What I’ve Learned From Being An Obsessive Control Freak

Imagine you and I walk into my apartment together at the same time and take a look around, here’s what you would see:

  • Everything in its place; photo frames arranged just so, shoes in a line on the mat next to the door and magazines stacked neatly in a corner on the chest in the living room that also serves as a coffee table.
  • An immaculately clean kitchen and bathroom.
  • A perfectly made bed and a well-kept closet where all the clothes are hanging in a row and folded in tidy stacks on the shelf above the rack.

Here’s what I would see:

  • The stowaway leaves that stuck to the bottom of our shoes and have now settled happily on the mat next to the door.
  • The way the rug in the living room is crumpled in one corner.
  • The stray crumb on the kitchen floor.
  • The 5 stray hairs on the bathroom floor.
  • The way the decorative pillow on my bed is askew.

If you know me well, you might comment on the state of the place, and even tease me for my obsession with perfection.

I dare say that certain friends won’t even believe this, but I do sometimes leave my bed unmade, my workout clothes piled in a heap on the bedroom floor and a stack of dishes in the sink (even neat freak’s have most-hated chores and washing dishes is mine). But, I will admit to you that I still smooth the sheets and arrange the pillows just so even when I don’t make my bed and that those piles of dirty dishes and clothes gnaw at me and plead with me incessantly to clean them until I finally surrender.

A friend of mine recently commented that she thinks I enjoy living alone because I like things a certain way. While it’s not entirely true that I live alone for that reason—it’s mostly that I’m an introvert who just plain prefers to be alone—she’s right, I do like things a certain way. But I deeply dislike being picked on for liking things a certain way. It’s a personality trait that’s easy to pick on and laugh at, but I assure you, it’s an obsession that’s very real and very consuming. This is a curse and it’s embarrassing. And it’s much easier to cope with in private, where it neither cramps a roommate’s style nor provides fuel for fodder at my expense.

It’s all about control.

In college I came home from class one afternoon to find my roommates rearranging the furniture in the living room. I totally flipped out. I didn’t even understand why at the time, and my roommates definitely didn’t get it (rightfully so). It was change, and it was change I couldn’t control, which I hated.

It’s only gotten worse as I’ve grown older, and as the realities and hardships of adulthood have settled in and made themselves known.

I’m slowly learning how to accept this part of myself. Recognizing the problem, and acknowledging that control is at the root of the issue, was a big step for me. I know that when I’m particularly stressed out about money or work, I have a tendency to obsessively clean and straighten. I double check to do lists, once, twice, three times in a row to make sure I haven’t missed an action item. I do everything I can to appease the nagging, gnawing feeling that there’s a mess somewhere, that there’s disorganization that I haven’t tended to.

The next step is more difficult, it’s recognizing what’s going on and asking myself: “Can you leave it? Can you let it go?” And I have to take a deep breath. Several deep breaths. I remind myself that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be able to clean up all of life’s messes. I’m just not. Something’s always going to be askew in some part of my life, and sometimes I’m not going to be able to do anything about it. I just have to Let. It. Go.

This is an extremely humbling process. And it’s definitely a practice for me. It’s something that I think I’ll have to work on for the rest of my life. And I suppose that’s part of the journey, recognizing the things that hold us back, understanding why they’re there, practicing getting past them and finding joy in the moments when you get it right.

What about you? What are you practicing?

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