Well you guys, I have spent years scouring the internet for all the best organizational systems, tricks, hacks, and home-making philosophies. I am organization obsessed! I have read all the books, all the blogs, watched all the videos, and listened to all the podcasts.
I am compiling a master list here of what I believe are the best methods for dealing with the chaotic demands of maintaining a family home today.
I originally started writing this as a single post of the 100 top tips, but it got longer than that really quick. So we’re going to do this over 4 posts: 1) dishes 2) groceries and cooking 3) laundry and housecleaning 4) clutter, schedules, emotional labor, and paperwork.
Here we go! Dishes.
I’m starting here because this is The Big One for me. I know for a lot of you it’s laundry. We’ll come to that. For me dishes are kryptonite. The solution to dirty dishes is my white whale. I’ve tried a lot of stuff to overcome this problem. Including trying to pass the full responsibility for dishes off to Polar Bear. Unfortunately, I have to report that what has worked best has simply been 1) getting a dishwasher, 2) pushing through the slow and steady agony of overcoming bad habits and setting new ones, 3) learning how to ignore my thoughts and feelings and just do it. Like a robot.
Happily, the internet’s best tips have certainly helped a lot. Unhappily, the internet can’t actually do my dishes for me.
- Be like Flylady and shine your sink. Even if you don’t make it all the way through her program, the first few steps can really change your life. She really gets that the mess in the kitchen is the center of our home and our existence. The axis of our world-with-kids is the sink, whether clean or dirty, so to organize our life we start with the sink.
2. Try getting a basin for dirty dishes that sits on your counter beside the sink. All the dirty dishes will then be corraled (until it overflows), but your sink will be empty, thus allowing you the space to actually wash the dishes (or rinse and load into the dishwasher). Perks are that when you run out of counter space you can move the basin anywhere – even just set it down on the floor for a while. And, when unexpected guests arrive you can shove that baby in the cabinet under the sink and close the door.
3. Have a policy that you run your dishwasher every single night even if it’s half full. (Or twice a day at two predictable times if you make enough dishes for this). This is greatly preferable to ending up with a backlog later once your dishwashing schedule is out of whack.
4. Unload the dishwasher (or have children do it) every morning before starting anything else. Before making breakfast or packing lunches. A popular internet favorite is to unload while waiting for the coffee maker or kettle.
5. Time yourself unloading and loading the dishwasher (or hand washing dishes). You’ll be amazed by how much less time it takes than you think. Our brains assume that crappy tasks we hate to do take much longer than they do in reality. Once I realized that the dreaded unloading of the dishwasher — which I through took at least 10 minutes — takes me 3 minutes, I found myself much more willing to push through.
6. When training your family to stop piling dirty dishes into the sink, try placing a piece of paper right in the dry sink. It will say “Stop! No dishes here!” and it can then direct the person on what they should do with the dish.
7. Try the “rinsed dishes” sink. This is what I do currently. We have a double sink (thank god) in this house. So, one sink theoretically is supposed to stay empty, and the second sink is where we pile up “dishwasher ready” dishes all day (for us, this means scraped and rinsed). This accomplishes two great things. 1) It prevents me from ever having to touch old food or what I call “cold garbage water” in order to wash dishes later. It’s always easier to clean something that’s clean. 2) It uses task grouping. When I actually am ready to load the dishwasher in the evening I don’t have to think, organizing, scrape or rinse. It’s just super fast and requires no brain space.
8. Furthermore, if you are the kind of person who understands exactly what I mean by “cold garbage water” than you are the kind of person who should try using rubber dish gloves to wash dishes, or even to load the dishwasher, take out the compost, or any other host of disgusting garbage things.
9. Got spirited toddlers or preschoolers who stubbornly refuse to take their own dishes to the sink? Try having their plate write a note to them: “Dear Kid, I love being your plate. I love sharing delicious meals with you. You and I are the best team. Please help me to get clean after meals! I feel sad when I am dirty. I have no feet so I need you to walk me to the sink. Thanks! Love, Your Plate.”
10. Give everyone a single cup for the day. Keep them on a little shelf labeled with each person’s name, or simply keep them at each person’s spot at the table all day so you know whose is whose.
11. Color code dishes by person. (Buy some different colored sets at the dollar store) so it is glaringly obvious to everyone who left their plate out, who didn’t scrape and rinse their plate before piling it in the sink, etc.
12. If you have a spouse, make one person permanently in charge of loading and unloading the dishwasher, and one person in charge of hand wash dishes and unloading that rack. This will make you each feel like you only have to deal with half of the dishes pile and then your responsibility is complete and it’s ok to walk away.
13. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Get rid of most of your dishes so that you are forced to wash dishes each day or have nothing to eat on.
14. In big families: give everyone a single place setting (that’s right – one plate, one bowl, one glass, one set of cutlery) and their own cubby or shelf to store it. Each person is in charge of washing/drying/putting away their own dishes after each meal or snack.
15. Got serious problems with other family members sabotaging every dish washing system you try? Put all your dishes in boxes in the basement. Leave out in the kitchen the most minimal number of dishes with which you could possibly manage (think camping or living out of a hotel room). One plate, one bowl, one glass per person. Two pots. One ladle. You get the idea. Live like that for one glorious month. Once people catch on and start washing what they need in order to have a snack, go ahead and have a family meeting. Introduce whatever new dishes system you’ll be using, and let the family earn the dishes back, little by little.
16. Can’t face your own perfectionist brain that prevents you from actually taking action ie. just washing the dishes? Try reading or listening to this book from A Slob Comes Clean:
Good luck! And remember — the number of dirty dishes in your sink represents the number of loved ones who ate food from your kitchen. You are an excellent mom!