Is there a good expression for chasing something insignificant while missing the bigger picture? I was thinking something remotely related to "penny wise, pound foolish" but not quite. More like not raising the bar high enough, or settle for less. Focusing on the insignificant, in comparison to what else is possible out there.

An attempt for a context example: when repairing one's house, they are obsessing about small details like painting the door or fixing a loose board, while ignoring the fact that the ceilig is about to collapse and would need to be fixed urgently (i.e. there's much more to gain there).

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    Related (and answered at): Is there an idiom like the Russians' untilled field? and other arrangements of deckchairs. (The 'rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic' saying is survival-, not ambition-related.) Aug 5, 2017 at 10:40
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    'Majoring on the minors' (given by Elian at the near-duplicate) comes close, but applies more generally. Aug 5, 2017 at 10:46
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    'Why / Don't settle for the maid when you can have the mistress?/.' There are some relevant quotes at wiseoldsayings.com. Aug 5, 2017 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


How about:

  • not seeing the forest for the trees,
  • letting the tail wag the dog,
  • letting the best be the enemy of the good, especially if the attention to detail is driven by a misplaced search for perfection.

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