Posted by: Rob | April 19, 2008

Letting go of perfection

I am a perfectionist. I don’t know what combination of cosmic forces united to create this particular attribute in me, but there it is. Ever since I can remember I have always considered that things should be “just so”. I was always hung up on keeping any of my material possessions in pristine condition. I wanted them to look and be like they were never used. I even had a penchant for keeping the original shipping box or container for absolutely everything I acquired, you know, so I could box them up and keep them undamaged through the myriad of moves I made in my younger years.

As I grew older and developed a “knack” for doing things, the perfectionist bent spilled over into whatever it was that I was repairing, building or making. During my very young adult years I was gainfully employed in residential construction. I acquired all manner of skills in this occupation, from cribbing and concrete placing, to framing, roofing, siding, boarding, painting and staining, and a bit of trim work. Working with older, more seasoned fellows I soon learned many of the old “saws” of the trade: “The framer covers up the mistakes of the cribbers.”, “The drywaller covers up the mistakes of the framers.”, and so on.

I didn’t realize how much of the perfectionist was present until I started doing renovations on our house in earnest. I fussed and fussed about making sure things were true, plumb and level when framing or fixing the mistakes of the previous owners. Drywalling – especially mudding – was a nightmare as I applied and then sanded off coat after coat of filler striving for that perfectly smooth surface, free of pits, knife marks and other defects.

I have been cajoled and persuaded over time to not have such unrealistic expectations for the outcome in doing these renovations. And as it is more important to “get things done” versus “have things perfect”, I have relented a bit. I’ve forced myself to accept “sub-par” results (ironically produced by me) and adopt more of a laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing.

It doesn’t help that the structure of this house is anything but true, plumb and level. I have uncovered things from the original construction that have made me shake my head in wonder. Granted, some things may be explained by the fact that this house was picked up off its original foundation, moved several kilometres and plunked down on a new foundation where it sits today. But there are other faux pas that can only be owned the carpenters and other tradesmen of those long ago days in the 1950’s.

I learned again yesterday the value of doing things right. I had framed up a back porch extension to provide a little more than the postage stamp’s worth of room for incoming people to get in and take off boots and coats than we had before, and it also allowed for the installation of a 5′ dual garden door. The framing had been initiated a couple of years ago, but was really only fully completed last fall. It involved removal of the original back landing (and resetting the up/down steps) and jack hammering out a 2′ deep by 6′-6″ wide chunk of the poured concrete basement wall. The overall effort involved significant use of an 8 lb sledge hammer. I tried to make everything as level and plumb and true as possible, but I found out yesterday that I didn’t quite make it. This occurred as I was putting up drywall on the ceiling. The first 6′ x 2′ piece jammed and wouldn’t go in. It came back out in pieces. The second 6′ x 2′ piece went in, but not without a little hacking and hammering at one corner. I still don’t really know why it didn’t fit. Hopefully, though, this little “mistake” can be “corrected” by the mudder (who is also, coincidentally, me).

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