Adapting to Requirements
It's pleasant to live in a clean and tidy house but it's even
more pleasant to live in a house where the atmosphere is one
where understanding and caring among its members prevails.
Occasionally, the atmosphere turns ugly because of the
extreme and unbalanced fastidiousness of a housewife who is
overly immaculate and pressures those around her who don't
live up to her overly stringent standards. The opposite can
be true if, in contrast, she is messy and doesn't adapt
herself to the practical needs of her family.
What determines the makings of the neat or the messy
Mrs. Yaffa Barnett, a clinical psychologist, explains: "A
balanced outer order may hint at inner organization or in
general at having organizational talents. An extreme and
rigid outer order can hint at a lack of inner order, an
opposite reaction to anxiety and a need to control, which is
expressed thus, at least outwardly. Everything appears to be
organized, neat and under control because the person feels
inside that she doesn't have a balanced anchor. Everything is
distorted and she tries to grab on to externality, so that at
least for outer appearances, she is organized.
"There are certain circumstances in which an over-concern for
order is a symptom of a personality disorder, a fastidious
phenomenon that leads to functional disturbances," explains
Dr. Alex Aviv. "This is found in people who are inflexible,
who are incapable of enjoying something simple, like a
vacation, for example; are unable to work in unclear
frameworks; require that those around them live according to
strict rules and timetables; and they invest unnecessary
energy in small details until it's difficult for them to see
the big picture. They don't admit to having a problem but are
of the opinion that others should be like them. These people,
by the way, can adapt to work that requires attention to
detail, like archiving or accounting."
In contrast to them, Dr. Aviv enumerates another group that
includes people suffering from the other extreme of the
problem: "Order causes them emotional disorder. Mess gives
these people a feeling of vitality and not only a disorder of
things. They'll try to create chaos on purpose, even in
interpersonal communication. They will, for example speak
loudly and make themselves heard in a group carrying on a
Mrs. Burnett adds: "If a person reaches a situation of
obsession, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) this can
certainly stem from feelings of guilt or a genetic disorder
but it isn't always genetic. Sometimes, it's a learned
behavior and there's a difference in the way it's treated. If
we're dealing with a learned behavior, a person can change,
using behavior modification, counseling and self-awareness.
But if it's a compulsive behavior, they should seek outside
In order for a woman to tame her extremity, we have to
examine the source of the behavior: is it an emotional
response stemming from anxiety and an attempt to control it
or is it a rigidity or compulsiveness? When she understands
what is at the core, she'll be able to change.
Also, in the opinion of Mrs. Hadassah Halamish, a
psychotherapist, at the core of the perfectionist housewife,
who demands order above everything, is an unacknowledged fear
from an earlier time in her life. "As long as there isn't any
extreme demand for cleanliness, like repeated washing of
hands with soap or an obsessive demand from her family for
exemplary order, there's no problem," emphasizes Halamish.
"The problem starts when the peace of the home is disturbed
because of it and the whole family suffers.
"A woman who is extreme in her demand for order has to think
what's preferable, fighting with her family to maintain order
or playing with her children on the carpet and later picking
up the toys. It's a good idea perhaps to establish an area
that's off-limits to toys, which will remain clean and tidy,
like the living room. Or, for example, to set a time when all
the family, at the end of the day, will be enlisted to clean
it. The rest of the day can be spent on other activities
apart from straightening up the house. There's no doubt that
a compulsive housewife will be very tense and will project
that to the outside. Therefore, it's desirable for her to
find a way to get out of this negative habit."
The Neat Image
Many of us are convinced that we're neat but also run to
clean the house before guests arrive. For housewives, it's
important what other people think of their level of neatness.
"I organize the house every day but when guests come, I'm
more thorough, clean the corners, the kitchen shines and the
house screams, 'I'm clean,'" admits Tamar.
"When someone comes and looks at the apartment, it affects
me, puts me under pressure. I admit that the image of being
neat is very important to me and affects me even
subconsciously. I'm not comfortable when the house is a mess
and someone suddenly comes in. Truthfully though, because of
the tight daily schedule, I can't run around being a
policeman to my young children but at least the entrance hall
is always clean, uncluttered and projects pleasantness."
Tova adds to Tamar's feelings. "My friends and family already
know that they have to let me know ahead of time if they're
coming. Because, in the daily routine, cleaning the house
doesn't occupy such a big place (and the house looks it). I
have to be well-prepared before guests come. It's important
to me what other people say about how the apartment looks. In
fact, it's not only important, it's critical, and I worry and
try to make sure that everything is in its proper place."
The exception is Rabbanit Y. who claims that it's not
important to her if other people see her as a lover of order.
She says that she has no interest to put on a show for anyone
and it's a waste to invest energies in external impressions.
Although she does give priority to the mitzvah of
hospitality and makes sure that when guests come the
atmosphere and air in the house are clean and positive,
still, she emphasizes, the guests are certainly not more
important than her family.
Mrs. G. from Kiryat Sefer, the matriarch of a multi-
generational family, adds an anecdote which casts more light
on the topic. "Last week, I called for a washing machine
repairman. Naturally, before he came, I moved it and cleaned
the accumulated dirt (he shouldn't see, Heaven forbid, that
I'm not clean because, between you and me, when was the last
time I cleaned there?). My husband asked why I was bothering,
as if the repairman was out to inspect whether it's clean or
not. I was in conflict - my image of "clean" versus the price
I would pay, the effort of cleaning. The deciding factor was
the way I looked at the task. I saw it as a challenge, as
constructive stress, in other words: this is the opportunity
to clean since usually, the daily pressures don't let me get
to forgotten corners like behind the washing machine. And now
someone's coming, so I'll clean. I did it happily and
energetically, feeling like I had gained something.
Parenting Counselor, Mrs. Esther Ingelrod from "Arba
Eiynaim," guides us toward the middle path and says: "In
general, the anxiety over the perfection of image disturbs
the tranquility of perfectionist mothers, those who want
everything to be as perfect as possible. This is the place
for priorities. It's the mother's choice — what's more
important to her: receiving guests while going crazy and
stressing out everyone at home or losing the guests and
giving up the bother involved in inviting them. The correct
path is to relate to guests like members of the family,
spontaneously. Guests enjoy the pleasant atmosphere more than
they do the appearance of the house. Of course, the house has
to be inviting and pleasant, not an uninviting jungle, but
the peace of its inhabitants projects more.
There are times when it's better to consider differently. For
example, if the price of having a particular housewife lower
her perfectionist standards is too high and when if her house
is not shining according to her standards, she is in internal
turmoil; she'll reflect that to her guests and it's better
that she be ready for them according to her strict standards.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that being overly
neat and clean also causes stress because the guests are
afraid to make a move lest they disturb something. It's
important to remember that no guest looks with a magnifying
glass into every crack but at the general state of the
According to Mrs. Ingelrod, "The internal image of the
housewife regarding cleanliness is built up out of
experiences from childhood, over the years, and from
personality. If the housewife feels comfortable with this
image, that's the ideal. But when it's a problem, and
inviting guests calls for exaggerated preparations, there's
room for improvement through behavior modification. Sometimes
this will be expressed by preparing only 95% instead of 100%.
The guests will enjoy themselves very much even if everything
isn't perfect and she'll feel calm inside that everything
went well even though she didn't go crazy. The positive
experience that recurs and is internalized will help the
housewife to release her internal tension and bring her to a
place where her image is improved and her functioning