Before I had kids, I definitely would have labeled myself if not a perfectionist, certainly a neat freak. My chosen profession then was magazine editor, meaning I spent much of my life cutting, reshaping, and moving things around so they looked and sounded just so. And I was good at it.
This perfection-seeking behavior blended over into my personal life, though I never really made a connection until my husband pointed it out years later, surprising me with both his insight and my own lack of self-awareness in how my predilection for the perfect had even shaped my career. At home, my apartment wasn't always spotless, but everything was always in its proper place (with the minor exceptions of the disaster zones that were my closet and car). I took pride in my carefully curated wardrobe and resulting daily outfits. I got my nails done, my hair professionally colored and styled. Sh*t, I wore heels every day, taking cues from Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City, and my own stubby legs.
I had lovely, fun friends, a cool career that included many free drinks and beauty products, a handsome, wonderful man in my life, and a tasteful apartment in a hip neighborhood in Chicago. Everything - at least from the outside - looked perfect.
Then I became a mom, and so many things about my life changed, many without me even having time or energy to notice. I happily stopped wearing heels, getting manicures, and worrying about repeating outfits too often (black yoga pants every day for the win!). But my perfectionist streak was still there, simmering under the surface when I put my daughter in carefully selected matching little outfits, when I made sure every toy and baby item was neatly stored and not distracting from my interior design, and when I still said "yes" to every invitation and work request, not wanting anyone to think I couldn't handle both my new role as mom and my old role as loyal and available friend and trusted professional.
Of course, as my daughter grew and my son came along three years later, something had to give. And my perfectionism was the most obvious target. My kids demanded the sacrifice every time they smeared yogurt all over a kitchen counter I had just cleaned and every time they stripped off the stylish outfit I'd picked out for them in favor of a dirty Batman t-shirt. Really every time they ate, slept, accompanied me on errands, attended a class, or just played at home, it was if they were telling me to choose: a constant quest for perfection or my own sanity.
Sanity seemed like the right choice. So I started letting things go, a difficult task for any detail-oriented former perfectionist. I let toys live in every room of my house, sometimes organized in baskets, sometimes not. I stopped worrying so much about the expensive, stylish clothes that were lingering in both my kids' and my closets and started embracing my own comfort and the relative ease of dressing a kid in an outfit they pick themselves, no matter how heinous it is. I stopped caring so much what other people thought of me when my kid threw a tantrum in Target or needed to open bag of Cheetos to make it through a grocery store trip. My life as the mom of two little kids wasn't perfect, and trying to make it look like it was was just too exhausting to keep up.
Today, instead of editing, I work as a writer, and I don't need my husband to point out how the change (from neatly shaping others' words and images to mining the chaos of my own brain and trying to express those ideas in a semicoherent way) mirrors my personal life. It's not perfect - nothing in my life really is - but I no longer need it to be.