Tips for living without a dishwasher

by Monday, February 24, 2014 24 Permalink

(This post is another one from the archives, since I am getting to know my new baby girl and settling into life with THREE! kids… the info is still perfectly relevant! Enjoy. :) )

One of the quaint quirks of the Shoebox is that it has no electronic dishwasher. That’s right. We’ve lived for over three! years now without a dish washing machine. In fact, they’re such a novelty to Red that when we go to friends’ houses they can hardly keep him out of their dishwasher. The same for me, I guess. I randomly find myself loading and unloading friends’ dishwashers just because they have one. It hasn’t been that bad though. We’ve learned a thing or two over the past couple years of hand washing all our kitchen wares. Here are my tips for living without a dishwasher.

Use the least amount of dishes possible.

Rule Number One: if you can avoid dirtying a dish, then avoid it. The fewer dishes you soil, the fewer you have to wash. Most breakfasts, Caveman and I eat our eggs off the same plate, Lady and The Tramp-style. It’s romantic. Most of the time we use two forks. But in a pinch, he eats his eggs on top of his toast and I get to use the fork. (Wow, that sounds just plain lazy.) And maybe it is, but I’m telling you, when it boils down to how much time you spend at the sink later in the day, not using a fork starts to look pretty good.

When cooking or baking, I reuse the same bowl or utensil a few times. I don’t wash measuring cups every time that only sift dry ingredients. If I’m making muffins, I’ll measure the milk, sour cream, and beat the eggs all at individual times, but use the same measuring bowl. All the ingredients go to the same place in the end! Don’t call the cross-contamination police on me, though. It’s all within reason. Nothing that touches raw meat ever gets reused. And we don’t have any known allergies in the house, so I don’t have to worry about traces of wheat getting anywhere it shouldn’t be. Also, I do a lot more hand-chopping and hand mixing because the food processor and mixer bowl take up prime real estate on the drying counter. It may take a bit more prep time, but the cutting board and a knife occupy much less room in the sink and on the counter later, so it’s a payoff.

Learn to prep well.

The actual process of washing goes so much quicker if you take the time to prepare the dishes to be washed. Scrape all food bits into the trash right after a meal. (Unless you compost. If you do, you’re way cooler than me!) Soak everything immediately. Rice will wipe off that pan easily if you soak it directly after removing the food instead of waiting until the rice has cemented on the sides. Stack the dirty dishes efficiently in the sink so your plates are stacked and all the silverware is soaking in one cup. It might sound crazy to sort your soiled kitchen wares, but I promise it quickens the actual washing process. If you take the time to rinse and sort and stack dirty dishes on one side of the sink, then your counter will be clear for pouring a glass of milk or cutting fruit for a snack.

Get creative.

I’ve heard about people storing bins in the cabinet beneath their sink to hide dirty dishes until you’re ready to wash. The idea sounds great. You know I’m all for more counter space, but I have not personally experimented with this space-saving idea. Mostly because my beneath-the-sink cabinet is a terrifying dark hole of spiders and cleaning supplies and God alone knows what else. (Look for a post on me cleaning it in the near future!) Also because I’m afraid I’d forget about the dirty dishes under there… and that’s a scary thought!

We usually air dry our dishes on the counter, so stacking clean, wet dishes efficiently is a must to fit as mush as possible. It’s almost an art. Lay the silverware flat first. Angle the cookware, plates and bowls over the silverware, and balance light items such as Tupperware on the top. It’s like playing Jenga!

Conquer in little battles.

Unless you have someone nearby to dry and put away the dishes you wash, you’re going to have to lay them out to dry. And unless you have an industrial-sized countertop, that means you can only wash as many dishes as you have the counter space for. So the moral is this: don’t let them build up. Do the breakfast dishes after breakfast. Clean up and scrub those dishes directly after a meal if you have the time.

Include the children.

When I can’t get a moment alone to wash dishes, I just include the kids. Actually now that I think about it, they always “help.” You just try to wash the dishes in this house without either one of our boys beside you. Lately, we will give either Red or Wolf Pup a sponge with some bubbles on it, and they do the prewash. Their proficiency level is quite astounding, really. Budding dishwasherists, our sons.

Have fun!

No, seriously. Dish washing doesn’t have to be a chore if you find ways to trick your mind into looking at it differently. For example, I generally don’t mind the 10-30 minutes I spend washing dishes in the evening because it is kind of my down time. I pray. I process. (We introverts are into that sort of thing). I look forward to the clean counters. So put on some music. Dance around a little. Sing into a soapy spatula. Whatever works. Caveman usually plops his Microsoft Surface in the cabinet and watches a TV episode.

Do you hand wash your dishes? Give us your tips for staying sane amidst the washing, washing, washing!

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24 Comments
  • Jane Sasser
    September 10, 2012

    I don’t mind hand washing dishes, either. In fact, when I have to grade research papers, washing the dishes sounds pretty darned good. So I play this little game: “If I finish grading this paper, I can take a break and wash dishes!”

    • Evelyn
      September 10, 2012

      Having a great reward works for getting most chores done. Of course, I’m not sure that another chore counts as a reward, but each to her own. ;) I do think that having a great view helps to enhance the dish washing experience, and you DO have a great view out your sink windows, Jane! Me, not so much. :)

  • Johanna Hanson
    September 10, 2012

    My biggest thing is absolutely using the fewest dishes possible. It saves so much work! Great tips!

    • Evelyn
      September 10, 2012

      I absolutely agree! Short of using paper plates and eating out all the time, of course. :) Thanks for sharing, Johanna!

  • Carol
    September 11, 2012

    I haven’t had a dishwasher for 2 1/2 years–since my son moved out to his own apartment. :) Or a non-human one for 18 years. Since I have the space to store it, I do use a rack most of the time, but I love my dish-drying mat! It just rolls up out of the way. It’s a great time to listen to music, sermons or my CBS lecture. Haven’t tried the soapy spatula yet.

    • Evelyn
      September 11, 2012

      Thanks for sharing, Carol! It’s good to know that living without a (machine) dishwasher can be done, and well. I can’t wait until the boys are of capable dish-washing age. :)

  • Our Lives
    September 25, 2012

    I lost track of how long I have been washing dishes by hand. But it was my choice to do so. We have a working dish washer but I use it as a holding places for some canned food. Like you, I enjoy my window view while doing the dishes. Wash as you go is definitely the key to keep the chore manageable and enjoyable. I do use a rack but my tip is that I keep the dishes and utensils at a minimum. Such a liberating feeling when I am finally controlling this chore and not the other way around. I love the conversations with my son or daughter (both in their teens) when they help me drying the dishes – took a little training but because I have kept such a small amount of each item (dishes, bowls, forks, knives, etc.) it really makes the learning for them much easier and they actually love helping me. I will never trade this sink-side chat with my children for anything else. It is a memory I can relive years after they left home, as I will still be doing dishes everyday. :)

    • Evelyn
      September 25, 2012

      I love that you made the decision to wash all your dishes. Those memories of drying dishes with your kids sound so sweet. And to think that if you had used that appliance, those precious shoulder-to-shoulder times with your kids would have been lost. Thanks for sharing!

  • Deb
    September 25, 2012

    We also have a dishwasher in our apartment that is used for storage of different kitchen items. I wish there was a cabinet in its place. I choose to hand wash simply for the fact that it takes much less time. From pre rinsing to sorting and stacking the dishes in the washer to the amount of time it takes for the washer to actually wash, just too long for me. And I agree, while washing, its a great time to gather your thoughts :-) Just found your site tonight and have enjoyed going through your posts, thank you!

    • Evelyn
      September 25, 2012

      Deb, I agree that dishwashers often take way too much time. Too bad it would probably lower your home’s value if you tore it out and did put those cabinets in its place! :) Glad you found us– hope you stick around!

  • Ryvyan
    January 22, 2013

    Growing up in Asia, I have never had a dishwasher at home so it was surprising when I realised that some people treat it as a necessity. I quite like washing dishes, strangely! But a proper drying rack is necessary to me because dishes dry properly actually!

    • Evelyn
      January 22, 2013

      Ryvyan, you’re so right! I always took having a dishwasher for granted growing up and in our house. I actually didn’t think that homes EXISTED in the States without them! Now I know… and it’s really not that bad. :) Thanks for sharing!

  • Christy King
    December 10, 2013

    I’d much rather handwash dishes than unload the dishwasher. I find it peaceful.

    • Evelyn
      December 10, 2013

      Same, Christy! There’s something seriously therapeutic about scrubbing by hand. :)

  • Kim
    February 24, 2014

    Great rerun, Evelyn. Thank you for reposting this, as it is now time to start washing my dinner dishes. I hope you and the family are doing well in adapting to your latest edition, and I hope you are able to get the rest you need.

    • Evelyn
      February 25, 2014

      Thanks Kim… as much as I can get… speaking of which, I should be lying down… ;)

  • Jenifer
    February 24, 2014

    We’ve been doing this for 5 years now, even though we have a dishwasher. I just find it easier to wash the dishes and put them away than put them in the dishwasher and have to put them away. IDK why.

    When we were in NZ, we only had enough dishes to prep, cook, and eat — so you had to clean everything as soon as you were finished otherwise you wouldn’t be able to cook the next meal. It made us efficient.

    Now that we have more dishes, DH feels at liberty to use all of the dishes before washing. So, ideally, I’ll be getting rid of and/or storing some dishes so that they are out of his sight, and then he’s more likely to just wash and continue forward.

    It’s tough, though. He hates washing dishes and will only wash 85% when doing the job, which always leaves a mess, which makes it difficult for him to work (he mostly does the cooking), which in turn cases him to fuss and freak out about the dishes not being clean (because he didn’t clean them) and/or not having enough space (because there are dirty and clean dishes in the way.

    When I keep the kitchen (when i’m on the cooking rotation), I show him how I prep, then when things are cooking, I clean the prep dishes. I serve the food and do a quick wipe, rinse, or soak of the cooking dishes, and then we eat. After eating, I wash, dry, and put away. Then, the next time I go into cook, I have a clean, empty countertop (and it’s a small kitchen), so that it’s easier to prep.

    But does he listen to me? Does he attempt to do it my way? No. No, he does not. So, for the last 15 years, it’s been this.

    Except for the 5 years in NZ when we had *exactly* the number of dishes that we needed to prep, cook, and eat.

    • Evelyn
      February 25, 2014

      Hahah! Jenifer! I hear you. Caveman hates doing dishes too. In fact, when we were dating he would let the dishes pile and pile and pile up until he had none left, and then I would have to come over and do them all. Thankfully, he has totally stepped up his game in the Shoebox. He does at least 45 minutes, which equals one side of the sink or one counter full every night. It makes a huge difference in not having a dishwasher. I’m with you though… honestly, if we had one, I wonder if I just wouldn’t handwash the majority anyways? ;)

  • Megan
    February 25, 2014

    I grew up in NZ and now i live in Australia. I have never had a dishwasher except while house-sitting when i was young. I actually remember it being more of a hassle than doing it by hand! I naturally just wash up after each meal and i guess it works well because we are a small family of 3 so the dishes don’t stack up too much with each meal. Also as you mentioned using the same bowl and utensils while baking helps. I agree that washing by hand can be therapeutic. Just found your blog through minimalist mom. It’s great:)

    • Evelyn
      February 25, 2014

      Megan, thanks for visiting! Hope you’ll stick around. It’s nice to have a fellow hand washer around! :)

      • Evelyn
        February 25, 2014

        … or, rather, a washer-by-hand… because my last comment sounded like no one washed their own hands! Haha.

  • Debbie
    March 11, 2014

    I love this! I just barely came across your blog and look forward to reading more. But this is perfect for me right now! I do have a dishwasher, but I still wash a lot by hand too. And lately I feel like my dish situation has been out of control. I especially like your first tip to use the least amount of dishes possible. I’m gonna see if I can make some changes in this area. Congratulations on your baby!

    • Evelyn
      March 11, 2014

      Hi Debbie,
      Nice to “meet” you and so glad to have you around! Yeah our sink is overflowing with dishes right now, but it’s a bummer that life–eating–doesn’t stop to let us catch up on cleaning, right? :) Thanks for commenting.

  • Dessy Anaiwan
    March 31, 2014

    Its really great experience to be here and now about this amazing idea that you discussed above . I have dishwasher at home but many time for adventures outdoor tours i travels and these thing didn’t try . I hope it will be good for my next tour.

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