What they mean is that cleaning compulsions don't result from a desire to clean, but from the anxiety that is caused by not cleaning. This anxiety most often arises from a fear of contamination, either to themselves or a loved one.
Sometimes, though, the fear is of something far removed from cleaning, such as a plane crash: an impossible consequence of having a dirty home. Whatever the underlying cause of the compulsions, sufferers don't want to clean; they have to.
For me, the condition is definitely not about cleaning. My obsessive need for order means any activity that disrupts my environment provokes both anxiety and compulsions, so I actually avoid cleaning...for three to four months at a time: the final clean of 2014 was in early December, the first of 2015 was in mid-March, and the last one was at the end of June.
Many people who've seen my flat - or desk, or car - find this hard to believe, mistakenly equating a tidy environment with a clean one, but now I have proof of my slovenly habits.
|Photos: Helen Barbour|
Putting items back with the necessary millimetre precision takes longer than the actual cleaning and is incredibly stressful. There usually comes a point when I suddenly register the extent of the 'chaos' I've created and feel like crying at the effort it will take to restore my usual order.
When I have finished, I'm then also compelled to face the unpleasant reality of having to destroy this newly reclaimed perfection, though I avoid it for as long as possible.
Once I've cleaned the toilet, for example, I put off using it and have even contemplated visiting the local pub to avail myself of their facilities, in order to delay the dreaded moment for a few more precious hours.
Likewise with the kitchen bin: I hate using it when it's newly disinfected and has a fresh liner inside. Instead, I put my rubbish in supermarket bags, which I leave next to the bin. In fact, after my last clean I did that for five days. It's both an unsightly practice and illogical, given that the extra bags don't fit in with my usual patterns.
If, after all this, you still don't believe how infrequently I clean, please do come around at, say, the end of September, and check for yourself!
Incidentally, the late Quentin Crisp once said, on being asked why he didn't clean his home, 'After the third year, the dust doesn't get any worse.' Even I don't want to go that far, but I think he had a point...