Doing The Dishes Can Stink, But It Doesn’t Have To

by Jake Bekemeyer

Doing the dishes is a chore. If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, the task is made a bit easier, but it’s still a chore. If you’re like me and don’t have one, the job is much more laborious and dirty. The stack of dishes in the sink after cooking a delicious meal can be daunting, discouraging, and more than anything, time consuming.

The other unfortunate truth about doing the dishes is that it is exactly one quarter of the cooking process. Shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning. Of those four, cleaning is the only one that feels skippable in the moment. If you don’t shop, you don’t have ingredients. No prep and you’re sautéing a whole, unchopped onion. No cooking, and, well, this one is self-explanatory (save for raw salads and other uncooked dishes).

If you skip clean-up after eating, however, the effects won’t be felt until the next time you cook. Or until the sink is full of dirty dishes. And it’s when the dishes are left to be done at the nebulous time of “later” that it escalates from a mildly inconvenient task that must be done, to a dreadful chore.

The good news is there are ways to combat this! There are three key tips below, but they can all be summed up under one overarching concept. Clean while you cook.

Before you even turn on the burner, clean and put away all your prep tools. This includes knives, graters, cutting boards, empty bowls, and anything else you may use to chop, slice, or otherwise break down raw ingredients. Having this done will keep your dish stack lighter after cooking and keep your workspace organized for easier, less chaotic cooking.

Instead of stacking up the bowls holding your chopped onions, peppers, or other ingredients after emptying them into the pan, clean them while food cooks. With the proper tools in place beforehand, a bowl can be cleaned in about 30 seconds. I promise your food will not burn if you don’t stir it for that long (unless you’re making polenta).

If you’ve followed the tips up to this point you may have realized that no matter how much you clean before you sit down to eat, you’ll still be left with dishes. My suggestion is to do them right away.

Put on music, sing, dance. Trade jobs if you have someone helping or make it a game with kids. The hardest, but I think most effective method, is to take joy in the act of service; embrace the unfavorable task for the simple fact that someone you care for instead gets to rest. It’s a small mindset shift that can turn the task into something rewarding, rather than daunting.

Once again, all this boils down to one key idea. Clean while you cook. Shrinking your stack of post-meal dishes is the primary way to make them less tiresome to do after dinner, both physically and mentally. But it’s changing the way you think about the task in the first place that will truly make it easier.