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Ask UfYH: Why Are People Obnoxious Jerks?

Q: What do you say to people who tell you a clean house is the sign of a misspent life? I’ve heard it a few times, usually in response to the sink full of dishes or piles of paper on my desk stressing me out. I feel so dismissed. How do I respond?

A: Seriously, why are people such assholes? That is such a dickish thing to say to someone who’s stressed out because of a mess. Apparently, this obnoxious quote is a book title. The gist seems to be that creative minds embrace their clutter and don’t spend their valuable eclectic genius creating time doing mundane things like putting their clothes away. Well, that’s all well and good for people who imagine themselves as the blogging age’s next coming of Dorothy Parker, but for those of us who live in the real world, it’s more complex than that.

First of all, anything is misspending your life if you do it at the expense of everything else. If you’re spending every waking moment cleaning, then yes, you’re probably missing out on a lot of what life has to offer. But not everyone can function well in a messy space, so taking a few minutes a day to restore some order doesn’t mean you’re a stodgy, uncreative stick in the mud, it means you acknowledge that certain levels of mess stress you out and that you need to take a small amount of time to deal with it so you can live the rest of your life.

As for how to respond, that person would probably get my “go screw” face, along with a terse, “Fuck off,” but I’m guessing you want something classier and more mature than that. In which case, I’d suggest something like, “This is actually causing me some stress, so please don’t be so dismissive about it,” or, “Spending life stressed out seems like misspending it, so I’d rather just take a few minutes and deal with this,” or the classic, “Why does this matter to you?” or, “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

Honestly. The level of smug radiating from some people is just unbelievable. Don’t make their attitude your problem.

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210 replies on “Ask UfYH: Why Are People Obnoxious Jerks?”

Some people are horrible.
However, I’ve often seen people do this as a defense mechanism – they’ve been ragged on or worse all their lives for not being tidy, and though you haven’t said a dang thing about it, they feel judged and found wanting.

It’s not fair of them to take it out on you, but I suspect not all of them are *trying* to be jerks. I’d honestly be inclined to be just as dismissive of their opinion as they’re being of mine, so that way I’m only being as nasty as they are. Like, oh, you think I’m uncool for cleaning? “Meh, I like it this way.” I’m not implying anything about what they should or shouldn’t do themselves, but I’m closing off any sense that I should care what they think, because this is just not important enough to bother worrying about what they think.

(Inspired by my boyfriend who works in politics – people like to try to start arguments with him, and if they’re being nasty about it and not trying to have an actual dialogue, he’ll wait til they’ve stated their opinion and just respond, “Oh. How quaint.” and walk away. He says it’s not worth arguing with someone whose mind won’t change.)

Answer: You get the best ideas and plans while doing mundane tasks. You’re freeing up your prefrontal cortex to make random connections while getting rid of that sink full of dishes. For me, cleaning is a therapeutic act of self-care, and I suspect it’s the same for the Asker.

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