10 June 2013

How clean is my house?

I've always taken a perverse pride in telling people that, although I have OCD, I hardly ever clean. My form of the condition is focussed on a need for order and symmetry in my environment, rather than keeping it pristine. 

Acquaintances are surprised by this. They see how tidy I am, and the way I fiddle about rearranging things, and assume cleaning is intrinsic to this behaviour. 

Friends who have visited my flat are even more surprised: people see tidy and think 'clean'.

The reality is - brace yourselves - I only clean about once every 3-4 months. 

That might sound slobbish, but I live alone and don't wear my shoes indoors, so the dirt is pretty much limited to dust. And, as Quentin Crisp said, 'After the third year, the dust doesn't get any worse.' The number of years quoted varies from source to source, but I can vouch for its truth over a shorter time frame. A week after cleaning, a film of dust will be visible. A month - or two, or three - later, it's not much worse.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
I empty the bins and wipe down the bath after use, but that's about it. Definitely no dusting or vacuuming, unless absolutely unavoidable. Unavoidable includes Christmas: even I'm not prepared to live ankle deep in tinsel strands and pine needles until March.

I've realised recently, though, that my aversion to cleaning isn't proof of some kind of 'normality', counter-balancing my OCD. It is, in fact, a direct result of my particular form of the condition.

In order to clean, you have to move things. I don't mind moving my belongings, so long as I can easily put them back in their place. And provided other items remain around them, this is as simple as removing a single piece from a jigsaw: you can see exactly where to replace it. Move everything, though, and it's like dismantling the whole puzzle: you're back to trying to create a shape out of nothing but scattered pieces.

Cleaning is undoubtedly boring and time-consuming, but now I know that the destruction of my patterns is the real deterrent to getting out the duster and vacuum cleaner.

In future, I won't be quite so smug about my lack of cleaning. The only thing it actually demonstrates is yet another way in which OCD's tendrils choke me.

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