Mental clutter and the power of not batching: How I’m learning to wash dishes

My wife and I don’t like washing dishes.

Our typical procedure has been to finish eating dinner, maybe watch some Netflix, and then maybe get around to doing all the dishes for the day.

More likely scenario?

No one does the dishes until the next day.

So our sinks, both sides, are typically full of dirty dishes all the time.

(Before I go any further, yes, I’m 28 years old and probably should have a better set of habits by now, but… never to late to learn, right? And if I’d learned before, I wouldn’t have this post to share with you. “Always look on the bright side of life!”)

Recently, I’ve started doing the dishes immediately. When a cup gets dirty and needs to be cleaned, I clean it. As soon as we finish cooking with a pot, I clean it.

The obvious benefit is that our dishes are clean and more importantly our sink is clear. It all looks nicer and more functional.

The more subtle benefit, though, is that it’s more peaceful. When we let the dishes stack up and then cleaned them all in one batch, I had this slight but constant stress that the sink was a mess. With everything else in life going on, I wouldn’t have identified it as stress. I might have noticed it as a slight annoyance but nothing high on the list of things to change or fix.

Now that it’s gone, I’m realizing how much better I feel about it. Meagan can cook whenever she wants without having to worry about what’s in the sink. Someone could come over now without me feeling bad about how our kitchen looks. I don’t have to have an hour long dishes marathon nagging at me in the evening.

In this case, batching wasn’t a good idea because we only got to experience the benefit – a clear sink – immediately after that batch of cleaning was complete. The rest of the time, which was most of the time, we didn’t have a clean sink.

What this really comes down to is realizing why cleaning the dishes is important. Before, it felt like the purpose of cleaning the dishes was to get them back in the cabinets for the next meal, have them available for when we need them. I didn’t place much importance on having the area clean and looking nice. Or really, I did in my mind – I would have told you it was important if you asked – but my actions, the way I actually cleaned the dishes, didn’t line up with that. There was this mismatch between what I wanted – clean, clear, peaceful kitchen and home – and what I actually did to create that.

Couple lessons:

  1. Sometimes the in-between stage is the purpose. Like that quote, something like, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” I ought to pay more attention to those in-between stages.
  2. Batching might not be a good option if the time between batches creates mental clutter. When I’m considering batching, I ought to weigh the time savings of doing something all at once (which is usually more efficient than doing things one at a time because of the time it takes to switch tasks) against the amount of mental clutter it’s create between batches.