08 July 2013

Washing the Dishes: Keeping Up

A friend and I recently discussed the question of motivation, and more specifically, how to motivate oneself to do household chores that are not naturally pleasant to us.  Because both of us experience a good pile of dishes every day, and neither of us love doing dishes, yet both of us need to do dishes.  To remind myself, and perhaps to give you some little tips you might find helpful, I'll share some of the discussion here. 

1.  Before You Begin:  See the End Result, and DECIDEWhen I'm not in the mood to wash the dishes, I have to remind myself that I don't have to like it, it just needs to be done.  There's nothing wrong with disliking a chore as long as I don't let that stop my from doing the chore and therefore taking care of my family.  Some chores just come with the territory of being an adult--or for kids who are old enough to carry some responsibility, being a younger member of the household who is being taught the principles and practices of responsible habit-building.  I also have to remind myself why I like the dishes to be done on a regular basis, and decide to do something about them.  Here are some things that motivate me:
  • I am more in the mood to cook when the kitchen is clean.  Healthy entrees, home-made bread, a special treat for Sabbath.  If the kitchen is dirty, my family and I do not eat as well, because I tend to scrounge around for something easy without the clear space to put together a viable meal.
  • Clean dishes clear the way for the rest of the kitchen to be clean.  Without dirty dishes stacked on the counter or in the sink, it takes only a few seconds to give the counter a wiping and rinse out the sink.  And let's face it, a clean kitchen is a healthy kitchen.  No smells, no grime in the sink.
  • When I keep up with the dishes on a regular basis, I don't end up with a mountain that seems too hard to climb.  More on this later.
  • When the dishes are done, I feel free to move on to other enjoyable things throughout the day.  Without feeling guilty.
 2.  Getting Started:  Habit FormingWhen I was in graduate school, I honestly ran out of time to work on washing dishes on a regular basis.  We did not have a dishwasher.  My husband and I both tried to do what we could, but there were many days where neither of us even had five minutes to devote to washing dishes.  After two years of that kind of life, I was sadly out of the habit of doing dishes in any kind of systematic way.  I had to start reminding myself that I really did have time to do the dishes, and to set aside the time to do them, rather than rushing off to the next thing without a thought of dishes when I didn't have to.  I had to learn some new habits, such as:
  • Accept that the dishes will take a chunk of time every day, and as you get going, figure out how much that is and plan for that chunk every day.  For me, NOT expecting that I can take five minutes a day and have a perfect kitchen is freeing, because I don't put such a heavy expectation on myself and fail every time.
  • Set aside 15-20 minutes after each meal to clear the table, put away leftover food, wash the dishes, and wipe the counters.  Once per day doesn't usually work for me, because by the end of the day the mountain feels too large.
  • Ask family members to carry their own plates, bowls, cups, and silverware to the kitchen after each meal.  If each person rinses their dishes and either loads them in the dishwasher right away or hand washes their own, there's much less left for me to worry about when I start the clean-up process.
  • When I'm cooking and baking, I try to use wait times to rinse and wash dishes, or at least put away food.  There are always those moments, and it's amazing what I can do in those little spaces of time to keep the kitchen from becoming a total wreck.
  • I try to stack up the dishes in an organized way.  Plates of the same size together, bowls together, cups together, mixing bowls nested inside each other, etc.  When I can wash a stack of similar things together, they stack more neatly in my dish rack (or the dishwasher), and I tend to work more quickly.
3.  Getting Through the Task:  Passing Pleasant Time.  Washing dishes can seem like boring time, but there are plenty of ways to feel like you're enjoying the time rather than just passing it in drudgery.  For example:
  • Listen to music you love while doing dishes.
  • Sing.  Hymns or praise songs.
  • Work on memorizing a Bible verse or a poem.  Make a recording of yourself saying it, and repeat it with yourself as you wash dishes.
  • Hook up your hands-free device and call a friend.  I've passed many an hour of cleaning the kitchen this way.  I even know when some of my friends are liking to be doing THEIR chores, and I call while we're both occupied in our kitchens.
  • If you don't have enough time to get everything done, set the timer for the amount of time you do have.  You won't lose track of time, and you'll make progress on the stack.
  • Enlist a family member to help you with the dishes, and make it a point to engage them in meaningful conversation.
4.  Tell Yourself the Truth:  They Won't Stay Done.  It's funny which stories get passed down through several generations and stick in your mind.  For me, one of those is about my great grandparents.  My great grandfather decided to do something special for his wife:  He got everything ready, maybe even got down on his hands and knees, and mopped the kitchen floor.  Not a spot remained when he was through with it.  The floor sparkled.  As the story goes, he was quite pleased with himself.  It wasn't long, though, before some person or dog came through the kitchen with muddy feet, ruining the whole freshly washed floor.  My great grandfather was beside himself.  How could someone be so thoughtless that they would undo the job he had just beautifully finished?

Well, my great grandmother knew just exactly how these things work.  I picture her smiling, or laughing.  Do you know what she said?  

"Just because you did it, did you think it would stay done?"

Yes, the words of a veteran home-maker.  Although I never met her, these words give me a chuckle and the gumption to get going on the the piles of dishes again, even when it seems like I just finished a mountain of them.  I'm not perfect at it, and it truly never ends, but that doesn't mean I don't keep trying.

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