AUGUST 29TH 2020

What spoons and fucks can tell us
about organising our lives



Christine Miserando grabbed twelve spoons and handed them to a friend. She asked her friend to count the spoons. “Why?”, her friend mused. Christine explained that these spoons were a symbol for living with Lupus. Each spoon represented a unit of energy. Every day she was forced to budget her spoons to ensure she could get through her day. Her friend began to allocate the spoons, picking up one for getting ready. Christine snatched the spoon and said:

“No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” [1]

She hadn’t even left the house, and only six spoons remained. With this intimate glimpse into Christine’s life, her friend’s face flooded with tears. The spoons had effectively communicated what life was like to live with a chronic illness. Some have a more generous servings of spoons. Others, less. This heartfelt anecdote developed into the ‘spoon theory’, and sparked a whole ‘spoonie’ movement.

Spoon theory was intended for people with exhausting chronic conditions and disabilities [2]. Life of course is different for people without them: we can perhaps be more flexible. But for all of us, everything we do expends energy. Whether the emotional, physical or psychological kind, we must be careful where we spend this currency.

I’ve often thought that we believe we’re ‘doing the right thing’ when we give lots of energy to particular people and work. But we end up depriving ourselves, our loved ones and causes we care about. Your quality of life and what you are able to put out into the world diminishes.

Cue Sarah Knight — inventor of a unit of measurement for this purpose, which she has called ‘fucks’. She is such an expert in fucks that my friend lovingly nicknamed her Sarah Fucks. Fucks are units of time, energy, and/or money. And Knight swears that we too often give too many to people and causes we feel we must or should.

But we don’t have to thoughtlessly spend our limited time, energy and money to these things. Being an accountant of her currency of fucks, Knight recommends we create a fuck budget. This involves writing an inventory of everything you give a fuck about, work out what we really must do, and — à la Marie Kondo — eliminate any items that do not spark joy.

“Too often, we allocate our fucks without a goal in sight. We’re in the moment, saying yes, making plans, agreeing to spend a weekend in Vancouver before realizing, Uh-oh, I didn’t think this through. In order to maximize your potential for happiness, you need to consider outcomes before committing to giving your fucks.”

— Sarah Knight

That’s all fine and good, I thought. For pushovers. Maybe I already don’t give enough fucks? Will this make me a worse person? I had first come across The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck two years ago. And it is safe to say that I have since changed my mind. So let’s walk through each of my initial concerns in turn.

Maybe I already don’t give enough fucks?

I was wrong. I was still definitely saying yes to things and people I did not need to, at the cost of my needs and goals. I began to realise I could potentially say no to a whole host more of things. I found myself saying no to overnight trips to my parents’ home and spending just three days at my grandparents for Christmas.

Will this make me a worse person?

The approach is really about taking care of yourself first: Sarah Knight likens it to putting on your oxygen mask before assisting others. And the process of assessing where you put your time/energy/money isn’t a mindless exercise. It involves carefully contemplating what you do and do not want to do, your reasons for those choices and the negative effects it might bring. Fortunately, Knight prescribes a healthy dose of honesty and politeness to mitigate some of these side-effects.

Let’s go back to my example. The reason I wanted to avoid overnight trips was that my mental health is a priority. I identified that a potential negative effect could be upset family. So to deliver this with honesty and politeness, “Mum, I don’t sleep overnight because I don’t want to have night terrors. I love you and I want to spend time with you. It isn’t personal.”

This has sharpened my assertiveness skills and is good practice of a personal policy (both of which I will talk about in future blogs). In all, I did not become a worse person, and it actually means I can get the maximum enjoyment out of my precious time, with and without my family.

I often think authors don’t deserve a good book title, especially when it oversells a claim. But despite her parodying the beloved Marie Kondo, there really is Life-Changing Magic in it.

[1] The Spoon Theory | Christine Miserando
[2] Spoon Theory & “Appropriation”: It is not a universally-held view, but some in the ‘spoonie’ community ask those without relevant disabilities or chronic conditions to not use spoons in reference to their own lives.
[3] The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up | Marie Kondo
[4] Sarah Knight’s wonderful book. Not to be confused with The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, which is in my opinion an inferior book.