Ask Dr. Phil: Jessica and Steve

Mr. Clean

"I call Steve Mr. Clean," Jessica says. "I also call him a de-clutter man, clean freak … When Steve comes home from work, he has a tour that he does. He immediately starts walking through the house. If he finds something out of place, he puts it back. There's no relaxation until that tour is done."

"Clutter drives me crazy. When I feel like there's clutter, I want to get rid of it," Steve says. "There's nothing worse than coming back to a dirty, [cluttered] house."

"The major issue that I'm having is he throws things away, and we're on a limited budget," Jessica says. "My husband has thrown away the kids' toys, a birthday check, permission slips, grocery lists. You name it, he's thrown it away."

One of their daughters says, "He threw away my toothbrush."

[AD]Another little girl says, "He threw away my favorite stuffed animal."

"I will find projects the kids have been working on in the garbage," Jessica says.

"If you kept everything that your kids ever did, that would be a mass of clutter. If we're not going to need it in the next month, then it's clutter," Steve says.

"And then when I find it in the garbage can, I want to rip my hair out," Jessica says. She opens a garbage can and groans in frustration. "This is my exercise ball," she says, pulling out a deflated ball. "When I confront Steve, he'll always say, ‘I just got into a frenzy. I couldn't help it.' There's no stopping the cleaning man," she says with a laugh.

"OK, let me start with you, and this is a test," Dr. Phil tells Steve. "I want to know what you think is really going on with your incessant, obsessive need to come home, and tour the house and police the area. Do you agree that you do that?"

"Yeah," he says.

"Do you think that's normal or not normal?"

"I think it's probably normal, somewhat. I think that, just talking to different people, there are other people who do it, so I know at least a few others," he says.

"OK, this is a test, and you are failing miserably," Dr. Phil jokes. "Why do you think you have the need to do this?"

[AD]"I think that clutter just bothers me, and I like to have a clean house, so when I come home, I just walk around and kind of get it where it's feeling good, it's feeling clean," he says.

"You have failed miserably. I'll tell you why in a minute," Dr. Phil tells him. He turns to Jessica and says, "Now, there are a lot of women in America looking at you and saying, ‘What's the problem? Let the boy clean it up!'"

"That's true, but there comes a point where important things get thrown away: permission slips, the homework, the birthday check that we have to ask for a new check," she says.

Dr. Phil turns back to Steve. "Let's go to page two of your test: You seem to be indiscriminate in some of the things you throw away, things that others value, like active toys, checks, documents, things that others would value. Is that normal?"

"You know, probably not. Look at the exercise ball, for example. The exercise ball was half flat, and it was dirty. It was kind of an inside/outside thing, and so I just " "

"It wasn't yours," Dr. Phil points out. "You threw away something that wasn't yours. I don't care if it was dirty, inside/outside or wrong side out; it wasn't yours."

"That's true. You're right. That was a mistake," he says.

"You threw away a check."

"That was a mistake. I was separating the mail, you know, the credit card stuff to trash and then the good stuff, and that got put in the wrong pile," Steve explains.

[AD]"You've thrown away the children's homework," Dr. Phil says.

Steve laughs. "By accident. I think sometimes I'm just going too fast," he says.

"OK, so what we have is behavior that is obsessive, it's ritualistic and now we know that it's frenzied. So, the question is, do you have any idea why you have the need to do that?"

"There's probably some control issues," he says. "Am I passing the test now?"


"You're doing better," Dr. Phil says, laughing.

"But here's the deal: People do sometimes feel like if they can create order in their outside world that gives them a sense of peace and control inside, when really, it doesn't have anything to do with the outside world; it has to do with how they're feeling inside. And, it's relaxing when you do it, right? You come home, and it's like there's unfinished things to do, and when you get it done … " Dr. Phil exhales as if in relief.

"Exactly," Steve says.

"So, what if we could get you to get that experience without having to throw away the children's homework, your wife's exercise paraphernalia and your birthday checks?" Dr. Phil asks.

[AD]"I would be happy because she would be happy," he says.

"It's an anxiety issue, really. You're transitioning from one world to another and when you get there, it's like, ‘If I can order everything real quick, then everything will be OK,' but it's an internal disorder that most people feel, in the form of some kind of anxiety," Dr. Phil explains. He offers Steve some CDs to listen to for a few minutes every day before he cleans, and wants Steve to see how he changes.

Dr. Phil turns to Jessica and jokes, "Because you need that exercise ball, right? You were obviously using it a lot."

"Yes, absolutely," she says, laughs. "Every day."