How washing dishes became my greatest joy instead of my biggest pain

dirty dishes in the sink Dishwashing (Image: Freepik)

Washing dishes has become an accepted form of spousal punishment. The errant party has to make up for whatever misdeeds by accepting dishwashing duties for the day.

I call it ‘The Great Husband Disappearing Trick.’ I ask him if he could wash the dishes. Before I know it, there’s a husband-shaped hole in my wall.

Dirty dishes have hung like an albatross on our marriage. It has been the source of countless arguments, some even ending in tears.

Make no mistake. We are an egalitarian household. While I cook, he cleans – just not the dishes. I also understand his reluctance. Despite what my headline reads, I know there’s no real joy in groping through a pile of greasy plates soaking in turbid water.

However, like all dirty jobs, someone has to do it. And for the sake of our marriage, I (usually) bite the bullet.

Why we hate washing dishes

Who in their right mind would want to touch dirty dishes dotted with yesterday’s food particles? There’s curdled milk in the cup and putrid bits of chicken sticking to the pan.

We are wired to feel disgust, which nature enabled us with to stay away from germs and diseases. It takes selflessness and unconditional love for your spouse to martyr yourself to the cause.

A joint study led by the University of Utah along with the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) found that women who were saddled with dishwashing duties reported lower satisfaction and more discord in the relationship.

But the first few months of maid-less-ness changed my perspective on dishwashing. In this mundane chore that most people detest with vengeance, doing dishes became my greatest meditative exercise. It may sound like a stretch, but in it, I found the greatest joy during these bleak times. I even started looking forward to it.

Yes, you can read that again.

Here are some of the greatest life lessons dishwashing can teach you.

Don’t procrastinate

Dishwashing is an unforgiving chore. The more you procrastinate, the nastier it gets, with repercussions spilling over to the next day.

There were many nights when I went to bed with a sink full of vessels because I was too loath to deal with them.

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If the sight of dirty, slimy dishes sets your teeth on edge, image how much worse it gets the morning after. Apart from the unsightly utensils greeting you in the morning, you also have to inhale its sickly-sweet stench.

On such days, I skipped making tea, because I didn’t want to rummage through the dirty utensils first thing in the morning. And what followed is a throbbing headache. So much for the day!

I stopped procrastinating, dealing with the dishes on the same night. You go to bed with a sense of fulfilment. And the next morning, when you step into your spic-and-span kitchen, you already feel accomplished. It sets the tone for your day.

Focus on the task at hand

Washing dishes has a strange meditative quality. There’s joy even in the monotonous task of cleaning every article and putting it on the rack. Before you think it’s the fumes from the dishwashing liquid speaking, here is a study published in the journal Mindfulness.

Mindful dishwashers evidenced greater state mindfulness, increases in elements of positive affect (i.e., inspiration), decreases in elements of negative affect (i.e., nervousness), and overestimations of dishwashing time. Implications for these findings are diverse and suggest that mindfulness as well as positive affect could be cultivated through intentionally engaging in a broad range of activities.

The study found that people who focused on dishwashing mindfully, concentrating on the smell of the soap, the temperature of the water and the texture of the dishes, increased their feelings of inspiration by 25%. Their nervousness was reduced by 27%.

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Find ways to cope with tough jobs

Given that the task at hand is unpleasant, think of ways to make it bearable. I realised liquid soap, sponges and other dishwashing paraphernalia make a world of difference.

For instance, I made a switch to a less-popular brand of dishwashing liquid, which had a refreshing smell. The scent itself was a treat, aromatherapy of sorts. I also realised that the sponge I was already in its last throes. So I stocked up on new supplies. With a few reinforcements, I was ready to take on any mountain of dishes.

Take pride in a job well done

Pat yourself in the back if necessary. There’s a great sense of accomplishment that comes after you finish doing the dishes. Given how repulsive the task is, the satiety payout is immense. In the end, like me, you will even start looking forward to it.

It may seem inane to dedicate an entire article to a chore that everyone hates. But for me, washing dishes turned out to be a great spiritual lesson. Now, if you would excuse me, I have to get to the dishes.