As you’re reading this, how many dishes are currently sitting in your sink? One or two? A whole sinkful? Does my question make you want to get up and go clean those neglected plates and forks before you keep reading?
Sit still for a few minutes before you run off to the kitchen, and I’ll tell you a story about why I’ve decided to stop worrying about the dishes in my sink, in favor of other, more important, priorities.
Hi, I’m Jennifer, and I’m Addicted to Chores
Now, I’ll be the first to admit my house isn’t the cleanest one on the block, but it’s decent enough that I don’t freak out if someone shows up unannounced. I like to describe it as “comfortably lived in” — even if that means I’m always wearing shoes in the house, so I don’t step on a stray Lego.
Before I had my dishes epiphany, though, I was what you would call a chore addict. My house looked like it was ready for a professional showing at all times, even if that meant I spent hours scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush until it sparkled, or spent all my time cleaning instead of doing other things. While I did learn the best way to clean grout is with a toothbrush and a paste made of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, I was blind to the fact that I was neglecting more important things in my life.
Mommy, Play With Me
I try — I genuinely try — to schedule all my major cleaning projects when my kids are at school. Not only does it keep them from interrupting me, it means I can crank my favorite tunes and get to work without anyone complaining that my music is too loud or too old.
Yes, I listen to ’90s rock when I’m cleaning. Sue me. Plus, science has found that listening to music makes you work faster and more efficiently, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.
Occasionally, though, a cleaning project might be too big to handle in an afternoon, stretching into homework or snack time. I’d get annoyed when someone would interrupt me for a snack or help with untangling Barbie’s hair.
It wasn’t until I heard a small voice from the bathroom door when I was scrubbing the toilet that I realized my problem.
“Mommy. You’re always cleaning. Come play with me!”
Something clicked in my head. I put down the brush, peeled off my rubber gloves and did just that — went and played with my little ones.
And you know what? We had a blast! That afternoon, running around in the yard chasing down imaginary dragons and climbing trees to find treasure, served to show me there are more important things than a spotless house.
Losing the “Mom Guilt”
The hardest part of this epiphany is shedding the inevitable guilt that will crop up when you leave a shelf undusted or a load of dinner dishes in the sink. It took me forever to get over that feeling of failure. You’ll feel like you’re letting your kids down in the back of your mind, even when you’re smiling and laughing with them.
The best advice I can offer is a line from a Disney princess — let it go.
The dishes will be there tomorrow. The laundry will be just fine in the dryer overnight. The dust bunnies — well, they never really go away no matter how much you clean, so one more day won’t hurt anything.
The dishes in the sink are a metaphor for all those things you’ll end up feeling guilty about when you don’t get them done at the end of the day. Don’t lose sight of the fact that there are things more important than dishes.
Spending time with your children is more important.
Connecting — or reconnecting — with your spouse is just as essential.
Working out and taking care of yourself is critical.
These are all things you may have been neglecting in your quest to make sure every dish gets washed, dried and put away before the end of the night. Remember, they make dishwashers for a reason.
Don’t feel selfish or guilty for leaving your dishes to sit in the sink for a night, or even two. Take care of your family and yourself first. The plates will still be there when you get back to them. Alternatively, you could always invest in a dishwasher — manufacturers do make freestanding models, so you don’t need to remodel your entire kitchen — to make the chore a little bit easier in the long run.