellectual & spiritual view. I did end up buying the fridge, couch, washing machine and dining table, all gorgeous pieces of second-hand furniture from local noticeboards/gumtree…….and…it’s ok. Life is not to be measured by materialism, (more, or less) in my mind. Life is more a sense of lessons…more or less…what ever one is happiest with.

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  • Michelle

    Michelle says:
    This is uncanny. I thought I was the odd one out. My last home contaminated my belongings, every single item, with black mold. Just awful!! I threw EVERYTHING OUT…Clothes…my fave recipes books, old things, new things, all furniture…everything!! …and the relationship too..ironic!I relocated and I now live with simplicity and a fully self sustainable veggie garden. Until recently, my new home was “empty”. It had no fridge, no couch, no wall hangings, washing machine…even beloved indoor plants or a dining table, only a mattress in my bedroom. I was content. I liked the simplicity of using my yoga mat for my dining table and for a couch. I enjoyed casually sitting on the stairs of my townhouse for a ‘change’. My friends were ‘awkward’ when visiting, and the landlord thought it was odd but with a ‘pleasant’ smile. Yet, for me, it felt fantastic. I have lived in many ways…with everything, and with nothing. I have always found more contentment when I have had ‘nothing’. It used to be a little to do with commitment. But, now…I just prefer less. I’m not sure if there’s an underlying reason. I love to shed the unwanted and I adore a simple life..but with an intellectual & spiritual view. I did end up buying the fridge, couch, washing machine and dining table, all gorgeous pieces of second-hand furniture from local noticeboards/gumtree…….and…it’s ok. Life is not to be measured by materialism, (more, or less) in my mind. Life is more a sense of lessons…more or less…which ever one is happiest with.

    [Reply]

  • Jenny

    I love chaise lounges, so I bought one that gives me joy every time I look at it, sit on it, or lounge on it. I’m a happy perfectionist.

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  • http://benmarden@yahoo.com.au Ben Marden

    I hear you sista!

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  • http://www.alifelessbinary.com

    AJ – totally felt the same way – “but it’s just a couch – not a live being!”
    I’ve moved countries many times and left a LOT of stuff behind, selling, giving it away to friends or charities. And I’ve never looked back on the potential loss of money or the attachment – they served a purpose until a certain point, and then I was gone.

    Fear of possession (having or losing) is what pins you down, not possessions themselves.

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  • Sasha

    It took me a yer of obsessively stalking op shops, online listings, stores and warehouses etc…to DECIDE on (not buy) a desk. Cue obsessive stalking for accompanying hutch.

    Turns out I actually have a side-disorder to my ADD which is obsessions. I spent time on and off obsessing over the perfect desk. I accept this.

    People with ADD take criticism the worst and are PERFECTIONISTS x 100000. They get so wrapped up and focused in the details that things can be overwhelming.

    I accept this about myself. It can be exhausting and stressful and the guilt of being ‘strange’ when it comes to these things annoys me, but now I am more accepting.

    Oh and the full antique hutch and cabinet I bought was made from recycled mixed wood and table legs and what-not around a hundred years ago by a farmer for his wife. Some is teak, some is oak and some is hardwood. It has a personality of its own and the aesthetic ”speaks to me’. I swear that beautiful wood breathes life into my study and the running around and pickiness and obsessing was worth it in the end. I have high standards and attention to detail like no other.

    And it’s a quality I’m proud of now too,

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  • lee Slattery

    Well here it is 2.00am and I am still not asleep…. I am inspired this time by Sarah Wilson… funny how things just lead from one thing to another in life and on the internet… this is how this blog happened….(I am not sure if this is a blog,,, but I do like the sound of the word – more research maybe required, but not now,,,, I should be asleep)
    Today I went to the doctors and coming home I saw the “best thing ever”. It was better than the kind words and intentions of my doctor and my prescription drugs! I watched this young man take his dog for a walk… but there was no walking involved… he was on a skateboard being pulled along at a very fast pace by his border collie (i think) dog… the look of joy and happiness on both their faces bought delight to mine…. I had the fortunate fleeting encounter with them when I stopped to let them pass and I turned into the local Maccas… the young man bent right over to get down to my level, (I was seated in the car) to give me a big wave, a bigger smile which conveyed thanks to me for stopping to let them pass. I really didn’t need to go into or anywhere near Maccas,,,, I just wanted to stop and enjoy some of the fun that they were obviously having…. Anyway I told this feel good story to my neighbour… we both love those sort of small things that give unexpected delight,,, she always has more to share than me and so her response to my story was about having honey and cinnamon and that lead to apple cider vinegar and the virtues of natural remedies for all sorts of ailments. So,,,, my neighbour, a very youthful, computer literate seventy plus year old, tells me to go and “google” it….. so I did,,, and I came across Sarah Wilson…. My inspiration!!!! she blogs, minimises, travels, and goes solo!!!!! Wow I want to do all those things… so ,,, I will start with a blog…. a trip somewhere – not tooo far away… (I am a scaredy cat) and I am going to go minimalistic!!!! Shall I keep you posted???

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  • claudia

    steve jobs sounds like a goddamn pain in the ass.

    you have to find a balance between materialistic consumerism and appreciating yourself enough to buy things that could make your life more pleasant.

    Life is short. Buy the damn couch!

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    Mimi Reply:

    SO WELL SAID. Or, buy Fatboys or something like that, if you want something lighter, but still comfy. You can also check out tuli, a Slovak company making awesome beanbags with nice patterns and colors :)

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