Archive for July 2016

The opposite of hoarding

July 27, 2016

This week I stumbled across an Atlantic article and learned that the opposite of hoarding can be a problem too. It seems to be called “compulsive decluttering” or “purging”. People with this problem aren’t paring their stuff down to the essentials so they can lead a carefree, meaningful life. They’re throwing out stuff they actually need because seeing it in their living space makes them anxious. Then they’re re-buying the same stuff because, y’know, they need it.

I don’t think this is really the “opposite” of hoarding. I think this behaviour has a lot in common with hoarding, and the contributing factors are the same: OCD,  perfectionism, anxiety manifesting as a disordered relationship with “stuff”, a need for control over your surroundings. I completely understand the anonymous commenter (on a different blog post, not the Atlantic article) who says: “I am uncomfortable using a lock box or storage areas because I cannot personally watch over these items.” They describe themselves as having “obsessive-compulsive spartanism”, but I think the reluctance to trust anyone else with your possessions is totally a hoarder thing too. (It’s the reason why I’ve never used a storage unit.)

Unfortunately, this problem is often masked by the current trend for competitive minimalism. There’s a narrative that says “stuff” is antithetical to “experiences”. If you have more than ten plates you can’t possibly brush a rose against your cheek, cradle a laughing child, or interfere with a woman sexually.  So the person who’s just binned their blender gets cultural approval because everybody assumes they will now go white-water rafting while writing the Great American Novel and being the best parent ever. Whereas, in reality, they’re trapped in a cycle of discarding and re-buying the same necessary items over and over again.

I can’t work out if there’s a bright line between the competitive minimalist and the compulsive declutterer, or if it’s more of a spectrum.

We all know at least one person who’s addicted to shopping but wants to keep their house super-tidy, so they’re constantly eBaying and Freegling unused past purchases. And maybe we focus on the shopping as the “real” problem because they’re in debt, but in reality the two behaviours are linked. Is that person on this spectrum?

We all know the person who can’t have anything visibly lying around in their home. Those shoes you kicked off in their hallway will be moved out of sight before you’ve taken your first sip of tea. It’s anxiety-inducing for visitors to realise that the usual not-leaving-things-behind method of doing a quick visual scan for stuff lying around simply won’t work – anything you’ve forgotten will be hidden from view. But hey, presumably it’s anxiety-inducing for the host to see a pair of shoes just CLUTTERING UP THE PLACE by VISIBLY BEING SHOES. Are they on this spectrum?

What about the person who gets anxious about receiving gifts and tries to pass them on as soon as possible, or even refuses to accept them in the first place? Again, pretty common. Are they on this spectrum?

I honestly don’t know. I’m guessing that if there is a bright line between “into minimalism” and “mentally ill”, you’d draw it by asking if the person is happy, fulfilled, relaxed in their home. But I’m inclined to think that “happy, fulfilled, relaxed” is a continuum too.

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How can you interrupt me when I’ve already finished?

July 13, 2016

We all know that being interrupted when you’re talking is a bit annoying. And if you’re interested in verbal communication, you’ve probably read some of the copious research on interrupting and will know that the phenomenon is linked to factors like nationality, status and gender. Most of the findings aren’t really surprising: people interrupt friends more often than they interrupt strangers, different people have different conversational styles that aren’t always compatible, men interrupt more than women, and so on.

We also know that culture and context matters. I’m perfectly well aware of how
my own tendency to interrupt varies wildly with the context. I’m unlikely to speak over a colleague in a work meeting, and if a colleague spoke over me I would interpret it as a dominance play. But with my fast-talking close family, I’ll expect to be part of conversations where everybody excitedly overlaps each other and there are very few pauses.

So interrupting, as a social and linguistic phenomenon, is well and truly noted. But a while back, I noticed a behaviour that bothers me way more than interrupting. And I don’t have a name for it! It’s when you’ve actually finished speaking, but the other person behaves in a way that you’d otherwise associate with an interruption. They might chime in with something completely irrelevant the second you finish speaking, with no acknowledgement that you’ve said anything at all. Or they might behave as if they think they’re interrupting – putting a hand out as if to silence you, saying “Sorry” or “Hang on” before changing the subject.

It’s not the “overlappy” kind of interrupting where the other person is basically finishing your sentences, it’s a complete halt and subject change. It annoys me more than a straightforward interruption and I’ve been trying to work out why.

I guess it’s annoying partly because it denies the speaker a reaction. If you’re mid-flow and someone silences you to urgently say “Darling, is that the coffee boiling over?” you can go back to what you were saying once the emergency is dealt with. But if the coffee suddenly becomes a problem the split-second after your hilarious punchline or dramatic revelation, you’ve lost that moment when you would otherwise expect a reaction, and the conversation moves on.

I like to keep track of conversational threads, so I’m often the person who will try to get someone to resume an interrupted story. With a straightforward interruption, the person usually remembers roughly what they were saying and is pleased to be invited to plunge back into their story. With this weird post-speech “interruption” thing, it’s way more awkward because the speaker is already done. They usually say something like “Oh. Well. That was it, really. The clown had a gun on him…that’s all.”

I would be interested in finding out what Verbal Tea readers think about this.

  • Is it a “thing” that needs a name, or am I just describing normal interruptions that just occasionally happen to be mistimed for the split-second after the speaker has finished?
  • If it’s a thing, what kind of contexts make it more likely to happen and why do you think people do it?
  • If it’s a thing, what should it be called? (Enderruption?)