Monday, April 21, 2008

MSNBC: Neatness a sign of godliness — or compulsion?

Spectrum of tidiness runs from merely orderly to life-hampering disorder

By Melissa Schorr
MSNBC contributor

She has color-coded folders to organize her take-out menus and bills. Clear containers to stash her toddler’s toys. A fridge with condiments neatly in a row. ]

Welcome to the world of a compulsive neat freak.

Clutter-phobia may also be programmed into certain people’s genes, since extreme cleanliness likely once conferred a survival advantage by warding off germs, disease and death.

"Anxiety has evolutionary value — it keeps us alert and vigilant,” says psychotherapist Tom Corboy, director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles. “The problem is people can develop this over-the-top anxiety to things that don’t deserve it, like knickknacks on a shelf.”

When it crosses the line into pathology, psychologists say, is when it begins to negatively affect your life. “It’s a problem when your need for constant order causes you extreme distress or problems in your relationship,” says Ragan.

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