Every morning at about nine-o-clock, a little ray of sunshine comes through the window of my kitchen and ruins my life. It taunts me, mocks me, and points a gleaming spotlight directly on my flaws, exposing them to the world.
I am not sure if that beam of light is a random act of nature, or a call to action. All I know is that it shines right on what I thought was my relatively clean floor, clearly magnifying a shocking amount of dog hair, fuzz, crumbs and dirt.
Each time this truth is revealed, I grimace and run to the laundry room to grab the broom, mop and dustpan. As the shaft of light moves around the room, I follow it, frantically extracting the newly discovered filth.
Some days, I wonder if my reaction to this exposure is healthy. Do a few crumbs really matter in the whole scheme of things? Is there something wrong with me because I want my floor to be clean? Am I “anal-retentive?” Do I have OCD?
Over the years, philosophies on the importance of cleanliness have run the gamut. The best-known adage, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” has biblical roots, and similar proverbs about the spiritual benefits of being physically clean are found in both the Talmud and the Koran.
Now that Leprosy and The Plague are no longer a worry, the maxims of modern society attach a negative stigma to cleanliness as if it were a disease itself. Refrigerator magnets tell us, “Immaculate homes are run by dull women.” Paperweights and coffee cups suggest, “An untidy desk is a sign of genius.”
Somewhere in the 1980s, use of the Freudian term “anal retentive” became trendy, showing up in “you might be” lists and Saturday Night Live skits making fun of people who thrive on order and control. Similarly, the psychological label “obsessive-compulsive disorder” has become a part of pop culture, as evidenced by the fact that it is the primary feature in TV shows like “Monk,” “Obsessed,” and “The OCD Project.”
Today, one can’t wash one’s hands without being labeled a “germophobe.” One can’t dust the knick knacks for the risk of being branded dull and boring. One can’t reorganize the junk drawer without being called “anal-retentive” or “OCD.” But, do these popular terms really just provide the Me Generation with another excuse to be selfish by implying that cleanliness is a sign of dysfunction or lifelessness?
During bunco last week, some wives and I chatted during a break in play.
“I hate dusting,” I said, and a few others agreed.
“How about stubble in the sink, drives me crazy.”
“But hair on the bathroom floor is the worst,” another wife offered, and we all gave approving nods.
“Guys don’t even notice. There could be tumbleweeds of hair rolling around on the tile, and he will still stand there, obliviously rubbing his hairy rear end with a towel.” Shaking our heads, we all felt her pain.
The banter went on, covering issues such as the dehydrated peas and carrots under the fridge, the dust on the fan blades, the unmentionable substances behind the toilet seat, and gloppy hairballs in the drains. We all agreed that there is nothing more satisfying than putting the crevice tool on a Shop Vac and sucking it all up – the dust, the hair, the old candy wrappers under our teenage sons’ beds, and the peanuts between the couch cushions. None of us was ashamed or embarrassed to admit it – we like our houses to be clean and tidy.
Notwithstanding the negative stereotype good housekeeping has been assigned by pop culture, the fact remains that most people want to live in a tidy house. Despite modern society’s attempts to grant merit to tolerating mess, the virtues of cleanliness persist.
That is the truth that is illuminated every day by that pesky little ray of sunlight that shines through my window. Call it godliness or OCD, as long as the sun continues to shine, I will run and get my broom.