I know how I got to be this way: my mum is a rock star. Every night before going to bed my mum cleans her kitchen. The dishes go in the dishwasher, pots and pans that don’t fit are washed and put away, surfaces are wiped down. The kitchen thingami-whatsits all get put back where they belong. The room is left looking more or less magazine-spread ready for the next morning.
So I was not surprised that kitchens and their level of clean became a major source of angst in my post-childhood-home life, whenever I’ve shared a house. Every group of housemates since eternity has waged war over dishes and I knew I was never going to meet people like my mum on Craigslist; I knew I was going to have problems with communal kitchens.
And I certainly have, over the years. There was a girl in one flat who would, heaven help me, steal the dishes. She’d take her meals off to her room, and then, a week later, one of the other flatmates and I would have to sneak into her room when she was out and fish all of the plates and bowls and flatware out from under her bed to take back and clean. There was a dude from the Czech Republic who had more than just problems with the language and who continually tried to use furniture polish to scrub the pots and pans. Oy. And, there were plenty of people who just. didn’t. wash. them.
By comparison, the flat I’ve been in for the last couple of years has been pretty damn amazing. The three of us have similar levels of tolerance for mess in general, and the kitchen is usually pretty good. And yet, I still angst-ed.
When I sat down and thought about it, I realized that my issue was made up of two pieces. One, I personally find washing dishes to be anxiety-ridden, and in particular I hate waking up to dishes left overnight. Part two was unconscious overclaiming. Whenever I did the dishes, even when they were mine, even when it’d been a while since I’d done them, I got this naggy, horrible voice in my ear whispering about how it wasn’t fair, how I always did the dishes, and how it was surely someone else’s turn to be washing up.
The universal truth is, the only person I can change is me. So I took back the dishes.
The truth is that my flatmates and I are pretty good about evenly sharing work. The truth is, when I did the dishes it was usually totally my turn. The truth is, when I was angsting about dishes, probably my flatmates were angsting about their own hot-button chore items, like mowing the lawn, or having a clear dining room table. And, universal truth is, the only person I can change is me. So I took back the dishes.
I decided that the dishes were always my job. Always. If the dishes weren’t done it was because I hadn’t done them yet. If someone else did the dishes, they were doing me an awesome favour for which I owed them thanks. I started doing the dishes every single evening before bed, just like my mum has always done. And I found my Dishes Zen.
Did you know, if you do the dishes every single evening, on average, it only takes 15 minutes? Just long enough, usually, for me to think through what I need to do before bed, or to plan the next day’s outfit, or to figure out something yummy to take for lunch the next day. All of my dishes-related angst evaporated.
Unfortunately, it made my flatmates feel really guilty… Eventually I had to explain to them about how I’d mentally made the dishes mine, and that I considered it payment for other stuff. I started mentioning how guilty I felt about not remembering to help with the lawns or to take my crap off the dining room table. That more or less fixed it.
Eventually, after owning the dishes for a few months, I talked to my mum about it. Turns out, my mum had this revelation years ago (why didn’t you tell me!?) and uses it all the time — for the dishes, for pet related chores, for making the bed.
It’s not that I condone letting other people get out of doing their bit, or that I believe it’s always going to work to make yourself solely responsible for any task. Sometimes you’ve got to make a schedule and share the evil thing out fair and square. But sometimes… Sometimes the problem is as simple as a shift in perspective, and doesn’t actually have to involve waging war for all eternity.