I read KC Davis’ self published How to Keep House While Drowning in January 2021 and since then I have recommended it to many many people and bought it for a few. I was delighted to see that Davis’ book is being republished by a Simon & Schuster imprint, Simon Element. I hope it gets in the hands of more people. I consider this an essential book.
I value this book on several levels. One: my ability to stay on top of multiple care tasks a day is a challenge at the best of times, and it diminishes when my mental health challenges loom larger. KC Davis outlines practical strategies for getting done what needs to get done and I find that very useful when I usually do three things, but can only do one.
Two: I work with clients who struggle with care tasks to varying degrees. Years ago I started working with a teen who was struggling to finish high school. Her mother thought that it would be easier for her to get her homework done if her room was clean and organized. I spent half an hour with the teen talking about the piles in her room and how she functioned with them. It was all organized and more importantly, because everything was out where she could see it, she didn’t forget it’s existence. Later she took her mother on a tour and explained the organizational flow of what her mother saw as mess. The compromise was no dirty dishes or open food in the room for more than 24 hours and her mom would stop fighting about the mess. The fighting and stress around conflict was a bigger barrier to getting homework done than the mess itself.
Three: the kindness! Oh, the kindness! Shame is a terrible way to motivate yourself or anyone else. Davis encourages us to reframe tasks from obligations to kindnesses. She also encourages us to jettison the idea of the right way to do something and honor the way that works for us. She reiterates often through the book that what works for others may not work for you. I clean up my kitchen before I go to bed, not because I should, but as a kindness to my morning self. At a minimum, I make sure the dirty dishes are in the dishwasher and I have space to make coffee. I have had people say, wouldn’t it be easier and faster to clean up right after dinner? Sure, but my brain is uninterested in cleaning right after I eat.
I should note that I am white and reasonably able bodied. My barriers to cleaning and organizing are mental health and executive function. I also don’t have the racialized notions of cleanliness layered on top of my particular cultural notions about cleanliness. I appreciated that in this expanded edition, Davis reaches out to a few people (including Black disability activist Imani Barbarin!) to make sure the book is as inclusive as she could make it.
How to keep house while drowning is still a short, easy read. It may not give you the keys to the clean house of your dreams, but it will give you some keys to caring for yourself.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Simon Element via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.