Pronunciation: \ˈneet freek\
1 : a person who
exhibits a pattern of behavior characterized by obsessive cleaning and
If your character color-codes
his sock drawer or lines up all her DVDs in alphabetical order, they
qualify as neat-freaks.
Some out there in the world of
psychology believe that Obsessive-Compulsive disorder operates on a
continuum of sorts. On one end, you’ve got the germophobes, counters,
and checkers (and double and triple checkers). They can’t function
because their minds just won’t quit.
On the other end, you’ve got
people who hand dry their pots and pans to avoid all trace evidence of
watermarks, and those who have to iron their wrinkle-free shirts. These
behaviors don’t interfere with their ability to function, but they do
make them officially Type-A, for anal-retentive.
Kinda anomalous. Kinda
admirable. Kinda aggravating.
How can you make your neat-freak
pop on the page, larger than life? These four insights should help.
1) The underlying issue
isn’t neatness. It’s control.
A neat-freak borders on neurotic
in certain areas of their lives. They react disproportionately if
something in their sphere of influence isn’t exactly the way they want
it. Their anger often drives other people away, and those who stick
around end up going toe-to-toe every day about the toilet seat left up
or the pair of shoes carelessly left in the living room.
They possess an intrinsic
motivation to keep their environments clean and lint-free. This
obsessive cleaning feeds a need for the neat-freak to feel in control
of their lives, which is their way of coping through stress and trauma.
You know those people afflicted by the desire to scrub down every
surface with a 10 percent bleach solution? Usually they do this when
facing an overwhelming decision or event. They feel out of control, and
cleaning helps lessen this negative feeling and gives them a sense of
The environment is an extension of the neat-freak.
Jennifer Brown Banks, author of Confessions
of a Neat-Freak, wrote, “It’s no secret that one’s home is a
reflection of self. Neat surroundings (we believe) help us to juggle
many tasks, maintain order, think strategically and even save money!”
To a neat-freak, how his
workstation looks is a direct reflection on his productivity and
abilities. So while #1 focuses on the inner motivation, #2 focuses on
the outward reward. As long as we
see neat-freaks whip out a
portable vacuum cleaner to suck up their dead skin cells and hair
follicles from their keyboards, most coworkers would admire, even envy,
the neat-freak’s clean and clutter-free desk.
characterize themselves as having eccentricities, not problems.
Neat-freaks don’t think they
have any more hiccups in their routines than everyone else. Banks wrote
that she considers herself “idiosyncratic . . . much like a person who
loves to whistle, a hair twirler, or practical joker.”
This little tidbit is where
authors can have fun. As the story world envelops the Type-A character,
forcing change upon her, have fun with the revelations outsiders bring
to the neat-freak. Help her to see herself through someone else’s
perspective. Give him a reality check. And this is done with heavenly
4) In relationships,
neat-freaks have (and probably will always have) trigger areas.
For those of you who write
romance, you’ll be interested to note that little things left out of
place or put away wrong can suddenly take on the extreme importance and
hold insurmountable tension between the couple. The partner will feel
the neat-freak is neurotic and over-the-top, and the neat-freak will
feel the partner doesn’t care if they wallow in filth.
According to New York City
clinical psychologist Ellen McGrath, as interviewed in Psychology
Today in 2006, neat-freaks have very high standards for
neatness in particular areas. These trigger areas might originate from
childhood routines in a household where cleanliness was
considered next to godliness.
It’s possible for neat-freaks to
find meaningful relationships, as long as they are aware of their
leaning toward obsessive cleanliness and withhold judgment from the
not-so-inclined partner. This ideal ending would make for the nice
completion of a secondary character arc.