Friday, July 20, 2012

Are you down with O.C.D.?

Growing up, my mother had more than a few rules we had to follow: beds were made first thing in the morning, floors and carpets were vacuumed daily, chores were completed on Saturday mornings, and toys/things were picked up and put away when we were done using them.

My mother was inflexible when it came to these rules, which I found difficult as a child and frustrating as a teenager. I thought she was ridiculous to insist upon vacuuming or swiffering daily (and now find it sad that I don't remember a time before the Swiffer), cleaning up dinner dishes as soon as dinner was over, and doing chores first thing on a Saturday morning, especially when friends were calling to make plans I couldn't join in on until after chores were completed.

Once we'd reached the lucky point in our lives to hire a cleaning person to come biweekly, I thought maybe my mother would relax some of these rules. Instead, I found she was even more insistent upon putting things away and in their places. She cleaned before the cleaning woman came, and to this day uses cleaning day as an excuse to get organized.

Now that I have my own house, I understand the need to be rigid when it comes to cleaning and putting things away. I, too, insist upon beds being made first thing in the morning (even though this currently means I have to make them). I, too, vacuum (almost) daily. I, too, expect dinner dishes to be cleaned up, dishwasher loaded, and pots washed as soon as dinner is over, whether we are entertaining or dining as a family. And I, too, clean before the cleaning lady comes.

I begin to get irritable when too many things have been taken out of their places to be used by various members of our family, whether that means books, toys, computers, or tools. Dog hair is the bane of my existence. Clutter makes me cranky. I am compelled to clean and straighten, to a fault: I have been known to put glasses still in use into the dishwasher, or throw away things we need, such as the year I threw away shopping bags from Christmas that had cash gifts still hidden in them among the folds of tissue paper. (And yes, I did dig through the trash to reclaim the gifts.)

My husband and I often joke about my having O.C.D., but when is behavior compulsive, and when is it simply neatness? Was my mother a victim of a disorder, or just insistent on cleanliness and order? Is my behavior compulsive, or necessary? Most days, I feel compelled to pick up anything out of place before I can sit down and relax. I wish I could ignore the books, crayons, newspapers, and toys strewn about the living room. I can't understand (and sometimes am jealous of) the way the other people in my house can take the time to step around or over objects in their way without bothering to pick them up and move them somewhere (or preferably, move them not just somewhere but where they actually belong).

So, my only hope is to follow in my mother's footsteps and enlist my children and spouse as allies in the war on clutter. Ella helps me empty the dishwasher in the morning before we leave for school. She is learning to make her own bed. She clears her dishes from the table when she is finished eating. And Ben is already learning to put things away, albeit not often in the right places. And my husband, realizing the difficulty in finding things when they aren't where they are supposed to be in a house full of too many things belonging to too many different people, has become less resistant to, almost a proponent of the "put it away when you are done with it, not two days later" philosophy I've worked hard to get my family to adopt.

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