Let’s Talk About Socks, Baby

For anyone who thinks being obsessive-compulsive means always wearing pristine, matching socks.

While waiting for the bus home, a conversation was struck up with a man also waiting for the bus and — as so often happens because I can’t keep my mouth shut — it came up that I’m obsessive-compulsive. It was when we got on the bus that he noticed my “mismatched” socks, leaned in as though sharing a secret with me, and asked

You wanna know something about OCD?

Wanting to discourage him from making a snide remark or joke, I responded

You mean something I don’t already know as a person actually living with OCD?

This made him pause, but not give up, and he answered with a sly smile that

People with OCD wear identical [matching] socks.

To which I responded without hesitation

Actually I have assigned specific patterns of socks to be worn on each of my feet for reasons of comfort: on my right foot I wear argyle, stripes, and solids; and, what’s left is best left.

He laughed at me as though I had somehow one-upped his stereotyped compulsion with my own, but what he missed is that I don’t wear “mismatched” socks as a compulsive behavior.

I do it because I’m obsessive, and — once upon a time — that literally all (non-toe) socks in existence have a uniform curvature of the toe area that is 0%-reflective of the infinite varieties of toe measurements. Most often, this results in your big toe stretching both sides of the curve so that your pinky toes misses out on being regulalry snuggled by your socks.

Which — reasonable person that I am — I felt was categorically unfair. So I became obsessed with finding a way to make sure that all my toes are equally comfy-cozy in whatever pair of socks I happen to put, which intersected heavily with the question of how to match all the identical f*cking socks that came out of the dryer.

I obsessively stared at the toes of my socks after washing to make sure I knew beyond a doubt what foot it needed to belong on. I obsessively stared at wear and tear to determine which socks were a true pair in order to evenly distribute wear over all of my shoes.

There have been times that I haven’t been as diligent in my tracking (usually when my large family was hurrying me to get ready to go somewhere) and wore what I deemed to be mismatched socks on the wrong feet and f*cked up the whole system and then obsessed over “not worrying” about it until I could replace my sock stash.

This all is obsessively-motivated behavior, over which I can exert far more control than a compulsion which is an automatic behavior carried out by my subconscious mind (Brenna, as I like to call her) taking the reigns.

Shortly after moving to Providence (with all that glorious freedom of living alone) that if I wore patterned socks, I could use the patterns to decide which socks go on which foot, how to keep them paired consistently, and not lose track of a thing.

Argyle, stripes, and solids on the right; and, what’s left is best left.

Patterned socks come in packs with multiple patterns, and I bought two packs of three that according to my chosen pattern-scheme that would create six pairs of color-coordinated-and-therefore-matching socks.

Which now need to be replaced because I’ve had them for nearly four years now and it shows, but sock companies are crap at packing their products in bundles that align with my pattern-balance needs. Ugh.

About two years ago, my mother insisted on buying me soft-n-squishy socks to keep my feet warm for winter. Patterned socks tend to be pretty thin so you can show them off year-round. And so my mother was thrilled that squishy socks meant I had no choice but to acquire sick pairs of white socks.

Twelve individual socks that are identical in color and curvature and everything.

I refused to take them out of their packaging and put them on until I had come up with a solution. Which I did.

I had embroidery thread on that trip, green and red, put stitches where the big toe should go in each sock, and did a different number of stitches for each pair of socks.

And now I have a new plan for keeping my socks in their proper pairings and on the proper feet.

  1. I’m going to buy patterned socks based purely on what I think of them aesthetically.
  2. I’m going to split up all the socks (matched or mismatched as I deem fit) into two piles, one for left socks and one for right socks.
  3. Along the seam of all the left socks, I’m going to lasso-stitch light blue thread (I’ll avoid buying socks with light blue toes).
  4. Along the seam of all the right socks, I’m going to lasso-stitch light green thread (I’ll avoid buying socks with light green toes).
  5. Then I will pair up the socks, one from each pile, and count how many pairs of socks I have.
  6. I’ll pick a different color for each pair from my embroidery supplies (not light blue or light green) that will show against the given sock color(s), and do a lasso-stitch along the socks seams in the opposite direction of the blue-green stitches to designate each official pairing of socks.
  7. This is more of a variation on step six: I can actually reduce the number of thread colors needed if each pair of socks has its own pattern, especially important on high-activity days it’s clear after just one wear that it’s necessary to put a pair of socks in the laundry.

So if you want consistent and equal comfort for all your toes every time you put on your socks, and consistent wear from each pair of socks, feel free to use the plan immediately above. It’s such a load off the (obsessive) mind to get little things like this squared away.

Also published on Medium.