Thursday, 16 February 2017


'Being OCD' has become a shorthand way if saying that someone is being over-meticulous with some minor thing that really doesn't matter, to the point of obsession, and deserves a little ridicule. Such as being very neat, or placing things just so, or getting fixated on something that 'normal' people don't as a rule worry about.

This isn't of course the clinical definition. True Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, is a distracting condition that badly affects the everyday lives of a small minority. NHS Choices describes it succinctly at The text also draws the distinction between true, clinical OCD and its popular image. Another useful reference to look up is Wikipedia, at It's absolutely clear that to suffer from proper OCD is no laughing matter, and that nobody should treat a clinically compulsive person with ridicule and contempt. Especially as anyone can develop the problem.

In this post I'm going to discuss the erroneously-named 'popular' notion of 'being OCD'. That is, the expression of personality traits or habits that seem mildly odd or eccentric, enough to provoke a bit of humorously-intended comment. In the last few years it's become something of a social phenomenon, to point out odd behaviours and pull someone's leg about them. Why this happens is a subject on its own. But first I'm going to put myself under the microscope, to measure whether I really qualify for a 'popular' diagnosis (or accusation) that I am 'OCD'. Bearing in mind all the time that I can't really have clinical OCD, because there is no anxiety driving the examples I shall give. NHS Choices says  - concerning persons suffering from clinical OCD - that:

Neat, meticulous, methodical people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop OCD, as may those who are generally quite anxious or have a very strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others

Well, I may be neat and methodical, but none of the rest!

So. What evidence might there be around my home, say, to give me away? Does a generally high standard of cleanliness and tidiness count? Surely that can be taken as normal for someone living alone, without pets, and with a paid cleaner to help. I do not personally dust my ornaments, polish my woodwork, sweep away cobwebs, hoover my carpets, wash my floors, or clean my basins and toilet pan. No scope for obsession there. You won't find me on my knees three times a day, in my pinny, polishing the brasswork to a mirror-like sheen.

What about cooking, washing up, and wiping kitchen tops? Well, I do heed hygiene in the kitchen, and will be careful to wash up knife, chopping board and hands, and wipe any surface I may have touched, immediately after handling raw meat and fish, and before I handle anything else. I can easily imagine bacteria spreading everywhere. But this is a taking no more than a standard, recommended degree of care, and in no way goes into obsessive territory.

Personal appearance? Sorry, no obsessions with a style, or wearing elaborate make-up - just the plain minimum.

Toilet habits, then? As needed. Not according to a ritual.

But I do consider myself vulnerable to gentle mockery where self-organisation and neatness is concerned. I took some photos around the house yesterday, with this post in mind. I touched nothing before the shot. I'm afraid it isn't good news. Look for instance at how these maps in my study have been arranged, with nothing out of place, and in perfect sequential map number order:

Only map obsessives might do that. And look at how I've stacked my DVDs in the lounge. Higgledy-piggledy? I think not:

And in the kitchen. Opening a cupboard near the cooker. Chaos, or properly-graded and positioned bottles, jars and packets? It's OCD I'm afraid, with nearly all the labels facing the same way:

And the midday washing up, already rinsed for easy finishing, and laid out neatly - not just piled in a heap:

Oh dear. And it gets worse. I've just taken some more shots today, to see if the above were flukes. They weren't. The interior of my car just now, which hasn't been brushed out for nearly three weeks:

Fiona is almost seven years old, and has done 98,000 miles, but always looks like that inside. The shopping bag always in the offside rear footwell. The umbrella always on the back seat in that position. The red water bottle is always in that spot at the front. No stickers, no soft toys, no old parking tickets, no clutter whatever. And kept that way. OCD.

Back indoors, there are further telling signs aplenty. In the bathroom, all is tidy and freshly-wiped:

Look how I've arranged things in the picture above. I always have it like that. If Theresa has disturbed the arrangement a little bit when cleaning, then I put it right. I can't help it.

In the lounge, my bag is always in this place on the orange ottoman, and my bobble hat and gloves rest on it just so. The Slimming World book always goes there on Wednesdays, so that I will see it (and pop it in my bag) before the following evening's group meeting. I suppose I could say that by having a definite habit about placing things, like keys, I can lay my hands on them when it matters. But it's not a reason that many people would find compelling.

Back in the kitchen, I look around and see only unnatural order. A kitchen top from a stage set:

And in the bedroom, my clothes neatly arranged on the radiator, warming up for me:

And finally in the study again, the table on which I am typing this post. All symmetry and clutter-free:

And these are not the things that most uphold the OCD reputation I have among my friends! That chiefly rests on my spreadsheets. Which is odd, because although I sometimes consult them in company - to look up some detail - I have really never shown anybody a single spreadsheet at any length. And most of the 980-odd items up in the cloud on Dropbox are not Excel spreadsheets at all, but Word documents. I'm guessing it's the way I organise them all, and the ease with which I can get at whatever I want to look up. Anyone looking at the screen as I fire up Dropbox on my laptop sees this:

Numbered subject categories! That's nerdy. Let's click on '0 Health and personal care':

What, detailed doctor notes back to 2000, and dentist notes going back to 1983? That's pushing it.

Now let's click on '1 Money'. This really is Spreadsheet City:

A spreadsheet for every analysis, and then more. Going back to the 1990s too. The knockout spreadsheets are the MD series, meaning 'Money Diary', my daily record of money transactions. Here's a recent week from the 'MD 2017' spreadsheet:

Colour-coded to death. Otiose, prolix and obsessive transaction detail, in strict order of occurrence. If the police, pursuing their urgent enquiries into the East Grinstead Hairpin Murder, ever asked me to state where I was on the morning of the 4th February 2017, I could look it up and say to them, 'Officers! I was lunching at the Café Paradiso in Chichester!' and they would have to retire in utter confusion. Or utter boredom. Whatever.

In a million similar ways, keeping a record like this clearly and obviously helps me to keep track not only of pennies spent, but where I have been. Which is handy if I should ever completely lose my memory, and need to reconstruct my life. You know, like Jason Bourne - but without the assassin background and the CIA making difficulties. Well, who knows; it could happen. It just needs a bump on the head. Or a hole in the head. You know.

Anyway, I rest my case. I may show a few signs of nerdiness - who doesn't - but I'm hardly OCD.



  1. You have a kindred spirit in Sue, who loves to arrange books in height order... which is how my copy of John Marsh's commentary on John's Gospel came to be next to a history of the Somerset & Dorset Railway. Not any more! Sometimes higgledy piggledy is the only way to be.

  2. She was probably after an artistic effect!


  3. To be properly obsessive I think you would have to own every map in the series and store them in custom made glass fronted bookcases, UV filter in glass of course...

    Shall I send you a list of all my old maps when I find them incase we could fill any gaps?


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford