A budget of spoons

‘You have a limited budget’, admonishes The Engineer. ‘You must stick to it’.

He isn’t talking about money, though that wouldn’t have been unusual in these inflationary times. My budget is energy – no, not gas or electricity – my physical energy.

During the pandemic, walking a few blocks around my neighbourhood was part of my exercise program. It was so good to get out in the fresh air. Then, as normality returned, my walking outdoors lapsed. On the rare occasions I set out with my walker to cover some distance, I struggled, especially during the warmer weather.

I’ve tried to resume walking outside on these mild autumn days, even though the local footpaths can often be rough. But walking, as distinct from exercising on my cross-trainer, uses different muscles and puts greater strain on my weak hip and foot-dropped right leg.

Once home, even after a short walk, I sometimes feel too tired to do my home exercises, or even stand at the kitchen counter and prepare our evening meal. I’ve blown my budget.

Christine Miserandino, an American blogger and lupus patient advocate, thought up ‘the spoon theory’ to help others understand what living with a limited amount of physical energy was really like. Chatting to a long-time friend in a diner, she grabbed ‘a bouquet of spoons’ to demonstrate her daily life.

Imagine you and I are enjoying a coffee, and I do likewise. I’ve got a dozen spoons. Christine uses one just to get out of bed, let alone shower and dress. I’ll use one for all those things. And downstairs, another for having breakfast, clearing away accumulated dishes, and a light sweep of the floor. Two spoons down and I need some rest – luckily sitting at my computer does the trick.

A trip on my mobility scooter, with forays on foot into three or four shops, uses another two, including packing away my purchases. Changing bedsheets, putting them in the machine, hanging them on the line, and later, bringing them in, folding them, and stowing them upstairs is easily three spoons. Oh, and making the bed with fresh sheets – two spoons, as it is quite an arduous task for me.

Preparing, serving and restoring order after dinner is two spoons – lunch is easier, maybe one.  A thrice-weekly 50-minute home exercise program, which includes free weights, resistance bands, cross- trainer, stretching and balance exercises, calls on four spoons. Washing clothes and towels, or the cleaning I do to complement the meagre two hours a fortnight we receive under the home care program – three spoons.

Each day I do the necessities to keep our house (and me) functioning, then add in ‘specials’ like cleaning, washing, sweeping the courtyards, watering pot plants, or shopping. Social outings or visits by family are always anticipated, but must be budgeted for, energy-wise. Health appointments, a trip to the hairdresser – one spoon. Any slightly elaborate cooking, like a big pot of vegetable soup or a casserole, is three spoons.

I’ve learned to manage my time and my energy intuitively, scheduling only one ‘main event’ a day. It helps to identify the most energy-hungry thing I’ll be doing and working everything else around it. I allow for being unwell some days, or things just going wrong.  The Engineer helps when he can, does a lot for himself, and is still irreplaceable when it comes to a mechanical or technological failure.

This is getting to sound complicated, but I reckon a dozen spoons per day for me is about right. And that explains why inserting an outdoor walk some days is tipping me over the edge. Something must give.

A different kind of energy is used for doing an online grocery order, a FaceTime speech session with grandson Cass, or writing this post. I’m not tired physically but my eyes will need a rest. It’s then that I retreat to my bed, turn off my phone, plug in my earphones, and listen to my favourite podcasts. After an hour’s rest, I’m ready to go again.

A budget of spoons »

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3 Responses

  1. My wife and I have both noticed that our ‘energy budgets’ have diminished significantly over the past 10 years. We are now in our early 70s and healthy, at least for our age. A decade back a full day’s work in the garden was taken for granted. Not now, though some days are better than others. Steady as she goes!

    1. Yes Geoff, I conveniently forget that ageing plays a part in all this, too. Even ‘slow’ can be converted to a virtue!

  2. Thanks for this reminder, Ruth. It’s too easy to feel despondent when all the jobs are done by 10am and I need a rest, even a snooze. ?
    Pacing is fundamental for us. ??

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