The Spoon Theory written by Renee Sendelbach

January 14, 2021

When I was first diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), I knew what the side effects of chemo were going to be like because I had gone through chemo & radiation for stage 1 breast cancer a mere 1.5 year before.

I knew what it was like to have to cancel plans at the last minute because I didn’t have the energy to take part.

I knew what it was like to be so drained that all I could do was cry.

I knew what it was like to need a 2 hour nap daily to simply function, so when I found out it was a real possibility that I would be on some kind of chemo forever, to say I had a slight mental breakdown would be accurate.

Blog Pic - Spoon Article.png

When my husband sent me an article titled “The Spoon Theory'' my world became a little easier! The article was written by a woman with a chronic condition and talked about acknowledging your own personal energy for the day, and how EVERYTHING you do in the day takes energy (spoons) to pay for it, I had an ah-ha moment...I realized how precious my energy is and how important it acknowledge where I spend my energy.

This concept completely reframed my mindset around myself and helped me learn how to extend grace to myself while recognizing that I was not able to do it all….nor should I try to do it all. 

Once I started to think of my energy as a money exchange, that you have to pay for what you are buying, my self compassion grew by leaps and bounds and it was much easier for me to simply tell others that I didn’t have the spoons for XYZ.

Let’s begin getting you set up with your own energy budget!

And, yes - we are going to budget our energy just like we budget our money...not fun but necessary!

Just like a money budget, when you first begin it is eye opening to see where your energy goes.

2 rules:

EVERY activity you do during the day uses spoons

-       showering

-       driving

-       Socializing

Everything is paid for with your energy!

 You can’t write checks that you can’t cash... there is no overdraft protection!

First things first, you need to figure out what your budget is, and how much each activity will cost you.

For me, I picked to start with 20 spoons simply because it is an easy number to subtract from. My examples will all be off of having 20 daily spoons.

The categories that I budget my energy in are:




*For me personally, keeping it together in these 2 areas takes more energy, so I plan that accordingly.

Below is an example of a day in my life of spoons to help you better understand the whole concept.

A normal day for me usually looks something like the following:


Getting up and around


Look at my to-do list for the day and making a plan

Talk with husband and son about their days to see if they need me to do anything for them.


-       by 10 am, I have used 4-6 spoons

Late morning - Afternoon

Shower: for me, showering takes about 2-4 spoons because I don’t feel 100% stable in the shower (numb right leg from brain surgeries), so I have to concentrate more which drains my spoons (something you will figure out on your own after you reflect on your actives). 

If I am doing computer work vs creating art, I will be using more spoons - because again - the concentration bit  is harder for me

By 3:00, I have used 13-15 spoons, so I need to look at what else needs to be done that day and plan my spoon usage accordingly.

If I have something that is planned for later in the day, I know I need to lay low until that later activity happens because if I don’t, all my spoons will be gone and I will be S-O-L.

I have found that taking a nap can help me with the remainder of my day BUT it doesn’t replenish used just makes the current spoons I have left last a little longer.

BUT the thing is, this isn’t always a guarantee...I might nap, go to whatever event I had been planning on but crash 30 minutes after getting there. 

I want to be completely honest with you so you know what to expect and not think you can blow all your spoons in the morning, take an hour nap and have another full day's worth of spoons - it doesn’t work that way!


How can you use the spoon theory to help you manage your day?

Your first step is decide on what you want your starting number of spoons to be.

I picked 20 because I can easily calculate from it in my head while I plan my day.

You pick whatever number you want. 

Now that you have your number of spoons that are in your day, make a list of things you do daily and how many spoons each activity takes.

A few of mine are:

Workout: 2

Shower: 4 (I don’t shower daily because it wipes me out)

Clean kitchen/prep food for later: 3

Now you have:

-       Your starting number of spoons figured out

-       A break down of a few of your daily tasks 

Next look at a few days from this past week and examine other things that used your spoons - planned or not

A few things that wipe out my spoons are:

-       Driving

-       Doctor appointments

-       Being in crowds

-       Arguing - either being around it or me involved in it completely wipes me out

Now that you have your lists, start planning your day with spoon usage...I put in my day planner.

I start by looking at my calendar to see what I HAVE to do -

-       doctor appointments,

-       any school stuff for my son

-       stuff my husband needs me to handle

Then once I see what HAS to be done, I estimate how many spoons that will use based on past experience and budget the remainder of my day accordingly.

This process will take you some time and effort to work through, but it is time and effort well spent. 

Please feel free to share any takeaways you get from this, or how you are going to tweak this idea for yourself so we can continue to help each other out!

With love,



Renee Sendelbach is a local artist, writer, speaker and cancer thriver who empowers others to find their inner oomph by sharing stories and tips from her 12 years in CancerLand.

Renee has stepped foot in every part of CancerLand...stage 1 breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer, brain surgeries, bone marrow transplant, PTSD, and more.

She works hard on her mindset to strengthen her foundation to be able to handle what life throws her way. 

She breaks down her how-to’s into doable easy to understand bites with a sense of humor and gratitude.

Posted in: Emotional/Mental Health, In Treatment, Mindfulness/Wellness, Survivorship