Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Order and OCD

By Tory Butterworth

My office is as clean as it's ever likely to be.

I'm waiting for my official job offer from Human Resources, and taking time to do the sorts of things I never really do when I'm working five days a week. Cleaning out my home office, I ran across an old Christmas letter, written when I adopted my two cats. Thora is my Himalayan. Her name translates as, "Thor's struggle," the struggle between chaos and order.

For this one moment in my life, order has triumphed.

At the beginning of the summer, however, it was a different story. Despite my own frequent advice to clients and friends, "Don't leave your current job until you get another one," I left community mental health with a couple of job leads but no definite offers. In my heart of hearts, I was hoping to take the summer off, to get things in order.

I've done most of the things I set out for myself. My website is up. I re-organized my finances. Any day now, I'll get a formal job offer.

As summer officially draws to its close, I do appreciate being able to see the top of my desk. What I appreciate more, however, was having the chance to be at "loose ends," for a while, to stay with my job hunting process until something emerged. If I hadn't let myself live in the chaos of being unemployed this summer, I wouldn't have had time to explore some of the job options I did. I wouldn't have allowed myself to sit with them until one, in particular, felt right.

I think chaos gets a bad rap. Most people talk like order is good and chaos is bad. But that's not how it feels. Too much order can be stifling. Too much order and we stay in the same place, don't move out and explore. When we work and struggle and change, chaos is inevitable.

Most of you have heard of the psychiatric diagnosis, "Obsessive-compulsive disorder," or OCD, portrayed in Judith Rapoport's book, The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing. You could say it's a disease of too much order. People with OCD can't live with the normal chaos of everyday life. It makes them too anxious.

Sometimes I think I'm a bit OCD. But I guess not. My house is too clean now, even for me.

Thank heaven for Thora, she'll put that right in nobody's business!


Annette said...

I guess I am definitely NOT OCD. I desperately need to de-clutter. I know there's a desk here somewhere!

Brenda Roger said...


I try to explain to the uptight people in my life that the mess in my sewing room actually results in happy accidents when fabrics converge in ways I never would have planned. Some of my best ideas are born of chaos.


Pat said...

I have the opposite of OCD, I think they call it SLOB.

Tory Butterworth said...

Maybe we need to start a club for chaos lovers? I was thinking of a logo, "Chaos lovers of the world, Unite!" But then, I wonder if uniting at something is contrary to the principles of choas?

Judith said...

Tory, I love your analysis of chaos and order. What is it when you can't stand either? If my office is too ordered and neat I can't work, but then when I scatter all my books, papers and mail around the room I can't work. I think it might be PD.
Procrastination disorder.

Kristine said...

OCD? Yeah, that about sums up my life. Chaos makes me extremely anxious, which is why when I quit my job on blind faith that I could make it as a freelance writer, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I still get cold sweats sometimes.

Cathy said...

Just attended a workshop and read a book by Ellen Peterson (a therapist) about abundance. She recommended you make room for the new by getting rid of the old (as you did with your job). If I were married to a millionaire, I would definitely do that myself. You are inspirational.

Don't worry about the clutter. It has a mind of its own and creeps back at night.

Tory Butterworth said...

Judith: A friend of mine says procrastination always comes from perfectionism. I don't know about always, but that certainly fits for me!

Kristine: cold sweats are definitely getting to me today. At least I have our blog to turn to!

Cathy: Yes, in my house chaos creeps back in on little cat feet.

Nancy said...

Creative Chaos! That's how I describe my office. I remember a study by somebody a while back (Tory,maybe you know about this?) that involved putting some lab rats in perfectly clean cages and another set of rats into a toy box to live. The clean cage rats died young, while the toy box rats---with loads of stimulation--lived much longer and happier lives. (How can you tell if a rat is happy??) I like to think of myself as working in a toy box.

Tory Butterworth said...

A new phenomenon: Death by order.