pixabay tea towels

Laundry loads and mental (over)load

A few weeks ago, I was tickled by a comic strip in The Guardian about “mental load.” Yes, it’s sexist, and it generalizes (a lot), and yet, based on the engagement a friend got for posting it on Facebook, it must have resonated with a lot of women.

In defense of the artist, she does attempt to offer a solution toward the end.

pixabay ironAnd it got me thinking: in this age of overwhelm, we all carry a heavy “mental load” about many household tasks. It’s all so overwhelming….

One of my favorite podcasters, Lisa Woodruff of Organize365, recently released an episode (number 183) entitled “All about laundry,” in which she conducted a simple but brilliant experiment: she timed how long she spent doing laundry one weekend.

Now, you may be the type of person who does laundry on a regular basis—I know families who run at least one load a day—and this may not make sense to you just yet, but bear with me. Lisa’s point is that of the hours and hours during which laundry was being done, her actual hands-on time was fairly minimal.

And yet. The amount of time spent just thinking about how much laundry needed doing was enormous!

Lisa explains in detail her own system of doing the laundry for a family of four, and I will say that while I’m also a multiple-loads-once-a-week person, I have a somewhat different system, and I do require the involvement of all four family members.

In fact, with my eldest headed to college this fall, I’m having to rethink my system—she is my weekly folder-in-chief, this being one of the chores required in exchange for the monthly cell phone data package. I’m considering that with her tidy self gone, I may just resort to sorting the clean clothes into three hampers and letting nature take its course. That will probably look like my husband and myself folding our own while our high schooler pulls from  the clean hamper and—if I’m lucky—deposits in the dirty hamper at the end of the day—strong odds in favor of the floor on that one.

I can hear my mom’s shock and dismay from 770 miles away, but really, as I tell my husband when he’s ironing, “If you’re ironing, you’re buying the wrong clothes.”

pixabay stoveBut I digress. The reason I bring up Lisa’s podcast episode is that her approach to the mental load of a major domestic task is very similar to the way I encourage clients to tackle the seemingly overwhelming job of meal planning and cooking from scratch: most people’s number number one barrier to cooking from scratch on a regular basis is, “I don’t have time.” (This from a survey I conducted while planning to write Fl!p Your K!tchen.)

Yes, if you want to cook something fancy every night, you will be overwhelmed, but finding new and exciting recipes to try every night of the week is the equivalent of buying clothes that need to be ironed!

Just as Lisa reveals about laundry, I find that the amount of time we spend just thinking about cooking carries a heavy mental load: we spend a lot of time worrying about time, and the result is a lot of dining out and takeout, neither of which tend to be very healthy.

The solution? It’s figuring out that if you pick your recipes carefully, the amount of time you spend “hands-on” in the kitchen can be greatly reduced.

Have you ever considered a recipe and tossed it aside because it takes three hours to make?

Look a little closer: is this recipe really asking for three hours of your undivided attention, or is it asking you to spend 15 minutes preparing a bunch of ingredients that you toss in a pot and then leave simmering for the remaining 2:45?

If it’s the former, you’ve picked the wrong recipe for a busy weeknight; if it’s the latter, this recipe is your culinary version of friendly permanent press!

There are lots of other tips and tricks for reducing your mental load around cooking from scratch more regularly, and if you’re interested in learning them, I invite you to check out my new online course, Meal Planning Made Simple. It’s a stand-alone course and can also be a great companion to Fl!p Your K!tchen since it delves more deeply into the meal planning system described in the book’s introduction—specifically the step about always cooking for more than one meal.

Let me know in the comments: What domestic task seems to take up a lot of mental space for you?


  1. Love this reminder on how to juggle our lives. Looking forward to checking out the resources too.

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      Thanks, Kim—and I love your practice’s focus on teens! Get ’em young and bring ’em up your own way! 😉

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