At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, people everywhere ran frantically to the stores, clearing the shelves of disinfectant, bleach and cleaning supplies. Other than a smidge of toilet-paper-panic, I never felt an urgency to stockpile to prepare for the crisis. Why? Because I’ve been a clean freak all my life.
From a very young age, I’ve felt the need to clean and organize my surroundings. As a child, I categorized my toys and trinkets, sorting and storing them in boxes and bins. Everything had its place, and if anything was out of place, I didn’t feel right until it was returned to its place. By the time I had my own kids and a house to take care of, I had developed a routine that kept everything and everyone ship shape. To me, cleanliness represented control.
Which is why, every morning at eight-o-clock, a little ray of sunshine comes through the window in my front door and threatens to ruin my life. It taunts me, mocks me, and points a gleaming spotlight directly on my flaws, exposing them to the world. It shines right on what I thought was my clean floor, magnifying remnants of dog hair, dirt, and dust, making me feel like I’m losing control.
Each time this truth is revealed, I grimace and run to the laundry room to grab my cleaning supplies. On the way, I poke the button on my Roomba, grateful for its faithful assistance in managing the ever-present dog hair that drops from our yellow lab’s follicles year-round. As the shaft of sun light moves around the house, I follow it, frantically spraying, wiping, and sweeping up any newly discovered filth.
Sometimes, the urge to clean strikes randomly. After brushing my teeth, I have been known to suddenly spend time scrubbing my husband’s stubble from the sink, which will often inspire me to Swiffer the tumbleweeds on the bathroom floor, wipe up unmentionable substances behind toilet seats, extract gloppy hairballs from shower drains, and wipe down the mirrors.
Before I know it, I find myself on my hands and knees with the Shop Vac crevice tool, sucking up dehydrated peas and carrots under the fridge, candy wrappers under my kids’ beds, and peanuts between the couch cushions.
In the past, I thought my cleaning habits were something to be ashamed of. I hid my tendencies from my friends, afraid of being judged for being fastidious. “Do a few crumbs really matter in the whole scheme of things?” I wondered. “Is there something wrong with me because I want my house to be neat, tidy, and clean?”
Over the years, philosophies on hygiene and orderliness have changed. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” was a long-running standard that has fallen out of favor in modern times, when society began to attach negative stigmas to people who are extraordinarily clean and organized. Refrigerator magnets proclaimed, “Immaculate homes are run by dull women.” Paperweights and coffee cups suggested, “An untidy desk is a sign of genius.” Psychological terms such as “anal retentive” and “OCD” became pop-culture insults used against people like me, who thrive on order and control.
Prior to the current global coronavirus pandemic, I worried that dusting the knick knacks might brand me as dull and boring. Reorganizing the junk drawer could be a clear sign that I was “anal-retentive.” Washing my hands too much might mean I had “OCD.”
But now, the trendsetters who once rolled their eyes at “clean freaks” like me for vacuuming out utensil drawers are the same ones elbowing each other at Walmart to grab the last canister of bleach wipes.
Welcome to my world, neophytes. You may have only recently realized that transferring microscopic germs between surfaces can be dangerous, but this is the eternal truth that is illuminated every day by that pesky little ray of sunlight that comes through my window. Now that the world knows what I have known for years, I no longer need to be ashamed of being a good housekeeper.
Call it godliness or OCD, but as long as the sun continues to shine, so will I.