Compulsive Cleaning

Posted on
Jun 21, 2011

Kelsey, the blogatrix behind Drifting Focus, recently wrote about her struggles with OCD before she leaves on a trip. She often finds herself packing and re-packing her bags, double-checking to make sure everything is where it should be. It is an honest, candid account of what she has to deal with before traveling, and an inspiring one as well –  as uncomfortable as preparing for a trip is, she doesn’t let it stop her from seeing the world.

While I can’t say that my compulsions are as strong as Kelsey’s, I, too, find that in the days and hours before I’m about to leave for a trip I get, as I like to call it, “a little buggy.” As I say this, please note that I in no way intend to trivialized the difficulties of living with OCD. So please, save that hate email for a post in which I truly deserve it. There are many.

I’m merely saying that to a very small, small degree, I empathize.

My pre-trip compulsion is this: I obsessively clean my home from top to bottom. I dust. I polish. I organize. I place items at right angles, and indiscriminately shred documents, prompting my husband to ask, “Um, are you making sure the house is spotless for anyone who breaks in while we’re away?”

“Yes,” I respond, scrubbing behind the guest toilet that never gets used. I’ll proceed to wash every bit of laundry I can find, including pulling just-washed throw blankets off the couch and tossing them into the machine, thankfully stopping before I get to the pillows (which reminds me – I need to fluff those).

“Baby,” Rand will say, gently, “The house looks great. Please stop.”

“Whatever. Hand me the vacuum and that bottle of bleach. I need to go brush my teeth.”

Excuse me a moment while I clean parts of the stove no one will ever use or see.

Now, some of this behavior falls within the realm of normal, or so I’ve been told. Many people get nervous before trips, and they all do things to alleviate said nervousness. My friend Laura packs her bag twice. My other friend Laura makes checklists. Rand does absolutely nothing because he’s reached a level of zen that few people can hope to experience in their lifetimes, and I clean house like a madwoman.

And yes, I do windows.

I've been known to polish faucets, too.

The logic behind my frantic quest for an immaculate domicile is a simple one: Soon, I’ll be traveling. I’ll be at the mercy of groping TSA agents, Air France employees who’ve gone rogue, and Alaska Airline flight crew members who think banging on bathroom doors while screaming that the plane is landing makes for a fun joke (spoiler: it does not). Soon, I’ll be in situations where my big mouth might get me arrested or deported. But my home is something I can control. I can exert my will over every inch of it: polishing and scrubbing, rearranging and straightening. And if, while traveling, I end up in a Turkish prison, I’ll do so knowing that my bathroom is clean.

It’s an incredibly comforting thought. So much so, that I start to wonder if I should leave my home at all.  On more than one occasion, I’ve taken a break from touching up paint scuffs on the underside of drawers and said to my husband, “Maybe I should just skip this trip. If I stay here, I can finish ironing the bath towels.”

“Um, no,” he replies.

And he’s right. Kelsey noted that she didn’t let her OCD stand in the way of travel, and that in the long run, her trips actually alleviated her symptoms. In that same vein, I realized that if I stayed home to clean house (a statement which, from the sunny peacefulness of a San Francisco hotel room, sounds almost comical), then my cleaning will be a problem. At some point, I have to look at my home and say, “Enough.” I grab my bag, and I leave. Because I have trips to take and a life to live beyond these pristine walls. And when I get back, I’ll tell you all about it from the comfort of my tidy little office and …


Please excuse me. I just have one more thing to take care of.

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