611 – How to Deal with the Mental Load Part 1

Do you ever feel like you have to be the woman who does it all and are failing miserably? Join Kathi and her guest, Clutter Free Academy champion Tonya Kubo, as they discuss the concept of mental load and working that “third shift.” They’ll talk about:

  • Why lack of available brain bandwidth is not the same as laziness
  • The reason “I should” isn’t really helpful
  • Dividing household responsibilities without resorting to outdated stereotypes

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The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home

Homesteading [hohm-sted-ing]
1. an act or instance of establishing a homestead.
2. the act of loving where you live so much that you actively ignore the fact that your house is trying to kill you on a regular basis.

For Kathi Lipp and her husband, Roger, buying a house in one of the most remote parts of Northern California was never part of the plan; many of life’s biggest, most rewarding adventures rarely are.

Kathi shares the hard-won wisdom she’s gained on her homestead journey to help you accomplish more at home, gain fresh perspective, and give yourself grace in the process. Here’s a handful of the lessons Kathi shares:

  • Prepare before the need arises
  • Everything is always in process, including us
  • Your best household solution is time and patience
  • You don’t have to do everything the hard way
  • Be open to new and better ways of doing things
  • A lot of small changes make a huge difference.
    Highly practical, humorous, and inspirational, The Accidental Homesteader will encourage you to live with more peace, joy, and contentment.

Order your copy of The Accidental Homesteader: What I’ve Learned About Chickens, Compost, and Creating Home here.

Links Mentioned:

Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) by Eve Rodsky

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How do you divide the responsibilities in your household? Share your answer in the comments.

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Meet Our Guest 


Tonya Kubo

Tonya Kubo is the illustrious and fearless leader of Kathi Lipp’s Clutter Free Academy Facebook group and the Clutter Free for Life membership program. A speaker and writer, Tonya makes her home in the heart of California with her husband, Brian, their two spirited daughters, and one very tolerant cat. Visit her at www.tonyakubo.com.


Tonya Kubo Picture

Kathi (00:00)
Well, hey friends, welcome to Clutter Free Academy, where our goal is to help you take small, doable steps to live every day with less clutter and more life. And we’re here for deep discussions today, but it’ll be fun, it’ll be fun, but it’ll be deep. And there’s hardly anybody I like having deep discussions with more than Tonya Kubo because I love her brain. I love her brain. Tonya, welcome back to the podcast.

Tonya Kubo (00:26)
Thanks for having me, Kathi

Kathi (00:28)
Well, I’m I who else could I have had for this discussion but you because you and I talk about this a lot But you really I mean you in social media are what introduced me to the subject of mental load And so before we go any further well, i’ll just say this You I was teaching in our paid group Clutter Free for Life and I started to talk about mental load And I would say At least half the women in there

Tonya Kubo (00:32)
Ha ha



Kathi (00:58)
had never heard the term. Or had never, maybe they had heard the term, but they didn’t know exactly what it meant. And we had such a rich conversation. And I thought, okay, well, this is something I need to be talking about more. And I’m gonna confess after you do, you kind of define it for us, some of the ways that my thinking has shifted. So.

Tonya Kubo (01:03)


Kathi (01:26)
Some of this are going, some people are gonna think that this is a very, how do I wanna say it? Kind of, I don’t know, scary topic? I don’t think it is. I think it’s exciting.

Tonya Kubo (01:36)
Oh, I mean, the thing is, is people will make, I think our listeners are our listeners and they’re gonna take it exactly like we take it. However, people like to make this political. People like to make this gendered, right? They like to make this like, like they like to assign all sorts of nasty labels to this conversation, but it’s a, yeah, but it’s a genuine conversation about the…

Kathi (01:44)


Men hating things like that. Yeah

Tonya Kubo (02:06)
limited capacity of each individual human. That’s really what this is about.

Kathi (02:10)
Yeah. So what is mental load?

Tonya Kubo (02:15)
Yeah, so mental load. So I like to describe the brain as a computer because it’s easy and honestly it is one, right? And so, you know, mental load is all of the stuff that you are having to think about, consider, and whether it is conscious thought or subconscious thought, it is all of the, it’s all the programs, right? It’s the 100 browser tabs open.

Kathi (02:20)
Mm-hmm. Yes.

Tonya Kubo (02:44)
on your computer at any given time that not one of those browser tabs is any big deal. One’s going to Gmail, maybe one’s open to Google, maybe one’s open to your bank or something, right? Like each of those websites is just a simple website, it’s not a big deal, but a hundred of them open at the same time has reduced the speed at which your computer can operate. And usually a hundred browser tabs open means you can’t even run a Zoom call.

because there’s not enough available, RAM stands for rapid access memory. There is not enough accessible memory to run Zoom without closing those tabs. So for us as humans, it’s all that stuff that pulls at our concentration, our focus, our energy, that prevents us or at least creates a limitation around how intentional our decisions can be.

how thought out, whether we’re actually thinking about all the, like thinking through an idea or we’re just going, yeah, whatever, that sounds fine. In clutter free space, right? It’s, oh my gosh, I’m thinking about this, I’m gonna do that, and I’m going through my mail, and it’s going, I don’t even have time to process the words on the outside of this envelope to know if this is junk mail or something important, so guess what? I’m just gonna put it here for now.

Kathi (04:03)

Yes, Lotta here for now. I get it.

Tonya Kubo (04:09)
Right, and it piles up over time. And then I look at that pile and I go, gosh, I’m so lazy. But in the reality is there are so many decisions in that pile and I have to have some available brain space in order to make them in a thoughtful way that makes sense. So that’s mental load in a nutshell.

Kathi (04:16)

there a lot.

Yeah, so why this can be a gender discussion, I will use myself as an example. I remember growing up in the 80s and being told things like, your husband worked so hard. I got married in 1990. Your husband worked so hard. So it’s your job to make sure.

that when he gets home, he feels well taken care of, that you are not leaving a lot of things for him to do. Now, what didn’t pop up in that conversation was that I was also working. And, or, you know, before that I was home with the kids, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And that in the 80s and 90s, and I’m sure before then, and I’m sure after then, that…

Tonya Kubo (05:01)

Kathi (05:25)
the house was considered, you know, the home was run by women, but catered to men. And I think that’s where a lot of the angst with our discussion last week in Clutter Free for Life came, because there’s this real hold over kind of feeling that if we are good wives, if we are good Christians, then we, you know, the biggest compliment we can be given is I don’t know how she does it.

Tonya Kubo (05:32)


Kathi (05:54)
I don’t know how she does it. And she doesn’t do it. Or you know, it’s, so was that your experience growing up? Or you know, how did this discussion start to happen for you?

Tonya Kubo (05:54)

Well, so for me, it’s a bit different, right? Because I grew up in a single parent household and not very many people that, not very many adults that I interacted with were married. My mom was a single mom who surrounded herself with other single moms. And there was a lot of community activity because they were all a bunch of single moms just trying to survive. So, but you know, so my, all of my understanding of

Kathi (06:25)
Oh, interesting.



Tonya Kubo (06:42)
married with children relationships came from television. So it was even more unrealistic than you can, because honestly like 1980 sitcoms, right? Dad’s an idiot, mom knows everything. And I don’t know how the house gets clean because it’s always clean, but nobody’s ever cleaning on the show.

Kathi (06:47)
Oh, interesting.



Alice it was Alice. Okay that I’m a little older than you Yes

Tonya Kubo (07:05)
It’s a little bit before, yeah. Right, but yes, oftentimes there was some kind of domestic help in the picture because it’s all wealthy families that we’re watching, right? Until Roseanne came out, there was no working class family on TV. So I had the same lack of realism in my life, but also when I came into adulthood and, you know,

Kathi (07:15)


It’s so true. Yeah.

Tonya Kubo (07:34)
wanting to get married and all that stuff, I’m looking at how do I not have a failed marriage? How do I not do this? And I encounter all those books that were written in that time that you were coming up that talked about how I needed the house to be welcoming. I remember reading like older books about like, you can’t have, the kids shouldn’t cry. If you have to feed them candy before dad comes home, you should do that so that the kids aren’t crying because no man wants to come home after a hard day of work to crying kids.

Kathi (08:02)
Yes. The book I read said you should be sauteing onions as your husband comes home. It didn’t matter if you were cooking onions for a meal, you should just be sauteing them because it would make everything smell better.

Tonya Kubo (08:04)
And, you know, go ahead.



Okay, what if he didn’t like- I’m just like, what if that poor man didn’t like onions or was allergic?

Kathi (08:21)

Well, that’s true too, but you just wanted the impression that something was cooking, you know, get ready for it.

Tonya Kubo (08:30)
Yeah, no, I get it. So for me, it was this idea that women were supposed to do everything, were not allowed to complain, and if anything broke down in the household, it was on them. Now, because I grew up in a single home, a lot of that stuff didn’t make sense to me, and I just didn’t understand. Like I understood if your husband worked outside the home and you decided that…

working inside the home was your role. And when I say working inside the home, I mean being a wife and a mother is your role. That is your profession. Like that division of labor kind of made sense to me a little bit, right? But I never understood how if both people worked full time, right? Like how did the rest of it happen? And it was the 1980s when that, I think it was an article that came out called The Third Shift, where they started to talk about

Kathi (09:10)


Tonya Kubo (09:28)
how women had to pull this third shift in the parenting and the caregiving responsibilities, but it still wasn’t quite thought about like it is now. So then you fast forward, see, I’m 46, but I’m kind of an old mom for where I live. I didn’t become a mom until my 30s. And I’m pretty much, most of my friends started having children in their late teens.

Kathi (09:38)

Tonya Kubo (09:54)
So, you know, their kids are all grown and out of the house. So they, I think most of them had the same concept as you. So I do think it’s fairly like, it’s relatively new. I think where mental load, I think you discovered it in the book, Fair Play, right? So you discovered it in the book, Fair Play, where I really found more people talking about it was when I started speaking on neurodiversity in marriage. Because, go ahead.

Kathi (10:09)
Yes. Yeah.

Okay, I want to I want to come back to that we need to take a quick break, but I want to come back to that and I think Uh, I think it’s going to be interesting to hear how that

Tonya Kubo (10:24)
Yeah. Oh, sure.

Kathi (10:34)
brought itself forward for you and how you were able to have those discussions in a really healthy way. So we’re gonna go and have a quick break, and come right back.

Okay, we’re back with Tonya Kubo. We’re talking about mental load. We’re gonna talk about neurodivergence and mental load. And how did you start to have those conversations with Brian? I think that’s really interesting.

Tonya Kubo (10:57)
Okay, well, so, you know, Brian was raised in a very non-traditional environment, like, because his mom, they lived out in the country, his mom drove quite a bit to go to work, and they lived on the farm where his dad worked. So his dad would come in and cook lunch for the kids. His dad, you know, cooked dinner oftentimes because he was done with work before Brian’s mom was. So…

Kathi (11:16)
Interesting, yeah.

Tonya Kubo (11:24)
there wasn’t really, like we definitely had our own expectations of what like a good wife was and a good mom was, but I, you know, I had much higher expectations of what that was. But one of the things that I discovered early on in our marriage is we go to couples groups and we fought the most coming home from a couples group than we ever fought any other time. And it’s because we’re going to couples groups and we’re studying a book on marriage, right? And

Kathi (11:29)
Mm-hmm. Yeah.


Tonya Kubo (11:52)
what a good wife does and what a good husband does. And I’m trying to do all those things and Brian is not happy with any of it. How dare he? And I remember one fight, one fight, I was just like, we’re like reading the book, right? And he’s like, and it was like, okay, when the wife does this, the husband feels this, right? Was the book. And you know, when the husband does this, the wife feels it. So he’s like, you do that. And I’m like, uh-huh. I’m like all proud of myself, right? Like he’s gonna see Kathi.

Kathi (11:55)

How dare he?

Oh, okay.

Yeah. Right.

Tonya Kubo (12:21)
how amazing his wife is. And he’s like, you do that. I’m like, uh-huh. He’s like, you do that. I’m like, uh-huh. And he’s like, I hate that. And I’m like, what? He’s like, wait. And he’s looking at the, like the guy feels column. And he’s like, wait, is that what you think? I think? And I’m like, well, that’s what the book says. That’s what all husbands like. And he’s like, no, I hate all of them. Make his plate.

Kathi (12:35)

Yeah. So give us an example. You do the, oh my gosh, okay, yes.

Tonya Kubo (12:51)
When a wife, so like the book didn’t say anything about cooking dinner, but it talked about how men really like acts of service. And one thing that you can do, a mistake that women make, a mistake that moms make specifically, because we love to beat up on moms. A mistake that moms make is mom will make the kids plates first, then make dad’s plate, and then make her plate. And what mom needs to do is make dad’s plate first. He is the head of the household.

Kathi (13:14)

Tonya Kubo (13:21)
and then make dad’s plate, make her own plate because the kids need to see that mom and dad are more important than they are. And then you make the kids’ plates and then everybody sits down and eats. So I started making Brian’s plate. And it was just me, Brian and Lily at the time, right? So I’d make Brian’s plate, I’d make my plate, make Lily’s plate, not a big deal. Didn’t take extra time really. But Brian was always like, hmm. Like you could just see, I mean, you’ve met Brian.

Kathi (13:37)

Tonya Kubo (13:50)
like not a mad guy ever. Right. But I could just tell he would be like, thanks. So his thing. So he was, he hated me making his plate. Kathi like absolutely hated it made him feel like he was five years old. So he didn’t appreciate that. And I was like, but, but like, why? Like I am actually doing this because I love you. And then he’s like, because Tonya Hughes, I feel like you are deciding what I get to eat.

Kathi (13:53)
No, never.

Oh, interesting.

Tonya Kubo (14:17)
Like, who are you to say whether I get three pieces of broccoli or four? Who are you to say whether I get half of a chicken breast or a whole chicken breast? I’m an adult man. I can make my own plate.

Kathi (14:23)


Tonya Kubo (14:31)
I was like, all right, say no more, go make your own plates, sir.

Kathi (14:32)
So, yeah, Brian, you’re not feeling how you’re supposed to feel. So you started to have these conversations about when you do this, it’s not the feeling you think it is. And I know Brian well enough to know he was very appreciative of a lot of things you were doing, but that he was expected to have a feeling that he didn’t have.

Tonya Kubo (14:43)


Kathi (15:02)
was probably very frustrating for him. Yeah.

Tonya Kubo (15:02)

Oh, definitely, definitely. And then there were things like, things that were really important to me that he didn’t appreciate. He did not appreciate me soaking dried beans to cook beans from scratch. He did not appreciate me cooking every meal from scratch. Cause for Brian, he just wants to eat food. And if I bought McDonald’s every day, he’d be perfectly happy. That’s not everybody’s dynamic.

Kathi (15:26)

Right, it’s not. Uh, s- Yeah.

Tonya Kubo (15:32)
But we had other issues, right? Like, I mean, and so for us, I just wanna kind of fast track the story a little bit. So it’s not the Tonya show because it’s actually not the Tonya show. It’s the Kathi Lipp Clutter Free Academy show. But he was diagnosed with ADHD at 40. And by that time I stopped enrolling us in couples groups. We stopped trying to do all of that because it was clear that wasn’t working for us. And that felt…

Kathi (15:38)
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Hmph. Ha ha ha. It’s all good.



Tonya Kubo (15:59)
Like we felt kind of fish out of water. Like we couldn’t really talk about what was working in our house because it was so different from other marriages of the people we knew. But then when he was 42, so I would have been in my late 30s by then, we ended up with couples counselor. And she looked at me one day and she said, do you think he has ADHD? And I said, yeah, but what does that have to do with what we’re talking about? She’s like, every complaint you have is tied there. And it was in that.

Kathi (16:05)

Tonya Kubo (16:26)
I can’t explain it, Kathi, but it was two things. One was when, like she gave us some resources and realizing the divorce rate in marriages where one partner has ADHD was astronomical. And like that was very sobering to me. So seeing that, and then also in just evaluating like what an ADHD brain needs.

Kathi (16:47)


Tonya Kubo (16:56)
It was completely opposite of those stereotypical gender roles. And so that gave me permission, because it did, it started with me, but it gave me permission to redefine our marriage and our entire household operation based on what worked for us and not based on what other people told us we were supposed to do.

Kathi (17:01)


Okay, I love this conversation so much. And some of you may be thinking, well, my spouse isn’t neurodivergent. So mine isn’t, you know, Roger says he’s probably on the spectrum somewhere. But, you know, never had a diagnosis. It’s, you know, he’s a pretty typical guy. But I remember when we got married, that

Tonya Kubo (17:47)

Kathi (17:48)
You know, I was all about we’re gonna do the typical We’re gonna do that. I want to be the best kind of wife. So i’m going to do the things in fact, I wrote up Yes By the way, I wrote a book on it And yes, which I stand Yes, exactly

Tonya Kubo (17:59)
A++ all the way, Kathi Lipp, A++.

Yes, you did. So we can all see what a perfect wife you are.


Kathi (18:12)
I stand by most of that advice, but you know what? If we’re not learning things after 10 years and not changing our mind, we’re not evolving as humans. But I will say this, that I can see why I was very frustrated in a lot of respects in my first marriage, because the expectation was that I was going to pull that third shift.

Tonya Kubo (18:19)

Kathi (18:39)
And where my first husband did help out, I think more than the average bear, it still was not equitable. And I felt like a failure all the time. I felt like a failure all the time, because I wasn’t doing what I assumed all these other women were doing. And that was so frustrating for me, because I’m like, I don’t know how to work more. I don’t know how to work harder. I don’t know what to do more.

Tonya Kubo (18:44)



Kathi (19:08)
And in our next episode, we’re going to talk about some of those things. But I want to talk about, you know, how do we have these conversations? And, you know, Roger and I have a classic example of, um, we were both trying to serve each other. So I was doing the dishes each night and he was cleaning up the kitchen. And, um, you know, I wanted credit for doing the dishes each night because that’s the worst job in the entire house. And I don’t know how we got into this conversation.

But he said, actually, I don’t mind doing the dishes. I hate cleaning up the kitchen. I’m like, what? I love cleaning up the kitchen. And so we made this swap. Now, here’s what I know. I’m saying that sentence, and there are a lot of women who are listening who are planning the meals, doing the inventory. Right. Cooking the meals.

Tonya Kubo (20:00)
I was like, who are getting no help in the kitchen whatsoever?

Kathi (20:06)
cleaning up from the meals, doing the dishes. And they can’t understand why their house doesn’t, isn’t running perfectly. And I have really changed my thinking. You know, you and I just did a series of one-on-one consultations with a lot of people and some other people did too, with Clutter Free Academy. And I finally had to get to the core of it with some of the people I was meeting with.

Tonya Kubo (20:09)


Kathi (20:34)
I’m like, you don’t have a clutter issue. This is a relationship issue or a division of responsibility.

Tonya Kubo (20:42)
Well, it’s also mental load. I mean, like, and I know we’re gonna get more about that, but one of the one-on-ones I had, you know, the person kept saying, well, I should this and I should that, and I have no excuse. And I had to stop them and just kind of say, it sounds like you’re really hard on yourself. And they were like, yeah. And I said, so you talk about yourself like this a lot. And they were like, yeah. And I’m like, and so if that was working for you, we wouldn’t be on this call, would we? And they were, they kind of stopped. And I was like, okay, so can we just try something different?

Kathi (20:45)
It’s exactly, yes.


Tonya Kubo (21:11)
and I had them walk me through and Kathi, like they walk me through what they do. And I’m like, I’m exhausted. Like it does not shock me that their house looks like, their house looks in a way that is not tolerable to them because I can tell you that the way my house would look if I was trying to do all that, that would probably break a health code or two, I’m sure. I’m sure it would break a health code or two.

Kathi (21:17)


Yeah. And most of us are trying to do all the things. And, cause we wanna be known as the, I don’t know how she gets it all done woman. But, but here’s the problem friends. If you don’t know how somebody’s getting it all done, they probably aren’t. So we’re gonna come back next week. And Tonya and I wanna give some, I wanna do two things. We wanna talk about, I believe you called it insourcing and outsourcing.

Tonya Kubo (21:38)



Kathi (22:03)
Correct? And I wanna talk about how do you have these conversations with the people you live with? Because I think that is what our group is most interested in hearing. And we’re gonna figure out how to start those conversations in a healthy and respectful way, but we’re gonna get it done, friends. Because I don’t want people I love living like this, working harder.

Tonya Kubo (22:03)
Mm-hmm. Yep.




Kathi (22:32)
and feeling more behind all the time. Tonya, thanks for having this conversation with me.

Tonya Kubo (22:32)

Thanks for inviting me.

Kathi (22:38)
And friends, thank you for being here for this. You’ve been listening to Clutter Free Academy. I’m Kathi Lipp Now, go create the clutter free life you were always designed to live.


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