Organizing Theory & Artistry

Martha Stewart: Perfectionist Extraordinaire

Martha Stewart, photo by Peter Duhon from the Wikimedia Commons.

When discussing perfectionism, it is hard not to talk about the Class A perfectionist, Martha Stewart.

As I have some readers who are not from the United States who may not have heard of Martha Stewart, I will provide a brief introduction.  Martha Stewart is the domestic diva of the United States.  She sets the standards for cooking, entertaining, gardening, home decor, organizing and crafts.  She has a television show, magazine, has authored numerous books and licenses her name for use on cleaning products, paint, Christmas decorations and a variety of other things as well.

Martha Stewart defines modern perfectionism.  I can instantly tell something is a Martha creation by the following characteristics:

  • Clean – All of Martha’s products and marketing practically gleam.  The lines are straight, the lighting is pure and bright.  There is nothing to suggest age, dirt or wear.
  • Minimal – In keeping with the “clean” theme, Martha’s products and designs typically have elements of simplicity with just enough decoration to keep things interesting.
  • Luxury – Martha’s look also brings to mind an element of luxury, something unusual and perhaps unattainable that we ordinary mortals would never discover.
  • Color and pattern – Martha has introduced us all to sophisticated neutral colors and patterns.  When I think of Martha, interesting shades of blue and green come to mind.  I once painted the inside of a bookcase a color I called “Martha Stewart green,” a medium green somewhere between sage and mint with a bright sheen.

Below is a typical Martha Stewart clip showcasing her domestic abilities.  Watch her create “Yarn Cards” with a male fan, Andrew Ritchie, author of the “Martha Moments” blog.

People have strong reactions to Martha.  They either love her or despise her.  I remember checking one of her books out of the library once and a fellow library patron went off on a tirade about how much he didn’t like Martha.  For some people, the mere mention of Martha’s name gets their blood pressure rising and they feel an intense insecurity and anxiety that they are not doing something they are supposed to.  (I wonder how many readers will make yarn cards after watching the above clip, for example.)  Other people dislike Martha because she is setting the bar so impossibly high in the first place.

To have a healthy fascination with Martha Stewart, you first have to accept that you will NEVER be able to recreate Martha’s entire domestic realm on your own.  Perhaps with a team of artists, gardeners, carpenters and chefs you might approach it but one person alone cannot do all of this all the time.  You also have to take an objective look at each Martha project and decide whether it will work for you.  Just because Martha thinks you should do something doesn’t mean you have to do it.  For example, when I saw this organizing tip to rebottle all of your spices into uniform jars with uniform labels, I had to laugh and put this in the “I will never spend my time doing that!” category.  When I read the comments from all the people trying to find just the right jars and labels, I just scratched my head.

The way Martha Stewart is marketed, however, you get the impression that one person could do all of these things if they just worked hard enough.   After all, the name on everything is simply “Martha Stewart” not “Martha Stewart & Co.” You see Martha personally demonstrating all of these tasks and speaking about each one authoritatively.     You start to think that maybe you could be Martha Stewart–which is exactly what the marketers want you to think.  What you don’t see is the number of people behind the scenes that are helping Martha with all of these projects.  After all, it is not a very compelling marketing message to say, “If you were a wealthy woman with an entire team of people to assist you, look what you could do!”  Because, when you think about it, if you had a personal crafter at your disposal, would you immediately ask her to make yarn cards?  No!  You would ask her to do something incredible, unique and personally meaningful to you.

That said, however, I do think Martha has taught us a lot about seeing the potential of our everyday surroundings and everyday objects.  Why can’t dinner occasionally be a gourmet feast?  Why shouldn’t some parts of our homes look like art museums?  But again, as with all perfectionist strategies, using this impulse in moderation is key.  Rather than aspire to recreate everything Martha does, pick one or two things to awe your family and friends with occasionally.  Don’t exhaust yourself.  Make sure that you truly enjoy any project you take on and that you will have fun in the process even if the end result doesn’t come out like it is “supposed to.”

The other thing to know about Martha Stewart is that she has her own imperfections too and she does manage to keep a sense of humor about them.  Martha, for example, is not a very good pole dancer:

Martha’s closet occasionally looks untidy too.  She even showed detailed pictures of it on her blog.  For even more fun, read all the judgmental comments from her perfectionist readers!

I also found Martha’s blog post about attending Sean Combs’ birthday party to be hilarious!  I think Martha knows that she isn’t really “hip” but she is a good sport about it.  Rather than just feel like a nerd, she inspects the flowers and food and does her best to mingle with the guests.

Of course, there was also that stint in prison for insider trading too.

Martha’s relationship with her daughter, Alexis Stewart, is not very rosy either.  I can only imagine the pressure of being the daughter of such a perfectionist.  Sadly, one of the disappointments of Martha and Alexis’ life is that Alexis has not been able to produce a grandchild for Martha, despite numerous fertility treatments.

Alexis currently has her own television show called “Whatever Martha!”  where she and a friend mock Martha’s old television programs.  Watch below for a sample.  Interestingly, the program seems to have been Martha’s suggestion!

So, you see, you may not truly want to “be Martha Stewart.”  Have fun with Martha! Admire her or mock her, but don’t let her destroy your sense of self esteem.

Now….off to find the materials for yarn cards!  🙂  We have a possible 2 feet of snow planned for this weekend.  What better way to spend the time at home than organizing and crafting!

What do you think of Martha Stewart?  If you are from outside the United States, who is your domestic diva?