Dear Barb—Neat Freak

Dear Barb:

You know those hoarding shows on TV; well my mom is the opposite.  She is a super neat freak.  She cleans the house constantly.  Mom dusts and vacuums the entire house every day! As soon as any of us put a dish down she is right there putting it in the dishwasher and wiping the counter.  After dinner she cleans the entire kitchen.  Plus the bathrooms are cleaned top to bottom every day.  There is no clutter in our basement or garage.  My mom is constantly going into my room and putting stuff away.  Even one sheet of paper on the desk, she will hide in a desk drawer.  To be honest I have trouble finding out where my school work is half the time! I have heard that this is an actual condition; do you think my mom needs professional help? My dad’s used to my mom’s neatness, but it is driving me crazy.  Is there anything I can do to at least keep her out of my room?

Thanks, Penny.


Great letter Penny;

Merriam Webster defines a neat freak as “a person who always wants things to be very orderly and clean.”

The majority of individuals are messy, not extremely, but kind of messy, so your mom is in the minority.  Excessive neatness can be categorized into obsessive-compulsive personalities, or even obsessive-compulsive disorders.  Both can be treated with medication and counselling, however when the condition reaches the point of a disorder, and includes anxiety attacks it may require more extensive treatment.  I really don’t know what level your mother is.

According to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, almost 15% of the population display some signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Often these conditions run in families.  When it reaches a point where the importance of the cleanliness or orderliness is causing unhappiness in relationships then it is a definite problem that needs to be addressed.  According to you, it’s reached this level and is affecting your relationship with your mom.  You need to sit down with your mom and tell her how her behaviour is making you feel.  Be totally honest, it’s possible she doesn’t realize, but rather thinks you appreciate her cleaning up after you.  Establish a place, maybe your desk, where she is not allowed to touch anything.  Decide that this is your personal space and she is not to handle anything on top of, or in your desk.  Be very definite with your mother that her behaviour is causing you great stress and unhappiness—that you need her to meet you part way.  All you can do is hope that you can reach her.  If not, then I would suggest you and your father get together and encourage her to get some professional counseling.

Hope I was able to help, and good luck, Penny.

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