Defeating my most-loathed chore — putting the dishes away

Guest post by Beretta Fleur
Wash Rinse Dry washcloth by AmyNellys

Some people hate taking out the trash; for others, cleaning the toilet makes them fly into a rage. My own personal household Waterloo has always been emptying the dishwasher. Even if they’re warm and toasty and it’s done by the soothing glow of the range light, I can’t even stand it for more than a minute. Open cabinet doors gash my head as I run into them in my haste, trying to make the task end. Loud plates crash and hurt my ears no matter how gently I try to stack them in the cabinets.

I tried just NOT emptying it, but guess what that leads to? A roach buffet of ever-looming dirty dishes in the sink.

It wasn’t until my husband and I put all of our stuff in storage, moved across the country, and rented a temporary apartment that I had my Oh, baskets! moment that could work for anyone who hates putting dishes away: HAVE FEWER DISHES.

With the exception of a good deal of silverware and cooking utensils (thanks to Elizabeth R’s post on pre-sorting!), we have:

  • one great pot
  • one great pan
  • three cutting boards
  • a good knife set
  • two mugs
  • two bowls
  • two cups
  • four plates
  • Plus the tupperware my husband uses for lunch or that we use for leftovers.

That’s it.

And every night, our dishwasher is just full enough to where you don’t have to shove everything in to make it fit, or feel bad about running it too empty. And in the morning, it takes me 90 seconds to unload, with minimal bending, twisting, lifting, stacking, crashing, and cabinet-impaling.

Our cabinets, by the way, are uncluttered; I never have to search to find stuff or make space for everything.

So, if you’re buried by stacks of clean or dirty dishes, pare down and pack a Goodwill/freecycle/Craigslist box and try it out for a week.

Comments on Defeating my most-loathed chore — putting the dishes away

  1. When I worked in a big box bookstore, they had a philosophy of trying to touch a book as FEW TIMES AS POSSIBLE during its lifespan at the store – from the time it arrived on a truck to the time the customer buys it or it is deemed unworthy of shelf space anymore. This makes the store run more efficiently. The first time I thought about this system, I began thinking about my kitchen this way – TOUCH THE DISH AS FEW TIMES AS POSSIBLE. It leaves its shelf to have food put on it, and then – this is key – it needs to go immediately into the dishwasher. Dishes should not linger elsewhere outside the kitchen, on the table or counter or hang out in the sink. You touch it to put it in the dishwasher and then touch it to put it back in the cabinet. That’s my system for keeping myself sane otherwise I do go nuts. I hate handling them over and over and over.

    • We are the same way, everything goes immediately in the dishwasher and every night anything that can not be washed in the dishwasher gets washed. Easy enough, I cook and hubby cleans up. It makes things so much easier and nicer because I don’t have to look at a sink full of dishes piling up all day, plus if we didn’t do this my cat would think it was his own personal buffet. That cat will eat anything!

    • This is what happens in my house… when I have a dishwasher. Since I haven’t lived in a place that had a dishwasher in 7 years, I have struggled with keeping dishes out of the sink since 2006.

  2. Something that helps me is to take the dishes out of the dishwasher and set them up on the countertop. I sort of pile it by where it goes, dry anything that’s still wet, then CLOSE THE DISHWASHER and start putting things away. No banging my head on the cabinet doors, no banging my shins on the dishwasher door.

    • That is brilliant.

      I don’t mind putting plates and bowls away, but all the pyrex storage containers…I HAAAAAAATE them.

      • I hate putting away the storage containers too. One thing we have done to make it easier is each container gets its lid put on as soon as it comes out of the washer and all the closed containers stack on top of each other in that cabinet. It takes up more space, but it is waaaay less annoying than trying to nest them and keep track of the lids. Plus, when its time to use them, you don’t have to search out the lid, since its already there!

  3. I saw one suggestion for this long ago- install two dishwashers! One is for dirty dishes, the other is the clean one. Empty the clean ones out only to use the dishes and stack back into the dirty side. Then just switch as they get full/empty. They said that a ‘dishwasher is just a cabinet that cleans dishes’. Wish I had the room. Its brilliant.

    • they make dishwashers that are a pair of stacked drawers. would be perfect for this method.
      my mom has one; she says she first heard about it when reading an article about a woman in a wheelchair, and that’s how she did it; stored dishes in the clean one, and put them into the other one. worked fabulously.
      I totally covet my mom’s dishwasher.

    • My aunt and uncle have always had two dishwashers. They had a magnet that meant dirty, and a magnet that meant clean, and just switched the magnets on the dishwashers as needed. Added bonus: room for all the dishes from big family dinners.

  4. We don’t have a dishwasher. I wish we did. We still have the issue with putting the dishes away. As I do enjoy having people over sometimes and making meals (and happen to love pretty dishes), cutting down the number we have isn’t too functional for us but I have been trying to increase how often I do the dishes, which has a similar effect. Since all I’m doing is running a sink of water, t’s not so bad and not a major waste to do a few dishes. Still working on that habit though.

    • we don’t have a dishwasher either, and we do have enough dishes to have a small dinner party, but i have found the perfect (for us) solution much like what the post suggests:

      we hide our spare dishes. not, like, where they’re impossible to get to , but they are in a basket on a shelf in the dining room. we have a plate, bowl, cup, mug for everyone in the house in the kitchen cabinets. turns out it’s basically as much work to go get a clean dish from the other room as to wash one. lazy vs. lazy.

      (also, we took the doors off our upper cabinets, which is a major head-saver).

      • We also are dishwasher-less and hide our spare dishes. Though I need to go through and do it again as they have somehow all migrated out again.
        Over all it does really help cut down on what you’re using regularly and therefor how much time you spend washing and putting them away.

  5. Just a tip for small kitchen storage: I got cutting boards and large utensils I could hang on the backsplash area of my kitchen. I hate my kitchen – I’m a gourmet kitchen girl in a teeny-tiny galley. I hung as much stuff up as I could. I tried downsizing my dishes, but found that disappearing utensils became a constant frustration.

  6. If you like entertaining and don’t want to get rid of your extra dishes, and you have the cabinet space, you can try this:
    I keep one or two dishes per person in the house easily available, and the extras for guests go higher up/further back in the cabinet. You don’t see them to use them when you’re being lazy, but they’re easy to get when you have more people over.
    I’ve been doing this for a couple of months and its working for me.

  7. My big thing is I haaaaate touching wet Tupperware-quality plastic. I’ve been known to barely pinch it, drop it on the counter, and leave it there to dry. Once it’s dry, I don’t mind putting it away.

  8. I hate putting away dishes! And yes fewer dishes and only using dishes that fit together are key. With 2 people taking breakfast, lunch and snack that is a whole sink full of gladware and mid matched lids. The lids were kept on a chili pot at the back of the cabinet and the bowls haphazardly shoved in the cabinet, knocking over wine glasses. We tossed it all and went with one size fits all fancy Tupperware. Because I hate hate hate having to do something just to do something else ( ie move the wine glasses to dig out the chili pot, to find the lid, which isn’t there…) Our nicely matched Tupperware goes in as a set and comes out as a set with the lid snapped in place.

    • I replaced most of it with mason jars. They all take the same lids, come in a range of sizes, are easy to wash and dry, you can microwave them, they don’t leak. I have a couple of rectangular or square glass dishes with lids for oblong leftovers. This really simplified my food storage area.

  9. I actually like unloading the dishwasher, but I do totally agree on the having less dishes part! I recently read a book on minimalism and have started getting rid of stuff in my apartment. Having less stuff makes ALL chores easier! It’s amazing.

  10. For people who want to conserve space but still have plenty of dishes: I wanted my kitchen to be as space efficient as possible, but I will wanted enough plates for when we host dinners for more than 4 people. My mom had Correll when we were growing up that she still uses today (roughly 25 years old). Those dishes are great because they fit into dishwashers nicely and a stack of 16 plates is only a 3 or so inches thick!!! So thinner dishes means more dishes in a smaller space, fewer stacks of dishes, and less moving stuff around in the kitchen. So I got my own set, and I love love love them. (It did take me awhile to find a set of dishes and bowls that didn’t come with mugs, though.)

    • We had the same issue – we drink coffee and tea, but we already have our own favorite mugs – no need for four or six extra ones every time you buy dishes! I found Ikea to be perfect for that, since they have lovely sets that come with 2 sizes of plates and one set of bowls for like 20 or 25 bucks. The mug thing is massively irritating, and buying pieces of dishware a la carte is often expensive.

      I do agree, though… the Corell stuff is very nice. 🙂

  11. Having fewer dishes is also the ultimate solution for people like my husband and myself, who HATE washing them. We have no working dishwasher, and it is quite the ordeal to be handwashing all the damn time. Our biggest issue was having too many inherited sets of things – nice sets of dishes that my parents had, but also sets that we had bought together and had sentimental value.

    Just last week, though, we high-graded the shit out of our dishes, and life has never been easier. Why did I have so many frying pans? WHY? I had literally ten frying pans. I now have three, one of each size. Same with my pots – big/medium/little. THAT IS ALL.

    Man, I get a rush from dropping things off at the Goodwill lately. It’s a beautiful thing. 🙂

    • It’s so funny, but for me having fewer dishes actually -increased- my dish-rage instead of alleviating it. I really hate washing dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher) and the increased washing was driving me mental (Wash before breakfast, wash after breakfast, wash after lunch, get half-way through washing after dinner and then give up in disgust, meaning I get to wash before breakfast tomorrow).

      Having fewer dishes and washing them multiple times a day is a totally reasonable thing, I’m sure it works for a lot of people! I know it wasn’t a lot of dishes but it still drove me bananas.

      I started hating every one of our dishes…like individually. I’d grab a blue bowl (that normally I love because it’s so deep and not heavy), and I’d think “Oh, -this- asshole again. Why can’t you stay clean!?” “Fork? Why can’t you be more like knife? Look at how clean knife is! Knife hasn’t been dirty for -days-. But you’re a mess; that’s twice today already and it’s not even mid-afternoon.”

      Getting enough dishes that I only had to do them once a day (even if I was washing dishes longer) was pretty key to my mental health. We have a set of four (bowls, plates, mugs) for the two of us (and a basket-worth of flatware that I do indeed keep, unsorted, in a basket on the counter). There are just enough dishes so that dishes don’t pile up in drifts around the house (er…too much) -and- I don’t feel like I’m always washing dishes, so it’s a win for the house.

      • That’s a super interesting take that I never considered! I thought about it, and I think that the main reason it works for us is that our biggest issue with doing dishes is how they endlessly pile up – when we had too many dishes, our sink would IMMEDIATELY get full. Then, the countertops. Then, the dishes in the bedroom would get left, cause shit, ain’t nowhere to put them in the kitchen! And so on. It was more our avoidance of doing dishes.

        Also, we absolutely have a set of four for the two of us and a good full set of silverware – we aren’t so pared down that we’re each using one plate and one fork. That indeed would also drive me up a wall, and I can guarantee you that my husband would just start eating out of pots and pans like a barbarian. (I’m actually pretty sure he already does that when I’m not looking. 😛 )

        When you start personifying your dishes, it’s probably time to find a way to, um, relieve some of that tension. You’re absolutely right. 😛

        I’m totally also bad about just saying fuck it sometimes and buying a package of paper plates. Because FUCK IT, that’s why. Also because our city lets you put paper plates in the yard waste bin for compost, so my guilt at making trash is relieved. Lol.

  12. I hate emptying the dishwasher. My husband hates loading it. So our solution is that he empties it and I load it. So far it’s worked out pretty well.

  13. I don’t mind emptying the dishes from the dishwasher. For some reason, it’s the hand-washed dishes in the dish drainer that end up never getting put away. I will wash some dishes and leave them in the dish drainer to dry, then later wash more dishes, which get stacked on top of the dry-but-not-yet-put-away dishes, making them wet again, and then of course I can’t put them away until they’re dry… And if they don’t get put away before I wash more dishes, it starts all over again, until the dish drainer is overflowing. It’s just a matter of putting them away before washing the next batch, but for some reason it seems to be hard for me.

  14. I love this idea! I don’t know why it ever occurred to me. Ironically, the only true phobia I have is the sound glass makes when it clinks together–ESPECIALLY dishes. Doesn’t matter who I’ve lived with, when or where, it has always come up as an issue that I can’t fucking stand to put the dishes away. I even have anti-anxiety pills just to be able to deal with it. The few times I’ve lived completely on my own, I’ve actually gone out of my way to get nicer plastic dishes, even if they don’t last as long. This seems like a pretty good compromise when living with others who can’t stand not having real glass tableware.

  15. For me, the quality over quantity rule applies to pretty much everything – dishes, clothes, furniture, decorative items, etc. Not having to maintain a bunch of inanimate objects really makes life much more pleasant 🙂

  16. We just struggle with having enough energy to get the dishes put away. FH is disabled, I’m a full-time PhD student with major health problems, and couple those things together and we’re still unpacking from moving in here from July. We downsized majorly, and still can’t find a place for everything — so trying to get dishes away becomes a giant uphill struggle because there’s still boxes all over the place. We end up making super low-energy meals a lot, so single dishes pile up, the sink gets full, the dishwasher never gets loaded, and it’s just a trial. FH is supposed to be doing the housework since he’s unemployed, but with his health, it never gets done. I wish we could eliminate dishes, but we’ve already eliminated almost everything that isn’t essential, and we still never get through them all. There is a full sink, countertops covered, and a stove full of dirty dishes and cookware waiting for me right now. That’s two days of cooking. Ugh.

    It’s kind of heartening to know that other people struggle with it, too — I seem to have this sense that Everyone Else In The World is managing just fine and have spotless kitchens all the time. You’d think places like Unfuck Your Habitat would teach me otherwise, but nope!

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