For the Hyper-Neat, a Special Strain Comes With the Season

This can be a season of silent suffering for people who crave tidiness and order.

Comments: 44

  1. Being a neat freak entertaining guests is like snow in NYC - stunning as it falls, absolute filth the second it stops.

  2. Ah, yet another instance of not being true to oneself.

    Let me explain. I like the Holidays as much as anyone else but my one quirk (for birthdays, anniversaries and the like as well), is that I don't like to wrap gifts. I despise doing and think it senseless. So you know what? My friends know that about me because I tell them. I let them know, the fact they're getting a gift shows how much how care about them, not how much time I spent wrapping said present.

    Maybe the neat-freaks, er, hyper-neat folks can just tell their friends something like, "I enjoy having you over and doing [enter activity here], but the clutter drives me absolutely insane." Joke about it, be over the top with it but tell them. They are, after all, your friends. They will still love you. They might even help you clean up or be neater in the first place. Then you can enjoy truly enjoy the festivities unnerved.

  3. It must be hereditary--my Dad was the one hovering with the garbage bag Christmas morning, and now that I have a family of my own, I started doing the same. We always just treated it as a normal part of Christmas. Maybe there's a twelve step program...

  4. Tin foil??

  5. “I love the initial creativity of it,” Ms. McDonald says. “I love watching the whole movie set that I’ve created. But then it becomes somewhat trampled on, and it makes me crazy.”

    Um... if it makes you crazy, and you keep doing it knowing what the outcome will be, the only logical conclusion is that you like feeling crazy.

    You can just as easily say "no" if you hate it that much, but don't complain about something that you have complete control over.

  6. I'm pretty clean, and I've had the OCD label pasted on me a time or two by people who weren't. I can go out, run into a friend, and bring them home without a single thought as to how decent the house is--it's going to be clean.

    But I have no problem with messes happening, I just clean them up afterwards. "Afterwards" means after the party, too, not in the middle of it.

    As for germs, I keep my distance if I'm sick or the other person obviously has something contagious, but otherwise, I don't think about them. But here again--preferring not to shake hands with someone who is sneezing and coughing--I get accused of being overparticular.

    So I guess it's an individual thing. The examples in the article are pretty extreme. But someone is going to be unhappy with you no matter what you do. That's just one other way of being controlling.

  7. I found 5 thngs out of order in the pictue of Ellie's kitchen...who can top that?

  8. It would be so much nicer for her just to prepare the color-coded feast and then have no guests at all, wouldn't it? (Who needs friends when you have peacock feathers and teal and silver beads?)

  9. Oh my God, seriously? Talk about a "first-world" problem. Next year maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen or a rape crisis center for the holidays and find out what your peacock feathers are worth to people with real problems.

  10. Why is the stuff color coded?

  11. ugh!
    I'd be happy if I could just afford a gift or two for my family.

  12. You have to be kidding. The mess is half the fun of Christmas. I'm tidy as heck, but revel in people just enjoying themselves, especially kids. The only sensible person in this article is Vern Yip - people are more important than things. As for the woman with five dogs, they never had an accident in your home?

  13. I'm so happy to be a slob right now. Disorder is a constant in the world. I can't imaging having my nose out of joint because of one "misplaced" star on a tree or a kernel of popcorn on the rug. I actually think scattered wrapping paper and ribbons are festive!

  14. I am the one in the family that is the "neat" person. We call it "anal retentive." How bad is it? Well, my two grown sons and I laugh about it - now. They would say that their dad was the only dad who put the canned goods in alphabetical order.

    OCD? No. Anal Rententive? Yes. Hyper-neat? Almost.

    At Christmas, they would tear into the gifts - paper and ribbon flying. I'd get it all on film. Then while they were off playing with whatever it is that they received, I would continue to cook dinner and clean up the aftermath.

    I attribute it to all the years in the military - a place for everything and everything in its place. They attribute it to me being crazy. At which point I tell them that they made me that way. Then we laugh.

    Are they "neat"? Heavens no. But they know how to be organized.

    I don't mind entertaining - and, like many of the people in the articel, I do not hover with vacuum or trashbags. The guests - who are friends and know my habits - will throw their own stuff away. That's what friends do. I don't do clean-up until after the dinner guests leave (even though some want to help clean) - lets face it - those of us that like to be neat have a certain way of doing things and we'd just as soon enjoy our guests and interact with them then start on the dishes instead of going behind them and redoing things the way we want. That gets old real fast.

    So for those that are friends with a neat person - enjoy it. And for those of us that are neat - enjoy the friends, especially at this time of the year. The dishes can actually wait for an hour or so.

    Merry Christmas to all. And pick up after yourself! : )


  15. No peacock feathers, please. They are loud, stupid, destructive birds. Vulgarity in avian form.
    Secondly, while you discussed OCD, your subtitle 'First Admit That Everyone Else Has a Problem' indicates OCPD. An SSRI from the beginning of November through the end of January for the host/irritant should make life less hellish for everyone.
    Thirdly, there is a difference between anal-retentiveness and destruction of one's possessions by idiots and uncontrolled animals.
    Lastly, take Ms Dziedzic's advice and volunteer at a soup kitchen instead of giving a party. That way you don't have to worry about your decorations.

  16. I am this person. Not necessarily the OCD one, but I do grab the wrapping paper before it hits the floor.
    Plus - holiday, whichever, decorations do not show up in my house unless they match my color scheme. I.just.can'

    The tree, for some reason, I allow. Maybe the whole surreality of having a tree in my house in the first place gets rid of the need to match. It's fun. Stuffed snowman and Santa candy dishes? Not so much.

    I love the fact that I am not alone.

  17. Thanks for this great article ~ I completely identify. I am much neater than my husband but, weirdly, he's the one I have to stop from cleaning up during a gathering and freaking about coaster-less glasses.

    Let's not judge this ilk. Volunteering and giving, which I'm sure they all do, will not change the "sensitivity."

    On the plus side, the downer of the holidays being over is offset by getting one's surroundings back in order.

    Couple of tips: (1) recycle that wrapping paper! (2) for your Chanukah menorahs ~ and candle holders year-round ~ there's some great stuff called wax-off.

  18. Man, I know, I totally hate it when movie stars' dogs run around my mansion and small children don't appreciate my exquisite taste in antiques and color-coded candies. Thanks for focusing on the issues that truly matter, NY Times!

  19. Good grief--I hope nobody who invites me over for holidays parties feels like this. I'd rather not come if I knew my host was white-knuckling it through the evening, worrying about the upholstery. Yes, gingerbread houses are messy, but sugar wipes up. It's really a small price to pay for the fun we have making them. I try very hard not to spill anything or trail crumbs around at parties, out of plain courtesy; I hope my friends can GET OVER THEMSELVES and relax enough to enjoy the company instead of fretting over their overblown decor.

    For the record: I do notice things like crumbs, chipped tiles, dust, etc., I just don't care. 90% is clean enough. I hate it when books are lined up perfectly. It suggests to me that the owner cares more about how they look than what's inside them.

  20. I wish I didn't relate to the people featured in this article but I do.
    I've also recently married a man who is very messy and disorganized and I found a good way to sum up that situation is, I will see dust on a piece of furniture and it will nag at me but my husband doesn't even notice the piece of furniture.

  21. This is a hilarious article. I love it! Probably because I see myself in these dear, sweet people. Entertaining in general--but especially Christmas--brings out that want of PERFECTION. You create this perfect home or party or theme and of course you want to share it with people, if only for the compliments and the company, but you can't maintain static perfection with living breathing people in your perfect space. My advise is to relax when the guests are present, have your own glass of wine, and when they have departed, whip out the vacuum.

  22. Beautiful interiors, tables loaded with festive dishes, lovely decorations are to be enjoyed, not archived. The obsession with photoshoot-ready presentation seems to have its roots in the glossy magazines and perfectly staged movie sets that present an unrealistic portrait of what home life should look like.

  23. In a year when my beloved New York Times has published an alarming number of tone-deaf, more-narcissist-than-thou articles, this one may take the cake. Holiday celebrations are optional. If it's too messy for you, spare us all your distress and opt out. Commenters #9 and #18 have it right.

  24. I love snacks while inviting neighbours to light the Christmas tree. My focus then is always that the 2.5 year old Dutch cheese is cut diagonally and exactly 0.1 of a centimetre thick and put on toasted white bread cut in 6 identical squares.

  25. In a world where many people struggle all their lives not to be homeless and starving, this is an incredibly sad story. To have so much and still find things to be unhappy about...

  26. You have created a perfect world for yourself, and of course, anyone else will just mess it up. Life, is messy. When it's not, it's called a temporary fantasy.

  27. The NYT has nothing else to write about? People who feel compelled to rearrange their ornaments need my attention? I read the first half of this and then emailed it to everyone I know who is unemployed, halfway to homeless,in poor health, and has a kid in Iraq.

  28. Sick. These people are sick. They suffer from a variant of obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and a form of narcissistic self involvement . I cannot imagine having any of them as a friend....they are truly sick. A lint roller on the floor? These people are gross 365 days a year..the holiday are merely an interruption. Pathetic.

  29. Let's just hope the OCD gingerbread lady doesn't ever get old or anything. Old people can be really messy -- they forget where they left things, their wheelchairs make tracks on the carpets, sometimes they spill with their shaky old hands. And she'd better make darned sure that when she gives birth the child doesn't have any sort of birth defects that might cause them to spill, or require messy medical equipment that clashes with their decor. She sounds like a real charmer. Sounds like she really understands the spirit of the Christmas season.

  30. I'm so disgusted by this article and these people. This is a problem? Your perfect world isn't perfect after your "guests" arrive and make a mess? I'll share your tragedy with the folks at the soup kitchen Christmas lunch...right before they head home where the gas has been turned off because they had no money for bill. Shame.

  31. Thank you #17, Midwesterner from Illinois for the suggestion that we not judge these people. Hold the lectures. We have no idea what humanitarian activities the subjects of the article may be involved with.

    Truly, though, I can relate to some of that need to control my environment, to have order. It gives me a sense of safety when I grew up in chaos and unpredictability. And yes, some of my control freak tendencies make me very efficient and I do significant amounts of charitable work in my community. They are not mutually exclusive.

  32. Lord have mercy. Have these people considered therapy and medication? They can't even enjoy themselves, they are so crippled by their anxiety. Do they not realize? How sad.

  33. Let me get out my tiny violin.

  34. The people in this article (with the exception of Mr. Yip) remind me of Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced "bouquet") in the British show "Keeping Up Appearances." And not in a good way. Remember, no one wanted to be at Hyacinth's candlelight suppers.

  35. For the lady with the 5 dogs that loves the "setting up" of the holidays, but hates the mess with the kids and the candy and the movie star puppies pooping in the library: Get a big dollhouse. You can set it up to your hearts content (and you can obviously afford it) and there will be no little children running around inside it to mess it up. Lock it up in the library if you still feel the need to have your messy, sticky-fingered grandkids over.

  36. $6K to clean the shoe-polish off the hand-carried Jim Thompson tan silk upholstery -- and no hard feelings? Now that's a hard-working journalist -- finding that story. Great work & Happy Holidays!

  37. Parties are more fun with some chaos.
    FWIW: I used to iron wrapping paper in order to reuse it. Live is short so I don't do that anymore.

  38. If you are so pathologically obsessed that you are fretting over every mote of dust, shard of paper or drip of condensation from a guest's glass, then you have not a home but your own private, hermetically sealed museum.

    If it is excruciating for you, just imagine your guests.

  39. Seriously?!? The self-indulgence of complaining about all the mess of gifts, food, decorating, etc.? Please. Do yourselves and the rest of us a favor - ditch your poor me rant and spend your money in a meaningful way - support a family who is hungry. Let someone who has nothing be grateful to be able to make a mess in this most materialistic season.

  40. A "perfect" party isn't perfect if a stressed-out host is hovering over everyone and preventing them from enjoying themselves. I think these people don't really want to entertain, they want to be applauded and worshiped for their superior taste and talent.

  41. I am the "hyper neat" friend who comes over to your party and starts cleaning up...well, it usually happens after I've had a little bit to much wine and I guess boredom sets in -- but I can't stand people just leaving dirty dishes and empty cups all over. So, while I won't "clean" (because that really is a personal preference for people), I will pick up and stack dishes and cups by the sink, neatly. Throw away obvious garbage. But, uh, not before asking permisssion first. I just *cant't stand* clutter.
    Yes, I know I have a problem :) but try not to make it a problem for others.

  42. For years I attended a tree decorating party by a neat freak as described to a "t" in this article. It was common knowledge that he would rearrange all the ornaments after we left. Everyone considered the behavior completely bizarre - yet - hey - it was a party. I was always thankful I was invited and also thankful I wasn't that guy. He's moved out of state now and I do miss the parties... It was a bit of mischievous fun to place two or three ornaments on the same branch knowing how infuriating you were being!

  43. These people, some of them, clearly have issues, like most of us, but what sorts of guests wear boots with unrubbed polish still on them, or bring dogs w GI distress, or put sweating drinks on antique tables?? Jeez louise --- a little consideration (and this from a decided non-neatnik) would go an awful long way to help the neat, however fussy.

  44. I too am a neat freak but at the same time, I love entertaining and throwing parties. I learn to have a drink or two at the onset to help me 'chill', because I know that nothing is more of a downer at a party than a host who's constantly obsessing over every little thing, and the guests in turn feel all tense and worried that they might spill something. So I've learned to roll with the punches.