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Your kitchen is more like a car factory than you realize
So treat it like one!
The kitchen is the hardest working room in the house. Think about how much time you spend there, and what you ask it to do — store food, cook food, clean dishes, and be a gathering place for your household.
With so many demands of one small space, it’s no surprise that conflict often arises in the kitchen, including for one reader who wrote in with an SOS:
After probing deeper, turns out one big breakdown for this reader is no one empties the dishwasher in the morning, so dishes pile up in the sink all day. Then the sink gets so jammed it’s hard to actually DO the dishes. She has two young kids, so the demand for dishes and food is unceasing all day long.
This is such a common problem — and luckily, a solvable one.
Here’s what many people miss: your house is a machine (as we all know because we read this newsletter), and your kitchen is the most intricate part of the machine.
Imagine an engineer coming to work at Toyota to build a car, but she can’t find the right tools. Then she remembers half her tools are still in the tool-cleaning device, which is on the other side of the room. The other half of the tools were borrowed by coworkers and were put back who knows where. So the engineer does what she can with borrowed tools and whatever she’s able to find. What a disaster, right?! Toyota would never stand for this.
Your kitchen is just the same. We need our tools readily available, clean, and easy to access.
My prescription is to apply the 5S framework (developed by Toyota!) to the kitchen on a daily basis. I’m more lax in other rooms of the house, but with all a kitchen needs to do I prioritize its needs:
SORT - Eliminate what’s not essential. Consider:
Do you have enough dishes to feed 12 people, but you only have 4 people in your family? Consider moving some dishes to a higher, unused shelf, so the only things in rotation are what you absolutely need on a daily basis.
Do not allow non-kitchen items in the kitchen. We have a strict no-toys rule for the kitchen (except a small toy we bring in to distract our toddler into eating — confusing, I know, but it gets the job done). Similarly, try to do mail sorting, phone charging, and things like that in another room. If you have an open floorplan house, you’ll have to work out the boundaries.
SET - Everything needs a clear home.
No homeless items floating around, and be sure everyone knows where things go.
Use labels if needed.
SHINE - Clean your kitchen daily.
That means washing dishes, wiping countertops (with kids this can be endless, but I aim to always wipe after meals), not letting things soak for days in the sink.
Something to consider is that you may be be making life harder for yourself with overly elaborate dish cleaning. According to this article, if you own a modern dishwasher you don’t really need to pre-rinse your dishes, you should feel fine about running small loads, and generally you are doing too much. Sounds good to me!
STANDARDIZE - Refine your method so it’s the same and easily automated.
SUSTAIN - Do the above daily, and train everyone in the house to follow suit.
My household’s system for dishes
My husband and I follow a close/open methodology in our kitchen, where the same person who closes at night also opens the next morning so it’s technically a “clopen” as the restaurant pros say. The other parent puts our toddler to bed and gets her up in the morning. We alternate these jobs daily.
After dinner, the closer does the dishes and wipes down the counters. We sleep trained our kids, so they’re in bed, not to be heard from again, by 6:45pm. This approach isn't for everyone, but it helps ensure we have downtime and a chance to take care of any lingering chores.
My husband always goes to bed last so he’s responsible for starting the dishwasher (though I recently learned about the delayed-start feature on our dishwasher and plan to start using this to lighten his load, pun intended).
The next morning, the opener empties the dishwasher. This is an essential part of the morning routine — dishes immediately start piling up after breakfast so having an empty dishwasher is essential for us.
Throughout the day we are each responsible for putting dishes in the dishwasher, but we’re not strict about it. Dishes can stack up in the sink if we’re in a rush. Ultimately the closer will put everything away so they’ll get processed soon enough.
Now that our older son is 6, I have a goal for him to take on dish duty. He already clears his place and puts his dishes next to the sink, so the next step is for him to start at least emptying the dishwasher.
We’ve also refined step 5 above, as my husband used to stack his dishes all over the sink. I asked him to use only the right hand part of the sink to stack dishes, leaving the drain free for food scraps and such. This makes cooking much easier for me. It’s the little things, people.
Make it your own
This works for my house, but the point here is to figure out YOUR system that will work for your household. I’ve been enjoying digging into KC Davis’ content (aka @domesticblisters on TikTok and @strugglecare on Instagram, both amazing names).
For her, doing the dishes during the day is not an option, and a sink full of dirty dishes is overwhelming and, like our original reader above, makes it hard to do the dishes. So she created a dirty dish rack — everyone in the family is responsible for rinsing their dishes and putting them in the rack. Then at the end of the day she loads them into the dishwasher. This keeps the sink clear and her brain balanced.
I love this totally unique solution. This is what systems are all about — it does not matter what it looks like, or what other people do, but rather what works for YOU in your unique snowflake of a house.
I’m so curious to hear about your dish-doing solutions. Please comment if you have advice for our dear reader, or just a hot tip to share!
Before we wrap, I want to highlight some useful comments from readers in To decant or not to decant…that is the question from a couple weeks back.
Truly, the entire comment section is worth reading, but here are some golden nuggets that made me think about decanting in a new way:
“Decanting gets rid of tacky brand logos screaming at me and cluttering up my line of sight. Also, everyone has less of a reason to say "there's nothing to eat" when they look in the cabinets, and that's been a good thing in our house.”
“Buying directly into the containers, which is where this whole thing started anyway, and lets you skip the store packaging part.”
“I wonder if the allure of these containers is to disguise shopping habits we don’t love. Granola in a plastic bag is standard, but if I decant it into a jar it *might* have been homemade!”
“It's beautiful. I love spending time in my pantry and that's largely in part to the containers. I feel crazy talking about it though haha (Ed note: join the club!)”
“I refuse to pay $ for new plastic - it just feels so wasteful, personally (lots available in thrift stores). So I re-use spaghetti sauce mason jars as needed, put the backfill in a big plastic bin with its buddies, and put a little post-it on the lid of the container that there's more in the bin (key step to avoid duplicate-buying!).”
If you missed it, here’s the full post:
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