In every social group there is always one person who can’t stand to see a glass being placed on a table without a coaster, writes by Will Ackermann.
But that is nothing compared to the neuroses of true compulsive cleaners.
For them, cleaning is an obsession – one that governs their lives to such a degree that it can be classified as a disorder.
Last night’s episode of Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners – the first in a new three-part series on Channel 4 – followed Linda Dykes, a compulsive cleaner from North Wales, on her mission to clean up Britain.
Linda’s passion for cleanliness has led her to set up her own cleaning agency. Together with an army of recruits, each of whom makes Mary Poppins look like Oscar the Grouch, she is working to help others less… meticulous.
Retired antiques dealer Christopher Sylvester, for example, lives in a Victorian cottage overrun with bric-a-brac. That, at least, is how Channel 4 billed it. Actually, we saw that Christopher is a compulsive hoarder, and has been ever since his mother died.
He hasn’t cleaned is house since moving in 15 years ago. Every inch is cluttered with useless items he can’t bear to get rid of. Electrical adaptors, broken umbrellas and all manner of other objects are piled high, blocking every doorway in his home. Grime and dirt cover every surface.
“When I look around here I just despair,” said Christopher, who wore a knitted cardigan and had white hair down to his shoulders. “I don’t know where to begin.”
In many ways the episode was a typical Channel 4 experiment: pairing up two groups from opposite extremes and shaking them until a few television-worthy sound bites fell out.
In fact, it was these lines that took up most of the hour-long episode.
“My heart is beating overtime,” said mum-of-three Hayley when she saw the state of the toilets at one location. “Filthy, filthy, filthy, filthy… filth.”
But the real disappointment was that the programme didn’t take us on the usual emotional rollercoaster Channel 4 usually builds so well.
There were no break-downs or real revelations, which made it all feel a bit like the people’s conditions weren’t being taken seriously enough.
All of the cleaners had serious disorders – some worse than others – which were only addressed by a few token statistics muttered after each commercial break.
Germaphobe Michele Murray has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.
She scrubs and sterilises her groceries before packing them away and spends another eight hours each day polishing her glassware.
The programme makers tried to force a few of our tears, it seemed, by devoting a segment of the show to a clean-up operation at a drop-in centre for vulnerable and homeless people. But even that proved anti-climactic.
They also managed to sneak in a couple of shots of the untidy homeowners slumped in doorways, their faces pressed sullenly against the frame, while they said things like, “It’s my fault it got like this. I want to change.”
It ended by tying everything up in a neat little package, as is the Channel 4 documentary hallmark.
The houses were left spotless and the owners vowed to change their ways, but with none of the root problems addressed, this seemed unlikely.
Next week’s episode will see two other compulsive cleaners matched with people whose homes are in disarray.