The 5 Rules of Washing Up

Wash_upJay Rayner (restaurant critic for The Observer newspaper) recently blogged about how much he hated dishwashers (http://t.co/BQgkBFUf): “At dinner parties, guests who had offered to help clear up find themselves standing in the middle of my kitchen, paralysed with fear when they realise helping means “washing up”.” In an era where kids think that what happens in a kitchen is the cooking portrayed by the TV show “Come Dine With Me” it seems the art of washing-up-by-hand is dying.

Of course it isn’t just the kitchen arts that have suffered. Dozens of DIY shows have shown building of the hanging Gardens of Babylon-in-half-an-hour yet they rarely show how long it really takes to erect a garden shed. Likewise by six-year old, raised on a diet of children’s TV art programs, thinks she can whip-up that fancy paper-mache Dragon mask in roughly ten minutes. She looks at me blankly when I explain that the glue has to dry. “Dry Daddy?!” They just don’t show this stuff on TV. And why should they?

I am the sort of person who takes a pride in getting stuff cleared up. I can’t cook to save my life but washing up is something I can do. And I have to do it. Yes, we have a dishwasher. No, we don’t use it. This has nothing to do with its carbon footprint (a dishwasher largely has a lower carbon footprint than washing by hand http://bit.ly/W06Nra but it depends on how you do it and where your hot water comes from). We actually purchased the device for our last home when we were trying to sell the house. A potential buyer came to our home and sniffed at a gap in the kitchen and complained that the house had no dishwasher and there was no room for one. So we bought a slim-line A-rated machine and put it in the gap. We sold the house but took the dishwasher with us. Waste not want not. Since then it has laid quite idle. A form of white-goods objet d’art taking up space in the kitchen. Occasionally we hide stuff in there. It has become just another cupboard. For the life of me I cannot remember how it even works.

Given a choice between figuring out how it works and just washing up by hand, the manual chore wins out every time. Silly isn’t it? Not to say doing it by hand doesn’t have its advantages. Machines are unreliable and break down. Getting a machine do to what you can do by hand is not a very sustainable or resilient way of proceeding. But I can hardly get excited about it. This is not an issue to get all evangelical about. Getting a machine to do washing up isn’t a sin, it is a habit. A habit many people have.

This habit reflects the values of society as a whole. The dishwasher is a quick fix. Sometimes a lifesaver, sometimes just an excuse for a little extra “me time”. It isn’t necessary, it is just convenient. Anyone who eschews the virtues of machine washing up will know that this chore is part of the rhythm of family life. It makes mealtimes possible. If we can’t do washing up we under-value meals. If meals don’t have a place then we don’t eat together. If we don’t eat together what makes us a family?

So, mainly for a bit of a giggle, I have decided to lay out MY 5 Rules of Washing Up By Hand. This is not to moralise or patronise, it is to entertain & encourage. Hopefully a few hard-pressed house-wives and husbands out there will find a few points here to nod in agreement about:

Rule 1: Make it the Mary Poppins Experience: Take a pride in your work. If it is worth doing; it is worth doing well. For me the “washing up” means cleaning the entire kitchen (ie, every work surface including the stove), it means wiping up, AND it means putting everything away. Then we have earnt that self-virtuous glow that only comes from being practically perfect; a god or goddess in your own kitchen. (Note that washing up also involves getting dishes and utensils ACTUALLY clean. Take heed teenagers: it involves more than just pouring water on stuff found near the sink, and then walking away to watch another episode of NCIS.)

Rule 2: Don’t Mess It Up If You Aren’t Prepared To Clean It Up: one for everybody who thinks they are some kind of chef. The act of cooking does NOT absolve the chef from ALL responsibility for cleaning the mess up. If you assume it is somebody else’s problem then the art of cooking ends up using EVERY pot, pan, knife, fork and mixing spoon in the entire kitchen. The result may well be five beautiful cup cakes but the Mount Everest of washing up it creates puts a bit of a downer upon the entire creation. Sorry, this ain’t no “Ready Steady Cook”. My technique? It is called “Washing up as you go along”. My Mum taught me. It saves the boredom of watching stuff boil.

Rule 3: The Washing Up is not a General Waste Disposal System: You have a bin people. Use it. That pile of washing up next to the bowl is not a substitute bin. If you want something cleaning don’t leave your sweet wrappers in it. D’uh. Also see Rule 4.

Rule 4: Don’t Put food in the Washing Up: What is the deal with that? When we were kids it was a privilege to lick clean the bowl. If it don’t taste good then scrape the leftovers either into Tupperware for tomorrow or into the compost bin for the worms. There is nothing worse then lumps of butter and lettuce floating around the washing up bowl. And whilst we are about it, why can’t coffee and tea dregs be tipped down the sink rather than left to stain the mugs? Also see Rule 5.

Rule 5: You Ain’t Making Concrete, Learn the Art of Soaking: Here’s a tip; cook something and leave the leftovers on the stove overnight to congeal and harden. Then spend the next day trying to scrape it off. Hard isn’t it? Drives me crazy. Tip: clean the food residues away and put some water in the bowl. It will soften the remaining food residues making it a doddle to wipe them off later. Even if that is someone else’s job.

What these rules suggest is that great washing up results from great teamwork. Washing up is not done magically overnight by elves. Not in THIS fairy tale sweetheart. Washing up should not be a problem you make for other people. Families don’t do that. (Yup, we know kids do, but it is the principle that counts.) A great team equals family harmony. So take a pride in making it happen. You too can be the Sorcerer’s Apprentice-meets-Julie Andrews.

Either that or shove the dishes in a machine.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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