Lisa Quinn had been helping people find their home style on TV design and talk shows and in magazines for years. But one day the former interior designer and mother of two realized her quest to be the perfect wife and hostess and have the perfect home, even if it followed her lux for less manifesto, was making her crazy — and her family miserable.
And she felt that she was being a fraud to everyone else as well.
That’s when the Emmy-award-winning TV host of “Home with Lisa Quinn” declared herself a recovering Marthaholic and began her campaign for domestic liberation. In her new book, “Life's Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets ,” the Memphis native hopes to inspire women to lighten up and realize that the happiest home is rarely the showcase home.
Quinn, 42, lives in San Francisco with her husband, who works in TV production, and their two children, Scarlett Elizabeth, 9, and Silas Cash, 6.
In “Life's Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets,” you seem to be addressing women’s quest for perfection in their homes, but it spills over into everything from their career to their family. Why do we moms feel we need to be perfect?
I feel that the media bombards us with all these images to be a supermom and we have all have fallen for it. It’s almost like reverse feminism or something. What started out as a movement of empowerment suddenly morphed into this evil all-encompassing competition, and it’s wrong.
How did your quest for perfection affect your family?
I made a whole career out of it. I wanted to be Martha Stewart. I was this “home and garden expert” and since I was on TV the pressure was double on me to be sure that everything was perfect in the house, especially if people were coming over. It made my family mental. A lot of us were raised in houses that you couldn’t sit in the living room and it’s in our nature to pass that on for generations and generations. My book is not to give people permission to be slobs, but rather to look at your house in a different way. You don’t want to make your family miserable in the process; it’s their home, too.
At one point you’ve said that your husband has been a huge inspiration, that you’re trying to live more like a guy — pop a beer, sit down and have some fun. Do men care all that much about what the house looks like?
I know mine doesn’t. When I met him he had an igloo ice cooler as a coffee table. He doesn’t care. He knew for a long time that it was a passion for me, that I like decorating and crafting. He put up with it to a certain degree, but it got kind of weird toward the end. It became more of a chore and a competition, like it wasn’t fun anymore and he could see it. He called me out on it and he was right. I equate perfectionism with alcoholism in the book, kind of tongue and cheek, but kind of not because you’re in denial. The thing about perfectionism is that you look like you’ve got it all going on, but it tears people up and it destroys families.
It’s one thing to decorate a home when you’re single, another thing when you’re married and yet another when you have kids. What are the biggest mistakes we make in those various phases?
Most people don’t have a plan when they are single. You tend to just go and buy and accumulate things without knowing your style. It’s nice to have other people’s input. When you’re married, you obviously have to learn how to deal with your spouse and learn how to integrate your tastes, which can be really hard. I have two kids and I feel like I’m right in the middle of that. I know moms who have little princess bedrooms for their daughters, and all these little pillows and all these little frills and all the Barbies and the baby dolls and the clothes and they’re frustrated that the kid can’t keep the room clean. You can never expect a 6-year-old to fold her bed the way you want it made. And I think ultimately, the biggest thing for everybody is they have too much stuff
You write that “housework blows.” Still, floors must be vacuumed, furniture dusted, laundry washed and sorted. How do you and your husband handle it?
We both work out of the house and we both take on equal responsibilities with the kids so I count myself very lucky. Still, I’m a big believer on the less stuff you have the less stuff you have to clean, so we keep things down to pretty much a bare minimum, which makes it easy. If you don’t have junk lying all around, the house at least looks clean most of the time.
What responsibilities do your kids have around the house?
Delegating for the kids is the hardest thing in the world. First of all, they’re not going to do it right anyway, and there’s the part that’s the perfectionist in me that goes, “Ugh, I’ll just do it myself.” They empty the dishwasher, they take some of the trash out, and they clean their rooms. My kids are still pretty little, so I’m trying not to overwhelm them. I’m afraid if I give them too many chores they’re going to be turned off of it for life. I try to load a little responsibility on them and then let them fail. They’re just kids; if they don’t fold the towels perfectly and square, cut ‘em some slack.
What transforms a house into a home?
Personalizing it. People look at these magazines and think, “If I want to have a beautiful home, it needs to look like one of these rooms.” I’m not denying they’re beautiful pictures, but if you’re constantly uncomfortable in it, then it doesn't work. I have some friends - and I was this way too - where every time that you stand up from their sofa they must pat it down. The pillows get another karate chop to maintain the façade. I have very rustic furniture in my house for a reason, and it works. I worked it into a design scheme. Again, I don’t want my kids growing up and thinking, “Man, our house was spotless!” You have to make memories, and sometimes when you make memories, you’re making a mess.
How do you handle the work-life thing?
Working from home, there’s no whistle that blows because you’re sitting right there next to the computer. So I’ve been trying to make a really concerted effort not to multitask. It seems like it’s a good idea, but then you start doing a crappy job all the way around. No one gets your full attention. We’re spread so thin with Twitter, Facebook, and our cell phones. You’ve got your headset on and everyone knows they can get you at any time. To avoid this, I’ve been trying to set ground rules for myself. I have a calendar and I try to schedule time for my kids and I try to schedule time for myself and I try to schedule time for my husband. Not a lot, but I write it down in my calendar and that sort of makes it formal. It used to be, if work came up, everything else went.
What do you think you’ve sacrificed as a working mom, and what have you gained?
Obviously there are those Betty Crocker or “Leave It to Beaver” moments that I’m not getting. I don’t cook and I don’t volunteer as much as I would like at the school. I don’t spend as much time with my kids in the summer because I have to work. But I believe you have to be yourself and I really have found a passion in what I’m doing. I was a Martha Stewart impersonator for 10 years. Although I do like to work, and I do like to craft, and I do like to look at nice homes, it wasn’t really who I was. I was coming home and my house was a wreck and I wasn’t doing any of that stuff at home so there was a part of me that feel like a fraud to perpetuate this supermomness. What I’m doing now, I’m really passionate about.
Would you have been happy as a stay-at-home mom?
The beauty of my job for the past five or six years is that I can more often than not make my own schedule. That has helped. I feel like I have a fortunate unique situation. I stayed home briefly on maternity leave with both my kids, but we couldn’t afford for me to stay at home past that, so I had to figure out something to do to earn money. I don’t know how moms who have to go to work from 8 to 5 make it work.
In what ways has motherhood surprised you?
I was surprised about how all encompassing it can be, both good and bad. It never stops. People always tell you how hard being a parent is, but each individual task isn’t hard at all, a lot of them are fun and fulfilling but they just don’t stop. There’s this constant need for you to be on all the time. But, you just look at their faces and you know you’re just lucky to have them.
What’s the best advice you got about mothering?
The best advice is from a friend who said, “You know, you just gotta listen to them.” You have to respect them, too. You always think of them as helpless little babies. You don’t notice how big they’re getting. You just have to trust that you’ve done it right and talk to them like they’re human beings, and know that you’re not going to get any respect if you don’t offer it.
Kids always seem to want to be the opposite of their parents. When your kids grow up and have homes of their own, what do you hope to find in them?
I just hope they’re happy. You always want to make sure your family is happy. I know when I was running around like Little Miss Fussbudget it was not fun. I just hope my kids are comfortable enough with themselves to be OK. I hope I can walk into their house and not feel any tension.
Author Lisa Quinn was interviewed by Vicki Larson, Around the Watercooler  contributor. She is a journalist and single mom.