An Experiment in Hand-Washing Dishes

Once upon a time, no one owned a dishwasher. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Dishwashers arrived around 1850, a big hand-cranked machine. (If you ask me, I’d rather wash dishes by hand than turn a heavy lever on a machine.)

In 1887, a newer model arrived.

In 1929, the first electric dishwasher was invented in Europe, by someone we are forever grateful to.

Fast-forward, and by the1950s, more dishwashers were being sold, but only to those who could afford one.

In the 1970s, dishwashers were commonplace.

I was one of the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) girls who grew up in a home that didn’t own a dishwasher until she moved out. (I had been the dishwasher up until that time.)

Lately, I’ve had this urge to try hand-washing again, just like I did when I was younger. Only now, it would be a choice, not a chore.

I’ve been reading blogs about others who have given up their dishwashers. Part of the simple life movement. I figured if others did it, so could I. I was the simple hippie, after all.

Plus, when I picture washing dishes, I envision the elegant 1950’s woman, apron tied loose around her flowing skirt, hair swept back, humming as she does the family’s dishes. I know, I’m a romanticizer, and not always realistic. (I think I watched too many episodes of “Father Knows Best.”) I know that about myself, and yet, I had to try this experiment anyway.

For one month, I would only hand-wash dishes, no dishwasher allowed.

Here’s what happened:

Day one: I pulled the dishes out of my nearly full dishwasher, filled my sink with hot, bubbly water, and, without a pair of rubber gloves to save my nails and skin, began.

Immediately, I noticed three things:

Washing cookie racks and sieves are no fun.

My back got tired very fast.

I hate prune-y hands.

But there were good points as well:

My drinking glasses were sparkly.

My silverware was brighter.

The tea stains came out of my cups.

And the best part, I felt I emotionally relaxed. There’s something therapeutic about standing over a sink of dishes.

Twenty-eight minutes later, I was done. Everything washed, dried, put away, and sink and counter cleaned. (Apparently, I’m a messy dishwasher.)

Here are the after-effects:

I felt like I’d completed a job.

I felt satisfied, like I’d just meditated.

My hands were dry. If I were to keep doing this, I’d either need a set of gloves, or a really good hand cream. But I didn’t need to worry about either, because as soon as my husband got wind of what I was doing, he put the kibosh on my experiment.

“You did this once,” he said. “A couple years ago, at Thanksgiving. Our dishwasher was broken. You’d already been washing dishes for about two weeks when the holidays came. It took days for us to get caught up. And in our house, you can never stay caught up.”

“But I had to do the dishes then. This time I want to. It’s an experiment.”

“No. You’ve done this before. Remember how much time you spent washing dishes? You have better things to do with your time.”

I remembered. And I knew he was right. (Dang! I hate admitting that.)

I knew he was right because as soon as he walked away, I dirtied more dishes. The problem in our house is this, we are always cooking, making everything from nut butters and milk, to cookies and bread. Our kitchen is a constant stream of activity, with an endless abundance of dishes to wash.

I sighed. My experiment lasted exactly one hour. Well, an hour and one month, if you count the time I unintentionally experimented when the dishwasher broke.

In any case, I learned a few things during my very short experiment:

I use too many dishes. I tend to take a glass out of the cabinet each time I want a drink, instead of reusing the same glass.

I use too many pans. Instead of reusing the same pan, I tend to stir-fry different foods in different pans.

This experiment made me aware of how many dishes I use, and how many I need.

I love my dishwasher. I really do. It’s great to hand-wash if you have the time, or don’t have umpteen dishes in your sink all day. But for some people (like me), a dishwasher makes sense. It makes life simple.

I may still hand-wash dishes on occasion, and pretend I’m an elegant 1950’s woman. But for the most part, a dishwasher will always be in my life.

What about you? Do you hand-wash your dishes? Would you?

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