A Minimalist Approach to Washing the Dishes

December 14th, 2009 § 0 comments

Before I work on an important project with a person, I like to get a good look at their kitchen sink. This is sometimes difficult to accomplish, but it is worth the extra effort. I’ll try to get myself invited over to their house, if that fails I’ll try peering into their kitchen window.

Why do I do this? Because a person’s kitchen sink is a fundamental judge of their character.

A person can disguise many of their inadequacies. They can fake it until they make it with reputation, showmanship, and publicity.

But, it’s really hard to fake the fact that you can’t do your dishes.

Those dishes are right there in the sink and they are dirty.

I know this because I’ve lived with a lot of people in the past. At one point I was living with ten people in Brooklyn, in a huge old school house that was awesome. These roommates would come and go, and so over the 2.5 years I probably lived with 35-40 people. I realize this sounds crazy, but it was a big house, and these were some of the most remarkable people that I’ve ever known.

That being said, some of them didn’t know how to do dishes, so I observed them.

Based on simple observation, and the fact that I used the kitchen at least twice a day, it was easy to cross-reference dish washing ability with other personality traits.

[Update]Please note, I’m being a little silly here. Don’t take me too seriously. I do believe doing the dishes is beneficial, but I got a little carried away in how I explained things. Please forgive the slightly humor that attempted poorly to employ.

People who do their dishes immediately after eating are:

  • Generally happier
  • Accomplish more with their lives
  • Are less overwhelmed by life
  • Make more money

People who don’t do their dishes are:

  • Constantly struggling to keep up
  • Have trouble dealing with clutter in their lives
  • Have panic attacks more often
  • Are sometimes depressed

This is by no means a scientific study, but I believe the findings could be proven scientifically if a scientist were to study them.

You might be thinking that this blog post doesn’t apply to you, because you live alone and have a dishwasher. However, I’ve had experience living with people who have dishwashers, and you can simply change the heading above to ‘People who don’t put their dishes in the dishwasher are:’ and you get the same results.

Actually, if you do own a dishwasher, I’d like you to consider not using it for awhile.

Learning to wash dishes can have a profound effect on your approach to a minimalist life. If you adopt the habit of taking personal responsibility for the mess you create after every meal, this important habit will carry over in to other aspects of your life.

The reason that dish washing has such a profound effect on character.

Doing dishes is a basic habit that crosses into many other areas of your life. Chances are, if you can’t do dishes, you also can’t clean out your closet, or you can’t say no to buying a third car.

This is why the first step of trying to become a minimalist is to start with the kitchen sink.

This is a practical way to create a habit that will benefit you for the rest of your life, and all it involves is the simple choice to do your dishes immediately after every meal. If that seems like an impossible task, try doing your dishes before you go to bed. That being said, I’d like you to gradually work up the ability to clean your dishes within fifteen minutes of eating.

How to do dishes to create a more focused minimalist life.

  1. Make the decision now to start doing your dishes after every meal. This is the most important step, don’t let yourself off the hook. Take the time to do the dishes now, and you won’t have to do them later.
  2. Take pride in doing other people’s dishes. When you live with other people, take pride in doing the dishes for them. Some people insist on spending hours if their lives arguing over who is going to do the dishes, but this is counter-productive. The best way to encourage a person you live with to do their dishes is to take initiative and do all of the dishes in the sink. Eventually they will recognize the burden they’ve put on you and begin to do their own dishes. This will make your shared living space much more enjoyable.
  3. Put away all of your dishes. Now that all of your dishes are clean, dry them and put them away. This way your counter top is completely uncluttered.
  4. Have less dishes. You may find that you have too many dishes. Some people have 25 coffee mugs in their cupboard, why do you have 25 coffee cups? You can clean the cup you used for coffee in the morning and use it again. You only need one cup per person, plus as many as you might have guests for tea. I find that three coffee cups is more than enough for a person who lives alone, four if you live with one person. If you throw a dinner party tell your friends to bring a mug, or invest in recyclable plastic or paper cups for the occasion.

Eventually you the habit of dish washing will become a habit that you do regularly and with great appreciation. Your kitchen sink will never be full of disgusting dishes. At this point congratulate yourself, you’re awesome!

You’ll be surprised, doing the dishes regularly will effect many other aspects of your life. The part of your mind that is always worrying that you have to clean the dishes when you get home will be silent. You’ve entered a brand new world full of clean dishes and an uncluttered kitchen.

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!” -Thich Nhat Hanh


If you enjoyed this story, please share it with anyone you know who could use some improvement in the dish-cleaning department. You know who I’m talking about.

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