What Does Doing the Dishes Have to Do with Self-Care? 

doing the dishes

Today’s big idea is controversial. Something I’ve taken a fair amount of flak for. And it is that household chores, like doing the dishes or folding the laundry CAN be done in such a way that they qualify as self-care. Gasp!

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I wrote a blog post in 2013 called How I Stopped Hating My Husband and You Can Too that continues to be my biggest source of web traffic. It clearly touched a nerve. And in it, I tell the story of how, early in our marriage, I spent a lot of time and energy being ticked off at my husband. Because, while he did do the dishes every night (after the dinners that I cooked), he didn’t do them all the way. He left pans soaking in the sink and rarely wiped the counters. I, on the other hand, wasn’t phoning in dinner. So technically has was doing the dishes. But not the pots.  I was knocking myself out to make healthy and delicious dinners and felt he should be knocking himself out, too. And I mean, fair is fair, right? 

I went on a real journey over this dishes thing

My journey with the pots in the sink started with me feeling sorry for myself that I had to be the one to do all the work around here. (Sound familiar?) Then I got really ticked off. And, I confess, hated my husband about it. Then I’d go in the kitchen and wash those damn pots in the sink. (While also banging them around quite a bit.)

You know, I’ve been practicing yoga a long time. So at times I would try to just not judge, and tell myself that since it was so important to ME that the sink be fully emptied and the counters properly wiped, that I should just do it. The hatred was gone but it still took a lot of processing for me to rationalize why I shouldn’t be angry about it. It was better, but not a place I wanted to stay. Then I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness, where he talks about doing the dishes to do the dishes. 

It may sound crazy, or like I’m a total sucker

But if I came out from putting the kids to bed and saw pots in the sink, I would just do them, and try to enjoy the process. I mean, it’s a privilege to have pots, and running water to wash them in. And food to cook them in.

Washing them is also movement. Something I wasn’t getting a ton of in my life as the kids were young. And when I added in this layer of using it as an opportunity to just be in the moment and not think about anything, including whether or not is was fair that I was washing the pots, it was even mentally refreshing. And, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but no one wants to talk to you while you’re doing the dishes, ha. It got me some alone time. Like a moving meditation. 

And after I shifted my energy around the whole thing, and stopped judging it as good or bad, right or wrong, I stopped caring if the kitchen was fully 100% cleaned at the end of the day. Yep, some days I’d let those pots sit in the sink. And that’s how I learned that my husband would do them in the morning. And gradually, over time, cleaning the kitchen became something that just stopped by a thing that we fought about, or that troubled me in any way. Now I can see a sink full of stuff and see it almost like an invitation to just have a moment of quiet absorption. Doing something just for the sake of doing it that also happens to create a condition. That is, a clean kitchen– that I find pleasing. A moving meditation that creates an uplifting environment. Sounds like self-care to me!!

Just to be clear, sometimes willfully ignoring those dirty pots is self-care, too. 

But there are many days where it feels like you don’t have time for self-care. But even if you live alone, there are always dishes to be done. May as well use it as an opportunity to take care of some of your personal needs. It may not be one of your favorite forms of self-care, but it can certainly still count. 

I mean, chores are just a part of life. All but the one percent of the one percent have to clean up after themselves. You can either see them as an opportunity to feel sorry for yourself or ticked off at the people you live with, or you can accept them. And when you get to that acceptance, chores become a lot less fraught. And it opens up a chance for you to even, possibly, embrace them. 

Daily Tiny Assignment

Your tiny assignment is to wash the dishes to wash the dishes. The very next time you walk into a kitchen that needs to be cleaned, I want you to check that urge to feel angry or put off or sorry for yourself or annoyed or any of that. And just do the dishes because they’re there, and they’re dirty. Take in the sensation of your hands in the warm water. The sounds of the clinking and clunking. And the satisfaction of restoring order to a messy situation. See if you can acknowledge it as an opportunity to spend a moment with yourself. 


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