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E29. Book Report: How to Keep House While Drowning

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course, and today I'm going to do a book report. I'm doing this on KC Davis' book, "How to Keep House While Drowning" . I really enjoy KC's perspective and unique take on what we would call "care tasks."

These are tasks or jobs that we need to do to keep going in life. We need to do these to take care of our bodies, hygiene, self care, our homes, and our living spaces. They tend to be these non-stop activities. They are responsibilities that can often really overwhelm us and that people feel a lot of shame for not being able to maintain.

Pillars of Struggle Care

KC's perspective is really refreshing. I'm going to go into her "pillars" approach, or her key ideas.

1. Care tasks are morally neutral.

The number one is that care tasks are morally neutral. Being old enough to still have heard the term that "cleanliness is next to Godliness", (I don't know if my kids have even heard that term) I grew up not having that used all the time, but definitely being familiar with it.

I think that self care, home care, these care tasks can take on this moral weight that make people feel like a bad person if they're not able to keep on top of hygiene or their home care, they feel very "less than".

I had a client this last week that wasw dreading going to the dentist. She put it off and she had waited to do it. It's the kind of thing that, even if it is a great outcome, is really not that great of an outcome. A great dentist visit just means that you go, make awkward conversation, you pay your money to have your cleaning, and it's uncomfortable.

It's not a highly rewarding situation in the best outcomes. This being said, if you're somebody who has put off appointments and it's been a while since you've been to the dentist, well, then the likelihood of an even worse outcome increases.

This becomes a real issue, and can be very shaming. She was in that situation, and was just dreading going. As we were talking about that, it was clear the amount of shame she felt for not having maintained her oral hygiene the way she wanted to was a core shame. It was one of not being good enough, being gross, and not being okay.

When you talk about that kind of thing out loud, it might sound heavy, but I think a lot of us carry around this shame for not being able to keep up with care. Whether it's the care of our house, cleaning, organizing, or sometimes the care of our bodies; when you are really not in a great functional place, sometimes just self hygiene can be really hard.

That's the first pillar with this book; that your care tasks are morally neutral. Not doing them does not make you less of a person. They're meant to serve you, and you're not a bad person for not being able to keep up with them. It's a functional issue, not a moral issue.

2. Rest is a right, not a reward.

The second pillar is that rest is a right, not a reward. This is really important when it comes to care tasks, especially home care tasks, because they're really never done. I have four children (we have a very busy house), and I can go and immaculately clean the kitchen. It's amazing, I'm so proud of myself and I take a second to look at it. That second is all I get, because my children are old enough to grab their own food. They're not necessarily always old enough to clean up their own food, but we're working on it. Thirty minutes later, there's already new messes.

Something like taking care of your home, cleaning, and keeping up with clutter is this hamster wheel, it's always going. If you wait until everything's done before you sit down, rest, and recharge, you may not get to rest. The second pillar is that rest is your right. You need this, you need to recharge, you deserve to recharge, and everything does not have to be completed or perfect before you can!

3. You deserve kindness, regardless of your level of functioning

The third pillar is that you deserve kindness, regardless of your level of functioning. KC made the point that it's not really the job itself, the undone job, the poorly done job, that's the problem when it comes to us really struggling with self care tasks. It's what we think about ourselves (the unkind thoughts).

Coming against those thoughts, noticing them, talking back to them, and realizing that you deserve the kindness no matter what's going on with your self or home care is so important. If your house is trashed, or if you haven't been to the dentist in three years, it doesn't make you less worthy of kindness. I know I've mentioned Kristin Neff before, and I'm going to do it again. I think she's a great resource for us as we're learning to challenge these negative thoughts, and she does work on self compassion.

In her research she found that people's biggest objection with self compassion was they were afraid that they would not get anything done. They were afraid that they would get lazy and not be motivated. Her research showed the opposite. Her research showed that it did increase people's motivation to practice self compassion. The beginning of that (practicing self compassion) is to notice noticing and challenging these thoughts that label us as "less than" based on where we're functioning that day.

4. You can't save the rainforest if you're depressed.

The third pillar of struggle care is you can't save the rainforest if you're depressed. I love this one. I've done an episode that talked about saving your mental energy. In that episode, I talked about "satisficing" versus "maximizing", and that oftentimes, we're just trying to make the perfect decision. It's the most economical, it's the best quality, it's yada, yada, this and that. The same idea can apply to self care, right?

Maybe it's important to us that we are recycling, it's important to us that we're saving money, and there's lots of things that are priorities for us. If we're really struggling to get things done, try finding convenience. Whether it's letting the recycling slide just to be able to keep your head above water, or buying the more expensive product to be able to create some ease in order for you to complete a task.

It's okay to do what you need to do to "get by" when you are really struggling. I love this perspective. It's just not always going to be perfect, and that perfectionism paralyzes us. It makes it so much more overwhelming to get started.

5. Shame is the enemy of functioning

The fourth pillar of struggle care is that shame is the enemy of functioning. I could not agree with this more. Shame is the anti-motivator. It's just not going to be a sustainable way to keep us going in anything.

Shame shuts us down. It shrinks us. It does not help us grow, change, and take care of ourselves or others. Shame is astoundingly destructive in our lives. It is the enemy of functioning, and it does not help us operate where we want to operate. Make sure you're noticing when there's that shame voice talking and choose something else.

6. Good enough is perfect

The last pillar of struggle care is "good enough is perfect". "Just starting" is solid. This idea that things should look a certain way is very difficult for us, and really works against our being able to function daily. Let go of other people's standards.

I was working with a client this last week, and we were talking about just this. We were talking about her standards for her home and taking care of the house, and we realized as we were talking that she had these standards that she was carrying along with her that were not her own.

They were her mom's standards, and they were the way she grew up. There's nothing wrong with those standards if they worked for her mom, but she had other priorities. Spending a lot of time with her children, her work, etc. was a high priority.

This is a math problem. There's not enough hours in the day for everything to be a priority. Let go of these ideas that aren't yours. Now, in the same conversation, we also talked about the fact that she did like a certain level of order because it served her. She was able to function, think, and enjoy time with her family more because she was able to find things without being frustrated.

That's a really different standard than "this should look this way," or "this is what I need to be doing or should be doing." It's the difference between "this is the expectation" versus "it's what I do to serve me." This is what I do to make my life easier. This is what I do for a reason that I believe in.

These are the pillars of struggle care. Another really helpful part of her book is this five category cleaning approach that she has. I love this approach as it takes out the overwhelm from a really overwhelming space.

Let's say you walk into a room, and I'm going to pick one of my daughter's rooms because this is often the case with this room. You walk in the room and it's beyond trashed. It just looks like a cyclone went through it. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed, paused, and just paralyzed when you walk into a space like this!

Sometimes I'll just set a timer and say, "Well, I'm going to hit the space for five or ten minutes." I let myself be done if I don't want to go any further after that five or ten minutes. Just starting oftentimes is a huge piece of battling overwhelm.

Five Category Cleaning

KC has an approach, this five category cleaning, that is also really helpful. She said, "When you're cleaning up a space, there's only five categories that the things you're cleaning are going to fall under."

  • 1. Trash

Number one is trash. Pretty much take that and throw it in the trash.

  • 2. Dishes

Number two is dishes. Any kind of dishes are going to go back into the sink. You're going to bring it to the sink, but you're not even going to put in the dishwasher yet. You're doing one category at a time, and you're just getting this room clear. You're going to go, and you're going to put the dishes in the sink.

  • 3. Clothing

Third category is clothing. That's either going to be put away, or go into a dirty laundry bin.

  • 4. Things with a home. The last two categories are things with a home (those go back to their home), and here comes the tricky one...

  • 5. Things without a home.

The last category is what jams a lot of people up with executive functioning struggles: things without a home. If you're approaching a room with that last category, a lot of times I would just save that category for last. It's going to take a lot of bandwidth to either create homes or make decisions.

You can make tons of progress in this room just by doing one through four! You can even save that number five for the last part or a different day if you don't have the mental bandwidth to deal with making decisions and planning for those items.

When you're juggling, know which balls are glass and which are plastic.

Another idea from her book was; when you're overwhelmed and a lot of things are sliding, which is true for any of us when we hit overwhelm (and let's be honest people with ADHD are going to hit this more frequently than our neurotypical peers, it's just the way it is) so, when you're overwhelmed and you're juggling all of these balls, make sure that you know what your plastic balls are versus your glass balls.

Your plastic balls can drop without dire consequences. Whether it's the floor can not be vacuumed today, my laundry can't be folded today, etc. The glass balls are the things that are your highest priority. Those are different for everyone. The glass ones are ones where the fallout is going to be big, and it's not going to be fixed in a cleaning spree.

When you have to make choices about where to spend your energy, remind yourself of what things you can let go. What are the things that can actually drop and can be picked back up when you are functionally in a place that you can deal with them? Consider this versus the glass balls: things that you really don't want to let drop. These are the things that are your highest priority.

That's the end of my book review of "How to Keep House While Drowning." I just want to encourage you, if you have perfectionistic standards, if you tend to be self-critical, don't be discouraged. A lot of us are, and a lot of us deal with this. The change can be slow, but one great way to speed that up is to surround yourself with voices that are not perfectionist. Surround yourself with voices that are not critical.

Surround yourself with voices of people who are anti-shame, build up positive emotion, who build up your trust in yourself. Find those voices, whether they're friends, whether family, authors, Instagram accounts, etc. It doesn't matter where you're finding them, but find those people to pour into your life and get a steady diet of those messages. They do end up making a big difference in the way you relate to yourself.


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