We propose a theoretical and practical framework for the study of light-matter interactions and the angular momentum of light. Our proposal is based on helicity, total angular momentum, and the use of symmetries. We compare the framework to the current treatment, which is based on separately considering spin angular momentum and orbital angular momentum and using the transfer between the two in physical explanations. In our proposal, the fundamental problem of spin and orbital angular momentum separability is avoided, predictions are made based on the symmetries of the systems, and the practical application of the concepts is straightforward. Finally, the framework is used to show that the concept of spin to orbit transfer applied to focusing and scattering is masking two completely different physical phenomena related to the breaking of different fundamental symmetries: transverse translational symmetry in focusing and electromagnetic duality symmetry in scattering.