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A Peaceful House – Keeping Up With the Dishes

Dishwashers don’t really do the dishes for you, as everyone imagines. If you have a dishwasher, you have to load it – and everyone in the family seems to have a different idea of the correct way of doing that – and unload it – and everyone in the family plays musical chairs with that job!  For some reason, unloading the dishwasher is a universally avoided task.  It’s a chance for someone in the family to get mad because they “got stuck with it”.  When the dishwasher is full, you can’t really start doing anything in your kitchen without unloading it first, because there’s nowhere for the dishes to go, except for piled up in the sink.  Then, there are all the problems dishwashers can develop, from leaving grit on the dishes, to smelling funny, to not drying the dishes properly, to not really even cleaning the dishes.  Just so you know you have a choice, you could get rid of the dishwasher and do your dishes by hand.  (We’ll talk about that later.  Just introducing the subject so you won’t be shocked when it comes up!)  Anyway, back to the dishwasher… Part of the problem with unloading it is that people aren’t really sure of exactly where everything should go, and/or it might be difficult to put back.  So, sometimes people just put stuff out on the counter for the next person to put away.  That can also cause tempers to fray.  Some people leave pots to soak for days (sorry, I’m judging) and then the water becomes mystery water and no one wants to stick their hands in it, and that becomes another musical chair job for someone to “get stuck with”.  There really are so many ways for dishes to cause trouble for people and their relationships!  Add to that the bad experiences many people had as children when doing the dishes was almost punishment, and we’ve got multiple opportunities to let the dishes make us mad, blame others, and feel put upon ourselves.  So, what to do?

  1. The first thing to think about is this: Is it easy to put things away, or do you have to nest your pots and bowls and slide your lids into a contraption that is sort of behind something else? In other words, if it isn’t something a five-year-old could easily do, it’s too hard to put stuff away!  Stay with me.  I know your spouse isn’t five years old.  But when everyday things aren’t really simple to do, they will break down somewhere.  It has nothing to do with how capable you and your spouse are or how much you love each other or are devoted to each other.  If a task has a hitch, that’s where it will break down.  Ergo, the unloading of the dishwasher.  Why don’t people want to unload the dishwasher?  It only takes 3 minutes.  It’s because it’s either too difficult to put the items away, (and by too difficult, I mean there are more steps than simply opening the drawer or cabinet door and sticking the item in there.  If you have to move something or figure out which item goes inside of which other item, it’s too difficult.), or pools of water will be on the dishes that need to be dried off before you can put away the dishes, or something won’t be clean, and they’ll get stuck dealing with that.  So, they avoid opening the dishwasher door and dealing with possible snafus.  And by “they”, I also mean “you”.  And by “you” I also mean “me”.  It’s all of us.  Just so you won’t think I’m picking on you, I’ll tell you what I used to do to solve this problem.  I actually had pictures on the outsides of cabinets and drawers to show my family where everything went.  Guess how that worked?  (It didn’t, of course.)  So, if you want to make it easy on yourself, make it easy on the whole family by getting rid of stuff you don’t use frequently, or at least moving it out of the prime real estate of your kitchen cabinets and drawers, and making it very simple to put things away.
  2. If possible, run the dishwasher right after dinner, and put away the dishes before you go to bed. That way you will start the day the next morning with an empty dishwasher that won’t need to be unloaded before you can use your kitchen.  If your schedule won’t allow that, then add an extra 3 minutes into your morning routine and unload the dishwasher.  It’s better than coming home to a dishwasher that needs to be unloaded AND dishes piled up in the sink because they had nowhere else to go.  At the end of the day, you’re tired, and making dinner takes enough energy, without the added job of dealing with last night’s dishes and this morning’s dishes.
  3. Think about handwashing and drying your dishes and then putting them away. I am now running the risk of you thinking I am an insane person who has the temerity to counsel others, but stay with me please.  Even if you decide to use your dishwasher, as I have, the idea of handwashing and drying and putting away your dishes gives you a good perspective on keeping up with the dishes.  Let me explain.  When you hand wash your dishes, you could let them dry on the counter.  BUT, the next time you go to wash dishes, someone will put wet dishes on top of your almost dry dishes, and then you’ve got a pile of dishes that someone has to put away, and we’re right back to where we started.  If you dry the dishes and then put them in the cabinet, the dishes are “done”, or as done as they ever are.  Your kitchen is clean and uncluttered and ready for the next time you need it.  Hot water and dish soap clean dishes!  You don’t really have to use bleach water, etc.  (This is for you germophobes out there.)  Also, it can actually be a somewhat pleasant experience to wash dishes.  The warm water on your hands, the suds, the clean dishes put back into the cabinets.  Putting things in order.  And if you get another family member to dry and put away while you are washing it provides some time together without distractions.  You can have some neat conversations.  You can sing together (why not?).  You can have an old-fashioned family experience together.

You should understand there is nothing wrong when you have to do dishes “all day long”.  Every time you eat something, there will be dishes.  The kitchen is going to be in heavy use probably more than once a day.  Each time you go in there to make something, there will be dishes.  Which brings me to something I should have said earlier.  While you are cooking, go ahead and wash whatever dishes you can, or put them into the dishwasher then and there.  If you can clean as many pots and pans as you can while cooking, then when you are finished eating, there will just be the plates, etc. to finish. To review there are 3 steps to handwashing dishes: washing, drying and putting away.  There are probably 4 steps to using the dishwasher: loading, running the cycle, dealing with whatever didn’t get clean or dry when you open the door, and unloading.  Oh, and calling the repairman when something goes wrong.  One last thought:  It’s easier to keep up with the dishes by washing them several times a day,  and putting them away, or loading them into the dishwasher,  than it is to do an entire day’s worth of dishes once a day.