My friend vacuums her letterbox: why some people have an obsession to clean

My friend vacuums her letterbox: why some people have an obsession to clean

I loathe the monotony of housework and the intrusion into time when I could be doing, well, anything else. However, I do love the feeling of pride as I gaze at my sparkling benchtops and gleaming floors.
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Unfortunately that glow is short-lived as my teenagers traipse in grass and sand, use every pot and dish in the kitchen to make snacksand leave Hansel and Gretel trails of discarded shoes, books, wrappers and clothes throughout the house.

A well-ordered home is something I try to keep on top of, but watching my kids play sport or meeting friends for lunch will always take precedence.

If I have to run out the door at a moment’s notice, I don’t worry that my house may look like someone has picked it up and shaken it.

Deanna, a close friend, is not so relaxed.

“If someone came over and the dishes weren’t done and my bed wasn’t made it would stress me out,” she says. “I won’t leave the house unless it’s clean. I can’t leave it.”

Deanna wakes at six every morning and follows a rigid cleaning regime until eight. Photo: Goldmund

Psychologist, Tania Coats, says 95 per centof our thoughts are “junk”.

A random one about raw chicken might pop into someone’s head and be dismissed immediately, but in an OCD sufferer the meaning and responseto that same thought may trigger a compulsion to clean out an entire fridge, just in case raw chicken contaminated other food.

Deanna understands her behaviour is extreme and on occasions resents the impact on her life.

She rarely entertains as her inability to leave dirty dishes until guests have lefthas incurred hurtful, sarcastic comments, and she has to fight the urge to clean around people.

“Many clients with cleaning-type OCD find themselves quite isolated and withdrawn, fearing the consequences of allowing people into their homes,” Coats says.

She adds feelings of inadequacy in childhood could be linked to a compulsion to clean as adults.

“Whether it is to control the environment to achieve a sense of safety, or to demonstrate perfection so as to achieve approval and acceptance.”

An obsession with cleanliness may stem from Deanna’s childhood.

Sheremembers a clean room being the one thing she could control – her bedperfectly flat andpillow propped at an exact height. Not prepared to blame anyone, Deanna concedes:“I’ve accepted that’s who I am. Everyone has an addiction and that’s just mine.”

Luckily for me,Deanna’s need for extreme cleaning doesn’t extend outside her house and she feels comfortable in my less than pristinehome. But I have to admit, I sometimes wish she would feel compelled to pick up my vacuum, or mop, or cloth.

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