KC Davis: “You Don’t Have to Care About Yourself to Start Learning to Care for Yourself” 


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Interview: KC Davis.

KC Davis is a therapist, author, and creator of the mental health platform Struggle Care. She has a new book, How to Keep House While Drowning (Amazon, Bookshop).

I couldn't wait to talk to KC about happiness, habits, and mental health.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

KC: Closing duties! As a busy mom, I found myself collapsing on the couch each night at 7:30pm as soon as the kids were down, and not moving again until I went to bed. This made my mornings stressful because I had to hit the ground running as soon as the babies were up. Yet the idea of cleaning the house after my kids went to bed was daunting because…when do you stop? I felt like I could clean for hours and there would still be more to do. 

Since doing nothing wasn’t functional, and trying to do it all wasn’t possible, I took some inspiration from my waitress days and came up with a short list of “closing duties” to do every night after my kids go to bed. It only takes me about 25 minutes, but I am always shocked how much I can get done in that time. Having a list helps keep me on track and feel accomplished. Every night I unload and reload the dishwasher, clear the island, sweep the kitchen floor, and take out the trash. Voila! Functional space for a calm morning. I often add something to the list that just makes me happy, like making ice coffee or making sure my slippers are by the bed. It’s been a game changer to find a way to be kind to morning-me, while still having my evenings to myself to rest or create. 

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I have always struggled to stay on top of housework. Laundry, dishes, clutter…it all seems to pile up so quickly and I get too overwhelmed to deal with it. For most of my life I felt embarrassment by this, as if it was some sort of moral failure to not be good at domestic tasks. I would always tell myself that I just needed to try harder – and, in general, I had a lot of critical self-talk around it. 

Today, I have amazing systems in my home that keep it functional, and I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore. The big change was when I started practicing self-compassion. I realized that being messy is not a moral failure. I deserve to be treated with kindness, even when speaking to myself. I started changing my self-talk, and realized that as a woman with ADHD, I may need to think creatively about creating systems in my home that work for me. I gave myself permission to throw out all the rules, and just think about what works for me. 

So now we have a family closet and a no-fold bin system for all of us. And just like that—laundry gets done every week. I bought a dishrack and a second silverware caddy for my dishwasher and set up a “dirty dish station” where I could quickly dump dishes throughout the day, but they stayed organized and out of the sink. Like magic, now my dishes get done every evening. I do my “closing duties” list at night, and I’m kinder to myself. It’s amazing how self-compassion and adaptive routines have completely changed how I function in my home. 

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger

I got Rebel! That makes sense as I prefer to be internally motivated, rather than to simply meet expectations. 

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

My ADHD certainly does. I find that I need to give myself lots of grace and work with my brain, instead of against it. Like most people with ADHD, I benefit from having structure in my life, but I also get easily bored and prefer to always be inspired to action. I’ve learned that trying to stick to a habit through pure self-will doesn’t work for me. Instead, I think of ways to create momentum in my life to push me forward, making it easier to engage in rituals and behaviors that help me. 

Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

Whenever I talk about hacks for taking care of yourself or your space, I always have someone say, “but what if I don’t feel I deserve a functional space or self-care?” One motto that I use frequently on my platform is “you don’t have to care about yourself to start learning to care for yourself.” There are three powerful reasons why this statement is so profound. 

First, I think a reason a lot of us get stuck when we struggle with mental health is that we feel like the motivation to care for ourselves must come from thinking you deserve to be cared for. So, we often spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to love ourselves, so that we can care for ourselves. I have found that it’s the opposite. Once we begin the journey of learning to care for ourselves, often liking ourselves flows from that. 

Two, trying to learn to love yourself is an ambiguous goal and we can become absorbed with self by thinking about it all the time. Learning to care for yourself, on the other hand, can be a very practical and actionable journey—one where you do not have to dwell on yourself, but can face outward towards the world. 

And three, the connection between care and admiration isn’t as innate as we assume. We can always make the choice to care for someone that has done nothing to deserve it. We care for our newborns that haven’t done anything, we rescue dogs even when they’ve bitten people or torn up the furniture, and we give to charities even when those receiving have made big mistakes in their lives. So, it often hits people like a ton of bricks when they realize they can just….decide to care for themselves, even though they’re not entirely convinced they deserve it. Heck, most of us agree even murderers have the right to three meals a day—yet how many of us have skipped a meal because we feel we don’t deserve to eat that day?

Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

A couple of years ago I read The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner (Amazon, Bookshop), and it had a profound impact on the way I view my body and my diet. It helped kickstart my journey of moral neutrality around food and weight; this idea that there are no good or bad foods and that my weight was not a moral failing or something I had to fix. This inspired my philosophy of moral neutrality when it comes to housework. There is something life-changing about the idea of moral neutrality that makes us kinder to ourselves, and in turn makes it easier to make changes that benefit us. 

In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

One misconception I get is that people believe I am enabling people to be dysfunctional. The truth couldn’t be farther from that. What I am doing is empowering people to care for themselves in a way that makes sense to them and is sustainable. I want people to function, and I find that the best foundation sustainable motivation and skill building is radical self-kindness and self-acceptance.