The dishes project

Posted by in Mike's blog

It was a Thursday afternoon.

I was feeling particularly frustrated with the giant pile of dishes that had manifested in around the kitchen sink, again.  I had a class to teach in the afternoon, but up until that point I hadn’t accomplished very much that day so far – so I decided to be productive with my final hour before I had to leave.  I thought that if I dedicated a whole hour to cleaning up around the house, surely I could make a large enough impact for there to be a noticeable difference when Mary returned later.

I spent 45 minutes on the dishes, and the rest of the house went mostly untouched.

That Thursday afternoon was when I decided to start “the dishes project”.  The rules are simple:

1.  I wash all the dishes.

2.  The dishes must be washed immediately following every mealtime.  

3.  When dishes are dirty, they sit in the sink.  If at any point outside a mealtime (snacks, baking, etc.) the enough dishes accumulate in the sink to cause “crowding”, they must all be washed.  

4.  Dishes may sit in the drying rack until the beginning of the next meal preparation.  Meal prep starts with putting the last meal’s dishes away.  

I decided to commit myself to the dishes project for a month.  A MONTH.  What what I thinking!?  The month lasted from mid-June to mid-July, and it was challenging.

I was only partially motivated to start the dishes project out of frustration with the state of our kitchen.  The rest of my motivation came from a genuine desire to make daily life less stressful for Mary.  Dirty dishes aren’t nice for anyone, imagine if you could spend even a week without washing a dish and still have a clean kitchen?

From past experience, when the kitchen is always clean we’re more likely to cook meals at home, there’s no fighting whatsoever over whose “turn” it is to wash the dishes, and we have more time to take care of the rest of the house as well as more time to spend with each other.

I decided to NOT tell Mary about the dishes project until it was over.  I was worried about what would happen if I made big claims at the beginning and had trouble following through.  One husband vs. every dish in the household for a month meant the odds were not in my favour.

Self-discipline and determination were essential, but the dishes project would have been near-impossible without what I like to call “dishes reduction”.  When I started, we had a set of western-style and a set of Japanese-style dishes, and neither set could support more than three people at the dinner table.  We also had a set  of plastic Bunny-style dishes, she has 2 of everything.  Dishes reduction means keeping only the amount of dishes that will be used at the table on a regular basis in the kitchen.  The rest go somewhere inconvenient.  Why?  It should still be possible to serve guests, but when it’s just us at home it should be easier to just wash a few dishes than to go to the inconvenient location of the extras to get something new.  In our case, we didn’t own extras, we’ve been under dishes reduction since we moved in.

Do you need dishes reduction?  Consider this example:  If there are 2 people in your household and you keep enough dishes in your cupboard for 4, that means you will have twice the amount of dirty dishes to wash after supper if you didn’t do the dishes from lunch.  Dishes reduction FORCES cleanliness, and makes the job more manageable.

There were times that the dishes project became overwhelming, but I soldiered on.  The evenings when I made big fancy meals and I wanted to rest after eating were the hardest.  There were other times when the dishes project didn’t work at all, like when I wasn’t home.  Sometimes Mary had to cook dinner for herself and the Bunny when I was out teaching evening classes.  On those nights, I came home to situations that meant I had to break rule # 3 to get some sleep.  There were a couple of “relapses” throughout the month – I did my best to not let them discourage me from continuing.

Halfway through the project we acquired a few more dishes so we could have a 4th place setting at our table.  The extra burden of 1 big plate, 1 small plate and 1 bowl was significant.  I kept them in circulation for a while…but I was lying to myself about their usefulness.  More dishes reduction was necessary!  Now we’re down to 2 of everything.

Despite the hard times, the victories were wonderful.  There was one night when we had to clean the house before some students came, and we only had 30 minutes to make the place presentable enough for guests.  After 10 minutes we looked around and realized that we were finished!  The difference between this and that Thursday in June was that we started with a clean kitchen.

Mary noticed that the kitchen was “staying clean” about 3 or 4 days in.  After around 1 week, the Bunny learned to pass me her dishes as soon as she was finished eating.  I myself started to find ways to make dishwashing easier, like washing a few during meal prep when I had to wait for something else to happen.  My stacking abilities (in the drying rack) are much better now, and I’ve convinced myself that I have gotten faster at everything dishes-related.

After the month ended, I told Mary about what I had been doing.  She was very happy, but it didn’t come as much of a surprise because by then she had grown accustomed to never washing dishes ever.  I’m glad that I was able to give her that experience, for that alone the dishes project was worth it.

Readers:  Are you thinking about trying the dishes project for yourself?  Don’t forget dishes reduction, it makes all the difference.  For the husbands out there – does your wife usually do the dishes?  Try the dishes project, and enjoy the results!  Students, do you live in a cesspool of filth with your roommates?  Put an end to it by taking responsibility for everyone else’s mess and watch the relationships in your house change for the better!  Share your dishes stories in the comments here or on Facebook/Twitter/Google+.