Life does not often work out the way that we need or want it to. Things are always changing. Everything seems to be in a continual state of flux. As a result, some people have a stronger need than others to control. There are a lot of things that are outside of our control. Even we ourselves often feel outside of our control. We often do the thing that we think we should not do and then we judge ourselves for doing what we are doing. When we feel like we have little control over ourselves, our need to control our external environments often increases.
Clean House Syndrome (CHS) or Environment Control Syndrome (ECS), is a specific form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Clean House Syndrome is not yet in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but it is a specific syndrome that I have come up with as a result of observing and trying to better understand the emotional and psychological states that afflict human beings through my work as a psychotherapist. Like individuals with OCD (who try and control their situation), individuals with CHS channel all of their feelings of anxiety and instability into their homes. The way that an anorexic finds control and stability in not consuming certain foods, an individual with CHS controls her or his external environment by keeping it clean and organized.
The main cause of CHS is judgment and a need for control. When we do not feel in control of our lives or ourselves, it is only natural that we would try and seek out a feeling of stability through the one thing that can provide us with a sense of control- our homes.
The more that we feel like we are not doing what we should be doing (self-judgment), the more we will get agitated, anxious and/or angry when that pile of laundry or that disorganized closet is not doing what it should be doing- getting clean and organized. And after all, judgments are just final conclusions that we come to within our minds about others, the world and ourselves. The problem with these final conclusions is that they are most often incorrect. As a result we end up living lives, where most of our stress and unhappiness is the result of false conclusions that we create. No wonder we will feel agitated, anxious, disdainful and/or angry a lot of the time. CHS is a direct result of trying to control the instability that is often created by these judgments.
The opposite of control and judgment is a state of being able to relax and “go with the flow.” It is a state of accepting what is and being able to be at ease with what is without needing to control outcomes. The result of this is an inner state that is filled with more calm, perspective, appreciation and equanimity. Less dis-ease. Needing our homes to always be clean and ordered (and being in a state of agitation or dis-ease when they are not) is a result of not being able to be present with life just as it is. The moment we see the dirty toilet or dirty floor our judgment and need to control gets triggered. Our perspective narrows and rather than being able to accept what is and either cleaning the toilet or easefully letting it be until we can get to it some other time, we become reactive.
Those with CHS are not able to let life be. This is why it is a syndrome (it creates psychological disorder). Individuals with CHS need to think that they are keeping everything within their control at all times. If they do not feel like things are within their control they experience anxiety, agitation, depression, judgment, restlessness and/or disdain. When things are messy in the home, they feel an intense need to create the feeling of order and stability in their external environment that they lack within themselves.
The antidote to CHS is the cultivation of inner states of acceptance, awareness, satisfaction, appreciation and stability (mindfulness). When this is done the prognosis is often that self-esteem, psychological and emotional health and overall life satisfaction increase immensely.