Tired of dirty dishes? Try these tips!

Are you tired of dirty dishes and countertops?

Constant dishes in the sink and on the counters? I was too, until we finally came up with a plan that works for us. We now have a system in place and a consistently clean kitchen.

Kitchen sink under window
A clean kitchen really is a joy

It seems that even people who admit to having a messy house always note that their kitchens are clean; they just have messes. I have never understood that because the kitchen is the most used room in the house and the hardest to keep clean.

Pile of dirty dishes. Woman is recording the state of the kitchen into a recorder

For most of my adult life, my kitchen has been a mess

We washed dishes every night, but there were always a handful that didn’t fit into the dishwasher and would get carried over. There was always a jar or two, either soaking or waiting to be washed out and recycled. I dislike drying racks because they would be one more thing on our counter. So we would leave hand washed dishes out in the sink or on the counter. And with that, the second basin in our double sinks was hard to keep clean. The kitchen was always a mess.

Over the years, we have tried all sorts of things to conquer the mess. I had a brief stint with Flylady, but I quickly moved on. We assigned nights, broke it into individual chores, and even tried a certain number of minutes per person per day. None of these systems would hold up. The Dude or Magnus would end up cleaning some amount of kitchen most late nights but there would be build up. Eventually, I would eventually get fed up and spend several hours bringing the kitchen back to 100% clean. Within a few days, it would start to degrade again…

I have recently embraced my personal style and have decorated our house in bold colors. Although I am an aspiring minimalist when it comes to stuff, I love displaying color and colorful items. For years, I tried to get our counters nearly empty, but in reality, I like some things on the counter. As you can see, I have things on the counters. They are things that I love, and I want the spaces around them to be clean.

After endless rounds of frustration, I studied what was making it untenable.

What were the sticking points? This is what I discovered:

  • No one felt ownership. We had a tragedy of the commons situation going on.
  • We have more than one dishwasher load of dishes per day.
  • No one dealt with dishes until well after dinner, when everyone is exhausted
  • Since there was always stuff out, anyone who walked into the kitchen felt overwhelmed
  • The hand washed dishes took up a lot of space while drying, no one felt duty-bound to put them away and then there would be no more space for more dishes
  • We had a bad habit of ignoring:
    • Pots, pans, and lids on the stove
    • Stuff without a defined home
    • Empty jars
    • Food that belongs in the cupboard
    • Empty packages or bits of packages

I am happy to announce that we have finally hit upon a system that works!


A place for everything

We had to change our mindset

We are not allowed to think of a snack or a meal as complete until we put the dishes away in the cupboards or we stack them in the dishwasher. In other words:

Dish maintenance is part of the meal.

Have breakfast, lunch, or a snack? Eat it and then wash, dry, and put away every dish (or put them in the dishwasher), put the food away, wipe down surfaces and rinse the cloth.

Since we have more than 1 dishwasher’s worth of dishes per day, we now run the dishwasher twice a day. It used to be that we would empty it in the morning (or afternoon, or whenever someone got to it) and then fill it until full and run again.

Run the dishwasher twice a day: 3 pm for breakfast and lunch dishes and 9 pm for dinner dishes

Now, we empty it first thing in the morning.  Each person puts their dishes in it throughout the day, as soon as they finish their meal or snack. Every day at around 3 pm, we run the dishwasher, no matter how many dishes are in it. Although this is a bit wasteful, I am willing to make the trade off. Most days it is very nearly full.

Before dinner, someone empties the dishwasher. That way, there is a nice empty dishwasher at dinner time. It makes clean up so much easier. Again, each person puts their dishes in the dishwasher.

Someone has to clean the dinner prep stuff, but it is not a big deal because the kitchen was perfectly clean before starting dinner, the dishwasher is empty except dinner dishes, and we do a lot of one or two pot meals. We run the dishwasher before bed. The kitchen is ready to go in the morning.

Since we run it twice daily, we always have room available to put the used jars in the dishwasher. We recycle the clean jars immediately after they are empty. No more sitting on the counter.

Kitchen countertop
I want cute things on the counters, which means it is even more important to have clean spaces
There were some structural changes that have helped facilitate this shift. We now have a designated home for everything in the cupboards, so we are no longer wonder where something goes.

How did we find homes for everything?

  • Decluttering- We got rid of all mismatched lids and yogurt containers.
  • Matching-I kept like items. When things match, they actually fit together.
  • Fitting-I figured out what fits where and then claimedthat space for it.
  • Spacing-I made sure that there is adequate space for everything
I will expand on some of these ideas in later blogs, but having easy and accessible spaces for all dishes and containers eliminates the countertop clutter.

When we shifted our thinking, we stopped leaving dishes in the sink, pots on the stove, and empty food containers on the counters. A  person is not done with a meal or snack until they put everything away, sweep up crumbs, and wipe down surfaces.


I know there are many of you who cannot function unless your kitchen is perfectly clean, and reading this must seem like I am writing out the instructions on how to breathe. But for many of us, this does not come naturally. So to you who also struggle, I hope these ideas are helpful.


To sum up with some more bullet points, these are the action steps that got us to a clean kitchen:

  • Rule-we are not done with a meal or snack until we clean the dishes and put them away in the cabinet or place them  in the dishwasher
  • Do not leave dishes to dry in the sink
  • Run the dishwasher twice a day- at 3 pm and after dinner
  • Dishes and containers-a place for everything and everything in its place. Keep matching sets so they fit together
  • Each person is responsible for their own dishes and foodstuffs.

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