Forget Self-Care, Everybody Needs A Petrol List


While away with girlfriends this past weekend, we did what we always do which is spend a large portion of our time splayed on the couch talking ceaselessly. To be fair, the conversations weren’t limited to the couch; I distinctly remember feeling dehydrated after our three-hour car ride to the Coromandel because I hadn’t taken a break from talking long enough for my mouth to recover. It was just permanently ajar.

During one of our six-thousand conversations, we moved onto the topic of burnout. One of my girlfriends had just come out the other side of a huge 12 months career-wise and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that she could see how depleted – mentally and emotionally – she’d allowed herself to get. Determined not to let it happen again, she told us about a list she’d written. A piece of paper I’ve now dubbed: The Petrol List.

As she read the list aloud to us, it became clear that my girlfriend’s Petrol List was a smorgasbord of activities designed to fill up her tank. The things she can lean on when she feels herself nearing reserve fuel, that will top her up just enough to get her from A to B. Some things cost her money like acupuncture, but others were free like moisturising her body from top to toe when she gets out of the shower instead of rushing to get dressed. The activities were small but significant enough to remind her to come back to self. To turn her attention inwards.

Now it’s important for me to make the distinction that a Petrol List is not self-care. Mostly because, at this point, the term “self-care” is completely devoid of actual meaning. It’s a term used recklessly to encompass an abundance of marketable goods and services designed to remind us of all the ways in which we aren’t taking good enough care of ourselves and generate revenue for companies hell bent on selling us their own definition of wellness. That’s where I take issue with the term: self-care is dictated to us. We are told what self-care should look like and I don’t know about you, but to me it feels redundant to measure how well we’re looking after ourselves based on the opinions of others.

My Petrol List has stuff on it like buying cheap paints and spending the afternoon painting, going to sleep with a clean bedroom, as well as some self-care-adjacent nonsense like making my own almond milk and roasting an organic chicken so I can use the leftovers to make bone broth (you can take the girl out of self-care but….). Your Petrol List might be making your bed as soon as you wake, taking an Epsom salt bath, or going to the movies instead of the gym. It might be meditation or celery juice, sure, but it doesn’t need to be. Your Petrol List could be wine. Your Petrol List should be wine.

So, grab a pen and paper and write down all the things that feel like petrol on an empty tank. They don’t have to fall under the umbrella of wellness – in fact I’d argue that most of them shouldn’t. Because a Petrol List isn’t about the things we think we should be doing; instead it’s about those that feel restorative and, dare I say, selfish.

Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club