On Realizing that I’m Actually Kind of a Control Freak

“Look at this!” my friend said to his wife, “Their play dough is still separated by colour!”

We had made the play dough together with our daughters about a month before, each keeping half of the 5 different colours to have at home. Their set, my friend explained to me, was now a big brownish-greyish ball, whereas I’d clearly made a point of helping Linden keep the different colours separated.

As I teach my daughter to be careful with her toys and keep her things organized, I’ve realized that I’ve always been this way. I never dressed my dolls in each other’s clothing or swapped accessories between them. I meticulously organized sets of toys together and kept game pieces separated with no cross-contamination between different games. I was so careful with my ceramic tea set, storing it in its original box, to the point that it was in good enough condition to pass on to my daughter this Christmas.

And now? Everything has a place in my kitchen (and it drives me crazy when things are in the wrong spot). My toiletries are always kept in the same configuration on the shelf in the bathroom. There’s a particular order to how my shoes are lined up in my closet, and so on.

When it comes to my stuff, I’m a control freak.

There. I’ve said it. I suppose I’ve always known it, but constantly cleaning and organizing after my kid has given me a knew appreciation for how deep this trait runs through my personality, and in what ways (how the space and objects around me are organized). The funny thing is, I’ve always thought of myself as a laid-back person. Easy going. Chill. And in many ways, I am. I am adaptable and don’t shy away from spontaneity or an adventure. I tend not to get overly flustered. If asked to describe my personality, I would definitely not put out descriptors like “particular” or “uptight.”

But clearly, there is some of that in there.


I have been known to Colour Block my books… Photo by Johan Sunin on Flickr

It’s interesting to think that we might not be completely aware of ourselves. It’s funny to think other people may have had a better handle on these truths about myself than I did. But I suppose we all make assumptions and generalizations about our own personalities, to the point where we may overlook certain characteristics.

Having misread this aspect of my own personality hasn’t set me back in major ways. However, I can see how these assumptions could influence the way we approach opportunities and challenges in our lives. For example, we may hear about a certain job or task and think, “oh no, that would require someone who’s organized, and I’m a bit too lax for that.” But maybe we haven’t made a nuanced enough distinction about these traits in our personality.

I worked on a farm years ago that made grass-fed cow’s milk cheese and brick oven-baked artisanal breads. I ran the retail shop and helped organize the vans that would go out to farmer’s markets in and around New York City. Thanksgiving was a huge holiday for the farm. On the day leading up to the pre-holiday markets, I was tasked with gathering up everything that would be needed—as much product as possible, extra supplies for packing up the cheese and breads, the tents, the tables and all of the accompanying accoutrements for the farm’s stands–much more stuff than went out to a normal weekend’s market. I packed up both the large commercial van and the suburban, as we were selling at multiple markets on the same day. It was a huge job.

Jean-Louis. My favorite Bobolink cheese. Photo by Bobolink Dairy. You can order their cheese and bread ONLINE! GO THERE NOW.

Jean-Louis. My favorite Bobolink cheese. Photo by Bobolink Dairy. You can order their cheese and bread ONLINE! GO THERE NOW.

At one point, the owner of the farm checked in with me to see how everything was going. I probably looked harried and he said, “Don’t worry, this is hard!” But actually, I loved it. All of the planning, listing, organizing, gathering. It totally appealed to those parts of my personality that thrive on creating order out of chaos. I never would have looked at a job like that and thought, ah yes, this is for me! But it was!

I wonder how many opportunities I’ve shied away from, assuming that they weren’t right for me…

How can we avoid this possibility? How do we become more aware of ourselves?

Self-reflection, for one. The example of keeping my daughter’s things organized is also a good hint—we need to find opportunities that offer a new perspective on ourselves. Having a kid is amazing for that, but there are other ways—travelling, being open to experiences that we probably wouldn’t try normally, saying yes to an opportunity, even if it is intimidating.

Have you ever suddenly realized something about yourself you’d previously overlooked? How do you keep some perspective on yourself?

10 responses to “On Realizing that I’m Actually Kind of a Control Freak

  1. Years ago I was a 200% perfectionist. Now, I think I am down to 100%. lol I can have things out of place if people come but as soon as the door closes behind them, I am off to straighten everything up. My daughter tells her friends that I am “anal” and it was so nice to hear her hubby tell her last year that she is “anal” too. The look on her face was priceless. I could tell you exactly what shelf, how many items back, on left or right to find an item you are looking for. Whenever I went away on a holiday and left the kids and hubby at home, I knew what to expect on my return. It gave me great pleasure putting things back where they belonged.
    This week, I have been cleaning and purging items. My daughter said yesterday, “Mom, what can you be cleaning now and you don’t have much to get rid of”. It is JUST ME!
    I get great pleasure in turning chaos into organization. Crazy as that may seem to some but I think I will be like this forever until I die.
    Everyone can live however they like, but in my house, organization is number one to me. I am surprised I didn’t taint my children with this affliction. haha

    • It’s funny, because when I think about it, there are some areas of the household in which I can tolerate a bit of chaos. But then there are other spaces and areas that I’m super particular about. I haven’t figured out yet what the difference is in these spaces…

      I need to keep decluttering. We accumulate SO much stuff with a kid and I’m really trying to keep the number of toys and stuff to a minimum. It’s hard. I’m also pretty sentimental with stuff, so it causes some tension with the minimalist in me, too. Still working on that!

  2. A lot of your mother in you. Also, my high school motto was “tranquility is the peace of good order.” I have been working on it for fifty years.

  3. I definitely have an inner control freak, but only awoke to the reality of this in the last year or so. I always just thought I was just pretending to be organised but I wasn’t really an organised person, I was totally kidding myself there! I think I was trying to deny that part of who I am because it doesn’t sound super exciting or cool but it is definitely a useful trait and now I’m more aware of it I try to ease up a little when others want to organise things and accept that sometimes it’s okay not to be in control.

    • Yes, this is a big lesson, especially in relationships and with children. I want to encourage my kid to be independent, so I can’t criticize or correct everything she does. That’s just not fair. With my husband, I have come to realize that if I ask for his help, I need to accept how he does it. And the things that I’m really, super particular about I just need to do myself!

  4. By the time I turned 60 (I’m now going on 63), I realised that I had quite a lot of the control freak in me, and it is increasing. I have found a) others don’t care for/understand it and b) if I don’t keep a hand on a situation (ie control it) whatever I am doing falls apart. But understanding myself helps (me at least!!!) and the rest of the world can go hang! Well done on your self discovery, and what I read as words of encouragement to use this trait. Thank you. Rosie H V.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your experience with your own control freakiness! I’m sure we change as we get older, but I think we are probably always learning new things about ourselves! I’m glad you felt this was encouraging–I think it’s a fine trait 🙂

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