Thursday, October 28, 2010

Organized or OCD?

One of the differences between the years when I was growing up and now is in the scientific/medical/psychological terms that have come into general usage. Way back then there were far fewer of these terms both around and in general use. I'm referring to things like ADD, ADHD, OCD etc..

I come by my sense of what organized means quite legitimately--I got it from my mom. Unlike many back when I was young, my mom was working outside the home as well as running the family. She did both in an incredible fashion. Not one of us in the family lacked anything that a mother was "supposed" to provide--we thought, and still think, that our mother was the best mother ever. She spent time with us (although as an adult I still can't figure out how she carved those hours out of a 24-hour day), was involved in our activities, was active in our schools, was active in the community, did all her own cooking and baking (we had no take-out available in Portland), kashered her own meat, did needlepoint and embroidery, did all of the routine and not so routine household shopping and cleaning and yes, worked in the business she and my dad had. Because of the nature of the business my dad traveled for months out of the year, so mom was also the only parent around for a lot of the time. How did she manage all of this while still keeping her sanity intact? She was organized and she was a list maker.

Everything in the house had its own place, and all of us were trained very young to put things back where we found them--no wasted time trying to find things this way.

I used mom's principles of organization in setting up my own home. I did some thinking about where the best place would be to put the things we use, put them there, did any minor adjustments that were necessary and then stuck to the plan.

A funny thing has happened, however, to the idea of organization. Set up a system that is tightly organized, that attempts to account for all activities and items, and in some people's eyes you have crossed the line from organization to OCD--Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Far from being something laudable, something to be emulated, those whose lives are less well-ordered or who won't/can't make the effort to get organized now can wave the pathological flag in the air.

I make a "To Do" List for each day that I type up and print out. There are seemingly zillions of things that have to be done in the house, there are the same zillions of things I need to do for work, there are errands to run, calls to make, places to be. Having that list lets me see just what my day is going to be like and to plan accordingly. No forgetting things this way, especially if I'm tired or distracted. When I'm outside of the house, I carry that list in my purse. I was standing in the check out line at the supermarket one day and was checking over the list as I was waiting. The person right behind me noticed the list and asked me, in an incredulous voice, if I really needed and/or followed a list that specific. Simple answer? "Yes." She shook her head and out came the whispered "OCD." On another occasion the reaction was "Control Freak."

Where once those designations truly miffed me, my answer now is to smile and say, "Why thank you! What a lovely compliment!" When being well-organized is looked at as a mental disorder, I have to wonder just what has happened to our society.


Trudy said...

You missed one that's uniquely Jewish. If you want to tell someone they're being waaay over organized just call them a Yekke. My answer to that is to answer back in a torrent of German. They back off fast. Sometimes they even say sorry.

Anonymous said...

From one OCDer to another :), I think it's just jealousy speaking. They can't do what you are doing so they have to knock it. I've learned to ignore the comments and just do what I want to do.

Dave said...

CDO. Compulsive Disorder, Obsessive.

And the letters are in Alphabetical Order like they SHOULD be.

Tom said...

Lol Dave! Can I guess that your paper clips are all lined up in separated groups by color, with blue being the first group followed by green, then red and then yellow?

But seriously, if you have to work with someone who is totally disorganized you begin to appreciate those who are organized.

tesyaa said...

I am very organized but far from OCD.

OCD is totally different. If you have to have every kitchen cabinet and drawer closed when not in use, you are OCD. If you spend 10 minutes drying your hands after washing netilat yadayim, you are OCD.

JS said...

There's a huge difference between someone who is organized and someone who is OCD. However, it seems that pop culture and pop psychology have merged in a way that puts down many normal, fully-functioning people on the one hand and those with true diseases on the other.

Your OCD example is just one of many. If someone is highly accomplished and driven he's a "type A personality." If a child doesn't do well in school or likes to daydream he's got ADHD. Someone gets mad and they have an anger management problem.

Everyone wants to diagnose everyone else around them it would seem, even perfect strangers.

If it works for you and doesn't interfere in your everyday life, I say ignore them.

anonymous shrink said...

OCD is a real, terribly difficult disorder that you trivialize unintentionally by comparing it with "simple" organization.
Think of organization as a spectrum, with the adaptive, functional organization as you experience it on the low, sub clinical end, and the impossible, anxiety provoking OCD of people who CANNOT leave the house without performing rituals to calm their anxiety.
sorry, off soapbox now...

ProfK said...

Anonymous Shrink,
Take a deep breath. I am not trivializing the real problems of those suffering from OCD. My point is that society in general has adopted many of the terms used for actual illness and pin the labels on others, others who are not suffering from any disease or disorder. If you can point to someone else's behavior and attach an illness flag to it, then it becomes something that you don't want to emulate, don't have to emulate, because it is out of the norm. Rather than being an admirable trait it becomes a pathological one.

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to find what works best for them organization-wise. I know people at work who spend so much time making lists that they never get anything on the lists done, wheras other people greatly benefit from lists. Some people manage to get lots done and done well and efficiently with only an occasional yellow stickie for a reminder. The important thing is for neither to act superior to those who use a different method like the nosy shoppers did to ProfK.

Kalman said...

I agree that different approaches work for different people. But it's not necessary to try and bring down someone whose approach is different from yours by assigning a label that is connected to a pathological condition to the other person. That's not about accuracy but about putting someone else down to make you look better.

Scraps said...

Honestly, people who use OCD as a pejorative for anyone who is well-organized are simply misinformed. OCD is a very real pathological disorder. However, being highly organized does not mean you have OCD!

The National Institute of Mental Health defines OCD in the following way:
"Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is an anxiety disorder and is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety."

Knitter of shiny things said...

Scraps- Not only that, but having OCD doesn't mean you're necessarily organized, either!