OCD Lite

Watching a hockey game last Friday night from my comfy chair in the living room, I suddenly felt closed in, like there were too many things occupying too small a space. I wasn’t sure why at first; the living room is the same as it’s always been. But that was the feeling: There were too many books, too many knickknacks, too many CDs and DVDs, too many shelves.

I was being hugged to (emotional) death by familiar things.

Because I’m the queen of snap decisions (something I’m trying to change), I gave myself a day to think before acting. The next night, I sat in the same chair surrounded by the same things. The windows were open, fresh air was all around, but I had that same squeezed-space feeling. I sent myself an email: “Change living room.” (Without a reminder, I would forget I wanted to minimize the living room, until I sat in my chair again and felt the same thing, and for sure I would think, Dammmmit! I meant to change that!)

The next day, I filled a storage bin with things and books of no sentimental value; enough stuff that I was able to remove a small bookshelf, which opened up much needed space. I dusted and vacuumed, and when I was done, I sat in my chair and took the temperature of the room. I was no longer claustrophobic. I felt relieved.

I did the same thing in my office/spare bedroom the next day. Five overstuffed folders of grad school papers are now on the burn pile, four boxes of books are ready for donation, and the top of a dresser—which I haven’t seen in more than two years because it’s where I piled winter quilts—is cleared and dusted.

I live in a small house, roughly 900 square feet, so it’s easy to overwhelm the place with stuff. But the way I stay on top of the stuff, or the need I have to control the stuff, is indicative (according to Dr. Google) of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, one of the symptoms of OCD is: “Your obsessions don’t give you any pleasure.”

Ah, but my orderly obsession does give me pleasure. It gives me pleasure to sit in my obsessed driven, binge-cleaned spaces—with the artwork and photos hanging straight on the wall—because when my physical surroundings are calm, my mind follows suit. It doesn’t work in reverse, though. When my mind is calm, cleaning is just a chore I do. That’s why I call it OCD Lite.

OCD Lite happens when a part of my life is chaotic, usually something I’m not 100 percent aware of or I’m avoiding. I can uber clean, toss, and rearrange all I want, but if I don’t sit with what’s really going on, I’ll have a spectacularly tidy house, but my mind will still be in chaos.

OCD Lite is triggered by more-than-normal stress, anxiety, deadlines, people-y interactions, unpleasant emails, rejection, budget concerns, and other things I have absolutely no control over. I’ve concluded that this most recent OCD Lite event (garnered by the wisdom of sitting in my less-cluttered living room) was triggered by the myriad decisions I’ve had to make lately regarding my older brother’s life.

My younger brother and I have served as Marty’s power of attorney since 2011, when he had a major grand mal seizure which left him with short-term memory loss. Until recently, we mostly hovered in the background, stepping in only when his finances were in danger (see my post, A Wake Up (Scam) Call). But subsequent seizures and a recent stroke have exacerbated Marty’s memory issues, and Matthew and I have come out of hiding to make gray-area decisions that give caregiving the reputation of Hardest Job Ever.

Chipping away at his independence, taking away—for his own good—the most basic tasks that he was once really good at is why I have a very clean living room, a very organized office, and—now that I’ve written this and reminded myself of the stress of the situation—I will have a very clean car this afternoon.  

Do you have OCD Lite? That not-too-much-but-just-enough obsessive desire for things in your sight to be neat, orderly, clean? Leave a comment!

Much more space (and look how straight those pictures are!)

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