Note: I have also reviewed a revised and expanded edition of this book due out in late April, 2022.
I believe deeply in letting go of shame*, especially when it comes to house work. There are a lot of reasons why house keeping can get away from you and putting a lot of shame on yourself about it is unnecessary and counter productive. I know this deeply and truly about other people. It is much much harder to apply those beliefs to myself. A couple of days ago I saw this tweet:
I had this flood of feelings, like, “Preach it! Housework IS morally neutral,” and “ohmygod, housework is morally neutral why can’t I ever remember that?” I followed the thread and discovered she was talking about KC Davis, LPC and linked to her very short book, which I am reviewing, her website, and her tiktok.
The book, How to Keep House While Drowning: 31 Days of Compassionate Help is very short, and on Kindle Unlimited, if you have that. I recommend it whether you struggle with care tasks or not. Even if you have never had a problem doing your dishes, you know someone who has. Either way, removing the moral valuation of cleanliness is going to be helpful to you or someone you care about now or in the future. Davis’ 6 Pillars of strugglecare are:
- Care tasks are morally neutral
- Rest is a right, not a reward
- You deserve kindness regardless of your level of functioning
- You can’t save the rainforest if you’re depressed
- Shame is the enemy of functioning
- Good enough is perfect
By page 11, Davis is giving concrete strategies for cleaning a messy space without becoming overwhelmed. She keeps her chapters short and she gets directly to her points about the moral neutrality of unfolded laundry, finding your compassionate voice, and gentle skill building. She advocated for replacing the moral view of cleaning with a functional view: the purpose of the cleaning is not to end up with a perfect, clean space, the purpose is to have a functional space. There is no grand reward at the end of your life for always having a clean sink, but if you are about to start cooking, it really helps to have a sink that is not full of dirty dishes. I bring this up because a few years ago I made a commitment to myself to end every day with an empty, clean sink and clean counters. I like starting the day with a clean(ish) kitchen. The pandemic has made that surprisingly challenging. I go fewer places and have fewer people in the my space, so why is keeping it clean harder? Focus and energy. I find it harder to focus on everything so it takes longer to get anything done, so I am more exhausted at the end of the day. I didn’t realize I was allowing shame to build up until I started reading How to Keep House While Drowning.
She repeats frequently that shame is a terrible motivator, an unnecessary burden, and a likely to cause future damage. In addition to encouraging us to remove shame from taking care of our physical space and our bodies, she encourages us to make rest a right and not a reward. If we have the right to rest when we want to, we don’t rest in shame and the quality of our rest is better. She differentiates between rest and sleep. Rest is the activities you engage in while conscious that help you recharge. It is as much a right as sleep.
You do not exist to maintain a space of static perfection. Care tasks exist for one reason only….to make your body and space functional enough for you to easily experience the joy this world has to offer.
While Davis isn’t talking about rest as resistance, I do want to direct your attention to The Nap Ministry. The Nap Ministry was started by Tricia Hersey, a Black woman, to advocate for rest as an act of resistance to capitalism and white supremacy. Given the history of white women coopting social justice movements started by Black women, I want to be sure the work of The Nap Ministry is seen and Hersey’s leadership is respected.
Throughout the book and on her website and tiktok, Davis offers additional resources. I like the mindset of approaching chores from a functionality perspective. Removing shame from caring for your home and for yourself allows room to be good enough, to ask for help, and to hire help. What’s funny is that my housemate and I were talking about how difficult we have found it to clean in the last few months. She suggested that when it’s safe to do so, we hire someone to do a deep clean of the house and then we can go back to maintaining it. The idea stirred up a lot of feelings of guilt and shame and I argued for a little bit. She pointed out that it’s exactly what I would suggest to a friend in the same situation. She’s right. It takes practice and it’s practice I clearly need.
*This does not apply to people who choose to be assholes or cruel to others.