Many people like to live and work in a tidy space and, generally, there's probably nothing wrong with that. Messy, sloppy spaces can be stressful, making other already stressful situations much worse. If you can appreciate tidiness, that's fairly typical, but if your need for tidiness affects your well-being, that might mean there's something else going on. There are a number of signs your need for tidiness is a sign of something more serious, according to psychologists, and knowing how those signs vary from others' experiences can be important, particularly if you exhibit a number of them.
"[I]t does not mean you have to be concerned if you have a need for tidiness," Dr. Dori Gatter, PsyD, LPC, a psychotherapist, tells Romper by email. "Your need may reflect a certain spiritual, peaceful feeling you get from having things organized and tidy." That being said, your need for tidiness could also certainly indicate that something more serious (and something you should pay attention to) is going on.
If you notice some of these signs in yourself or in others in your life, reflecting on what's going on and potentially seeking the help of a counselor might help you sort out if your need for tidiness is healthy or something about which you should be concerned, as well as help you determine how best to move forward.
1. It Interferes With Your Responsibilities
"Having a need for order can be healthy," Dr. Colleen Long, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Romper by email. "Most of the time, our outside environment is a reflection of our internal environment. However, like anything else, it can be taken to extremes. For instance having a focus on having a too tidy home can be a form of control. If someone feels out of control in another area of life, they may strive to remain in constant control of their home."
And if your need for tidiness interferes with your work or family responsibilities or your ability to live your life, that might be a sign that there's something else going on and it's not as healthy as you may have thought.
2. You Can't Relax Until Things Are Tidy
Gatter says that if you're unable to relax until you've tidied up your living space, that too could be a sign that something else is going on. "If you cannot relax until things are tidy, you may be suffering from some anxiety, a deeper feelings of chaos and a need to be in control and may not know it," she explains. "It can be a reflection of a deeper issue. Whatever we are feeling about our surroundings is a reflection of our deeper emotional state."
3. You Skip Out On Plans To Tidy Up
Again, Long says that if you're unable to keep plans with friends, family members, coworkers, or someone else because you feel as though you need to stay in and make sure your space is tidy, that could be a sign of something more serious. It shouldn't interfere with your ability to do the things you want or need to do.
4. You Obsess Over The State Of Your Living Space
If you find yourself obsessing over the state of your living space, that's probably not healthy either.
"Obsessing is a sign of some degree of past trauma and means that in our childhoods we might have experienced some feelings of things being out of control or chaotic," Gatter says. "It doesn't necessarily mean we grew up in a messy household, but that emotionally, things were messy and how we learned to deal with those feelings or situations is that we became a person who feels a need to be in control of our environment and have a tidy, organized house is one way to achieve this feeling of being OK."
5. You Deny That Your Obsession With Tidiness Is Unhealthy
If those close to you raise the concern that your need for tidiness might be more than just a healthy appreciation for it and you're dismissive and defensive, that actually might be a sign that it is something more than just a healthy appreciation.
"Serious cases usually are presented with denial, anxiety, defensiveness, and anger or even rage if these habits are pointed out or boundaries [or] help are suggested," therapist Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht., tells Romper via email.
6. It's Difficult To Let People Into Your Space Once It's Tidy
Long says that if you cancel plans or change things around so that you don't have to deal with people coming over into your tidied space and potentially making a mess, that's another sign that things might not be A-OK.
"A big part in any kind of personality growth, change, evolution is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable," she says. "It is usually a person's discomfort that will be the trigger emotion for 'tidying up,' or restoring order. [Sit] with the discomfort, and [ask] the question, 'what is it that I'm really needing in this moment?' Begin to pair a new behavior or 'coping skill' with the feeling of discomfort that usually is the impetus for cleaning up, for instance, going outside for a walk, journaling, meditating, calling a friend or family member for support, or doing some form of self care."
7. You Get Upset Whenever Anyone Makes A Mess
People make messes sometimes, but if you're getting upset and erupting whenever someone else in your household makes any sort of mess in your previously-tidy space, that's probably not a sign that your need for tidiness is just a healthy appreciation for it.
"It will take time to become comfortable with this," Gatter says. "Have patience with yourself. It is easier to lash out and blame others in the house for 'being slobs, messy or not caring.' These are all ways we are focusing outside of ourselves and letting outside irritants have control over our inner peace. Stop blaming others and accept it's an inside job to get to your own feelings of peace."
And if you find that you need help with your need for tidiness, reaching out to a therapist can help you recognize what's really going on and why, and help you feel like you can handle it in a healthier way.