A Kitchen Sink, A Fake Ruler, and Self-Compassion


I’ve started scrubbing my sink before I turn the kitchen lights off and leave the kitchen for the last time each day.

I started this fairly recently and it has, surprisingly, become as much a practice in self-compassion as it has in good housekeeping.

For years, scrubbing my sink at night wasn’t a priority. While I love a scrubbed and organized house, I moved it down the list of daily activities in favor of other things I deemed more worthy of my time. Sure, my sink was semi-regularly emptied and counters wiped down, but this was squeezed in somewhere after homeschooling and before running around to practices and evening activities. It was often done quickly by a kiddo trying to complete their chore list or late at night before I went to bed.

Recently, my season has shifted and I find myself with time on my hands. Time I have never had in the last 20ish years of marriage and motherhood. It’s gloriously unscheduled. For the moment, I’m using it to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do. I’m purging, cleaning, and organizing my days away while listening to podcasts and marveling at the sheer loveliness of empty time.

After I started making a habit of scrubbing my sink each night, I was surprised to find the familiar voice of shame come calling. I thought I would feel joy rising up within me, but no. It was the familiar voice of shame and accusation. Annoyingly sounding much like my own. Instead of feeling satisfied, I had to wrestle through my thoughts. “Why had I gone so long without shining my sink each day?” “What was wrong with me?” “Why had I not made my house more of a priority?” “Why had I not taken the time to make my kids expert house cleaners – they are probably held back because they do not love the sight of a glistening sink.”

I was suddenly sure every other household in America had been keeping a spotless home for the past 20 years while I was being a terrible mother and causing some mammoth unknown amount of pain to my kids.

It’s easy to see the nonsense when I write the words on paper. We can all laugh at its absurdity. You probably don’t have this issue when cleaning your sink and wouldn’t if you suddenly started making this your new habit, but we all have a soft place where shame loves to sneak in and degrade us. 

It’s uncanny really. This ability we have to take something joyful, something lovely even and turn it into a session of guilt and shame. We are so good at agreeing with that little voice over things (past and present). Why do we measure ourselves so harshly? 

I, like you, am looking for the way forward in this. I’m not satisfied with feeling shame over things I cannot change or letting it steal joy from me in my current moment. I’m not going to be duped.

So, I’ve started talking back.

I figure two can play at this game. If that nasty, little voice wants to speak shame then I will just work extra hard to speak confidence, peace, and truth over myself. If shame makes me want to shrivel up and hide from life, then I will take extra care to live brighter and practice self-compassion to spite it.

This is real-time learning for me so I have made a list of things I am doing to combat that nasty voice when it shows up these days.

Throw comparison out like dirty water. There is an old saying, “comparison is the thief of joy.” It seems we are all trying to prove this out in real-time these days. You would think seeing someone else’s life displayed in little squares would inspire and encourage the heart, but it mostly creates space for jealousy, dissatisfaction, and mental struggles. 

The problem when we compare ourselves to anyone in our world – a neighbor next door or a celebrity far away – is we can only see curated parts. You are comparing yourself to the bits and pieces someone wants to show you, the whole picture of life. No one’s life is perfect. Everyone has marital struggles. Mental struggles. Challenges. Everyone has days when they don’t understand their teenager or have no idea how to raise their kid. Houses rarely look magazine-shoot ready no matter what an Instagram feed looks like. We’re all guilty of curating our lives for the photo and the friend next door.

If we stop comparing ourselves to others, shame will have less room to operate. When you compare yourself to others you use an imaginary ruler you’ve created. It’s not real. The measure you are using is fake. It was created in your mind using outrageous parameters. If you take away the imaginary ruler, shame loses its ammo. 

Let’s go back to my example. When I’m standing at the kitchen sink imagining other people have been cleaning their sinks spotlessly for years while I haven’t, I’m using a measurement I’ve created. I made it up. It’s increments are based on lies and assumptions bent on making me feel less than others. When I stop using my fake ruler, I cannot be easily shamed because there is nothing to convince me I’m doing things poorly.

Of course, living without comparison means bravery. It means being smart enough to refuse the fake ruler and all its shame. 

We cannot have it all: No matter what you have heard, you cannot have it all. Have you ever held a full balloon in your hand and squeezed? One side will fill up with air and jut out in weird angles while the other side compresses. This is true in life. When we apply time and energy in one section of our life, another area gets less or none. 

It’s hard to acknowledge and come to terms with the fact that we are finite with finite energy to give. We want to believe we are the one true human who will beat the odds and do it all well. It isn’t so. You must make priorities with your time and energy each day. You can hire people to help you accomplish more, but there will still only be limited time and resources within yourself to give.

My kitchen sink didn’t shine for years because I chose not to make it a priority each day. Plain and simple. There were good reasons for this, sound reasons. I recognized I had a lot on my plate and limited resources each day so I placed certain things at the bottom of the list to be sure the high priority things got done well each day.

While we are limited and cannot be perfect, we can do our best. We can make the best decision today and remember our intention later when we look backward. We have to take all of yesterday into consideration when we think back on choices we made.

We need grace and compassion for ourselves: It takes self-compassion to practice kindness to ourselves in word and thought instead of letting shame take over our inner dialogue. It takes bravery to put the fake ruler down, turn away from comparison, and instead treat ourselves fairly.

There are a lot of ways to practice self-compassion. You can treat yourself to a bath after a long day, a walk in the fresh sunshine, speaking kindly about yourself, and more. One of the ways it might help to process something is to write a letter to yourself talking about the event or situation in question without blaming anyone, including yourself, in the process. It’s a chance to make your feelings known to yourself like you would to a dear friend struggling with the same issue.

I scrub at my sink thankful for a shiny sink today while resisting the urge to shame myself for not doing it sooner. I remember the context for choices I’ve made. I list in my head all the things I have done well in the past and the sacrifices I made to keep the priorities I chose. I celebrate the joy of learning new habits and the wonder of new seasons.

And then I put honey-balm lotion on my hands, turn off the kitchen light, and move forward.

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