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Self-Knowledge • Fear & Insecurity

The Overlooked Pains of Very, Very Tidy People

There’s commonly taken to be something faintly ridiculous about extremely tidy people. They’re always fussing because a cupboard apparently has too much in it. They can’t go to sleep until the entire kitchen could be operated in. They might be thrown deeply off balance because of a scratch on a plaster wall.

Alongside the mockery, it becomes highly tempting to try out some amateur psychotherapy on them – as they go through the laundry bin, at midnight, again. Aspersions might be made as to the origins of their compulsions. They are evidently running away from something that should be confronted more sensibly, they’re putting in energy here that should rightly go elsewhere; this might be an alternative to sex or creativity, they are (to resort to an always vague but conclusive-sounding put down) ‘anal.’

Photo by Marcin Galusz on Unsplash

We very tidy people should – for our sakes and those of others around us – stop pretending. Of course we are not entirely normal. Of course something here is slightly or even very amiss.

If we were completely balanced, we wouldn’t care in the least what was going on in the cutlery drawer. The books on the shelf could be lined up without the slightest regard for their appearance. We wouldn’t think so much about the dirt in the putty between the sink and the countertop.

But we’re not like this, and if we can admit to why, perhaps the world can cut us some slack and on a good day extend some sympathy. We are extremely tidy because – early on – almost certainly, a few crucial things were messy in the extreme. Perhaps someone shouted at us a lot, maybe it felt as if we were on the edge of a major explosion, almost certainly no one had time for our messy aspects.

Then, at some point, we discovered the consolations of aligning all the bowls according to their circumference, of investing our spare money in kitchen chairs and in going around the edges of a room on our stomachs in search of dust with a set of q-tips and bowl of soapy water.

Naturally this can’t definitively rescue us from our inner woes. Naturally the panic still continues. But it’s too easy for an unfrightened person to scoff without having had a taste of the fear in our bones – or until they understand just how much a perfectly symmetrical room lay-out might steady our nerves.

We would all – naturally – wish to be indifferent to mess, as well as ugliness, chaos, distemper and the wailing of the neighbour’s small children. But in order to do this, our egos would have needed to be wrapped in some very dense protective layers of love over many slow years.

We can laugh, of course, at the manic tidiers. But to call them ‘overly tidy’ misses the point. They are not tidy at all. They are first and foremost extremely chaotic inside, as outer mess is always at risk of reminding them – and if we were truly kind, we might find it in our hearts to help them with the laundry and even perhaps the pending project of lining up the books by year, spine colour and publisher.

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