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Op-Ed: I have OCD. My wife is a hoarder. How do we manage? It can be a delicate dance

The LA Times logo The LA Times 7/17/2021 Paul Karrer
a refrigerator filled with food: Jars of kimchi stored in an L.A. restaurant refrigerator. The author's wife recently purchased a kimchi refrigerator without telling him. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times) © (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times) Jars of kimchi stored in an L.A. restaurant refrigerator. The author's wife recently purchased a kimchi refrigerator without telling him. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

My wife and I have many issues. Throw in a year-plus of COVID in close quarters, and how could we not? We’ve been married for 39 years. There are the cultural issues, since one of us is Korean. And the other is, as she says, “a fussy, have-to-line-up-everything New England cheapskate.”

“Cultural issues” is a catchall for things like linguistic misunderstandings, food or alleged food substances, child rearing, time, the use of space and how to answer questions. Then there are the big bugaboos that we dance around. One of us has obsessive-compulsive disorder (me), and the other suffers from compulsive buying. That’s what I call it when cautious. When uncautious? Hoarding.

My OCD manifests itself through counting. For example, our shower has 984 bathroom tiles. We have 26 windowpanes in our house. There are 18 cracks in the driveway between the front door and the mailbox. We have 54 adobe bricks (four are halves) in our fireplace.

Friends sometimes ask, “How did the two of you end up together?" and ,"How do you manage?” The OCD and hoarding behaviors were incremental developments for both of us. Many years in the making. No indications for either of us in our early years. Our conditions remained unnoticed yet accumulated like dust balls in a hard-to-reach corner. Perhaps the romance of youth turned a blind eye?

However, sometimes her inclination to purchase and my need to calculate work in tandem. If she buys a lot of spatulas, I get to count them. BTW, at the moment there are 19. We also have 23 cutting boards.

If I dare ask about the preponderance of kitchen supplies, the number of spatulas or cutting boards, she simply replies, “I need them for cooking.” And truth be told, she is a fantastic, four-star cook.

She easily has more than 200 pairs of footwear. Then there are the jackets, belts, sweaters, cups, spoons, dishes.

When a good friend of mine — a baker by trade — came to visit, my wife mentioned that she had a new air fryer.

She asked him, "Would you like one?"

“Sure,” he replied. She trundled off and in less than a minute carried out a boxed air fryer for him. But as she handed it over, she noticed a small finger-size hole in the box. “Oh,” she declared, not happy. “Would you like one without a hole in the box?”

And before he could reply she had done a Houdini and returned with an air fryer in a perfectly pristine box. Of course, my question — and one I end up asking myself often — is, What?! How many of those [fill in the blank] does she have?

However, at some point I will get to glory in counting them, so that feeds my OCD craving. But it is not a happy hunger satiation.

Now and then I amply complain that there are all kinds of food substances in containers, jars, bags and whatnot in the refrigerator. So many that I can’t see the back of the refrigerator. Nor can I easily find simple things like ketchup, mustard, bread. The basics.

One day after I came home after a trip, I was surprised. In a good way. My wife smiled as I opened the refrigerator.

“Wow!” I said. “It’s all cleaned up. The shelves are mostly emptied. Thank you.”

A few hours later I went into the garage. And what did I find? A NEW REFRIGERATOR! And it was packed with various … foodstuffs.

That was a year ago. Now both refrigerators are filled to capacity.

On a recent Saturday she was hanging around. Like she was waiting for something. I said, “Umm, you seem like you’re expecting something.”

She gave me that deer-in-the-headlights look and the no-straight-answer-reply. “Yes, it is being delivered soon.”

“It?”

She was having a kimchi refrigerator delivered. Yes, a refrigerator designed to meet the storage requirements and fermentation needs of kimchi. I readily admit my No. 1, 2 and 3 favorite foods are Korean — rosi guii (thinly roasted beef or pork wrapped in lettuce with sesame with glutinous rice and garlic), samgyetang (chicken, ginseng, sweet rice soup) and bulgogi (marinated barbecued ribs) in that order.

However, I am not a fan of kimchi. The police once did a wellness check on a friend of mine. The neighbors feared he had expired and started to decompose. It was merely his kimchi fermenting to high heaven.

Funny thing about that kimchi refrigerator. It has a variety of kimchi settings and an electronic lock. Like some burglar would steal that.

I opened her fridge. It has six shelves and four containers per row. Can’t wait until the power goes out.

In the end my wife and I will continue to perfect the dance we do — buying and counting, counting and buying. At least until she reads this.

Paul Karrer is a writer in Monterey.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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