QUIT: Letting My Inner Penelope Overtake My Inner Cordelia

[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end.  I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]


You may know me as Cordelia, but actually, I have a dual personality. And recently, the two personalities have been getting into some scuffles.

Cordelia is who I want to be—she’s the cutthroat, take-no-prisoners rebel who is writing a novel, quitting things left and right, and will one day escape the 9-5 altogether. She’s laser-focused, super-driven, and on a mission, punk.

My other personality is neurotic, easily frustrated, and wastes too much energy on things that ultimately don’t matter. She’s got some great qualities, too, but lately it’s the negatives that have been in the forefront.

This other personality’s name is Penelope. And Penelope, as great as she is, has really been getting on my nerves lately.


An Introduction to Penelope

“Penelope” is the name given to organization-loving people everywhere by Meredith Schwartz of Penelope Loves Lists (an awesome site I would highly recommend if you have Penelope tendencies yourself). Penelopes are the sort of people who love order and neatness, have systems for everything, and are enamored with things like closet organizers and color-coded Post It notes.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a Penelope. Penelopes (in my humble opinion as one of them) make the world go ‘round in many ways.

It’s my inner Penelope who keeps my home in order and prevents my beloved husband’s clutterly tendencies from overtaking every inch of our floor-, table-, and counterspace. My inner Penelope pays the bills on time, keeps the budget in check (or tries to), and makes sure we don’t forget things like doctor’s appointments and birthday parties. She keeps our everything drawer organized. She returns movie rentals on time. She makes sure we don’t run out of toothpaste.

I heart my inner Penelope. I also heart closet organizers and color-coded Post It notes. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

But lately, my inner Penelope is becoming more and more of a pain in the arse when it comes to getting the things that really matter done. And it’s time she and I had a talk about that.


Battle Lines:
Where Penelope and Cordelia Clash

For all her wonderful traits, the thing about my inner Penelope is that a Penelope left unchecked can easily use up all of your time and energy.

She can’t walk by a row of shoes in the entry without scootching them all a little so they line up better. She can’t pass a counter or a mirror or a coffee table without giving it a once-over for smudges. (And if she finds any, she’ll wipe them down, then probably decide the rest of the house could use a quick spot check too.) She can’t comfortably focus on anything else while a pile of unwashed dishes in the sink is gnawing away at the back of her consciousness.

But I’ve got bigger things on my To Do list lately. And the fact that I only have 24 hours in each day means that sometimes, some things are gonna have to slide a little. In 20 or 30 years, I will absolutely regret it if I never wrote a novel. I will not regret it if I let the laundry go for a day or two back in 2011.

Sorry, Pen

Penelope is never going to go away, and I don’t want her to. But if I intend to keep this blog going, write a novel, or do anything else of value, I’m going to have to come to terms with the fact that there will be some nights when the dishes don’t get done on time. It might make me uncomfortable for a while, but I’ve got to train Penelope to be o.k. with things like this. In the grand scheme of things, Penelope (much as I love her) is not nearly as important as Cordelia.

I really enjoyed Annabel Candy’s recent post “Liberate Yourself from Drudgery”, and I’m taking a passage from it as my new mantra:

“Do a few mug ring marks on the kitchen counters and toothpaste splatters on the bathroom mirror indicate a cluttered, incoherent mind and lifestyle? Absolutely not. They just show that I have better things to do than clean. I hope you do too.

I do. I’m sorry, Penelope, but I do.


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  • I sooo have an inner Penelope. I like this post. Letting go and allowing yourself to enjoy life is important, even with dishes in the sink.

    • Cordelia

      Exactly! The dishes will get done eventually, and it won’t hurt anyone if they wait for a day or two.

  • In the grand scheme of things, Penelope (much as I love her) is not nearly as important as Cordelia.

    Good call! In a world of finite days, we have to do the most important stuff first or it will never get done. For awhile I was reading a lot of stuff on Zen Habits about not having goals or just doing what you feel a pull toward at the moment. I was worried that I’d miss a lot of important stuff that way (specifically, I would never change the oil in my car), but it seems to be working out all right. The things that need to be done bubble up to the top eventually, even the oil changes, and I’m wasting a lot less time on stuff that’s not really that important to me.

    • Cordelia

      I can’t tell you how terrified I was the day I pitched my “To Do” list (inspired by similar reading on Zen Habits &the like). But like you say, the important things still winds up getting done. And the stuff that gets neglected or forgotten? Chances are it wasn’t all that crucial to begin with, but keeping it lingering around in my conscience just weighed me down.

      I try to just have one or two Penelope action items a day: do the dishes, make that car appointment, etc. Everything else will either have to wait for another day or not get done at all.

  • Ever seen (or read) Fight Club?

    I see parallels between Cordelia/Penelope and Tyler Durden/Narrator.

    • Cordelia

      That’s a *really* interesting take! I saw the movie a while ago but have always been meaning to read the book. I think I’ll bump it up on my reading list so I can take a look at it from this perspective. Awesome insight–thanks! 🙂

  • Haha, I let my inner Penelope run wild. It’s because outer me is so chaotic and disorganised sometimes that without that inner core of calm, and systems, and organisation I’d be in a very bad place!

    • Cordelia

      Penelopes definitely have their valuable qualities. It’s hard to focus on other things when everything around you is in disorder. Sometimes when I’m having a really bad day and I just can’t focus on anything else, it makes me feel better just to get a pile of laundry folded or to chip away at a pile of dishes. It makes my outer world seem a little less out of whack and lets me feel like I’m in control of something.

      • Oh, Yay! Yes – all that!

  • Clericsdaughter

    I find Penelope to be at her worst when I’m trying to do something creative, like write. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” as they say, and my Penelope never wants to do anything but get that one scene just right when I should really just leave the sloppy version and move on to the next one. Revisions can always come later.