Neat Freaks vs. Slobs

Clutter-phobia may be programmed into certain people’s genes, since extreme cleanliness likely used to imply success in warding off germs and illness.

Compulsive neat freaks, or clutter-phobes, are the type of people who think their houses are a total disaster area if one item is slightly out of place. Experts say the desire for neatness is twofold, from finicky types with a need for control to those with a real disorder, like obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD (a psychiatric anxiety disorder most commonly characterized by a subject's obsessive, distressing, intrusive thoughts and related compulsions (tasks or "rituals") which attempt to neutralize the obsessions).

Our attitude about neatness is formed in adolescence by our parents, who frown upon messy rooms and crave order. Says Amie Ragan, PhD, a clinical psychologist with an office based in Birmingham, AL, “Those who take it to the extreme as adults often have taken that message too far, associating neatness with a quality required to be a good person”

Clutter-phobia may also be programmed into certain people’s genes, since extreme cleanliness likely used to imply success in warding off germs and illness.

Psychiatrists say the phobia crosses the line into pathology 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.

As for the family aspect, when neat freaks and slobs must live under one roof, compromise is key. Yet, neat people are held under some higher regard generally.

“Neat people are generally conscientious — they pay attention to order, think before they act. These are the people you want in the air traffic control tower,” says Sam Gosling, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin.

Most of us think well of someone who is neat, assuming that they are more considerate than others, but that’s not always the case. In fact, research has shown that neat people are no more likely to be kind or sympathetic than their messier counterparts.

Yes, messy people waste time looking around for their shoes or misplaced keys, but neat people spend all their time constantly putting things away throughout the day, while those who let things pile up save precious minutes in the long run. Whatever your compulsion, you’re no better or worse than your counterpart.