Thursday, July 28, 2011


Rest assured, fans, that there will be plenty more Things I Do posts. But for now, I'd like to delve into the origins of some of my main issues. See, the things I do, the way I am, all have very real origins. I have very real reasons for why I am a germaphobe, why I obsess, why I...compulse. I know that the very idea of sterilizing your kids or refusing to go to a mall play area is ridiculous to most of you, but hopefully this will shed a little light on how it all began.

My tales will take a lot of backstory. But story is what you're here for. Right? I mean, besides information on my upcoming seminar, "Tips 'n Trix on Maintaining a Gorgeous Homestead While Chemically Poisoning Your Loved Ones," or my upcoming book, OCD Like Me.


I grew up in a filthy, filthy house. Well, let me clarify. As a small child, our house was actually quite clean. Until I was two, my mom was married and she kept up a very nice home. After the divorce, she became an in-home daycare worker, and the house was always spotless. (With Polaroid Instamatic evidence to prove it!) I remember my mom washing and waxing the floor, I remember fresh shiny countertops, and I remember that we had a separate playroom just for toys, so everything was kept in its place. But somewhere, somehow...I don't know, with my mom being a single mom often working multiple jobs at once, life must have been kind of depressing. She has been an office worker, a janitor, a construction worker, hell she even sorted labels at one point to earn a few pennies. She often did many different things all at once. We were broke as a joke, and she did what she could, and that meant working, and being gone an awful lot. (And being gone an awful lot meant kids left to their own devices to create an awful lot of mess.) Later, she became a school bus driver, and often worked very late hours.

Point is, what single mom of two bratty, messy kids wants to come home at 11 pm and clean up the whole house (especially when you're getting up at 4:45 am the next morning for work)? The whole thing had to feel unbelievably overwhelming to her. And if she did have some kind of undiagnosed depression, well, do you really think she had the motivation to scrub down the shower every Saturday morning? And we kids were almost no help at all.

So our house got progressively messier. To the point where it could only be described as filthy. Not cluttered, not messy. Filthy. Disgusting. I have crystal-clear images in my head of the kitchen, where we would sometimes have 7 or 8 paper grocery bags brimming to the top with ancient, stinking garbage, even spilling over onto the floor, and cat bowls filled with crusted-on food, and the sink so full of dirty dishes that that the sink was unusable. The dirty dishes slowly encroached upon other surfaces too, until everything was covered with either old food, dirty dishes, or outright trash.

The rest of the house was full of crap, too, sometimes literally, since we had  a billion pets. (At least the poop got picked up--it didn't sit around or get shellacked as though on a hot tin slide--but still, our carpets were grotesque.)

The laundry room was crammed full, piled up to my shoulders (this is not exaggeration), again, to the point where the laundry machine was unusable. So, like the dishes, it just kept piling up.

The bathroom was a health hazard. Truly. The tub & shower walls itself--I don't know why no one thought to just spray on some fucking BLEACH, which would have at least helped. But the shower & tub were coated in an inch of grime, dead skin, and massive amounts of mildew. The ledge where we kept the 10,000 bottles of shampoo and soaps and conditioners was covered in swamp water. The bathroom floor was covered in wet, used towels, since we only ever used towels once (instead of hanging them up) and then just chucked them right there on the floor, so you can imagine what dozens* of wet, mildewing towels covering the floor might have smelled like. Or maybe you can't. I hope you can't. The one chore I did have was the bathroom. It was always my job, when it came to that one day a year we might clean. I always did a good, thorough job, but I practically had to kill it with fire. I should have worn a Haz-Mat suit, I honestly should have.

*We had approximately 90237498372543 towels. You would too, if you had dozens on your bathroom floor, and dozens more filling the laundry room to the ceiling. I think we just bought more as needed. Christ.

Oh, and the cherry on top, I had pet mice. Their cage, for some reason, lived in the bathroom. And I, being lazy and 11, never cleaned their cage quite often enough. And even when I did, even when I gave my mice baths (I literally let them swim around in the sink for awhile), the cage stunk by the next day. Oh the stink. Ohhhhhh the stink.

My own bedroom had no visible floor. It was entirely, entirely covered with everything under the sun. Clothes, clean and dirty, toys, crafts, papers, anything and everything. There was nowhere to walk except ON everything. As prepubescent, I guess I didn't really care. The only time I cared was when it was my birthday, and time for a party, and time to invite friends over, and that required massive amounts of cleaning, done almost entirely by my mom (because we were unruly, undisciplined children who would show no responsibility for our own chores). I genuinely have no idea how she did it, but by the time I got home from school and it was almost time for my birthday party, the formerly near-condemned house was clean. A lot of time, that involved shoving things under the bed or hiding them in the brimming laundry room, but she did her best. However, the second the house was clean for a day, it became a dumpster again. It was truly the Pit of Despair. (Hereafter, POD.)

Occasionally, I would clean my room, and I even enjoyed Pledge-polishing every surface regularly, for awhile. A short while. Then, POD.

And please don't get me started on the garage. We're talking Hoarders, on an epic scale. Even to this day. If the time ever comes for my mom to move out (she still lives in the same house I grew up in, and while it's not foul and revoltingly filthy anymore, it is truly worthy of a Hoarders episode--possibly even the Hoarders special two-hour season finale), or, God forbid, she's around no more, instead of ever attempting to clean out the house to sell, I'm pretty sure we will have to go all What's Eating Gilbert Grape and just burn that fucker down.

Anyway. I have a hard time remembering exactly when my "issues" started, but I remember they started subtly. I started wearing shoes in the house at all times, or at least socks, so that I could take them off when I got into bed and have fresh clean bare feet (or stocking feet). Because the carpets were that dirty. If you steam-cleaned them, the water would have been black. It's like, how much more black could it be? And the answer is none. None more black.

So I started wanting my very person to remain clean, even if that meant just my feet. That was around age 12 or 13, I think. The next memory I have of being really bothered by germs was in middle school, still around age 13, and watching the girls exit the lavatory without washing their hands. I explicitly remember one time my BFF and Spanish class partner, Joy, was about to leave el baño without washing, and this was our conversation:

Me: Joy, aren't you going to wash before you leave?
Joy: Why? I showered this morning.
Me: ...

I must have blocked out the years in between 13 and 22, because I can't remember how the "being a little bothered" became outright germaphobia. But when I was 22, I was done. I wanted to move out. Main reason? So I could have a goddamn clean house and keep it that way. Keep it MY way. Keep things where I wanted them. Not have none-more-black carpets. So out I moved, into my cute little apartment. And then it began.

First and foremost, it was a no-shoes apartment. Shoes inside would simply not be tolerated. I had a sign on my front door that my mom brought over for me, and it gently warned visitors, "Kindly Remove Thy Shoes." (This was a throwback to my much younger days, when my mom had a sign on the inside garage door that read the same thing. She didn't want dirty-oily-garage-floor dirt coming into the house, you see. This was pre-POD times.)

My apartment was my sanctuary. Even though no one ever wore shoes in the joint, I vacuumed almost every single day. Why? you ask. Because, I answer.

I DAILY wiped every counter, every surface, every doorknob and faucet and touchable, with antibacterial Fantastik, sprayed onto a paper towel. (This was before they invented the love of my life, the miracle wonder that is Clorox wipes.) I disinfected constantly, even though it was only I who was living there.

I never once, in my five years of living there, used the common washing machines (because, gross). I took all my laundry to my mom's, where somehow miraculously over the years, it had become accessible.

Oh, and I began the habit of washing my hands immediately upon entering the premises.

From there it all just took off. I began what you would consider the downward spiral into germ insanity, and what I would consider the upward spiral into healthy germ awareness and beautiful hygienia(TM). Yet over time...the germ thing burrowed, tunneled, and ferreted its way deeper into my brain...and I went from washing my fruit with soap, to practically stroking out if a server's thumb touched my salad as she served my plate to me. And the list of Things I Do grows and grows. And, while I still think that the Things I Do make SENSE, I am beginning to realize that they are extreme, and that the list of Things I Do is constantly growing and taking over more and more of my life, and it's becoming harder and harder to be the way I am.

Not gonna stop me from washing the top of my soda cans, though.

So now you have a little idea of where, and why, I began to want to live in an antiseptic bubble. A lot of people grow up to become exactly like their parents, or do things in the very same way, or be unable to escape the vicious cycle, but I did exactly the opposite. I wanted out of the POD, and into my own sterile heaven. This little germ of OCD (zing!) might have always been in my brain, it might always have bloomed, but God knows that month-old molding spaghetti still on the stove, and unidentifiable horrors on the carpet, more than contributed to my obsessive nature.

So there you have the origin of my OCD. In general. Basically. For the most part.



  1. That washing the tops of pop cans? I do that about 80% of the time. A friend from my old office idly pointed out that cans stored in warehouses could have rats skittering across the top of them and that kind of ruined the whole "pop the top and slurp it down" ethos I formerly lived by. But of course if I am out and about and buy a pop, and don't have a handy water source near, then I live a bit on the wild side. And use the ensuing sick days to watch blu rays on the couch. ;)

  2. *hangs head* I do not wash my soda can tops, despite knowing the reason that I should. I refuse to do so, all thanks to my penchant for rebellion and a mildly douchey safety officer at an oilfield project I was working back in '08. He was a creepy, rotund little man who would pop up while I was in the kitchen area of the facility and make comments on EV.RY.THANG I did. I snagged a mini chocolate bar from the bowl of candy on the counter? "Candy through the lips goes straight to the hips!" he'd croon. One day he came in while I was getting a soda from the fridge. He started talking about how dangerous it was to drink from an unwiped soda, discussing rats and mold and dust & dirt... I stared him right in the eye, popped the top, and proceeded to chug the soda. (Thankfully, I did not get sick.) To this day, I tend to think of that d-bag when I get a canned soda.

  3. This is true. Edward. If I am in a place with nowhere to wash my popcan, I will wipe it good and hard with my shirt and just say a prayer to the Patron Saint of Rat Poop that mine has none on it and drink it anyway.

    And Bobbilynne: As if you need to worry about candy going to your hips, you little tiny thing you!

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