I thought about titling this article “Confessions of a Neat Freak,” but I realized all too quickly that it was an inaccurate headline. I am not a neat freak. I sleep quite comfortably knowing that there are a few dust bunnies under my bed and I have successfully managed to ignore the few streaks on my front entranceway mirror for months.
Having said that, I do admit to being a tad obsessive about certain things. The word “clutter” alone is enough to make me nervous, and show me a linen closet where the towels aren’t all folded exactly the same way and I will have no choice but to drop whatever I am doing to restore proper alignment ASAP. Some of you may be shaking your heads and wondering if I am a few bulbs short of a chandelier, but I am willing to bet that there are more than a few of you who find the world to be a happier place when things are in order and organized.
As I started writing this article I posted a message on our family chat asking my siblings and adult nieces and nephews if they had any obsessive habits to share with me, and my phone buzzed for hours as we discussed our shared habits of returning things to their proper places in the refrigerator, making sure the dip spoons all face the same direction on the Shabbos table and setting the table with mathematical precision. Not surprisingly, while some of our behaviors overlapped, each of us had our own pet peeves and quirks. Do these habits make us crazy? Or are they perfectly understandable? Read on and let me know.
You know you’re obsessive when:
You alphabetize your spices. Growing up, I don’t remember seeing my mother using more than salt, pepper, onion, garlic and cinnamon in her cooking, but today our cabinets are also filled with basil, tarragon and cardamom, to name just a few. Keeping spices in alphabetical order allows even a preschool graduate to find the one she wants quickly, as long as the labels face outwards, something that we obsessives automatically do. The same concept works equally well with canned goods, breakfast cereals and plenty of other items.
You hang your clothing by color. How often do you find yourself sifting through hanger after hanger looking for a particular garment? Unless you have a monochromatic wardrobe, sorting clothing by color makes it easier to find things and keeps your closet looking so much more orderly. Give yourself bonus points if you further sort items by length within each color.
All of your hangers match each other and face the same direction. While you can splurge on velvet hangers, using those ten packs of colored plastic hangers that sell for about a dollar a package or even identical wire hangers from the dry cleaner gives your closet a sense of uniformity, especially when your hangers all hang the same way. If you really want to go all out, arrange your hangers on the rod so that there is an equal amount of space between each one.
You flatten your garbage before you throw it out. Think tissue boxes, orange juice containers and foil pans, all of which take up next to no space if you collapse them before you toss or recycle them. Call me crazy, but it just seems wrong to throw them out without ensuring that they take up the least possible amount of space. Either that or I just don’t want to have to take out the garbage any more often than I have to.
You match your soap and shampoo selections to your bathroom decor. If you have ever redone a bathroom, you have likely pored over tile samples and grout colors for hours in order to get everything exactly right, so why pair random color toiletries with your newly renovated bathroom? And why isn’t someone making decorator toothbrushes that coordinate with popular tile colors so we aren’t stuck with purple and red plastic toothbrushes that are so out of place in our slate or taupe bathrooms?
You can’t function properly if your bed isn’t made. Or if there are dirty dishes in the sink. You know what I mean. You just have that nagging feeling that your whole day is off because you have things waiting for you that should have been done already.
You can’t stand the sight of a misaligned picture. I actually bought a level for exactly this reason and have had to fight the urge to straighten out pictures hanging in other people’s houses that are a little off. Then again, I have plenty of relatives who don’t think twice before doing exactly that.
You must use a scissor to cut paper. Of course you could fold a neat line and tear it carefully, but those jagged paper edges are so disturbingly unfinished and mess up the symmetry of wherever that paper is going to end up next. Ditto for opening your mail, which is always best done with a letter opener for the same reason.
You constantly line things up in size order. It could be the books on your shelf, the boxes of pasta in your pantry or the bottles in your medicine cabinet, but they all look better when they are arranged by height. Whether you go from shortest to tallest or group the taller items in the middle with the shorter items arranged in descending size order on either side is entirely up to you.
You don’t let your little ones use the towels in the bathroom that guests might be using. Why? Because you know that when they are done, the towels won’t be hanging straight and crooked towels drive you nuts.
You cringe every time someone puts a dirty utensil or piece of cutlery directly on your kitchen counter. Why, why, why?
Your toothpaste must be squeezed from the bottom up. Does it save more than a few cents on every Colgate purchase? I don’t really know or care. But it is neater, more efficient and allows me to roll the tube up as I go, saving bathroom space as well.
You obsess over screens. No one touches the screen of my laptop, ever. And not only is there a moratorium on frying from the time my cleaning girl comes on Wednesday afternoon until after Shabbos is over to save me from having to re-clean the stove, but family members who are kind enough to indulge my idiosyncrasy only touch my oven keypad through their shirtsleeves on Thursday and Friday so that the nice clean display doesn’t get fingerprinted before Shabbos. And yes, I clean the touch screens on my iPhone and iPad regularly.
As the chat pinged back and forth, a few suggestions arose that seemed worthy of a spot in the obssessives hall of fame. Like arranging every place setting at the table at exactly the same spot in the pattern of the tablecloth. Diagramming sukkah decoration placement on graph paper to make sure they are all equidistant. Counting toys during clean-up time to make sure that none of the pieces accidentally get lost or thrown out. The clear winner? My nephew who folds his laundry before putting it in the hamper to make for easier sorting.
Some families like to go hiking. Others are avid readers. But it looks like where I come from we all share a common love for order and neatness. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it?