Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Confessions of a Compulsive Housewife's Wife

You’d have guessed from the title that a compulsive housewife need not necessarily be a woman. Compulsive housewife syndrome is an obsession with cleanliness, tidiness. Is it pathological? Guess it can become that if it is not self regulated. But in most cases (at least in the ones I have seen), these compulsive housewives do not graduate into pathological cases like Howard Hughes.

By the way, all of above is my theory – mine alone. If you look up the site on this syndrome, the information may not coincide with my definition. What the heck? No one has monopoly over definitions.

I’ve had the privilege of being the confidante of a person whose husband is a compulsive housewife. Her story is truly attention-grabbing.

She first noticed this quality of her husband a week after her marriage, after they got back from all those tiresome visits a newly wedded couple has to undertake. She noticed that her husband had an excellent collection of books. His reading habits seemed to be very much like hers. She took out a book from the wall cupboard in their room, in which all the books were kept neatly arranged. The book was on the philosophy of Ayn Rand. It was forenoon and he had gone out, and she started reading. Lunch was announced and she kept the book face down on the writing table in the room. A couple of hours later, she came back to the room to continue reading. The book was not where she’d left it. She searched all over the room and finally found it in the shelf, in the exact place where she had taken it from. Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

She took the book out again and continued reading. He had gone out again. After a few hours, she left it face down on the table and went for a shower. After the shower, she came into the room to find that the book had disappeared from the table again. This time she went straight to the shelf and found it there, in the exact place where she had taken it from! Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

She was irritated.

“If you put the book face down, it’ll get spoilt. Besides, why litter the table? Keep it back in the shelf after you are finished with it”, he told her.

She took the book again the next day when he went out. Lunch was announced and she folded the corner of the page to mark it, and left it on the table. Soon after lunch, she came back to the room to find the book missing from the table again. She found it in the shelf again, in the exact place where she had taken it from! Of course, her husband had come back in the meanwhile.

“If you turn down the corner of the page, the pages will get dog eared”, he explained. “Besides”, he continued, “why litter the table? Keep it back in the shelf after you are finished with it “

“Then how do I mark the page?”, she asked, ignoring the last statement.

“Use book marks”, said he, maddeningly calm.

The next time he came back, he handed her a stack of book marks! He had actually spent money on them. She used two of them. The rest she discovered recently, more than two decades after, while she was doing spring cleaning. That’s when she told me this story.

She thinks her insistence on reading books her way (refusing to use the book mark, keeping them face down, not putting them back each time) had a curative effect on him. She admits he is a very sensible person with truckloads of common sense, and he loves her very much and realised that the reading habit of his wife was not a reason to destroy domestic peace and jeopardize a marriage.

She had this story of how she once made a glass of lime juice for her husband when he cam back from the office on a hot afternoon. There were 6 lemons in the fridge, and she took one, washed it, left it on the kitchen platform, and went to look for the knife which she used to keep in the work area ‘cos the kitchen platform was low and accessible to children. When she came back with the knife, the lemon was missing from the platform. She thought she had misplaced it and went to take another one from the fridge. She then noticed that all six lemons were in the fridge and one of them had water on it, as though washed. She instantly knew what had happened. She took the lemon and came back to the kitchen. This time, the knife was missing. Clinging to the lemon, she went in to the work area, and found the knife there, in the exact place where she usually kept it.

She lost her temper.

Clinging to the knife and the lemon, she went to where her husband was relaxing under the fan, and screaeaeaeaeaeaeamed - - - - -

He grinned sheepishly.

He had this good habit of laundering his own clothes, ironing them and stacking them neatly in the shelf. When she came to know, soon after marriage, that he preferred washing his own clothes, she jumped with uncontrolled joy (mentally). But as a dutiful wife, she offered to wash his clothes.

“No. I’ll do it. I consider it an invasion on my privacy for someone to wash my clothes.”

My friend was the envy of all her friends. She never had to bother about his clothes. He used to even launder her clothes(in the washing machine, of course), put then out to dry if she allowed him to do it, iron them and then be after her to put them by in her cupboard – ‘cos he couldn’t bear to see the place littered with clothes. She had no complaints.

‘Cos it suited her.

When they were accommodated in a suite for a month during a business trip, he used to wash his innerwear himself once a week (he always carried one dozen of each. and even after one year’s use, they always looked as though just out of the shop shelf!). He didn’t trust the guest house dhobi with them, despite the fact that he had gone up to the terrace (where clothes were laundered) to check out if there was proper infrastructure to launder clothes hygienically.

“Why don’t you give the inner wear also to the dhobi?” she asked him. “You have satisfied yourself he does his job very hygienically”
“He might mix it with the other guests’ clothes. It’s inner clothes. I might dhobi’s itch (!!??).”
“But he assured us he washes each set separately”
“That’s what he says. Who knows what he does? Besides, he might wring them hard and spoil the elastic (!!??)”
“OK”, she shrugged. “It’s just that you carry so much work home that this washing becomes a burden”
“No, problem. I enjoy it (!!!???)”

It so happened he came back from work with a fever. The bucket was full of innerwear soaked in the best detergent available in the market.

“You are not well. Shall I wash them?” she asked.

He scratched his head. Then sat down on the cot thinking.

“Shall I wash your clothes?” she repeated.

He looked at her thoughtfully. She could see him weighing the matter in his mind. Unable to make up his mind, he scratched the back of his head briskly, looking undecided, worried and deeply thoughtful.

And she lost her temper (she was already worried about the fever –there was chikugunya all around)

“Listen!” she exploded. “I’m not asking you permission to activate a nuclear device. All I’m asking you is if I can wash your dirty underwear!”

Startled by the sudden explosion, he looked up. They stared at each other for a second and then burst out laughing.


  1. Ahem! that's my husband! He is such an 'organized-to-the-core' freak to the extent that the newspaper has to face some stupid side up. I, on the other hand can find order in chaos. Imagine the clashes at home! We unanimously decide to end our relationship at least twice in a week. But still chugging along. Is there any remedy for the 'housewife' syndrome?

  2. Lol!
    You may call it compulsive housewife syndrom, I call it effect of Ayn Rand.

    About the second story (lemon and knife) who knows? may be he was intentionally kidding. men can have weird ways of fun, entertainment and pleasure.

    Anyways, i am not sure if the person in discussion considers himself an objectivist or not, but self-reliance is something every objectivist adopts sooner or later.

  3. that was interesting.
    i enjoyed reading it.

  4. ROFL.. My roomies used to call me 'vruthibhootham' as I used to insist that all vessels to be washed just b4 using them(tho it would have been already washed by the maid before) and keep things in their exact place after use. But yeh insisting that things be in place DURING use itself is new and coming it from a guy is very odd :)

  5. I am one of the worst room-keepers ever, says my Mom. But I am on his side. Both stories. A book that could remain neat and in its place all time around is a joy. I too usually keep it face down or page folded, but I like CH's idea of bookmarks better n I have decided to adapt it. He makes perfect sense.

    I dont think this should be treated as a syndrome, its a perfectly good habit! And would be great if everyone could be that way! Things would never get lost!

    Losing sense would be when you take drastic steps like keep checking every other minute if your bed is made, your cloth has a scratch, your dining table has a drop of water on it...

    The second story too, I support CH. I'd feel the same way. Salute Mr CH! May the whole world follow thy example!

  6. oh..a perfectly normal person he is...;-D

    although am not compulsive as he is..i think a bit of order is always good!

  7. I wish I could be as good as the hero.

    I too want to help my wife in her household chores. But I am lazy, and has never felt active enough in such domestic matters.

    Before my marriage, my mother used to look after me. After marriage, it sort of fell upon my wife to 'mother' me. Through the years, she does not now trust me to do anything right; and wants to do everything herself. Suits me well.

    And I am as obedient to my wife as I used to be to my mother.

  8. My hubby also doesn't like leaving open books upside down. Other things, he just don't care :-)

  9. oh, our lil bits of ocd! :)

  10. Hahaha,I know the housewife in your story very well.It was interesting to read

  11. @ minimol
    u r the only one who guessed - even chandy didnt:-)
    @ sridevir
    the the only remedy is to threaten to walk out:-)believe me. even that wont work. they know we'll never walk out
    @ all
    thanks for reading this - found the male reactions very interesting - and unexpected!

  12. i guessed toooo...liked the nuclear device part..was that a real dialogue?

  13. It was good that they laughed at the end of conversation.. and not otherwise..:)


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