I’ve talked before about the expendability of personal resources like time, spoons, focus, or money, but it wasn’t until recently when I was relistening to Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck that I realized I needed to add “fucks given” to my list of personal resources.
This is my second listen-though of Knight’s book, which, as you might guess, was inspired by Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (Incidentally, I just finished Kondo’s book, and it’s fascinating! But that’s for another blog post.)
According to Knight, we give a fuck about the things we care about, and we expend our “fucks” through spending money, time, or energy. When we decide to give a fuck about a person, place, or thing, we deplete our “fuck budget,” or the total and limited amount of money, time, or energy we have to spend on things.
Knight details her “mental decluttering” method in her book and in her Ted-X talk, “The Magic of Not Giving a F***.” Mental decluttering is the process of differentiating what brings you joy and what annoys you, which helps you resee your engagement with those tasks, things, or people as an action that pulls from your fuck budget (so you might want to reconsider giving all those fucks). Knight also details her “not sorry” method, which allows you to delegate your fucks honestly and politely, and most important—without being an asshole.
In the next two sections, I’ll show you how I gained more agency in spending my personal resources via identifying what I do and don’t give a fuck about. In the Takeaways at the bottom, I’ll walk you through completing those exercises on your own.
Giving a Fuck is Personal
While Knight limits her fucks-as-resources to time, money, and energy, I wondered if the way I give a fuck about things was similar. So, I journaled on the question “what does giving a fuck about something look like to me?” My answer was:
- Taking time from my day to engage with something intentionally.
- Protecting or setting boundaries around something.
- Prioritizing the fuck-worthy thing.
- Spending money on it (including budgeting and saving).
- Being patient when needed, or being direct and making changes when needed.
- Saying no sometimes.
When I looked back at my list, I saw some interesting things. First, setting boundaries and saying no are important to me. This makes sense, because I approach my days with limited numbers of spoons and so I strive to protect things that help me function and heal, such as including blank space in my day or not working in the evening. Second, I seem to care more about quality over quantity: I’m interested in dedicating my energy to the things that matter the very most to me, whereas things lower on the prioritization scale earn less fucks and are thus completed with less effort or attention. Finally, it’s intriguing that I mentioned being patient and saving money, which feels in line with my effort to say no to stuff that doesn’t serve my larger path.
What Do (and Don’t) I Give a Fuck About?
Knight breaks down her mental decluttering method via the metaphor of a barn that is jam packed with all of the things, tasks, people, etc. that we could potentially give a fuck about. She encourages us to break the decluttering process down by theme and then cross out the things we don’t give a fuck about, leaving us with only the things that matter most and bring us joy (you can access her free workbook with sheets for this task here).
Like the KonMari method does for categories of physical items such as clothes, miscellany, and books, the mental decluttering method will help you to clear out ALL the things that are crowding your mind by going theme by theme. But, because this is my second time through this book and because I was low on spoons when I sat down to do this part, I adjusted the process and decided to write down simplified “things I give a fuck about” and “things I don’t give a fuck about” lists.
Here’s my Give a Fuck About List
- Being a good partner/friend/pet parent
- Having a clean home
- Resting and sleep
- Reading good newsletters
- Getting enough sleep
- Reading in the bath
- Treats and good food
- Saving time by delegating
- Art and creating
- Paying people for their labors
- Caring for and helping people
- Nature and flowers
- Looking cute and being comfortable
- Privacy and silence
- My spiritual practice
- BBC mysteries
Here’s my Don’t Give a Fuck About List
- Being cut off in traffic
- Shaving my legs daily
- Going to parties
- Being best or first at something
- Counting calories
- Instagram giveaways
- Going above and beyond at my office jobs
- Doing 100% when 50-90% is okay
- Travel/sight seeing
- Learning new languages
- Game of Thrones
- Keeping up with the latest music or shows
- Hitting personal records at the gym
- Losing weight
- Having kids
- Academic prestige
- Departmental meetings
- Drinking alcohol and doing drugs
These lists in no way account for all of the things I give or don’t give fucks about, but spending just five minutes writing each one showed me some interesting things about myself. I have to admit that some of the things on my Don’t list are aspirational, namely not caring about follower counts or analytics. But, overall, when I looked back at these lists they felt true to me: I care a lot about taking care of my mind and body, which requires boundaries, prioritization, rest (notice that I wrote “sleep” twice!), and rejuvenation. I don’t care about the things that could prompt comparison or negative self talk.
It’s important to note that some of the things on my Don’t list are things that I might give more fucks to if I had the spoons or time to spare, such as cooking or exercising. As it stands now, they’re on the nope list, but in the future that might shift.
Many things in our lives will call for our attention. If we try to give our attention to each and every thing equally, we run the risk of burnout, disappointment, and resentment. This practice is an invitation and a permission slip for us to be more selective about spending our personal resources in line with our values and goals.
What does giving a fuck look like to me?
Just as I did above in the “Giving a Fuck is Personal” section, I invite you to spend 5-10 minutes writing down what it looks and feels like when you give a fuck about something. Once you’ve done so, review your list. Does giving a fuck bring up a particular emotion? Do you agree with Knight’s time/money/energy description, or are there other resources at play, too? Are there patterns or connections in your answer? See if you can summarize in one or two sentences what giving a fuck means to you. You can use it as a guide to make a clearer choice when faced with the option to give a fuck or not.
Who is your fuck giving model?
Is there someone in your life who doles out their fucks in a way you admire? What do they do, and how do they do it? Write down a short paragraph describing what you admire about their fuck giving, and then think about how you could adapt their model to your lifestyle, goals, and intentions.
Here’s my answer: My friend Liz really prioritizes work and personal development that benefits her well. She maintains great relationships with her bosses/colleagues and friends and husband, and she also achieves the goals she sets for herself. It seems like she has clear set goals and schedules them, and she sticks to that without wavering, so she predetermines how she wants to dole out her fucks and goes for it while also prioritizing “me time.” What can I take from Liz’s methods as inspiration? Pre-determine a schedule that benefits me and do not compromise on it.
Finally, cull out the give a fucks from the not give a fucks.
Knight’s method encourages you to list ALL the things you could potentially give a fuck about for different themes and then cross out the nope ones with a big black marker. If you want to give your fucks to doing her process, I say go for it! This exercise will help you to differentiate and stick to your guns when it comes to not giving a fuck about things you previously might have done when you didn’t want to.
If you want to do a mini-version, try what I did and dedicate a page each in a notebook to “Things I Give A Fuck About” and “Things I Don’t Give a Fuck About.” You can include things you aspire not to give a fuck about in your Don’t list, or make a list of them on their own. Write for about 10 minutes or until you fill up the sheets, and then look back at your answers for patterns or surprises. What does rereading your lists teach you about your priorities, needs, desires, goals, or what makes you feel comfortable, energized, and happy? Pay attention to the differences between what you give a fuck about and what you dont—and why—as a way to focus on what matters in your life.
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