Living without a dishwasher (and how to cope with dish-dirtying aversion)

What is wrong with this kitchen? Look closely. Remember I am very lazy and messy. Your first thought might be that the kitchen is actually clean. And yes, that is quite the anomaly. But the real problem is (dun, dun, dun) the lack of a dishwasher.


I spent twenty minutes cleaning the kitchen just to take this picture … or maybe I just stuffed all the dishes in the oven … hmmmm… Perhaps one day the truth will be revealed.


Now I know many people don’t have dishwashers and they can be considered a luxury like fresh air and clean water. But I’ve pretty much had one my whole life and now I’m spoiled. And I’m already a messy person, so not having one just contributes to the ongoing messiness of the house.

See what I mean:


Maybe I just need more counter space to stack the dishes?

Because of the trauma that comes with seeing so many stacks of glass, porcelain, stoneware and plastic, and the trauma of having to spend minutes upon minutes with my hands immersed in warm water, furiously scrubbing last night’s mashed potatoes from each plate, I’ve developed what is considered a dish-dirtying aversion––I’m afraid of dirtying dishes. Every mug of tea, every bowl of cereal, every slice of pizza that is set on a plate equals (gasp) more time in front of the sink.

At first I tried to think of ways to fix the problem.

1. Not eat. Ha.
2. Use paper plates. Sigh. That would be bad for the environment.
3. Tape a sponge to MoJo the cat’s paw and set him to task. While the thought of making the cats finally earn their keep was enticing, I knew in the end it wouldn’t work. Their arms are too short and their work ethic is poor.

So I’ve developed a few coping strategies to minimize the dish-dirtying, and I will share in hopes of helping others who also suffer from dish-dirtying aversion.

1. I give you the “paper towel plate”

Anything that is stiff and dry works well on a paper towel plate. Think toast, bagels, cookies, crackers. Be warned that the paper towel plate is flimsy compared to the traditional plate and if not handled carefully crumbs can easily spill from the towel to the countertop or floor, thus creating a whole new mess and a potential floor-dirtying aversion.

2. Another solution I’ve used is the “plate repeat”

You see the same plate can be used more than once, especially if the same food item is being eaten each time. For example, when I make my husband a bagel sandwich for breakfast, I just wait for him to finish and then I plop my sandwich on the same plate. Ta da. Two meals, one plate. Your ability to implement this solution will be affected by the timing of meals (do you both want to eat at the same time?), the gooeyness of the meal (sometimes reusing a plate is just icky. Sometimes.) and your tolerance for pet hair (I’m not sure how it happens, but every used plate has at least one cat hair glued to it).

3. This is one of my favorites: “the package is plate”

By definition, “the package is plate” means the packaging that said food product comes in acts as the plate. It works with a can of chili (just dip the spoon right in), an apple pie still in its tin (put the pie on your lap and go to it), and leftovers from last night (just peel back the foil and dig in).

4. And lastly you can create a “mouth burrito”

This is an advanced move and should only be attempted by those who REALLY don’t want to do dishes. First you set out all your ingredients. Then pull off a small piece of tortilla and put it in your mouth, add a pinch of cheese, a spoonful of beans, and a squirt of hot sauce and then chew. Repeat as many times as needed to equal the consumption of a full burrito.

And there you have it. Jennifer Windram’s strategies for living in a non-dishwasher house. Any questions?


39 thoughts on “Living without a dishwasher (and how to cope with dish-dirtying aversion)

  1. deepbluesandseafoamgreens says:

    Oh my YAY this post is absolutely brilliant XD
    This is literally one of the most entertaining posts I’ve ever read.

  2. Marcy says:

    Another hysterically funny post. I like the way you make us think about stuff we all do but don’t think about. It is true, when I am hand washing for one reason or other, usually to keep the machine completely empty for a rare company meal, I do think about each and every dish I use and try to find a way to either not use it or reuse it more than once. I do remember the seemingly endless stream of dishes to be washed from when we were there visiting you!

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      They are endless, aren’t they??? I think if people come to visit we might just do paper plates and cups. It is too much otherwise, especially because no one else will help with them like you and Jim.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I have definitely done the “paper towel plate” thing even though I have a dishwasher. As for the “mouth burrito,” I’d never dare try that. I’d end up wearing more of it than I’d eat!

  4. Nicole Roder says:

    I have a dishwasher, but I also go to great lengths to avoid dirtying dishes. Especially dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher, like pots and pans. I love having a food processor and a stand mixer, but I avoid using them because I don’t want to have to wash them later. I try to avoid making dishes that require mixing a bunch of ingredients in different bowls for the same reason. And it often takes me forever to cook dinner because I have to wait for one thing to finish cooking so that I can re-use the same pan for the next thing.

    Now, do you have any tips for living without an oven? Mine broke on Christmas Day just as I was preparing a huge brunch for guests, and the repair guys can’t get out here until next weekend. Ugh.

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      Ugh. The dreaded food processor. I don’t know what it is, but I hate cleaning that thing. I’m the same way with mixing bowls and pots/pans. I made our Christmas dinner using the same pot three times and the same bowl at least twice.

      Yikes. That sucks. Microwave? Lots of sandwiches? Order pizza? I don’t know. I’m at a loss.

  5. Jeff | Planet Bell says:

    I like the mouth burrito. I will be using that in the future.

    When I was single, I had one plate, one bowl, one fork, knife, etc. so that dirty dishes couldn’t accumulate. This worked well until a girl came over for dinner.

  6. Trent Lewin says:

    Jennifer, you are deeply deeply messed up… and extremely funny. Mouth burrito. I’m keeping that one. I’m also wishing you a dishwasher, and that mine never dies… I have one of those whisper quiet ones that cleans everything perfectly and that you don’t even know it’s working.

  7. M. C. Dulac says:

    Ha ha! I think you are definitely onto a good idea with the cats! Perhaps also attach a sponge to the tail as well? I am always amazed how when I’m home on my own I always manage to use 4 small plates, 3 dinner plates, 2 glasses, 3 cups and all my cutlery in the course of a day!

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      Yes, I could attach all sorts of cleaning tools to them. At the very least, maybe some Swiffer pads to clean up all the fur they leave around the house.

      It’s madness, really! I don’t know where all these dishes come from. Maybe they’re like Gremlins and they multiply when they get wet…

  8. April says:

    The package plate is the best…but then most of our nourishment comes from packages. Another option is to only have vegetables and fruit. Wash them off and you’re good to go. What timing I have…I just stood at the sink wasting many minutes washing the last three days worth of dishes.

      • librarylady says:

        Hi Jennifer, I need to catch upon your blog. I always love your posts, you make me laugh. I’m still doing the online stuff and staying really busy – I’m clearly neglecting my blog, but only so many hours in a day. Hope all is well!

  9. Logan windram says:

    Someone has dish pan hands in this house, and I will attest it is NOT the Author here. Good thing we use Palmolive…. Tough on grease, easier on hands…

  10. suzjones says:

    Am I old fashioned? We have a dishwasher and I use it on average once each month and that is only to keep it running. Although I do confess to using it over the holiday period a couple of times.
    I must confess that we also use the paper towel plate on occasion though.

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      I think there are people who like hand washing dishes better. I just like sticking them in the machine and forgetting about them, and I think the dishwasher does a better job.

      Yes, the paper towel plate seems to be universal 🙂

  11. Alex says:

    My husband was dismayed when he first moved in with me and discovered I didn’t have a dishwasher. He had become reliant on the one he’d had with his ex and still laments about it 5 years later. We have no room in our kitchen to install one, so we have to make do with washing them in the sick. Which means they get done about once a week, maybe twice if I’m feeling motivated. We do plate reuse, takeaways to eat out of the packaging, not eating.
    One day though we will have one and life will never be the same again. Although I know I can be a bit of a dishwasher Nazi when I get going. Things will have to be stacked in proper places, forks in one slot, knives in another, spoons separate etc. People think I am mad, but when it comes to putting things away again it’s so much easier. I like easy things.

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      We’ve been doing them daily, or at least every other day. They stack up if we don’t and there is little counter space as it is.

      I can be a little crazy once I start cleaning. It’s like I can ignore the tomato sauce spots on the counter for days, but once I get going I’m cleaning every nook and cranny with a Q-tip.

  12. gpeynon says:

    My dishwasher has just packed up too, but I’m afraid I don’t have your creativity when it comes to alternative means of cleaning the plates. Washing up sucks doesn’t it?

  13. julie says:

    Oh Jennifer! You know I love you, but I must admit you are an amateur at this. Possibly because you know the luxury of owning a dishwasher, and I never have. That plate that was reused for the breakfast bagel? You can use that same plate nearly every day! Paper plates can also be reused. Sometimes the “eating from the container” can go too far. I have seen my son eat chicken noodle soup straight from the can. His dad taught him that one. (now you can see why I want to nominate him for father of the year. oh. sorry. didn’t mean to turn this into a rant about what a jerk he is). You can also eat right from the pan. I think maybe you could use a course in creative stacking as well. Sometimes both my sinks appear to be over flowing and the counter and stove top have to come to the rescue. Usually the result of my children continuing to eat. I can rearrange that mess to fit! you just need to look at the puzzle you are working with. I bet I could have all those dishes on your sink neatly tucked into the sink and you wouldn’t have to worry about it for another week, unless you run out of spoons. that happens sometimes. Then you have to suck it up and do the dishes. Or buy more spoons.

    • Jennifer Windram says:

      Where were you a few months ago? I’m still struggling with this dishwasher-free life. The creative stacking is a must. Although, we do run of out spoons and butter knives a lot. Eating out of the pan is another good idea, especially if it’s just me. I guess if there’s two of us we can just pass the pan back and forth.

      • julie says:

        YES! Or eat in shifts. You eat as much as you want and then pass the pan. With the same eating utensils of course. If you happen to eat everything in the pan before he gets to eat, then you simply put more in the same pan, heat it up, and his dinner is served!

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