What is clean fanatic?Is it a personality disorder?
In Defense of Clean Fanatics Everywhere
I am a fanatic about cleanliness, and it is not, in any way, a personality disorder. There are, of course, people who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is a disorder that affects their ability to live their life normally; but being a fanatic about cleanliness is not, in itself, a disorder.
People who have more relaxed standards for cleanliness often view the clean fanatic as someone who has a disorder, but that is usually because the more relaxed person is either less aware of contamination, or simply isn't bothered by dirt. Since people often use themselves as the measure of how clean everyone should be, they judge the clean fanatic as "compulsive" and "not normal".
Another problem for the less clean-conscious is they often don't realize that a person can be a clean fanatic while living life quite fully, happily, and effortlessly. Practicing good hygiene and housekeeping isn't a lot of extra work for clean fanatics. In fact, clean fanatics tend to be very organized people who simply prefer to keep things clean, rather than letting them get disgustingly dirty.
There are a number of things that contribute to my own attitude about clean:
1. I am very aware of germs and cross-contamination. If someone picks up a cat, I really don't want them putting their "cat hands" on my refrigerator door handle. I don't want pocketbooks that have been on a car floor being put on my clean tablecloth. My general rule is, "If it's been on the floor then it should never be put on anything other than floor again (unless, perhaps, it is something that can be thoroughly washed).
Handwashing in the Number 1 to prevent getting sick, and making some effort to keep from spreading the same dirt, particles, or contamination from one place to another is good sense.
2. I have particularly sensitive hands. If I touch something (like a pet's head or a surface that isn't super clean) I can actually feel it on my hands. It feels as if there is something on them, and washing them makes them feel clean again. Library books and DVD cases have that invisible film of dirt on them. If they are damp-wiped that film is gone, and I don't feel it if I touch them.
3. I won't pick up papers that have fallen on the floor with my bare hands because sometimes fingernails can scrape the floor. I can feel if small bits of dirt have gotten under my nails, and it's just easier to put a baggie over my hand, or pick things up with a paper towel, than to try to get tiny, tiny, bits of dirt cleaned out once they've gotten under my nails.
4. Another reason I am a clean fanatic is that mess creates too much "visual overload". A neat pile temporarily left somewhere doesn't bother me. Big, cluttery, messes of miscellanous stuff do. It makes me feel as if I can't think clearly and can't breathe. Piled up stuff collects dust, making the situation go beyond clutter and into dirty. Piled up stuff also makes cleaning difficult.
5. I keep dishes that can't be in closed cabinets in plastic wrap, and I rinse all dishes before using them. Dishes must be left out for a little while to fully dry (so bacteria won't grow when they're stacked). Because of that, invisible amounts of dust that floats through any air can land on them. Also, one never knows if a spider or ant has walked over the dishes at any point. Rinsing dishes lets me know that there is no dust and not even a small amount of "ant-tracking" contamination on them.
6. Having a clean home makes it warmer and more alive to me. I know there are people who think a dirty, "lived in", home is "friendlier". I find less than sparkling depressing. "Lived in" can be another word for disorganized, cluttery, or even dirty. Some people are fine with a certain amount of clutter, but - believe me - a family can happily and freely live in an inviting, sparkling clean, neat, home. It's all a matter of being organized, having a cleaning system, and getting on top of small things before they turn into big messes.
It's nice to drink from sparkling clean glasses or use sparkling flatware. Sinks that sparkle are just nicer to use (not to mention more germ-free). A stack of folder, straight-from-the-dryer towels is just nicer than a bag load of unfolded ones.
The right degree of organization and efficiency mean that some people can keep things super clean almost effortlessly.
7. When it comes to clothing, pillow covers, and blankets (etc), if I'm going to put my face on it I want to know it has been nowhere but the washer, dryer, and a clean drawer. People can get skin infections from bacteria on things. Besides, it's just nicer to put your face on a super-clean pillow than on an "iffy" one.
8. I don't ask people to remove shoes when they come into the house (because I, personally, won't walk on floors, no matter how clean they appear; my feet feel that same kind of thing that my hands do). I do, however, think it is reasonable to expect people to keep their shoes (and socks and bare feet that have been on the floor) off furniture.
9. I use disinfectant and/or alcohol on things like doorknobs and phones often. If things like salt shakers aren't squeaky clean I need them to feel that way. The computer mouse just gets a feel to it after it has been used for a while (even by super clean hands).
Every year people in hospitals get serious infections and often die because healthcare workers don't wash their hands well, or else they cross contaminate. One hospital tried putting in a real effort to make people aware of contamination, and the rate of infection dropped way, way, down. When one person in my household gets sick, more often than not nobody else gets it.
There is no personality disorder when it comes to being aware of preventing contamination. There is also no personality disorder involved when a person happens to have sensitive skin that does feel dirt. Maybe other people feel it and ignore. Maybe they have calluses and don't feel. When you are someone who actually feels the presence of even small amounts of dirt on your hands there's no disorder in needing to wash your hands right away.
With regard to living in a way that keeps the house clean and neat, that's like learning to ride a bike. When you first learn to ride a two-wheeler you're always thinking about balancing and swirving the handle bars. Once you learn you're no longer thinking about it when you ride. You think about other things, talk, and generally enjoy yourself. Clean is the same way. Once you're in the habit of doing things a certain way nobody has to give up living in order to have things clean.
There is no disorder involved in the belief that a sparkling clean and neat home is warm and inviting. Decorating magazines don't use "lived in" homes to show how warm and inviting a house can be. Real Estate agents don't advise people who are selling their home to make it "lived in" so it will look more appealing. They advise making sure it is clean, adding some flowers, and adding a nice scent.
There's no disorder in liking the way faucet handles feel when they're super clean.
Even animals (cats, for example) have their own version of clean. They clean themselves all through the day. They head for the cleanest thing to sleep on. They bury the dirt in their litter box, and they won't use a litterbox that isn't clean.
One psychological element for me is that I'm someone who enjoys a clean, clear, head. People often prefer an environment that is an expression of who they are and/or that feels as if it matches who they are. If I'm not clean and don't have clean around me, I feel as if I'm in someone else's world. It conflicts with what I am on the inside.
Contrary to what so many people think (and that includes those less clean people who eye my clean-conscious ways with disapproval), I simply believe that there are good reasons for being clean. They can be health reasons, aesthetic reasons, or even just preferences. Wanting a clean, warm, welcoming, home is (at least for some people) a sign of being very caring, loving, and sociable.
The world is full of dirty. If I can at least have the luxury and indulgence of my own little world being sparkling clean and contamination-reduced, that gives me the strength to go out into that world (and use my forearm to open doors used by the public).
I'm an adult. I'm a mature woman. I'm a mother. I have no trouble having clean and order in my life. I'm a person with a sense of contamination prevention, aesthetics, and organization. I'm Mary - not Rhoda. I'm Shirley - not Laverne. I'm Monica - not Phoebe. I will even admit to being Felix - not Oscar. Snow White kept things clean. Cinderella was always cleaning. Belle even cleaned up the Beast's dirty, dusty, castle (and the the teapot and cups thought it was the greatest thing).
Clean is a nice thing to be - not a personality disorder to have.
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Reply to Comment by Thomas, Above
Thomas, I think the difference between me and your mother might be that cleaning doesn't take up all my time. I won't let it. My "thing" is more about not letting mess build up in the first place (when possible), which means I don't have all kinds of cleaning jobs sitting and waiting to be done (when I don't have the time to clean).
It's important for me to point out (not that anyone on here, including you, needs me to point this out) that I'm not a psychologist. Any thoughts I offer are nothing more than my own, personal, guesses; based on what you've said and based on my own experience in my own life, and with people in my life.
There are, of course, always the possibilities that your mother could have a psychiatric disorder (or the beginnings of one), but I suspect there's a good chance her main problem may be the stress of financial problems (maybe combined with issues associated with a woman's change of life - maybe not. Not all women go through "a thing" around menopause and for awhile following it. Some do.). Menopause-issues aside, though, stress from something like financial problems and/or not having much going on in life that one finds rewarding can lead to problems like difficulty concentrating, physical and mental exhaustion, and generally having difficulty doing some things (like going out to find work). Something like adrenal fatigue can mean a person doesn't have the ability to really do some of the more demanding things at all times. Someone who is strong and tries to keep going may easily be able to get something done that isn't "emotionally demanding" or "emotionally draining". I've known more than one person who has been chronically stressed and exhausted, but who will do those things they CAN do, even when their stress level (and maybe inability to concentrate or cope with some things)makes it seem like "too much" to do some other things (like going out and meeting prospective employers, of even going out and socializing).
For the person who is otherwise (for lack of a better way to describe it) generally miserable, exhausted, stressed out, and MAYBE even grossly misunderstood; finding ways to have some small joy in life can feel important. For a person who thrives most on "clean" and who feels she can't think well in a mess, one of those "small joys" (but also one need) can be having things in order enough not that the environment doesn't look like an overwhelming and depressing mess. Some people who are unhappy/stressed out can feel in desperate need of finding "a least a little shred of beauty in life" and/or they may feel as if, in order to even try to be able to concentrate or "think straight" they have to have a certain amount of order. Also, when the rest of life feels out of control a person may find it helps his ability to feel less overwhelmed if exercises what little control in life he does have, which is his own ability to keep (or try to keep) some order around him.
The person who is so exhausted or stressed out that he has reached this point is likely to be a strong, capable, person who is determined to find ways of "taking care of" of his own emotional/mental needs, especially if/when that person feels as if nobody else can understand the degree of exhaustion or stress he is dealing with. This can be an otherwise perfectly mentally healthy person who is strong and capable of dealing with life, but there can be a point where even the strongest of people eventually become exhausted to the point where even the healthiest mental attitude and healthiest thinking just doesn't help the person do what he'd like to do (no matter how much he knows he needs to, or ought to, do something).
People over 50 face particular challenges when it comes to finding work, and if your mother hasn't worked for a long time she'll be faced with even more challenges (if not discovering that's close to impossible to find work in this economy, no matter how many times she tries). Being faced with discouragement on top of all the rest of life's stresses can just make things worse and further erode at a person's sense of self-esteem. Also, sometimes people reach a saturation point where they feel that they just cannot possibly keep trying, only to face rejection once again.
Some of the jobs available to people over 50 (if they can find them at all) are jobs that involve doing work that is too demanding for someone who is already exhausted; or they may involve a demeaning setting that can be more than someone who already feels misunderstood or disrespected. That can get into that "saturation point", where the person just cannot deal with yet more. Some jobs may involve wearing a uniform that looks fine on a sixteen-year-old with a reasonably fit build but would make a person close to 60 look ridiculous (or else just look so awful that person couldn't make himself wear such a thing in public).
Jobs aside, what goes on at home can aggravate how someone feels and make more stress, rather than help. In families where money is a stress, everyone is stressed out; so it's common for some family members not to want to bother helping with cleaning. Some people just automatically think it is the wife's/mother's role to do all the cleaning (sometimes that the woman, herself; sometimes it's only her husband and kids). Some grown kids just kind of take it for granted that their mother has always been happy to do anything for them (including easing their burdens by not making an issue if the son or daughter leaves things around the house, or makes messes). Often, mothers are, in fact, more than willing to do anything for their children; but many mothers think that once children are grown one thing they shouldn't have to do is pick up after them. At the same time, some mothers who truly care about not hurting their child's feelings (or his trust that she would be willing to do anything for him) by pointing out to him that faith he has in her willingness to do anything to help him has, in fact, become a problem for her.
The mother may know (or believe) there's a certain kind of "innocence" to her grown child's taking for granted that she's "happy to pick up after him" or "happy to be the one who cleans the house"; and she may not want to hurt the feelings of a grown child who still shows such an innocent faith in her wish to be a loving, caring, mother. She may wonder if child is "just thoughtless", but she may not want to take the chance that he doesn't realize that, while she's always been happy to do the things that come with being a mother (and always will be), she, herself, has come to define her own role as "mother of grown kids" differently than her child (or husband) may define it. The mother who isn't sensitive to the feelings of others (especially her children) is often less likely to take the chance she'll hurt someone's feelings than a mother who isn't very sensitive or understanding.
Something similar can occur with wives, but another thing that can happen with wives is that husbands just essentially think their wives "ought to be maids", and husbands don't see their wife for the person she is, or understand that the challenges she faces as a caring, conscientious, stressed out, person who keeps going (and therefore doesn't respect what she does or doesn't do).
Good, solid, mothers (who care about not burdening their children, even grown ones, with what they are dealing with; and who have vowed to always "be the adult", no matter how old their child gets; are not going to tell their son or daughter how bad things are (when it comes to what they're dealing with). As a result, a question like, "Why won't you work?" is likely to get a quickie, easy, answer, like, "I don't have time." This of course, will be followed by, "But what are you so busy with?" What other answer is there to give but, "cleaning". I don't know if any of this applies to your mother, but there's a chance that she's just saying "cleaning" as an easy explanation to the more difficult-to-explain reasons why she can't/won't find work.
If she's a person who isn't about to sit around and do nothing, there's a good chance she's cleaning as a way of at least doing something (separate from whether she's also looking for that "small joy" of having things look nice).
Another thing that can happen in families (usually with mothers) is that the mother will keep on cleaning and cleaning, only to discover that a husband and/or kids go around immediately after, undoing what she's done (not intentionally, just carelessly). A certain amount of re-doing the same cleaning jobs is usually something a mother will expect (dishes, floors, laundry, etc.); so those jobs aren't usually the ones that bother most mothers. The complaints I hear from other women (and even from my own kids, who have lived with messy roommates) is that "stuff that ought to stay clean for awhile" gets "undone" immediately. An example might be that a person wants/needs something like a clean table top with just flowers on it. If everyone comes in and throws stuff on that table the minute after a mother has changed the tablecloth, that can be kind of frustrating. If the table can't stay the way she wants it for, say, more than an hour; that's another source of frustration. This is a small thing, but these things can add up. The mother who cleans a counter top, only to find crumbs or spills minutes later; or who cleans the refrigerator, only to find spills soon after; can find such minor things adding up and making her feel (and act) like a lab rat in some experiement in which achieving desired results are forever removed from within reach.
The people I know (most of whom are in your mother's age range) who are dealing with extreme stress and financial worries have all talked about considering seeking professional help. They all say the same thing: "I don't want or need to talk about what's bothering me, because it's money; and I don't want or need to risk the side effects of anti-depressants, when I'm not really depressed -- just exhausted from stress." Looking up "adrenal fatigue" will show that what helps the less severe cases of it is getting rid of stress, eating a proper diet (aimed specifically at people with this condition), and getting lots of rest. (A more extreme form of adrenal exhaustion is association with Addison's Disease, but most people who experience some adrenal fatigue don't have Addison's Disease.)
All of the thoughts that I have offered above are just "wild guesses" or "wild thoughts" about what some of the possibilities may be, with regard to your mother. There is the chance she quite simply has OCD, but a lot of people in situations similar to hers don't. Difficulty concentrating and worries about money can make a person feel distracted and have trouble with being absent-minded and forgetful. Women within a certain time frame surrounding menopause can have trouble with things like anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty dealing with stress, etc. If, by any chance, your mother is actually suffering from even mild depression, one consequence of that can be feeling hopeless.
Something many people don't realize (about some others who are extremely stressed out and possibly even suffering from mild depression) is that strong, capable, people (especially, perhaps, mothers) can be extremely skilled at doing a pretty good job of coping with their own exhaustion and/or depression (up to a point). They may be able to keep up a reasonably cheerful attitude. They may be able to get the non-mentally-demanding tasks of life done. They may be people who are quite skilled at "rising to the occasion" even when "the occasion" is that they suffer from exhaustion or depression. There's a point, though, where even people like this may not be able to overcome what they're living with. Doing new things, meeting new people, placing oneself in the position of facing rejection, dealing with the frustrations of things like phone tag and electronic answering machines, are all things that can be harder to deal with than, say, washing a kitchen floor.
For a spouse who is going through this kind of thing, one thing that doesn't help (to say the least) is to have the other spouse demanding one "help" or losing respect for him/her because he thinks the spouse is unwilling to contribute. For a mother, one of the most painful things for a mother who knows how hard she's always tried, and worked, to make sure she does what's right for her child (even if child doesn't understand), is to have a child begin to lose faith in her (only because he never knew what it took for her to be "a super hero" in the first place, and now life has taken such a toll on her energies (or else has presented challenges that are too big even for her "super-hero powers") she just can't measure up in her child's eyes. Worse, the child she may have always made an effort to believe in has grown up to be someone who doesn't believe in her (even though, if he had any idea of all that it takes to be a good, capable, mother; he would see that, while his mother may not be a super-hero, and while she may not even seem to have the same kind of energy she always has; there is no need to worry that his mother has changed or has become mentally ill.
I have no idea if any of this applies to your mother. I do know, though, that with the women (people, in a couple of cases) I've known, some simple things would help. Most of them don't want/need family members to do the housework. Most would find it tremendously helpful if family members just wouldn't undo what they do so quickly. Something else that would help would be having a certain amount of faith that the person who isn't working isn't working for reasons other than laziness, and other than "just planning to rely on other people for support". One thing that contribute to working away at person's energy level and self-esteem is not being able to work, or find work, when he knows that's what would help. Something else that contributes to any parent's stress level, and "mental pain", is watching children suffer the consequences of a bad financial situation that belongs to the parents. Something else is often having to accept financial help from "the last person one would ever want to take money from". Feeling harshly judged or feeling that the people one cares about most (and the last people one would want to be a problem for) can make things worse, so trying to show some understanding that people go through things we can't see or understand may help someone who isn't working.
For a lot of people in situations similar to what I've been discussing above, a big problem is lack of support. The trouble is, people who are generally strong, capable, grown-ups don't need the kind of support others often think of (a shoulder to cry on, someone to pour out one's troubles to, etc.). "Support" for the generally strong, solid, individual who is going through a very difficult time is often nothing more than not feeling judged or attacked by others; and maybe not having one's efforts immediately undone.
Another thought is that grown kids often don't know what kind of arrangement parents have between them. They may have discussed financial problems, any exhaustion/stress issues, etc., and decided that, for x amount of time, one spouse's working isn't the answer (for one reason or another). People in their late fifties may have it in their mind, "We'll live with this for another few years, and then we get to retire and live on Social Security." This may not be their ideal/dream plan, but it may be their plan if they have few other options. Although there are, and will always be, parents who expect their grown kids to support them; I don't think that's most parents. I think most parents would be sickened to think of having to accept support from grown kids once their child has moved out and has his own living expenses. Most don't see the harm in expecting a child who lives with them to kick in some reasonable help with some of the monthly bills (at least if they need help, but sometimes even parents who don't need the help expect their child to contribute). It is, though, (I think) a rare parent who would be content to have the long-term plans of having their grown child support him forever.
Lots of times parents may be more willing to accept money from a grown child who doesn't have a family, and who may have a few spare dollars to spare here or there; than they would be willing to accept money from a grown child for whom helping would be a hardship. Also, if a parent says, "We have to watch what we spend," or "We could really use some extra money these days," such a statement can have a broad range of the degree of need that parent has. Some parents may be struggling to keep the heat and lights on. Others may have a less extreme struggle, involving whether to buy some of the less critical grocery items versus sticking with store brands and basics only.
Thomas, if none of this applies to your family, I'm sorry you've read this far, only to discover it's useless. I thought, though, that even if I don't know if it applies to your family, it DOES apply to a lot of people (especially these days and in this economy, with more and more Baby Boomers finding themselves unemployed). So, I figured if it doesn't apply in your case, it may apply to any number of other people (and was therefore worth discussing).
For all I know, your mother could have a bad case of OCD and just not be able to leave housecleaning in order to work. It's just that - "odds-wise" - I'm guessing there's a good chance she has something else going on that isn't necessarily OCD. I'm the first to say that I could be wrong. I know, though, that I'm not wrong that the kinds of issues/scenarios I've described above are common ones in families (although it isn't always just the mother who can't/won't work; it could be a husband, a grown child, or some other family member).