difference between being a clean freak and having ocd

Is Being a “Neat Freak” the Same as Having OCD?

In both popular media and everyday speech, the term “OCD” *meaning Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is synonymous with being unusually clean and organized. Characters with OCD on television obsess over germs and people say they feel “OCD” when they organize their homes.

Not only are these uses of the term inaccurate, but they also serve to further the stigma of the disorder. Understanding and spreading the truth about the disorder can help people who have real symptoms of OCD seek the treatment they need.

What is OCD?

OCD is a serious mental disorder that affects one in 40 adults and one in 100 children in the United States. Someone who lives with the disorder experiences obsessive, worrying thoughts that they cannot seem to get rid of. These thoughts often create compulsive behaviors. For example, someone may believe that if she does not turn the light on and off exactly three times, something bad will happen.

People with OCD often know that their fears and compulsions are illogical. However, the obsessive thoughts are so convincing and real, that the patient feels unable to stop. In some cases, refusing to give into a compulsion can cause panic attacks. For a patient to qualify for a diagnosis, these obsessive thoughts and compulsions must interrupt their lives for at least one hour per day, but the symptoms often are even more severe.

Do All People with OCD Clean Obsessively?

Is obsessive cleaning a symptom of OCD? Sometimes, yes. For many patients, obsessive thoughts revolve around germs, which makes the compulsions manifest as obsessive cleaning. People with OCD may also feel the need to organize everything to make sense of their thoughts. However, the symptoms are still the obsessions and compulsions, not the cleaning itself.

Some patients with OCD fixate on other things. For example, they may focus on safety, such as turning the stove off and on several times before feeling safe. They may also obsess over seemingly unrelated things–such as needing to count each step or avoid cracks in the sidewalk in order to feel safe.

Every case of OCD is unique. While some people with OCD are “neat freaks,” others are not.

Do All “Neat Freaks” Have OCD?

While some people who are exceptionally clean have OCD, others do not have a mental disorder. The difference is in whether the desire to clean comes from obsessive thought and compulsions or simply a desire. More to the point, a person only has OCD if the symptoms cause disruption and mental anguish.

This is the case with most mental disorders. Someone can only receive a diagnosis of the issues cause significant turmoil in their lives; although the exact diagnostic standard vary for each disorder. So, if someone simply enjoys keeping a super-clean home, they may not need treatment for this behavior.

If someone in your life exhibits symptoms of OCD, avoid trying to diagnose them yourself. Instead, encourage professional treatment. The counselors and other professionals at LifeStance Health can help you and/or your loved one get the help needed to live with OCD healthily.