By Annabelle

I have a type of OCD which I finally understand to be Obsessive-Compulsive Spartanism.

For more than thirty years I suffered in embarrassed silence, not sure what was wrong with me.  I suspected it was OCD, but my particular symptoms were documented in none of the textbooks on the subject.  I didn’t clean or check, and I certainly didn’t hoard.  What was wrong with me?

By age 16 I was so desperate for help that I began starving myself.  By age 18 I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for anorexia and bulimia, and that’s when I first attempted to explain that I was constantly bothered by the presence of stuff in my room – that I had to have specific numbers of everything, but I could never quite decide what those numbers should be.  I felt silly saying all this, and the look of pure cluelessness on the doctor’s and nurse’s faces only served to amplify my isolation.

Years of self-abuse, self-harm, excessive drinking and depression followed.  I spent hours in libraries and bookstores trying to understand what was wrong with me, but still found nothing.  Then came the internet.  I searched and searched and came up empty-handed.

One spark of joy, the only thing that kept me alive all these years, was that out of more than twenty mental health professionals from whom I sought help, one prescribed SSRI medications and I experienced enough relief from my symptoms to be able to function (somewhat) in life.  Seeing how much relief I got from SSRIs, I became more convinced that I might indeed have OCD.  But still none of the literature covered my specific symptoms.  So I continued my journey through life alone and frustrated.

READ MORE  An OCD testimonial by 'Kristen'

And then it happened.  Thirty years after my admittance to the psychiatric hospital for an eating disorder, I was in an online forum, not unlike this one, listening to everyone describe hand washing and hoarding for the millionth time, and as usual having my posts ignored by everyone, when suddenly one angel popped onto my screen and said those magic words:“You have obsessive-compulsive spartanism.”

So I looked it up and, surely enough, it described my symptoms.  There isn’t that much information on obsessive-compulsive spartanism.  But it is there, and it is OCD.  Finally I had a name for my condition and for the first time in my life, I felt that I could talk about it.

The moral of this story is that OCD is more than just the textbook symptoms that are rehashed over and over.  But many sufferers are never made aware of this.  And many people suffer alone and in silence, unaware that they are not alone in suffering from a well-known condition that can be treated with SSRI medications.

I wish the OCD community would be more open-minded and understand that we do not all fit into one neat little box.  Certainly the majority of OCD sufferers experience the most well-known symptoms, but theirs is not the whole story of OCD, and any responsible educators on the subject have a duty to leave no sufferer in the dark.

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  1. Stephanie says:

    Me too! You’re not alone! My father is the same way as well. For me, it works in conjunction with Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder (perfectionism). I am forever getting rid of things, even if I know I’ll need it later, and I have organization for my organization systems, which just makes it worse. I’ve noticed that anytime I’m experiencing some sort of anxiety I get the overwhelming urge to start cleaning things out and it isn’t uncommon for me to have several “spring cleanings” a year where I just toss tons of things. Minimalist is an understatement!

  2. Carol Edwards says:

    Hi Annabelle, I think it’s an absolute shame that you had to wait more than thirty years for a breakthrough. There is little wonder that your frustration at not being able to discover the ‘something’ that was causing you so much distress led to your other problems, and then further distress when you actually tried to express what this was to the professionals who didn’t ‘get it’. I agree that any responsible educator should be aware of those who don’t fit the OCD box, which is one reason I research OCDs which are rarely heard of. I believe that while spartanism is as yet not classed as a psychiatric disorder, it does appear to present as a variant of hoarding. For example, while hoarders gather clutter and junk and experience distress when they are encouraged to throw some of it way, spartanism, I’ve gathered, is where people feel distress if they cannot get rid of things, as it appears to be in your case. I’ve observed that people with obsessive spartanism feel that any object that clutters their life, e.g. a piece of furniture, a picture, an ornament, and so on, must go because they have a need to free themselves from things (and sometimes people) that they consider surplus in their lives. The purpose behind the behaviour, although upsetting for the individual, could be to sustain control within their environment, therefore obsessive de-cluttering helps them feel a sense of self-discipline. However, this can involve restraining those around them, which may cause family rifts and loss of friendships, but the individual can’t help what s/he does because as you know spartanism is an obsessive disorder, therefore much understanding is needed with this as it is with any other obsessional problem. I do hope that you have found comfort knowing that you are not alone any more. Best regards, Carol 🙂

  3. Carl says:

    Me too 🙂

    It’s not as bothersome to me as it seems to many, I am fortunate. Any mental disorder that still allows you to function 75% of the time in the wider community and does not have you losing your job I can cope with.

    You can tell a lot about someone by looking in the top office draw of their desk – straight aligned and coordinated “stuff” isn’t OCD Spartanism, my top draw is simply dust free and empty – I even wipe it out occasionally.

    There is a wide spectrum of behaviour that would be considered normal, I tend to rationalise that I am a statistical outlier.

    I was fortunate to listen to a professor talking to a nurse about me – “He’s a nice guy, just a bit eccentric” – How wonderful not to be judged.

    It takes difference to drive natural selection I guess. I am one of the different ones.

    A guy way smarter than me said “I like it in my own little world, I wish people would leave me here.”

    Anyway, I hope my thoughts didn’t offend anyone and I do struggle myself terribly sometimes. It seems to be worse as I get older so maybe some more professional help soon.


  4. Elaine says:

    Hi there, thank you for explaining this to me, as someone who is going into the field of counselling I like to learn what makes people tick and you have given me some insight which is great, I have a friend who de-clutters and gets rid of stuff, another who hoards, I am in between the two, decluttering at the moment but find it difficult to let go and have to do it slowly, a bit at a time. I find it all fascinating and hope you will believe me when I say the answer is within you, in your childhood. Si if anyone comes to me in the future I will have a name for it, so thank you again for sharing this.

  5. Amanda says:

    I’ve stumbled on this forum after an intense day of throwing away so many things. At one point my husband said ‘I’m going out to the dumpster to rescue the salt lamp’ I had so much anxiety at the thought of him bringing it back that I was alarmed at my fear. When he went to the shower I looked online for ‘Is there a disorder that’s the opposite of hoarding?’. My entire life people close to me have referred to me as ‘non-materialistic’ but the reality is that I’m uncomfortable if I’m not purging things around me. This is an oddly sad and liberating day. Not that I think this realization has cured me. I’m almost 47 and have been plagued with this since I was little.

  6. Randi says:

    This post has helped me discover obsessive-compulsive spartanism. I’m happy to know that I’m not the only person like this in the world! 🙂
    I’m only 19 but I’ve been dealing with this since I can remember. I’ve never actually stopped to think about it until my boyfriend complained to me about getting rid of stuff we need. Now that I’ve tried to stop it has become obvious I have a problem. I will fight someone over throwing something away, I’ve always suspected I had slight OCD because I can’t walk by a sink without washing my hands but now I’ve noticed I obsess over anything I get interested in. Yesterday it was poodles now it’s this and who knows about tomorrow. I’m just a big ball of crazy. 🙂

  7. mia642 says:

    I have to have exact order to things or not have them at all. it’s a way of empowering myself from the OCD and avoiding pain. I suffer everyday and the lack of understanding from my own family makes it more and more painful and then i shed more and more from my life because it hurts, but it is me hurting myself in a way so i still feel that i am in control and nobody else can hurt me because i’ve already done it for them.

  8. matt says:

    I have OCS. It is a good thing I do it cuz my mom is kinda a hoarder of clothing and we move frequently so to making the moving easier on me cuz I do all the work I sell my possessions because she wont get rid of here’s plus its easier for me to leave in five minutes. I own an xbox 360 a small tv and a small box of clothing and a few random items in it including my high school diploma and birth certificate

  9. Gabriella says:

    I’m really glad to read about others with similar experiences to me. Ive had OCS all my life, spanning from acute phases of keeping inventories, numbering my few possessions and checking them everyday to being less concerned about the lists but keeping possessions to a minimal.

    I have tried for years to conform to social norms but eventually purge/throw stuff away, often exacerbated by anxiety. Mentally and physically I need space to feel calm and cope and I like the idea of packing up and leaving when I want and not having to rely on anyone else.

    Nowadays I live fairly minimally I sit and sleep on the floor, wash clothes by hand and cook on a single hob.. I do have a mini table top fridge. Some may consider this extreme, but my friends and family accept me the way that I am. The most important thing is that I can manage my anxiety, function on a daily basis and hold down my job.

    Given all of the above, I don’t think there is one single factor that contributes to my OCS, I think its partly an anxiety disorder, a desire to live simply and self sufficiently and other life events/traumas etc…

    Its nice to have some identification, I hope sharing my experience can help others. Gabriella

  10. Tracy says:

    I see a striking parallel between OCD Spartanism and certain eating disorders like anorexia and purging. Both issues seem to be about control. When I get overwhelmed, I have a compulsion to purge my belongings. When I have trouble managing my emotions, I have trouble managing my eating and either purge or over-eat. When my relationships with others becomes overwhelming, or when “additional” items (or “issues”) come into my house, my OCD manifests in Spartanism. Still trying to wrap my head around that term!

  11. Robin says:

    I am so relieved to find out about this! I too had an eating disorder for many years, and now (decades later) it is all making sense that it is linked to my obsession to get rid of things (and, I guess, gain some semblance of control). It is not just the desire to have a cleared out space but the actual act of purging. When I am distraught or anxious my first impulse is to go through my belongings and get rid of things. I find it soothing. I have noticed too that it even extends to things like email; I cannot tolerate having any ‘junk’ mail in my inbox, or even in the trash; I have to delete it from there as well. I am amazed when eg I catch a glimpse of someone else’s inbox and see they have 3000+ unread messages! I read (and delete) immediately. Even when I have lost a possession due to theft there is some feeling of relief.

    Though I frequently worry about not having enough — of almost everything — I find I am relieved when things are gone, or even when my refrigerator becomes empty; abundance in anything seems like too much for me to handle.

  12. Henrique says:

    Hi. I am very happy now because I finally could find something to “explain” how I feel.
    I’m from Brazil and I can’t find anything in portuguese about ocd of throwing things away.
    I think that what happens to me is : “When I have many options for anything, I really have difficulty of choosing something. So I prefer not to have options than have to choose. And also when things are going strange (beyond that what I usually live) and it seems that I’m going to loose control, I come back to “things” to make me sure that I have the minimum necessary to keep my mind in control.
    Thank you.

  13. Adam says:

    Its so sad but liberating that i’ve found something that describes this. I’ve been feeling these symptoms since I was about 11 or 12 (18 now) and I’ve never been able to explain it to anybody. Every aspect of my life is controlled by it and I just want it to stop. Atleast I know im not the only one.

  14. Jess says:

    I recently went to a Depression and Anxiety service because I have similar symptoms to the ones described above, but I don’t feel that she can really understand what is wrong with me, and I find it hard to articulate. I think she even thought I might be on the bipolar spectrum, but has since taken this diagnosis away.

    Ever since I have been unemployed I have found myself purging my posessions. It is not to the extreme that I would throw away my bed, but I will spend several minutes stood in front of my wardrobe looking at my clothes hanging up to find something that doesnt quite ‘fit’ the colour scheme or my ‘style’ to throw away. I could have just bought the item but if it doesn’t fit my perception of perfect it has to go. I find I do this with clothing that I love that I haven’t even worn a while.

    I also have a constant need to upgrade my things. I will find the urge to buy something and have to purchase it as soon as possible, but I know it’s not the ultimate version of what I want and know I will discard it until I get the right one. This applies to clothes and every day objects. The other day, I threw away my running jumper because it was a different brand to the rest of my running gear and so didn’t ‘fit’. I then replaced it with a different brand, but because it wasn’t the same as my other running gear I had to replace some of my running tops, so there was an even mix of brands.

    I will also have a preoccupation with organisation and have spent hours looking at different organisers online, or storage boxes so I can de clutter my surroundings and mind.

    I have an obsessive need to write simple things like ‘must get milk’ down to get the thought out of my brain or I will ruminate over it. I like to get things that pop into my head done as quickly as possible or I will feel anxious.

    There is another facet to this that I find even harder to explain…sometimes I will ruminate over my day and obsess over things like ‘how many crispbreads I have eaten’. If I normally have 4 and that day I have had 3 I will feel as if I have ruined my structure or pattern and it distresses me, but there is nothing I can do about it as it is in the past. I have an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Things either have to be perfectly structured or not at all, they can’t be half and half. This happens with food and also with routines like running. I have to run on set days, and if something disrupts this (plans I cannot change) I have to find a way to alter this to get my run in or I wished I had not run at all that week as it all feels erased.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I will get huge headaches in the evening going over what feels like stuck records in my head and patterns. I just want it to go away. It doesn’t seem to fit with the symptoms of OCD but I know it’s some kind of perfectionism trait that applies only to things I perceive as needing to be ‘ordered’ etc.

    If anyone gets the same kind of thing I would love to know.

  15. Jenna Sackett says:

    Yes! I am right there with you. Sending you empathy and a hug. So good not to feel alone.

  16. Ron says:

    What have you guys been prescribed for this? My son lives in his house with no furniture and also sleeps on the floor. He will not see a doctor for help and I am very concerned for him.

    Thank you,

  17. Kathleen Otis says:

    OMG, I AM NOT ALONE. I have been throwing away my whole closet of clothes and starting over for years. I can’t stop it. Have OCD and take meds that help, but the years of this has been exhausting and expensive. I go in streaks where all has to be the very same style, then purge it and start all over with another and it just goes on and on. People say that I have a fun style, but I can’t see it or feel like FUN. I never see pretty anymore when I look in the mirror. I need this to stop as it is ruining my life. I don’t seem to throw other items out very much at all. Always clothes.
    Anyone have any words of wisdom to over HOPE???

  18. Juanita says:

    I am happy to come across this because I have had this disorder ever since the first Christmas I remember living in the country. I was perhaps 3 or 4 and when all the Christmas presents were waiting for me, I started to cry and say it’s too much, take it away. My disorder mostly seems centered around perfume and jewelry. It also ties in with some things I played with as a child when I didn’t have as many toys and played with my mom’s perfume and jewelry.

  19. Invicta says:

    I can’t believe it. I’m shaking because I just googled Compulsively Throwing Things Away and came to this page. I was diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago. Although it does explain some of what’s wrong with me, it feels like too little, too late to me and it still only stretches around a third of my symptoms.
    This particular symptom I’ve always called “stuff bulimia” because I’ve bought new items and gotten rid of them in the same way as someone with an eating disorder consumes and purges food. I’m really depressed, close to being suicidal actually and I’m trying to file for personal bankruptcy right now. I’ve made such a mess of my life and I feel like such a failure.
    I used to have a massive collection of beautiful clothes but I’m down to two awful pairs of cheap jeans and two tops, both black. I got rid of all the designer stuff and anything well made. I don’t know why I do it and suspect it’s because I feel I don’t deserve nice things. I don’t know. The self hate is strong in me lately. The clothes I have don’t fit me well and I look weird and out of place. People stare at me on public transport which makes me hide away indoors. Lately I’ve had panic attacks and agoraphobia which has just gotten progressively worse this last ten years.
    I’m amazed there are other people with this symptom too. I never thought it might be OCD but I recently shaved my head, it doesn’t suit me but I kept cutting my hair. It got shorter and shorter for a year and eventually shaving it all off seemed like the sensible or rational thing to do. It doesn’t suit me but it seemed like a good idea at the time?
    I stopped going to the hairdresser a few years ago because it was costing me way too much money. I’d do something different with my hair, compulsively whenever there was …I don’t know, it was just costing too much so I figured I’d learn to do my own hair..
    I feel so alone and sad. My problems seem trivial and insignificant. People don’t understand why I’ve gotten rid of things. I don’t understand.

  20. Angie says:

    Thank you for giving a name to what I suspected may be the opposite of hoarding. I may have a problem. I’m 51 yrs old and my belongings would cover maybe half of an area rug. :/

  21. alise says:

    I was adopted at 1 yr old then parents divorced at 2. Ever since I can remember I have color coordinated clothes and if my bed was ever unmade of room messy, my closet a d drawers had to be organized. which they were. Ive always had this mortality that what’s behind the doors or not in sight is what really matters. with anything, even organizing. As a kid I had to have my space “balanced” down to the items I had on my wall, no clutter or too much. My adopted mom usually very clean out of anxiety but always over cluttered rooms with pictures. I’d literally have anxiety attacks. After any bday or christmas I had to declutter and throw out almost equivalent to what I had received, regardless if item was new or not, if I knew i didn’t like ir would use, I would throw out. I saw it as pointless to keep around. And I still do. use to bite nails and pick eye lashes. I still bite inside of my mouth till the pain brings odd pleasure. I want to stop that habit but I accept my declutter one…to extent..i strive for balance. Im 24 just realizing I’ve probably been ocd my whole life. My family always joked about it..would clean for money as a kid too haha. I have always been athlete even national competing when younger. I try to direct my “ocd” energy to daily routines, which I love..they keep me going and help stabilize my depressive side. also being thankful to be alive and regardless the struggles, everyone has them, what you do with it..

  22. peter cox says:

    a few days ago i came across obsessive compulsive spartanism online. i am 54 and i have worried about getting stuff for my home and clothing,i can not stand clutter or belongings and i have very few of either.mine is such a long story of shyness a difficult childhood,i turned to violence to others including domestic violence,i have no friends or family through my past behaviour,i live alone and i can see my life has mainly been of the spartan type,i am on medication and i attend mental health groups i am much better in lots of ways but seeing spartanism online as helped me to not give into it but to try to manage it maybe better.i would love to hear from others with this condition and i would hope i could help others.this is just a very short introduction of my story but i am very willing to share more if anyone is interested.all the best from pete.

  23. Molly says:

    Funny you mentioned the fridge – I feel like such an u grateful cow coz I hate when fridge is full & feels overcluttered & overwhelming… I’m actually far happier when fridge almost empty…

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