3 Life Lessons from Washing Dishes

Washing dishes is a monotonous task. But somebody’s gotta do it and in my household that’s me. Over the years I’ve washed a lot of dishes. By the time I’m 60 I’d probably be washing my 50,000th dish. That’s a lot of dishes and that’s a lot of time spent in front of the sink with nothing to do but think about washing dishes. Over the days I’ve had ample time to reflect on my technique and the many lessons I’ve learnt.

Here are 3 of the foremost lessons that I’ve learnt whilst soaping and rinsing crockery:

1. Don’t let it pile up

Food is mysterious, when it’s freshly cooked and sitting on your plate it’s a marvel. People take photos of it and glorify them on Instagram or Twitter. But the moment you put food in a sink it’s garbage. You can even see it starting to rot. Before you know it you’ve got little flies buzzing about (true story!). It’s difficult sometimes to get motivated to start washing up after a good meal, but the excuse of ‘leaving it to soak’ is just that, an excuse. Before you know it the dishes from breakfast are sitting with the ones from lunch… then dinner.

The only thing harder to wash than dirty dishes is a sink full of dirty dishes.

So it is with life. I know that I’m a born procrastinator. Why do something today when I think I’ll be better prepared to do it tomorrow? Life is funny that way, today I’ve got 5 tasks, tomorrow 10, by Friday I’ve got 30 tasks to accomplish and where did all my time go? Tasks are just like dirty dishes waiting to be cleaned, get them out of the way quickly before they start to smell.

And if you are confronted with a huge pile of dishes…

2. Take it one dish at a time

Sometimes I feel defeated before I even do anything, simply because I’m spending all my time looking at the pile of dishes to be washed. As the saying goes ‘a watched pot never washes’, or something like that. Just start with one dish. Focus on cleaning it and putting it on the rack to dry and then pick up the next dish. Repeat, repeat and repeat and before you know it you’re done.

Similarly sometimes at work I feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks before me. My favourite stalling tactic is to start writing down lists of all the things that I need to do followed by the order that I’m going to do it. By the end of that exercise I’m exhausted from all that planning but I really achieved nothing.

The best way to get them done is by (surprise surprise) actually doing the work before me. No amount of staring, pleading, praying is going to help me out. Get that rear in gear and start washing doing. I find it helps to pick a smaller task that’s easy to finish just so that I get some momentum going. Once I’m on a roll it’s a breeze to get through my to do list. The key is to actually finish what I’ve started before going to the next task.

And while you’re at it…

3. Don’t do a half baked job

It’s tempting sometimes to just soap and rinse as quickly as possible to finish up faster. But this can leave bits of grease still on the plate and as it dries that grime ain’t going nowhere. Later when I have my next meal I could be eating bits of dried up soap and yesterday’s meal along with my dinner. Considering how sensitive my stomach is I’m in for trouble.

Same goes for completing tasks in life, at work or anywhere. Rushing may help me complete things quicker but then I’m not as meticulous in my care. This could result in figurative or literal pain as I deal with errors, abortive work or angry clients. It’s better to do things thoroughly and properly once than to have to go back and correct something that was done poorly the first time.

Contrary to popular thought no matter how urgent a task one must always make time to do it properly, especially when safety is at stake. Sometimes you might not have a 2nd chance to correct whatever mistake you’ve made.

4. In conclusion

I secretly enjoy washing dishes because there’s a part of me that likes to bring order to chaos. While that probably makes it sound more dramatic than it is I do feel good when the kitchen is transformed from a mess to a clean and neatly stacked set of dishes sitting in the dish rack. I even enjoy taking particular care to stack all of them properly to prevent any water from ponding.

And maybe I’m peculiar this way but I relish the time doing the dishes affords me to ponder and reflect on my day. It’s a habit that society on a whole could probably benefit from that flies in the face of home helpers and dish washers.

Slowing down and taking the time to do something that appears monotonous frees the mind. (No really it does) So next time you find yourself standing in front of a sink rather than dread it, learn from it. It’s indeed a useful life skill to practice.

Now wait till I tell you about the lessons I’ve learnt while sweeping the floor…


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