Madness of Clutter

 anxious OCD child with distant expression looking out window of house
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

This old adage used to bear a sense of foreboding for me.  While I'm not one of the full-blown OCD stricken people, I certainly have strong tendencies towards obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Where did it start?

Many a time when I was a child, clutter and disorder came to mean chaos was looming, and catastrophe would soon fall.  I just wasn't able to detect the exact timing. or what it meant for me.

One mom, two distinct personalities

My mother and I had become quite close over the past few years.  It seemed that at times, we were more like close friends than mother and daughter.  I considered this quite a feat since we'd had a volatile relationship for many years before.  

The "Well" mom

This is the one that is dear to me, and for the most part, the one I can count on.  We share many similar loves.  Music, movies, but by far, our absolute favorite pastime was coffee at Indigo, and browsing the books afterwards.

Trepidation

When I knew I'd be moving from the city, I was quite concerned how she would cope. Would she relapse into her illness of chaos and mania yet again?  It seemed at first, that she coped well.  We would speak regularly and email almost every day.

It wasn't long before I noticed little things changing. 

For one, I would feel a strong tug in my gut that made me nauseous.  This was a tell-tale sign for many years.

I tried to brush it off as a sense of guilt that hounded me, tempered with fear that I may be right.

Down the rabbit hole we go

In early March of 2017, my mother fell ill once again.  This was after over a ten-year span of being well.  My world, such as it was, came to a halt.  I once again felt like a lost child looking for her mother.  It would be several months before the "well" mom would appear again.

So many snippets of my life flashed before my eyes.  Mess, clutter, and chaos. This was my life when my mother was off her meds.

From the time I was born, my life was perpetually in upheaval mode. 

We moved frequently, there were always sketchy people around with questionable motives when it came to the care of a very young girl.  I don't think I ever felt truly safe and secure.  I never knew what to expect. 

Even when life was calm and flowing, I wondered when it would end?

The cycle of dysfunction continues

Like many children who come from dysfunctional families, I thought if I was "extra good", then maybe my mom would love me more and try harder to manage her bipolar disorder

On the other hand, I thought that since my mother kept getting sick, it meant maybe I wasn't worth the effort. 

Maybe I was a bad kid? 

I didn't know that I wasn't the problem.  That it was, in fact, that the problem was my mother, who either couldn't or wouldn't stay well. 

The result, in the end, was the same.

The consequences be damned.  Essentially, I had no one to turn to.  Our family, at best was estranged, and each had their own struggles to manage.

Also, communication was almost non-existent. There was seemingly no one to turn when I needed it the most. For all intents and purposes, I was on my own from a young age.

Taken away

When my mother would become ill, social services would be notified and I would be apprehended.   I would be placed first in a temporary foster home until a longer-term placement could be found.

This was my life from seemingly the moment I was born.

I felt that I did not have a true sense of home.   I knew that it could be taken away at any time.

Hell on Earth

 two wooden signs with the words chaos and order

In the fall of 1985, several weeks were spent in constant fear, hunger, and uncertainty. 

I would do my best to keep the barely furnished apartment tidy and clean, I wanted to pretend, at least for the moment, that all was well.  For me, this meant a clean and tidy place.  Order in a place where there was no control.  My efforts weren't appreciated though, and in a few moments, the place would be messy again. 

It seemed I had no control in my life at all.

The calm after the storm

As always, when placed back in care, I would be relieved that I was finally in a safe place again.  I had a warm bed, food to eat, and there was routine in my life again. 

These seemingly mundane things were an insatiable yearning during those last few weeks. 

My physical needs were once again being met, but inside I felt despair and loneliness. I had no way of knowing what was in my future.

Would I even see my mother again?

Folding and refolding, arranging and rearranging

Around  11 or 12 years of age, I started forming habits that would appear strange to others.  But to me?   It made sense.

I had begun to accumulate some belongings again after having lost everything. Again.

The few possessions I did have I was very protective of.  I wanted to take care of them. This meant organizing them frequently. 

I would take items out of my drawer, and fold and refold until it looked neat and tidy.  I would also try to find the best way to arrange the items in my closet and bookshelf.  

I would do this multiple times a week, if not a day. The adults surely wondered what was going on with me.  Why wasn't I outside playing with the other kids, doing kid things?   

In truth, I thought that the other kids seemed childish.  I longed to connect with them on their level, but I just couldn't seem to relate to them.

These habits would follow me for quite some years. 

I am very particular about a few things, like laundry and how the drawers and closets are kept.  I like to maintain a certain order and become quite annoyed when others just move stuff around, or worse yet, leave a trail in their wake.  

Reading and learning

In my quest to learn everything I could about life and people, I read voraciously.  Self-help books were piled by my bed. 

Talk shows like Oprah and later on Dr. Phil and the like would help me piece together why I had these feelings of rage and helplessness. 

Of course, information only does so much.  I needed to learn how to put this information into practice.

High anxiety was the main cause for my obsessive need for control and order.  I had not ever felt like I was in charge of my life, and this was one of the many ways in which it manifested.

Present day

Logically speaking, I completely understand that life is ever-evolving.  Food will always need to be cooked, dishes washed, and the myriad of other mundane details of life be taken care of on a daily basis. Nothing will stay clean forever. 

After all, life is not stagnant.  Life is for the living. 

I remind myself gently that everything does not need to be in perfect order, and this would be a daunting task to even attempt to conquer.  The mess will be there later. 

Life needs to lived and cherished.

I now understand what my triggers are when life is stressful and is lobbing curve balls every which way.

I also know that it does not spell disaster when life is topsy-turvy. After all, life is messy!

And that is something I can live with.


Robin Klammer is a stay-at-home mom who loves nature and animals.  She's currently working on some projects she hopes to publish in the near future. She's also former support staff in a public school and currently volunteers at her son's school. She's proud of her well-earned dark sense of humor.

You can find more of her writing on Medium.