Every holiday season, I take a field trip to my family’s neuroses. Other people like to call this ‘taking a vacation’ or ‘spending time with family’, but for me, it serves as a reminder of how my quirky beliefs are a direct response to what I will call perfection syndrome (PS).

PS can be most easily explained as a mindset. For instance, the women in my family are perfect. And we do everything perfectly. No seriously – P.E.R.F.E.C.T.L.Y. We wrap presents perfectly and we even curl bows and ribbons on presents just so. Why? Because we’re perfect. Everyone else? Not so perfect, and definitely to be pitied. And in case you were thinking that there is a boundary to our perfection, there is not. There is nothing that the women in my family can’t do (perfectly, naturally).

Of course, all of this perfection is highly time-consuming, expensive and stressful, but perfect is as perfect does. In my own very imperfect, slightly disorganized and always-less-tidy-than-I-would-like world, I can identify when my own PS impulses take hold. But once a year, when I visit the mother ship, I stand in awe of the fully-manifested disease.

Did I mention that we have the most perfect tree ever? It has more lights and ornaments than you’ve ever seen in Rockefeller Center. In fact, no live tree could stand up to the weight, so we went fake several years ago. Environmentally friendly? Pshaw… fake means more perfect: less room for natural imperfections (=the enemy).

Perfectly wrapped presents don’t come from just anywhere. They come from ‘the wrapping station.’ A proper wrapping station is at least two folding tables with dedicated Container Store boxes for:

  • ribbon
  • wrapping paper
  • boxes
  • tissue paper
  • holiday cards
  • tools (tape, pens, etc)

This is our ribbon box. Maybe next year we’ll play the marble jar game, where you guess how many ribbons there are in the box. Hmm…

The men don’t escape indoctrination. Here my brother wraps at the station. The men in my family, it should be acknowledged, are superb wrappers.

Did I mention the elves? If you look closely, you’ll notice that Christmas elves have taken over my grandmother’s dining room. The centerpiece, the wreath, even the chandeliers are not immune. The Christmas elves are perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of PS. My grandmother has hundreds of them. Each has its own box with its own serial number. They take about a day to situate around the house and then another day to take down. There was talk this weekend of taping polaroids of each elf to its respective box.

You didn’t think the elves lived only in the dining room, did you?

So why all of these bizarre family photos? And imaginary syndromes? When we look at images in fashion magazines, we see perfection. Models with perfect skin in perfectly made and fitting clothes in some perfectly beautiful location. When you look at the society pages, the wealthy women look perfect. Not a hair out of place, in some emerging Dutch designer masterpiece that is, of course, perfectly tailored to their body. And then we strive for that.

We know that it’s an illusion, but we can’t help it. Sometimes we want to be perfect too. Look perfect, flawless. But real style, I think, is knowing how imperfections inform the whole. How the interplay between the two tell a story. Perfection is beautiful, but rarely is it interesting. Someone who is unafraid of their (perceived) flaws and turns them into assets is far more interesting and stylish than someone who botexes the uniqueness out. I can fall prey to the perfection syndrome easily, perhaps because it’s always been stressed by the women in my family. Perfect is better. But I’ve found that perfection is exhausting and hollow, and I’d rather be happier than better.

But I can still wrap a mean present.


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