Tag Archives: OCD


When I was a child, my dad (HP) would run cleaning drills. They would often start in tears, probably as a punishment for something we had done wrong, continue in tears, and inevitably end in tears. He would bark orders at us, have us completely under his control, and follow us around the house inspecting and telling us where we had missed something. Basically we were made to feel useless, incapable of even cleaning the house to his expectations. I do not recall if my mother was there or if she helped. I know she was the one who bore the brunt of his anger and did most of the household chores throughout my early childhood though.

Fast forward to today. I’ve only recently realized that I start cleaning the house when I’m upset about something. I specifically tend to wash dishes or clean the floor. These are tasks I loathed in childhood. They were the ones that were most noticeably done wrong. Somehow all that crying while cleaning became normal. Now when I cry, I just start cleaning as if to console myself.

What a mess.

ocd much?

I went through a psychiatric evaluation during graduate school at my primary care physician’s request. He was certain I was depressed; I said I was not. Now that I’m in a much happier place, I wonder about my ability to assess. That aside, the psychiatrist spent a good amount of time trying to assess if I had OCD. I like my belongings to be kept a certain way, even when they’re messy. The psychiatrist concluded I had been through a lot but that I was not depressed or riddled with other psychiatric illnesses. She did say we could continue treatment if I would like to deal with my anxiety. I declined.

Last night I commented to D. that I’m really having trouble with my desire to have things in a certain place, but it’s all confined to our sleeping space. I have been getting up 2 to 3 times from bed each night to readjust the curtains. There’s a logic to the madness: I don’t want the sun to come in through the gaps. But still, I should be able to rest without worrying if there’s a wee little crack of light coming in at 4:30 a.m.

This has had me thinking about my HP and his odd but apparently cImageharacteristic fear of germs and contamination. At the worst point in my life with him, he would stand by the dish drainer and inspect each dish washed, handing me back each item with an invisible speck. More than once he demanded I rewash every dish because I had left them too long in the drying rack. He believed we would get dysentery if the dishes were not immediately dried. The house, when my brother and I lived with him, was immaculate. Any sight of lint on the carpet was cause for yelling. We spent endless hours cleaning the house during our summer vacations. Bathroom grout was scrubbed with a toothbrush until it glistened, floors were always perfectly vacuumed, preferably with the lines showing the path, drawers were neatly ordered. Our own rooms, as I previously blogged, were somewhat more liberally organized but still regularly inspected. I still make my daughter’s bed with “hospital corners” while my own is pleasantly rumply with a duvet that doesn’t require tucking.

My concern is that I’m starting to grip a little tightly to the patterns and now S. also wants things a certain way. She breaks down into tears when her socks won’t pull up just right from toe to heel. Am I passing on a neurotic behavior, or is it engrained in the genes?

cleaning house

Yesterday over lunch a colleague was lamenting the impending visit of a relative from overseas. She said she was trying desperately to clean the house but it only got dirtier which made her realize she hadn’t properly cleaned in ages. And then she ultimately knew that no matter how clean she got the house, her visitor would not be satisfied.

Today we are cleaning our own house in expectation of dinner guests. Unlike my colleague, I have no trouble cleaning and often invite people just to inspire us to do a thorough clean. It’s a great feeling to me, the day after the party has been cleaned up, to see how shiny the house still is. I wouldn’t say I love to clean and I don’t do a deep clean more than once a month, but it does bring a sense of satisfaction.

On the COH listserv there are often questions about how to clean, how to know when you need to clean, and how to approach it. For those who grew up in serious hoarding conditions, cleaning was not even possible. Even if our parents let us touch their things, it’s too difficult to get at surfaces when you’re busy moving piles from point to point.

In my childhood, however, I only remember an excessively clean house. I know it was clean because my brother and I had extensive chore lists that included scrubbing out the bathtub at least once a week. My dad, or maybe my mother, told a story about a relative who used the white glove test when they came to visit. My father also prided himself on his military background and carried out the same sort of inspections to which he was once subjected.

When my mom left, and then my brother, my dad’s sense of reality started to waiver. It seemed he was constantly yelling at me that we were going to get dysentery from the dishes left on the dish rack after washing. I had to dry them meticulously and immediately or they were sent back into the sink. To this day, I rarely dry the dishes unless I’m in a hurry to put them away.

My father’s hoarding always seemed asynchronous to his germophobia until I read Frost and Steketee’s Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (2011) which gives various examples of hoarders with contamination issues. In all the years of living in a clean house, I do not ever remember my father being the one who cleaned. Perhaps he already had contamination issues that prevented him from cleaning. I wonder if he would explain it if I asked.


Among the numerous bad television shows I watch at night in search of the perfect somniferous effect is an occasional episode of Bravo’s Bethenny Ever After. As much as I realize it’s a dumb reality show, I like Bethenny. She’s honest, says what she thinks, is a bit quirky and tough but vulnerable. She also has the occasional snippet of insight that sticks with me. A couple of weeks ago she was telling her husband she doesn’t want to be the “crazy one” in the relationship. Just because he had a so-called “normal” family life doesn’t mean that he is normal or that her detachment from (his) family is abnormal.

In the episode that was on late last night, Bethenny said her OCD was kicking into high gear and she was feeling stressed about all the food her nanny haphazardly left in the refrigerator. At the same time, she declared her love of her ten or more bottles of juice on the top shelf of the fridge. While I’m skeptical of Bethenny’s understanding of OCD, she had a few insights that have stuck with me. She recognized that she was the one allowing her home to become this way and was careful not to blame anyone else’s carelessness for the clutter and stress. Then when she began her lingerie purge in her closet, she said (slightly paraphrased from memory), “I don’t understand hoarders. For me it’s about control.”

Bethenny was purging her closet to have control over her life – exerting control over her stuff, yet I have always understood that hoarders feel the same way. It’s true that the stuff can take over life and relationships, but stuff is the thing that can be (or is perceived to be) controlled. Those objects invited into the home, however piled up they become, are objects of possession that we have chosen to keep or save. Unlike people, the stuff can’t just get up and walk out on you (unless, of course, the cockroaches take over).

This is really a think-piece… but in the end, perhaps, one purges for the same reason another hoards. It’s all about having control of one’s environment even when it is dangerously out of control. Hoarding or purging are both ways of protecting self. One erases and removes to create space or distance, the other collects and crams and piles to tightly tuck themselves in.


trashing it the easy way

This morning while still in a fog, I read the following from a colleague:

“NO NO NO NO NO… Don’t fall in the temptation to trash everything. It’s the little tired A. inside who wants to do that, not the brave one, ready to finish the task and conquer yet another continent. We just don’t do that in this family. When the temptation is too strong we get out with friends and get some fresh air, sleep well, then look at it with different eyes.”

I was taken aback. Did I tell him I wanted to throw everything out? How can that be easy?

Then I slowly recollected my email to him expressing my desire to trash the draft of my book and to start over again. That this is easy still strikes me as blasphemy, but perhaps he has a point.

I’ve been reading the OCDReflections blog which recently features posts on sacrifice and hard work. The author explains that she has to put herself through the rituals, to do things the hard way, to demonstrate her willingness and ability to sacrifice. That’s something that resonates all while I think, “that’s just plain crazy,” because I’m too lazy to suffer that much. Still, confronting these items one by one and posting them on craigslist has been far more work than I expected. It’s also a distraction from the “real” work I should be doing.

It’s said that a hoarder must confront the items or the cycle will only begin again. Is trashing the stuff the easy way out?

memory hoarding

Apparently hoarding memory, or “memory hoarding,” according to the OCD Center of Los Angeles blog, is a shared trait of hoarders whether they have OCD or not.

Memory hoarding is a mental compulsion to over-attend to the details of an event, person, or object in an attempt to mentally store it for safekeeping.  This is generally done under the belief that the event, person, or object carries a special significance and will be important to recall exactly as-is at a later date.  The memory serves the same function for the mental hoarder that the old newspaper serves for the physical hoarder.”

remains to be sifted

I understand why I’ve held on to so many weird objects, but this doesn’t express why I’ve forgotten them. Items are buried, memories are covered up, and when I’m forced to sift through the rubble in the bottom of a crate, I’m confronted with intermittent moments of joy. In there is a smattering of painful tugs, dread at the photos of a past life that I anxiously tried to share with someone else, and relatively little nostalgia for past countries and experience.

Yet, as I clean out the boxes in preparation for another shift, I cannot help but feel I am hoarding memories. There is the constant feeling of “this might be the last time I see…” and I have caught myself snapping photos of bizarre moments in a vain effort to capture the present for later meaning.