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How We Handle Dirty Dishes

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How we handle dirty dishes is either genius or maybe next level laziness. I haven’t quite decided, but it’s certainly been a sanity saver. And if it helps you, even better!

So, first off, everyone gets one set of dishes to use: plate, bowl, cup, fork, spoon, knife. You just rinse and reuse throughout the day and (ideally) properly wash it at least once a day. This cuts down on the total amount of dirty dishes possible. One individual cannot use 10 cups in a day, because he has one cup he can use. I think this part is pretty sane, and I heartily recommend this practice. However, this next part has me questioning my parenting a little bit. I mean, not enough to stop doing it, but enough to be like “I’m not sure the ‘best’ moms would do this.”

The other thing I do is allow the kids to take ownership of managing their own dishes. We color code, so their dishes are their personal color. Everybody knows at a glance whose dishes are sitting out. So far so good, right?

Turns out when kids manage their own dishes kids don’t see the need to wash dishes as often as their mom sees that need. What usually happens is dirty dishes will stay in the sink until the next time they are needed and then they are washed on the spot right before they are used again. We don’t have a dishwasher in our Japan home. We hand wash everything. Thankfully, with only one set of dishes they still rotate through being properly washed fairly often. Not as often as I would like, but apparently often enough not to get sick.

But what this also means is I almost always had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. The thing is, I kinda wanted at least once a day (thereabouts) to see a clean, empty sink. Every other day would have been fine, just some semi-regular interval of getting to see a clean sink, and that just wasn’t happening with the kids managing their own dishes.

A lot of times in situations like this where I want the kids to take ownership of something, but if I’m honest, I also kind of really want to manage the situation as well, I have to have a “get real” meeting with myself. If it matters to me that there are dirty dishes in the sink, then I need to wash the dishes, because it doesn’t bother them, it bothers me. If I really want to let them take ownership of this, then I need to prioritize that over dirty dishes in the sink, because this is how it really looks when they take ownership.

Well, here’s where I feel like a fantastic genius: I found a middle ground that’s been working pretty well for both the kids and myself. I put a box under the sink. The box is for the kids’ dirty dishes. I rinse the dish of all visible food and stick it in the box. The dish gets out of the sink. I get to have my clean empty sink that I want, I’m not angsty about doing everybody’s dishes, and the kids still get to manage when they see fit to wash their own dishes.

Rinsed dirty dishes stored under the sink waiting for the owner to wash them. (2019)

I totally get if this one is too icky for you (“Just leave my kids’ dirty dishes in a box under the sink?! What?!”), but for me this has been a major sanity saving life hack.