My obsession with tidiness is messing me up

By Paul Lester, August 23, 2012

A lot can happen in six or seven weeks. To bring you up to speed, I got married, went on honeymoon and moved into a new house.

The honeymoon wasn’t really a honeymoon, which we’re having later this year. What we did straight after the wedding was, we went on holiday to Spain with my mum, sister and brother-in-law. I know! Jews never do this. I believe it is common practice among our Christian brethren but utterly unique in Semitic circles, unless you count the time Joseph and Mary travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem with Hetty, a distant cousin from Woodside Park.

It was a good holiday, apart from the last night when my wife started crying. She would like to point out, however, that this was due to a particularly eye-watering scene from the copy of 50 Shades of Grey she was reading rather than the sudden realisation that she’d married someone as neurotic and obsessional as yours truly.

I can be a bit fanatical about certain things, especially cleanliness and order. Remember Howard Hughes, the legendary OCD billionaire? Well, I’m like him, only without the money. And I haven’t quite stooped to using tissues to wipe doorknobs. What do you think I am, crazy? No, I use the sleeves of whatever shirt or jumper I’m wearing instead.

I learned something weird about myself in Spain, and it wasn’t that I’m related to King Juan Carlos. The fascinating discovery I made was that, whereas at home I am fastidious to a fault, whenever I’m staying in a hotel or holiday apartment I live like a slovenly pig. Clothes become a jumbled heap, toiletries are strewn around the sink, and used food wrappers are chucked in the vague direction of the bin, and if they don’t make it, they’re left on the floor.

At home, on the other hand, everything is so clean and tidy, the answer to the question, “Who lives in a house like this?” would be: “someone with deep psychological issues and a syndrome with a Latin name.” And this is a new house. Not one that we’ve newly acquired — a new build. Everything in it is factory-fresh. All the more reason, then, to want to keep it that way. Which is why, in our kitchen, the cupboard under the sink contains more cleaning products and microbe-attracting fabrics than most hospitals.

I’ve been like this since I was a child, when I would make sure the stationery on my desk was in place and I couldn’t go out unless the pillows on my bed were aligned. I taught Monica, the freakishly house-proud character from American sitcom Friends, everything she knew about irrational tidiness. Literally— she would come to my house for lessons after school.

If anything, I’ve got worse. Since I moved into this new place, I’ve started picking up lint from the carpet and collecting it in my pocket. I don’t even know what lint is — that’s how bad the problem is. And don’t even get me started on fluff. In the hierarchy of household extra-matter, fluff reigns supreme.

Even my poor children have to suffer from my hygiene idiosyncrasies, to the extent that I regularly have room inspections. It’s like being in the army. They have to stand by their beds while I go through everything with a fine tooth-comb — actually, I don’t use a fine tooth-comb, or indeed any kind of tooth-comb, because they tend to attract bacteria.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “your poor wife”. True, she did recently tell me: “You’re worse than my mother”, after she came home and found that the book she left by the bed to read later that night had been put away in a box. But in general she’s all right with it. To be honest, she’s got a thing about dirt herself — she even bought a pink feather duster so she can reach the higher slats of our blinds. She was going to get a green one but it didn’t match as many of her outfits.

And you should see what it’s like when we’re cooking. It is during food preparation that the dual concerns of mess and muck come together in a glorious symphony of neo-Freudian psychosis. In fact, we were thinking of inviting an analyst to come over and see if the condition is treatable, but we’re worried that he might want to use the facilities and spread germs around.

Last updated: 11:03am, August 23 2012