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Halve Your Kitchen Cleaning Time

May 25, 2024

Halve Your Kitchen Cleaning Time

Dirty Dishes and Desk Drawers

“Mom, come play with me!” my two-year-old daughter called from across the living room. I stood in the kitchen scrubbing bits of sticky scrambled eggs from breakfast dishes. “I’ll be free when I’m done with my kitchen work,” I said.

Wait, I thought. I must sound like a broken record. How many times during the day do I tell her that? How much time am I really spending in the kitchen anyway? More time than I spend playing with her. I thought hard on all this as I continued to unload and reload the dishwasher.

Why did I spend so much time cleaning the kitchen anyway? Then it hit me. The state of the kitchen, I realized, affects me more than any other room in our home. A kitchen with dishes piled high and crumbs covering countertops speaks to me – and not in an affirming way. “Clean me, dry me, put me away.” I hear it every time I look at a dirty kitchen.

The kitchen is the heart of the home, and the center of my work station as a homemaker. Each dirty dish upon dirty dish represented another task for me to complete. My kitchen sink paralleled an email inbox, I thought. An inbox that quickly overflowed with urgent requests. One I could never seem to keep up with. Yes, stress and overwhelm could soon set in, all because of some dirty dishes.

Finding a Solution

Although I valued a clean kitchen, I realized prioritizing a clean kitchen was taking more of my time than I wanted. But I didn’t want to give up the peace I felt when walking into an uncluttered kitchen. I didn’t want to give up the enjoyment of preparing meals in a tidy, ordered space. But I certainly didn’t want that space to take so long to maintain.

I decided I could either surrender to the never-ending piles of dishes or I could take on a kitchen challenge. I could figure out how to maintain a clean kitchen in minimal time. I figured that I spent 45-60 minutes a day cleaning in the kitchen. I wanted to reduce that number to only 20 minutes daily. The goal seemed to border unattainable, but I was determined.

Decluttering and Simplifying

Here are four steps I used to minimize our kitchen (and implement a system to keep the space clean in much less time):

1. Decide What You Actually Use

Pull out everything you own in the kitchen by category. Look at all of your utensils, plates, coffee mugs, glasses, pots, pans, fun kitchen gadgets, etc. Hold each one in your hand. Which do you actually use on a daily basis? Keep what you use daily, and for now, store the rest away in a box or an 18-gallon plastic container.

Really challenge yourself to keep out only what you use daily. Kitchen gadgets (think pineapple peelers or watermelon slicers) can be fun to keep, but if you’re not using them daily, then try packing them away. You’ll be thankful for the space, and you can easily peel pineapples and slice watermelons with a good knife and a cutting board. Remember your goal is to have less stuff in the kitchen so you spend less time maintaining it.

2. Reduce What You Actually Use by Half

After reducing your kitchen items to what you use daily, now ask yourself how many of them you actually need. If you have 10 coffee cups, could you live with five? If you have 14 forks, could you live with seven? The answer is that you’ll never know until you try. Keep half of what you use daily and box the other half up for now.

Reducing your items by half may sound extreme, but for me, it was the ticket to finally meeting my kitchen goals. Here’s the problem with owning more than you need of a kitchen item: when that item is dirty, you automatically pull out a clean one. Say you have 14 forks. You use one and then place it in the sink. When you need another fork, you don’t wash the one in the sink; you pull out another clean one because it’s more convenient. Then another and another. Soon you’ve got a pile of dirty forks in the sink to wash and no clean ones left in the silverware drawer (this happens with plates, cups, bowls, etc., leaving heaps of dirty dishes in the sink because you’ve run out of room in the dishwasher).

When you have only the amount of forks you actually need, then you use your fork and take 10 extra seconds to hand wash it before returning it to the drawer. Knowing you’ll be out of forks soon if you don’t will motivate you to take a bit of extra time to hand wash. And this avoids piles of dishes in the sink. The key is to only have limited numbers of kitchen items available, or human nature will lead us to grab clean items instead of rewashing dirty ones (think path of least resistance).

You may find yourself thinking “what if’s.” Like what if I have company over and need extra plates and silverware? Then you can retrieve them from storage when needed, but still don’t need to use them daily. Or what if I have seven kids and they all need forks at the same time? Then you’ll need more forks than a family of four, but you will still benefit from keeping the number low.

Implementing a Cleaning Routine

3. Commit to a System

Once you’ve reduced your kitchen items by half, it’s time to experiment with a kitchen maintenance system. After about a month of trial and error, I’ve found one that works well.

The dishwasher is emptied once a day, first thing in the morning. Throughout the day, dirty dishes go directly in the emptied dishwasher (out of sight) or are hand washed right away. If you choose not to hand wash right away, then when a dish is needed, it is pulled from the dishwasher and hand washed. After dinner, all dirty dishes are in the dishwasher and the dishwasher is started.

A typical day in the kitchen for me now looks like this:
– 7:00 am – Unload the dishwasher (3-5 min).
– 8:00 am – Put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher (1 min) or hand wash them (5 min).
– 10:00 – Put snack bowls in the dishwasher (1 min) or hand wash (2 min).
– 12:30 – Put lunch dishes in the dishwasher (2 min) or hand wash them (5 min).
– 3:30 – Put snack bowls in the dishwasher (1 min) or hand wash them (2 min). If we baked for a snack, then put all baking utensils in the dishwasher (2 min).
– 5:30- Make sure enough dishes are clean for dinner. If anything is needed from the dishwasher, pull it out and hand wash (3 min).
– 6:30 – Put all dinner dishes in the dishwasher (3 min). Hand wash pans that are not dishwasher safe (2 min). Wipe down countertops, table and sweep floor (3 min).
– Done. My kitchen maintenance routine now takes me around 20 minutes most days. And the dirty dishes no longer pile up in the sink.

Your routine may vary from mine depending on family size and cooking preferences. The keys are reducing items by half and reusing dishes throughout the day.

4. Tweak Your Space and System as Needed

Once you’ve decluttered your kitchen space and set up a system, now it’s time to observe. How is your system working for you? It might not flow perfectly everyday, but if it’s saving you significant time and your kitchen is consistently clean, then it’s working. If you feel less stressed in your home and less overwhelmed at mealtime, then it’s working.

You may need to tweak things as you go. Maybe you packed away too many spoons and need to add back a couple more. Or maybe you need to pack away more. Part of learning what “just enough stuff” feels like is experimenting on both sides of “too little” and “too much.” So often we don’t get to experience “too little” of an amount of things. Be bold with this and try going very minimal in your kitchen. It will help you know how much stuff is “enough” for you and you can always add back a few things if needed. Once you’ve decided you have the right amount in your kitchen, donate the items that you no longer use so that someone else can use them.

The Joys of a Clean Kitchen

Simplifying our kitchen space and putting a manageable maintenance system in place has been transformational for our family. I have more time each day to spend with the people in our home instead of the dishes. My stress levels are much lower at meal time because I no longer have messages like “how are you going to find time to clean all this?” running through my head. Instead I’m at peace in a consistently ordered space, and I don’t feel like I’m falling behind on housework.

With more space, we’ve even set up a Montessori cupboard for our daughters’ plates, glasses, and kitchen utensils. This way, they can set their little table themselves at mealtime and help wash, dry and put away dishes afterward. They’ve benefited from increased independence and responsibility in the kitchen, and I’ve benefited from the extra help.

Would you benefit from minimizing your kitchen? Take some time to reflect on it. How do you usually feel in your kitchen? What are the thoughts that accompany you while cooking and cleaning in that space? If they’re negative or you’re feeling overwhelmed, then why not take on your own kitchen challenge? You’ve only got dishes to lose and time and peace to gain.

And who knows, maybe you’ll even find a few extra minutes to play with your little ones. After all, I did say the kitchen is the heart of the home, but it’s not the heart of your family. That’s the living room, where my daughter is still waiting for me to join her. Race you there!

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