I just finished cleaning up the last of the detritus from our Super Bowl Festivities last night. We had a neighbor family over for “the big game” and the experience did not disappoint. We enjoyed wings, brats, little smokies, sautéed carrots, cucumber sandwiches, and all manner of terrible snack food (including an enormous bag of movie theater popcorn that one of our children’s friends had procured from the local AMC). All of those foods (and the people who ate them) required 77 bowls, plates, serving containers, utensils, and various other cooking implements. I know this because I washed all of them by hand this morning.
It is a ritual I complete every morning. And more or less, my counter looks like this when I’m done:
You see, our dishwasher is broken. It stopped working over a year ago, and I don’t anticipate getting it fixed any time soon. It isn’t because I’m overly cheap or because I think that I can fix it myself (I’m not and I can’t). Rather, my dishwasher will remain broken because I like doing the dishes, by hand.
There are very few visible accomplishments in my day. Most of the progress I make, is nearly imperceptible. Whether that is a deeper relationship with my oldest child or the dozens of applications that I review for role at Minerva University, there is no physical manifestation of the work I am doing. The dishes are different.
When I do the dishes, I know when I have scrubbed each one enough to consider it clean. I can see the food residue coming off as a result of my (not so) steady hands. I am making a difference in the clutter of my kitchen, ensuring that each of these dishes will find their way back home in the course of the day. I am responsible for them, and I love making good on the promise I make to myself each day, knowing that I will complete this task and have something to (literally) show for it.
I also wash dishes by hand because I know the outcome. Unlike most of the other actions I take in a day, doing the dishes is a known quantity. When I ask my children to clean up their room, I am often surprised by the result. Going to the grocery store has a million possibilities and I know that I will be influenced by a thousand different advertising decisions that others have made to ensure I buy their product. There are no such competing priorities or mysterious options when I turn to a sink of dirty dishes. Each dish passes through my hands going from one state to another. It is transformed in the time I take with it, which is not something I can say for every email I send or errand I run. I am not typically changed by the experience. But, these dishes are. They are clean. And, I know this because I am the one that is doing it. I am the one ushering them to a new state, ready to fulfill their purpose once again.
Washing dishes by hand, also affords me one more thing that I so desperately need: time with myself while not looking at a screen. Because the dishes require a certain level of care and attention, I am forced to look away from the shiny object in my pocket. Because I have to cover my hands in soap and water, there is no room for electronic devices in the mix. It is, with the possible exception of cooking and eating food with my family, one of the only times in my day where I don’t even have that option. It is glorious. For 30-60 minutes of every morning, I have removed the ever-present visual stimulus. My thoughts are my own as I work to remove the bit of ketchup on the plate or milk from the bottom of the glass.
And sometimes, during the best dish washing sessions, I can even be inspired. I have listened to books that have made me change the way I think about oppression and societal hierarchy. I have listened to podcasts that have brought me out of the doldrums I was feeling or made me cry for the sheer beauty of collective humanity. I have also listened to my own thoughts and had important realizations about my marriage and my own happiness.
Washing the dishes by hand is a “life hack.” It gives me far more than clean cups and plates. It gives me a better day, every day.