Principles for Simplifying Dishwashing

Some people have trouble with washing dishes; others do not. Take a careful look at these two groups of people. Their work patterns show some subtle differences. Because food preparation is the largest work process in most homes, these seemingly insignificant details are greatly magnified.

One woman stopped to chat at a recent workshop. “I can’t figure out why I have a problem. I live by myself. I am divorced and my four children are raised. For 20 years, my children washed the dishes. You would think it would be easy now that I am alone, but my kitchen is always a mess.”

It only took a couple of questions and we knew the source of her problem. She didn’t like to empty the dishwasher, so she procrastinated. This little delay backlogged every other activity in the kitchen. Dirty dishes began to pile up. The answer is to make a conscious effort to take care of this five-minute task as soon as possible. Those dirty dishes can be hidden in the dishwasher until there are enough to justify turning on the machine. Cleanup will be faster.

Secondly, her problem stemmed from the fact that she made a transition from a family to single life. I asked, “Did you trim the inventory in your kitchen in the same proportion that your numbers were diminished?” No, she hadn’t. She had tableware and cooking utensils for a large family, even though there were never more than two people eating at her apartment. With such a generous supply, there was no hurry to wash the dirty pan in the sink. It was easier to get out another clean one. My suggestion was to trim the inventory.


Then I told her the story about my father-in-law, who, in his youth, worked one winter at a ranger station. He and his partner lived in a facility that was designed to feed 500 firefighters during the summer. Being a little lazy, and probably tired after dinner, they just piled their dishes in the sink every night. With such a generous supply of dishes, they procrastinated washing dishes until they had more time or were in the mood. You can guess that they dirtied every plate in the building. When their supervisor inspected, he commanded that they “get that mess cleaned up.” It took them three Saturdays, all day long. They learned their lesson and locked up all but two plates, bowls and utensils.

The object of this story is to cut down the quantity so that such a mess is impossible. You will never have to wash 10 pans if you only have three. Consider this principle of simplification for every work system: laundry, cleaning, sewing, paper work and yardwork.

Dishes are something you do every day--even if you have a dishwasher. By handling this task efficiently and automatically, you can spend your energies on other goals and responsibilities. Consider these hints:

--Put away the clean dishes as soon as you walk into the kitchen. That includes clean items in the drainer as well as the dishwasher.


--Clear off the counters and work areas before beginning any kitchen job. Give yourself a fighting chance. Don’t try to fix dinner on top of the lunch mess. Cooking will take longer, and cleanup will be harder. If you have a big mess and it is hard to begin, clear off one square foot of counter space at a time.

--Save yourself. Wash utensils, bowls and pans as you use them. First, fill the sink with hot soap water. This is an especially important trick if you have an apartment or home with a small kitchen. Your reward is more free time after dinner. I have heard of people stuffing dirty pans in the oven to get them out of the way. Why not wash and put them back in the cupboard right away? In the long run, it’s easier.

--All family members should help with the dishes. Set up a calendar or chart that shows assignments. Teach them how. Insist that each person clean up after him or herself.

--Arrange your kitchen to be an efficient work area. The more you have in the kitchen, the harder it is to keep clean. Reserve prime space for a few frequently used appliances and supplies. Then take a close look at your other equipment. Keep the inventory simple by getting rid of the items you use least often. If you still want to keep them, put them in a long-term storage area. If you are not sure, pack those seldom-used items in a box and put them in the garage for a few weeks to test whether you can cook without such a large inventory of pans, bowls, and appliances. If so, give them away or hold a garage sale.


--Store things near the place they will be used first. Put a trash container near the sink during work time. Kitchen cleanup is easier if placement of things is well defined. Don’t be afraid to label a few shelves if other people use the kitchen.

--Use a clean dishcloth and towels each day. It is an important sanitary habit. Food particles that are on the old cloth and towel will sour and spoil and might contaminate everything.