This morning I left my house without making my bed, or running the vacuum. Those are two chores I used to have to complete before I could start my day. I’d even risk being a few minutes late if I had a commitment and the crumbs on the carper weren’t Hoovered up. Returning home to a clean, organized home was incredibly important to me. By having my house in order, I felt like it made me a better person.
But in reality, it made me an anxious, crabby person.
I used to clean my kid’s rooms for them. I used to dust on the regular. I never went over 4 weeks without coloring my hair so my roots didn’t show. My shower was spotless, and I always had a candle burning in case someone stopped by and they could smell my breakfast.
I used to wrap each Christmas gift with coordinating tags, ribbons, and bells with the same care I used while swaddling my newborn babes.
Eventually it started to take a toll on me, and I realized I had done this for almost 15 years for one reason and one reason only: I thought that because I was a stay-at-home-mom, it wasn’t just my job to be clean and organized, it was my job to be perfect. I needed to always be dressed to impress, keep up with all the appointments without forgetting or letting things slip through the cracks, and the house couldn’t just be clean, it had to be sparkling.
I’d tell myself, since I was home all day and had nowhere to be, there was no excuse for not making a home-cooked meal. And I would be damned if I my kids were going to walk into school with a store-bought snack. No fucking way — this mom always had homemade shit.
People were impressed, and I had to keep up with it lest they start seeing the true me: The woman who was scattered, had flaws, and never got her Master’s Degree, so she sure as hell better be the best damn mom and nurturer in the world.
My ass cheeks were clenched so tight I could have made a diamond if someone shoved coal up my butt crack. My shoulders were constantly throbbing and tense, and I won’t even get into how I clenched my jaw so tight I now have chiseled jaw muscles.
I was so afraid of what people would think if they saw me in sweatpants with piles of laundry on the floor. I could tell you I have no idea why I cared, but that would be a big fat lie. I know exactly why I cared: I wanted to be viewed as a woman who had her shit together, and could handle all the things.
But the thing is, no one was thinking about me, or my house, or my life. They couldn’t have given one tiny, flapping fuck. People think about themselves and their own life. And if they are comparing themselves to you because you seem to have your shit together, it’s just making them feel less-than. Being a perfectionist was accomplishing nothing.
I could also tell you I woke up one day after my divorce and realized I literally couldn’t keep up with this facade, and trying to do everything perfectly as a single parent was making me exhausted, so I stopped. But that would also be a lie.
I’ve been exhausted while maintaining my reputation as a perfectionist for so long it had become a way of life. I probably could have done it forever.
But what really happened was that, somewhere along the way during my post-divorce adjustment, I finally started to feel worthy enough to show the world my true, messy self.
Suddenly the dust on the baseboards faded into the background, and things like spending more time on me took center stage. It stopped making my skin crawl if the fridge wasn’t spotless, or my pantry wasn’t organized. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wasn’t trying to hide behind a mask of perfection. I felt free. And just like that, I was over it. All of it.
Besides, a clean house and homemade cookies don’t make you a good person.
My divorce made me sink deeply into myself. It’s not that I didn’t have time to be the perfectionist any longer, I just didn’t want to be her any longer. I didn’t care about crumbs on the counters and perfectly painted toenails if it meant compromising my well-being. I don’t want to feel the pull that I have to have my closet organized. Instead, I want to do things like that because I want to, not because I feel like I have something to prove to the world.
Letting go of the old perfectionist me was scary, but it only lasted a moment. I’ve given birth three times, and I’m a damn good mother. I’m going to be 43 this year, and I’m pretty damn good to myself too. I’ve ended a marriage that no longer served me. I have nothing to prove. People don’t like you more because you have a clean house and zero split ends any fucking way.
They like you because you are real and you are raw and you are open and you show your flaws. I know this; I’ve always known this, but a perfectionist doesn’t ever feel like the rules apply to them. They set a standard so damn high for themselves because they are afraid. And the higher the standard is set, the more afraid they are.
And right now, at this very moment, as I sit here and write, I’m waiting for a friend to meet me for lunch with gray streaks running through my hair. I could be making homemade treats for the my kid’s class party tomorrow, but I’ll buy something instead. And by the time I get home, it will be too late in the day to make my bed, and I definitely won’t feel like vacuuming.
And I am gloriously happy.