A Twist on the Spoon Theory


"It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife." -- Ironic, by Alanis Morissette.

You might already be familiar with The Spoon Theory, especially if you are living with a disability. It's about the need to pick and choose how much you can do in a given day when living with a serious medical condition. A lot of homeless people are on the street in part because they have a serious medical or mental health issue. Plus, being homeless comes with other built in challenges to activities of daily living. You may not have access to a shower. You may need to stand in line for an hour or more at a soup kitchen to get a free meal. You routinely face prejudice and may get thrown out of places simply for being homeless, sometimes while they claim you trashed the bathroom when it was really someone else who did so. Just getting through the day -- keeping yourself fed, attending to essential hygiene needs and other basic survival needs -- can take all your time, energy and wherewithal. It can be nearly impossible to carve out some time and energy for actually accomplishing anything, problem solving and moving your life forward. I spent nearly six years homeless. I was very ill during that time. My highest priority was getting myself healthier. It was my only hope of ever getting my life back. It also meant that just getting through the day in a way that moved that goal forward -- or at least didn't result in my condition getting worse -- often took all my time and energy. My second highest goal was developing some kind of income from the street that had some hope of a future. Something that could potentially grow to a middle class lifestyle. It's part of why I blog. Blogging is something I can futz around with when I feel like I have 10,000 chop sticks and zero spoons. The Spoon Theory is about portioning out your energy for activities of daily living. When I was homeless, I often didn't feel like I could address activities of daily living at all. I often wanted to be doing paid work, and couldn't pull it off. I often found ways to get through the day doing the absolute minimum so I could slowly heal and grow stronger. I sometimes felt like I had no spoons for putting towards things I "should" be doing. Yet I was usually able to do things like surf the internet.

I often wished I could be doing freelance writing on Textbroker (quick start guide) in order to put cash in my pocket that week. But I quickly learned that pushing myself to work when I was too sick harmed my rating, got me blacklisted by clients, etc.

It was not a way to build a future. It was counterproductive and put me at risk of losing my ability to work for them at all. So I learned to do what I reasonably could do, even though it often wasn't what I wanted to be doing. I did my best to fill that time with activities that had some hope of helping me create a future. So I blogged. I made stubs for drafts of posts that might not be written for months. I played with the blogger template to improve the designs of my various blogs. I spent time on forums, reading books and articles, and even playing games to at least keep myself mentally engaged in a manner that couldn't harm me. Mental engagement helps keep you functional in important ways.

I also did things like watched videos to try to figure out how to pan for gold. We bought a gold pan and my son tried his hand at it, though we never found any gold.

I run this site, plus the San Diego Homeless Survival Guide, Write Pay and Pocket Puter in hopes of helping other people who are currently homeless to successfully do what I did: Take care of themselves while homeless and somehow make forward progress under very difficult circumstances when that often seems impossible.

Doing what I could do, even when it sometimes made me feel like a slacker who wasn't trying hard enough, was a foundational tenet of doing that. I did my best to make those metaphorical chop sticks count for something and help me build towards something better, even on days when I felt like there were no spoons to be found.

So, figure out how to keep yourself adequately fed, clean and safe and get enough sleep. Then spend any remaining time finding ways to pursue your interests and develop and income on terms that make sense to you.