The mental & physical load of the home: how do you divide it?

Every home is different.  In some homes one person works and the other doesn’t.  In others both adults work equally hard in tough jobs regardless of the resulting pay cheque.  We’ve all been brought up in different ways which mean we are more or less likely to be familiar with certain home related tasks or have specific preferences. All of this has to be navigated but is so often brushed under the carpet and left to fester.

So, is the split of the mental and physical load equitable in your home?

What I mean by this is: is the mental and physical load of the home divided fairly between the adults based on the time working outside the home and undertaking childcare?  Yes, we absolutely know that in most cases women take on more of the mental load.  The mental load being the planning, thinking about, scheduling, decision making of all the tasks on the image and more.  Added to that is the actual physical execution of those household tasks and who and how they are done.

If the split is NOT equitable, how can be done to practically improve that?

How can we change this?  Even if the female isn’t working in a job, they may be taking care of kids as well as managing the home.  It’s actually more difficult to work this out than if both parents work full time, as then it’s simpler to know it needs to be split down the middle.  Ultimately, both the mental and physical loads need to be split, not just one partner doling out tasks as would a foreperson on a site or a manager in an office.  Couples should be joint CEOs of the home they live (and often now work) in.

In many cases, men WANT to do more, believe it or not.  I’m talking about modern man here, not dinosaur man (see *note at the end).  Both parents have been at home for the past year, working, home schooling, seeing what happens.  There is lots of evidence that this empathy and understanding of the sheer scale of the tasks has increased hugely among men during the past year.

The time is more ripe than ever to sort this out.

We can’t change centuries of gender programming overnight.  Equally I see many blogs, posts and articles talking about the mental load faced by women, but less with specific ways and actions we can take to change the current position.  As someone with 20+ experience in delivering and training in real, practical, project management practices a and skills, I’m all about baby steps, and breaking down big processes into manageable chunks.  We can’t change the world in a day, and talking endlessly about how we as women have the whole mental load doesn’t actually help unless we provide, think of, share practical ways we can start to break this cycle.  It’s got to start with us.  For us.  For our kids.  And actually, the guys want this too in many cases.  But do note, I’m not a relationship counselor, but know from those clients I’ve worked with to install the realistic Serenely Sorted System into their homes, find that having these practical steps and techniques actually take the pressure away from the relationship and focus on a system that works – for all (even the kids!).

Here are THREE WAYS you can get started with breaking down and dividing the mental and physical load of the home equitably.

👉Write down, as I’ve done on the image included, everything that needs doing in your home on a regular basis and who plans (mental load) and does (physical load) those things right now.

👉Then, think like you do at work: if you take on a new staff, you brief them properly, supervise them for a bit, then hand it over – completely.  For example, socks, or washing – if you hand it over, explain all-the-things don’t just say ‘do the socks/washing’.  Even write it down!  Now, in relationships, people can get a bit peeved about this, but using the work analogy helps a lot.  It’s simple.  Assume makes an ass out of you and me (ass-u-me geddit?).  In all things.  So if you want something done to your standard, explain it properly or it won’t get done to your standard.  And that’s your fault not theirs.  It often happens in the workplace and no surprise I often hear ‘I asked X to do the washing/clean the X and they didn’t do it right’ – but the harsh reality is probably they weren’t shown how to do it ‘right’.  And gone are the days when men deliberately doing it badly to get out of it will wash.  There’s too much washing to be done for that.

👉Following the briefing phase, hand over the whole thing – the whole kit’n’caboodle – all the mental and physical aspects.  Ensure they know that if they are on kid’s meals that means planning what they are having and adding the ingredients to the shopping list, as well as actually switching the oven on and cooking the meal.  If we don’t hand over tasks properly and completely, the other person has no chance to learn and excel (and probably get it wrong a few times – who doesn’t?).  In the workplace it’s called micro-managing and we all hate that, so why not eradicate that habit at home too?  Likewise, if you are the Ops Manager, you aren’t micro-managing the Marketing Manager.  Once you’ve fully handed off an area of home management, you’re done.

I’m mindful this can sound impossible to some people, but even starting the conversation and doing it for one area (even just the socks is a start point!) will have an impact.  Take the first step, today.  Here’s an example: my husband does all the adult cooking in our house, and that means thinking about the shopping, the recipes and the cooking.  The whole thing.  I do not have to think for one second at any time about what we are having for dinner.  This is what it means.  If you don’t hand over the whole task, it’s worse than doing it all yourself.  It helps that my husband loves cooking.  Play to each other’s strengths and preferences if you can (though try to reduce the gender imbalance as you go a bit too).

By taking these steps, you are contributing to REAL change in your home, and helping create a new generation who won’t understand the ‘mental load’ issue just like they can’t believe all phones once had wires.

You are contributing to the big changes we need to unshackle women from the mental load now as well as contributing to a force for the more natural and equitable load for our children, both our boys and girls.

Now tell me, what have I missed, what other tasks are included in the mental and physical load of the home?!

Diana Spellman is the Realistic Home Organisation Expert and founder of Serenely Sorted.  Contact Diana for a discovery call to see how you can install the Serenely Sorted System to support an equitable split of the mental and physical load in your home.  Find out more at

*Dinosaurs: those who literally had everything done for my their mother and perhaps partner up to this point, most likely aged 50+ may not be easy to change sorry.  But let’s make this category a minority for the future.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.