OCD is not about being neat, clean, or organized. It is about control, the need to have mastery over all personal and environmental factors. My OCD habits were viciously life-consuming until I realized that I do not have control; no amount of straightening silverware on the table would make my father stop drinking, or improve my mother’s health.
I’m lucky that my OCD is not extreme, but it still manifests when I am under duress. You’ll know, because you will see me start lining up everything on my desk at 90 degree angles — at one horrible, stressful job my nick-name was Monk, after the TV character who suffers from extreme OCD.
I was chatting online with a friend about our respective “systems of organization”. He’s in the process of moving off of OneNote and trying out Zim, and so we hit on topics like cloud storage and digitization and note-taking. I love talking about that stuff. I always have.
One of the things I dreamed about as an OCD youth was the perfect life of perfect planning. I lusted after the pretty, pretty day planners at the office supply stores, and nearly cried with joy when my mother finally bought me one. I agonized over the best system to use, despite the fact that this was the mid-1980s and there were, like, two systems to choose from and they were nearly identical.
Over the years I’ve tried out a number of organizational systems as they have become more popular and migrated online: DayTimer, Franklin Covey, Palm Pilot, Getting Things Done, online calendars, Hipster PDA, Evernote, etc. etc.
I don’t use any of them, now.
I am, on the surface, fairly disorganized but what’s not as obvious is that my disorganization is purposeful. I realized about five years ago — in the midst of divorce, mental breakdowns, and starting graduate school — that my organizational system du jour never really helped me much because I would get so enraptured with organizing that I would not then go do the stuff that organizing was supposed to help me do.
Typical OCD behavior, to be honest. We take simple things (washing hands, making a list, straightening up the kitchen) to extremes. I once spent over an hour making my bed, trying to get the top sheet and the blanket perfectly even with each other and the mattress. (When people tell me that a sign of adulthood is making your bed, I want to pour my coffee on them, especially if they are wearing white.)
So I don’t make my bed. I don’t use organizational systems. I keep sporadic notes. I use different apps for things that one app could do just so I don’t get hyper focused on that one app. I always keep ONE dirty dish in the sink (not the same one, I’m not a barbarian). On my worst days, I always make sure that one item on my desk is out of alignment. Each of these things bothers me, in fact grates on my soul, but keeps me from engaging in worse behaviors.
I’ve become obsessive about not being compulsive, and yes, I’m fully aware of the irony.