Something to do with my hands
July 18, 2007 8:48 AM   Subscribe

Something to do with my hands that doesn't make me look like a serial killer?

I have restless hands. I'm not sure why, it's always been that way. I never really saw it as a problem until recently when the only thing around to fiddle with was a steak knife. I wasn't alone or else it probably wouldn't have been an issue. Also if I hadn't been staring into space while rotating it in my hands.

Basically, it led to my friends mentioning that it was odd that I always have to be doing something with my hands (smoking, writing, twisting the cap on my pen, etc) and apparently this isn't the first time it has looked weird (or creepy). Is there something innocuous and yet not annoying (the pen thing is apparently annoying) that I can carry around and "fiddle" with to keep my hands busy? I have tried worry rings and it isn't enough, if that makes sense. Seems to always be something a little more substantial like a pencil, or pen. Also, something that will not stick out, so no nunchuks. Or is it always going to be noticeable, regardless of what I'm playing with?
posted by heavenstobetsy to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Coins. Learn some magic tricks with coins. Palming, walking the coin across the fingers, etc. They're quiet, readily available, and people usuall think "magician" rather than "serial murderer" when they see you doing coin tricks.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2007

Second coins (though I don't see why a pen is annoying, I often twirl one through my fingers).
Or learn an instrument. Another one of my fidget tricks is to run through the finger movements for all the scales for a trumpet, even though I don't really play anymore (haven't for years). Of course, that's only one hand.
posted by solotoro at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2007

I generally carry a poker chip. As cosmicbandito says, doing magic tricks can be fun, but while you're still learning you're going to drop it a lot, which is annoying to others. But there are plenty of little non-magic things you can do with it. I like poker chips over coins because they're bigger, and the clay ones have a nice heft.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2007

I do this too, but now I usually carry a small piece of silly putty to keep my fingers busy.
posted by sephira at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hand-wringing tics that seemed acceptable to me:

1. My grandfather jingled coins and keys in his pants pockets incessantly - so much so that a silver dollar he carried from childhood was worn smooth on both sides by the time he died from being tumbled around in his golf slacks. I now have this silver dollar, and it's a cool conversation piece.

2. An old boss of mine developed an amazing pen-twirling trick, which involved sending the pen around her thumb so fast it became a blur. Despite our predictions, the pen never flew across the room and lodged itself ins someone's temple. The fact that nobody could even come close to duplicating it somehow made it OK.

3. Doodling.

4. One of those stress balls, or spring-loaded finger strengthening gadgets that rock climbers use.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ooh, good one sephira. I used to always carry a kneadable eraser, similar idea.
posted by solotoro at 9:06 AM on July 18, 2007

Puzzle rings. One of my managers wears a 5-piece ring as a wedding band. has some cool tricks that take some practice but will occupy your hands to the nth degree. I doubt any serial killer has the presence of mind to do Superhandz or FingerPass.
posted by ostranenie at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2007

I fiddle with my rings and watch, but I can get annoyed by others' fiddling too. Anything that catches someone's eye and repeatedly distracts them from whatever they were supposed to be paying attention to is annoying. So things like twirling a pen (or a knife!) that make big guestures are probably going to bug your friends. So will dropping things. I think sephira's silly putty idea is the best so far for something that would be satisfying but unobtrusive.
posted by MsMolly at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2007

Silly putty or a little sponge stress toy. I vote AGAINST coins because it will be so annoying to everyone else that you won't have to worry about friends mentioning your fidgety hands, as you will have no friends.
posted by The Deej at 9:12 AM on July 18, 2007

Sometimes I fiddle with a paperclip.

Or if you're looking for a larger-scale solution (for on the train, when at home, etc) you could take up knitting!
posted by Zephyrial at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2007

My aunt always carries what she calls a "feely" with her. It can be anything with the texture that she likes, which is somewhere between silly putty and styrfoam, like it has to be mushy, but more solid than silly putty. She keeps it in her pocket and rubs it.

In the category of worry beads, but maybe more substantial for you, I've seen flat stones that have a hollow in them that you can rub.

Coins would be annoying.
posted by Mavri at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2007

Get a set of Greek worry beads. Take up knitting or crochet. Rubik's cube or other small puzzle. Develop mad yoyo skillz. Thinking putty. Do not carry a retractable-point pen and click it incessantly.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on July 18, 2007

Nothing wrong with pen-twirling. At least you aren't a foot-tapper. That shit gets on my nerves.

One thing I like to fiddle with - you know those foam rubber rings that always come with CDR and DVD spindles? They're small, resilient, plentiful, and you can dig your fingernails into them. Perfect for fiddling.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2007

The retractable pen has been an issue in the past. I try to stay away from those as they are like magnets pulling me in. And as theora55 says, it's annoying.

Silly Putty is a good idea, I used to do this, but I found myself mostly folding the putty over itself to make a bubble. And then popping it, causing a (surprise) popping sound. I don't know if I could keep myself from doing that! Maybe the kneadable eraser? Is it really that kneadable though?

Worry beads are not a bad idea, just worried about looking like I'm saying Rosaries all day...

Magic tricks and hand skillz are a good idea, though I'm not sure if they are as mindless as I'm looking for. To clarify, I do tech support, so I'm on the phone all day long. I still need to be able to focus on something else.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 9:51 AM on July 18, 2007

Is it really that kneadable though?

At first they're a bit stiff, but after you play with them a bit they're at least as malleable as molding clay, with the added benefit that you can erase things with them! (Although, I actually hated to *use* them, because as they got dirty and pencil-lead-y, they no longer acted the same upon stretching. When they're brand new, strethcing them makes them really fluffy. For some reason I always thought that was the bee's knees.)
posted by solotoro at 10:11 AM on July 18, 2007

If you can't have an object in your hands, you might try doing paradiddles -- I am *not* a drummer, but the pattern of tapping L R L L - R L R R - L R L L etc occupies a reasonable amount of fidgeting-power, doesn't actually make any noise, and just might develop some brain/arm coordination. The trick is to do them fluidly, and with gradually increasing cadence.
posted by janell at 10:27 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I fiddle with pens under the table where people can't see them. Please don't do this over your crotch region to avoid looking very creepy.
posted by kamikazegopher at 10:55 AM on July 18, 2007

If you choose the coin... just ONE coin, please!! A former coworker (with a slight limp) walked around with a pocketful of coins and it got to the point where I wanted to kill him when I heard him coming from 100 yards away.
posted by clh at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2007

A friend of mine always carries around a ballchain. He buys them at the hardware store for under a buck, cut to a length that wraps around his wrist several times. He wears it as a bracelet and twiddles when he needs to. Yep, this is the same friend mentioned in a previous answer.
posted by funkiwan at 11:00 AM on July 18, 2007

I used to know a guy who was a supergenius but couldn't keep his hands still. He developed this badass ability to flip a pen around his thumb, no idea how he did it. I've never seen anyone else do it, but I'm sure it's fairly well known.

Doesn't make you look like a serial killer, but in a geektastic way it's pretty hawt.

I also used to work with a kid who was, again, a genius and decided that he wanted to take on some of the same body language as one Monty Burns...from the simpsons. He developed this habit of walking around with his hands at his chest, fingers slightly touching, or tapping each other. Defiantly makes you look like you're up to something. :)
posted by TomMelee at 11:28 AM on July 18, 2007

Knitting or crocheting. Yeah, it might be a little more bulky than you were thinking of, but you can carry a small project very easily. Lots of places don't even mind if you do it in meetings as long as you ask nicely and make sure to prove that you're paying attention.
posted by Madamina at 12:15 PM on July 18, 2007

I used to keep a mini-slinky for this purpose. Buy lots, though, you'll go through them pretty quick.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:50 PM on July 18, 2007

I'm a bit of a fiddler too. My favorites in public are straw wrappers and sugar packets. I move to my earrings or necklaces if there's no paper available. I don't think anyone has ever commented to me about it.

It doesn't quite meet the substantial requirement, but perhaps you could carry little tablets of paper and make origami.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:14 PM on July 18, 2007

Seconding the mini-slinky. In college, I had a "backpack slinky" and a "home slinky" so I'd always have one with me. (Two different colors, so I didn't play with the wrong one at home and find myself without one in class.)

Later, I bought a bundle of those metal coil bracelets--veeeeeeery skinny springs, in several colors--at a teenybopper jewelry store at the mall. One had just the right amount of stretchiness. I called it my "training bracelet" (because it would help keep me awake during even the most boring training sessions) and would twist it into various celtic-knot-like configurations.

Today, I have a larger slinky-style spring keychain, in a jaunty color of electric blue, sitting on my desk at work (in the no-patrons-allowed area of the library). I tend to pick it up and play with it when pondering something. This was also purchased at the teen jewelry place (same store, different mall). You'd be surprised at the kind of thing you can get at those places. If you're male and think it would look creepy to go in alone, bring a female friend and pretend to look bored while she looks at hair clips or whatever.

Whoah--without even thinking, while I proofread the preview of this, I picked up the keychain and started pulling on it. Scary...
posted by gillyflower at 3:27 PM on July 18, 2007

Whoops, forgot to supply links:
Plastic mini slinkies, $14.95/50 pc.
Plastic smiley face mini slinkies, $4.95/12
Skinnier plastic mini slinkies in primary colors, $9.95/12
Metal mini spring toys, gold and silver, $2.49/ea
Metal mini spring toys, assorted colors (eBay)
Metal mini spring toys, gold/silver/assorted colors (
Skinny metal coil bracelets, gold and white, $.50/dozen
Oh, and I nearly forgot these--I had one years ago and loved it, but have since lost track of it: Metal coil snap bracelet, $.45/ea. These are so much fun, they snap back and forth as you play with them.

Happy shopping...
posted by gillyflower at 3:48 PM on July 18, 2007

I've had the same problem, I've played with;

Knives, I can open any knife with one hand.
Lighters, it's amazing some of the tricks you can do with a Zippo.
Coins, I can roll them across the knuckles on my right hand both ways. The left... not so much.

I tried those stress balls, but the little tinkly sound got on my nerves, so I found some stainless steel ball bearings of about the same size. They work great. As an added bonus, they make you seem, not like a serial killer, but a slightly crazy Captain Queeg (Bogart in The Caine Mutiny).
posted by quin at 4:18 PM on July 18, 2007

I have several glass pendants of various types that I carried home from Murano. They're fabulous, wearable "worry stone"-type things. I have a couple that have that flared, tongue-type shape, a couple that are smooth, rounded bubble shapes, and a few of the large, round millefiori pendants. I worry them *constantly* when I wear them, and no one has ever said anything except "that's a neat piece of glass". Doesn't mean they *don't* want to rip it off my neck, but hey...
posted by ersatzkat at 6:23 PM on July 18, 2007

I keep rubber bands in my pocket for just this reason.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 7:34 PM on July 18, 2007

pen twirling. i had to concentrate hard to learn this in high school but now i do it unconsciously. it's oddly satisfying. and i am perversely pleased when it distracts someone.
posted by beandip at 7:43 PM on July 18, 2007

What about something like a balloon (unstretched) filled with flour? Cheap, small, non-threatening, easily replaceable and perfect for 'kneading'. I had one as a kid, when my mum got sick of my compulsive fiddling.
posted by indienial at 9:49 PM on July 18, 2007

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