My strategy for getting the dishes done

For some of you, this post may seem elementary. It may seem obvious to some of you who might be more organized and motivated than I am. However, since I know many women struggle with the house and keeping things up, I thought I would share my strategy for making sure the dishes are done on a regular basis.

I make myself do the dishes EVERY EVENING. Whether or not I think the dishwasher would be full. Then there is no excuse, no chance to push it off. You see, otherwise I could justify that it wouldn’t make a full load, so I wait til the next morning. By then we have breakfast and stuff, and the sink is now overflowing.

Tips for getting the dishes done

By doing the dishes each evening, I don’t have the objective view of whether or not it is time to do the dishes (meaning are there enough?)  Objectivity and housework and I do not get along well. It is much better if it is in black and white.

Now some of you may be saying I have PLENTY of dishes to do each evening. Whatever the case, just do them. And if you have pots and pans or things that won’t fit? Wash them by hand before you go to bed. Waking up to an empty sink is awesome.

Flylady recommends that not only should you wash your dishes, but that you should shine your sink before going to bed. Imagine coming in to make the coffee and everything is out of the way and the sink is shiny clean!

Some days (not every day mind you) I will go ahead and wipe the counters and stove top while I have soapy water for pots and pans.

A few other tips to staying on top of dishes:

Have each person use the same cup all day long if possible. This is easier if it is just water, but rinse out and set in a designated spot for reusing later. Try using certain colors for certain people. I have seen a picture online somewhere ( I wish I could find it, where they have labeled a section of the counter or windowsill with each family member’s name. Their cup for the day goes there when not in use.


Depending on the balance of household activities you have worked out, see if your husband will oversee children’s baths while you do the dishes, or vice versa. They should both take about the same amount of time and when done, you’ll have clean kids and clean dishes!

Unload the dishwasher in the morning when you are in the kitchen. This makes it easier, especially if you are home all day, to load dirty dishes as you go, making the job in the evening a whole lot easier!

51 comments to My strategy for getting the dishes done

  • Liz

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I’ve been feeling like a huge failure in the past few days. And reading your post made me think, maybe I’m a bit more normal than I thought I was.

    I’m a single mum and I’m studying. So I get really busy. And when I do, I often leave the dishes for the next day. I don’t have a dishwasher so that means washing them when the food’s all caked on a bit harder and it takes longer. Doesn’t really make sense!


  • Meesh

    Great post! For me it’s the repetition. I just want it done and for it to stay done (never going to happen) Getting the dishes done in the evening and waking to an empty sink just puts a bit of a bounce in your early morning step. Weird, I know…

    Have a wonderful day!


  • Great tips! We can always use a reminder on how PERSPECTIVE makes a difference!!! 🙂

  • When my kitchen is clean, my whole life is easier.

  • GREAT post! A spotless kitchen clears my head =)

  • With a family of 6, we have plenty of dishes. My mom and Flylady have both taught me to do them before I go to bed. Although I’ve had many times where I was just too busy and tired to get to them. But I do agree, I am so much happier waking up to a clean sink and kitchen. I recently bought some great large plastic tumblers at Target in multiple colors. Everyone gets one each day and uses it. We keep them at our spots at the table so that we don’t get confused as to whose was whose. It has been working great! Good post!

  • We don’t have a dishwasher, and it’s extra-hard to keep on top of it. I think everyone keeps thinking someone else will do it.

  • The principles by which we get dishes done are often the same principles by which we live. Do I avoid what needs doing or prioritize it into its proper place? Dishes are a great example because they are definable. It’s easy to tell when they are done and great intellect is not required to do them. If I want to feel like I’ve accomplished at least one thing during the day, that is, finished it from first to last, I do the dishes.

  • Meg

    Good post, and something we have always strived to do. What has been JUST GREAT this year is that we have begun having our third grader empty the clean dishes in the morning before he leaves for school. It makes cleaning up from breakfast a snap. Simple thing, but it has been a big help and I think it has been a boost for him to be helpful.

  • Shirls

    I have a CD/mp3 player in the kitchen and as I have to wash the dishes by hand I make sure I have an interesting audiobook on the go. If it’s really “page-turning” I end up cleaning up everything in sight until the end of the chapter. I listen to it while I’m cooking too or cleaning the fridge or tidying the cupboards.

  • I try to never leave any dishes drying on the counter overnight. Nothing is more annoying than walking into the kitchen in the morning and having to put yet MORE dishes away. I also like to guilt my husband into doing the dishes…sometimes that works.

  • I read in a magazine once that a household who leaves dishes out overnight was (some high percentage) more likely to have household bugs (read: cockroaches) than households who made sure the dishes, sink and counters were cleaned before going to bed. That was enough right there to spring me into action and that has been over ten years ago. We all rinse our dishes out and put them on the right side of the sink when finished. I load the dishwasher after lunch and right before bed – run it, and unload it the next morning. It’s become such a habit! Great post!

  • Sha

    This is great for those with a dishwasher (count ur blessings) but the same holds true for those who hand wash everything. Doing all dishes in the evening is critical to maintaining the kitchen, especially if it used throughout the day.

  • Melissa

    We have what is called “rinse and load” at our house. It means that whenever you finish with a dish you rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. My job (or assigned to a child) is to make sure the dishwasher is never full of clean dishes. It gets emptied as soon as it runs. I hate unloading the dishwasher but it is a small price to pay for NEVER having a sink full of dishes. And I timed it once and it only takes 3 minutes to get everything put away!

  • My Husband and I split the jobs, so I cook and he does the dishes. Downside of that is that he is not always on the ball with getting the dishes done before bed (despite my constant nagging). He is also pretty hopeless at doing what he thinks are ‘extras’ like wiping down the benchtops and cleaning out the sink.
    Daughter has the task of putting the dishes away – usually after school (we are all out of the house each day so that works for us).
    I am loving your posts, having just found my way here from pinterest!

    • JaneLovesJesus

      Want some unsolicited advice?
      You’ll be happier when you just resign yourself to taking responsibility for the stuff you expect your husband to do. Face it: he isn’t going to do it. YOU wind up doing it eventually anyway, right? PLUS you have all that work of nagging on top of it. So just decide from the start you’ll do it. Plus you get the bonus of moral superiority points, too! 😀

  • Lisa

    Doing the dishes is an area that I really struggle with, if there are too many. Just a few cups and plates, and I actually enjoy washing them (no dishwasher here) but more than that and I feel overwhelmed, and tired before even starting!

    But, I do agree, having a clean kitchen in the morning is a breath of fresh air, and makes me feel calmer and more organised, and not like I am weighed down all day from just looking at the dishes.

    I love your posts! You do a great job of motivating people and getting me to look at a task in small do-able bits. Thanks!

  • Ali

    I empty the dishwasher each morning while my coffee is brewing. It takes about the same time for both and then I get a cup of coffee as my reward!

  • Dawn

    I’ve tried desperately to follow the Fly Lady and keep my sink shiny and clear of dishes. But I have a toddler, a husband who works 12 hours a day 6 days a week, and an older home that isn’t equipped to hold a dishwasher. I’ve lost all hope.

    • Essie

      You can’t lose hope – it always finds its way home. I am a single payroll mom of one very busy 11YO. Things get out of control – it’s just life. This advice won’t be for everyone, but when there just are no more clean dishes? You know the moment – it’s dinnertime and Scout night (or whatever) and whomever is home late again and and and! You’re washing just two plates and two forks to eat with and one pan to make dinner in? It’s time to change the plan. Every now and again we have to institute what I call “Reverse Dish Doing”. We wash up whatever we need for that meal, cook/eat, and then do those same dishes again afterward and put them away – just those few dishes. Do this each mealtime. The trick is you may NOT use any clean dishes until all the dirty dishes are done. It may take a few days or it may take a week, but it’s weird enough to motivate! Yes, things have time to get gross, but they were already gross, right? Right. Also, if you don’t have room under your sink for a pan of dirty dishes – or if they won’t all fit, but you still want a clean counter to motivate you? Put them in the oven, with a towel draped over the control so you don’t forget and turn the oven on. You’ll soon get pretty frustrated digging stuff out of the oven or not being able to USE the oven – maybe even enough to do a few extra dishes. But remember – this only works if you do not use any clean dishes ’til the dirty ones are done. Sooner or later, the dirty ones WILL be done. Hope this helps…

  • Amy

    Great Ideas…. I know they work,, we all have those evenings it doesn’t get done but there is always tomorrow. I’m also trying to get my two young sons 6 and 2 to help each evening clear and wipe the table, rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher. That way everyone who eats helps and its not just mom being the maid. Maybe my hubby will even join one of these days LOL. But he works hard and gets to relax and wind down no work and no kids for a while. My treat to Him!!!

  • I have my kids unload the dishwasher, try to get them to do it in the morning before school, and work on loading it during the day so I can run it after we go to bed. My issue comes with the pots. I don’t use them in the dishwasher and finding the time in the evening after soccer practice and late dinners is hard.

  • Rachel

    I have a family of six (all the kids are 5 and under) and I live in Central Africa (read: no dishwasher, sometimes no running water). I’m working on keeping up with dishes so the ants and roaches don’t take over the place! LOL! One tip I learned from FlyLady a long time ago that I haven’t seen repeated here is: if you don’t have a dishwasher, keep a tub under the sink for dirty dishes to go in after they’re rinsed. This way, your sink and counters stay clear–and when the tub is full, it’s time to wash dishes (just like if the dishwasher was full). Doing them every evening is definitely the best way to stay on top of things. Thanks for a great post!

  • I have 5 kids at home right now and dishes are the bane of my existence. The ONLY way to keep up with them, for me, is to constantly wash what ends up in the sink. I can’t count how many times a day I go into the kitchen, but I always end up at the sink. I wash whatever is there and put it in the strainer. The kids are in charge of putting the dishes away/unloading the dishwasher. But if I’m doing the few dishes that show up throughout the day, then there are hardly any dishes that end up in the dishwasher. It really helps me stay on top of it.
    As for the one cup a day rule..JUST.DO.IT. It totally works! I have seen the designated tray thingie on Pinterest
    I have it pinned here…

  • Reva

    I love having my dishes done all the time!! I’m a fanatic about it – most days. I hate unloading the dishwasher so never use it myself – my children do,but then they unload it 🙂

  • I am horrible at keeping up with the dishes a lot of times. As a single mom of four, who works from home and deals with health issues, the dishes and the laundry grow quickly and uncontrollably. Some of the tips you’ve mentioned do work for me occasionally, but it’s those other times when I simply can not keep caught up. Cool post.

  • A friend of mine fills her sink with soapy water what she starts dinner. Even though she has a dishwasher, this helps keep up.
    When my son was a teen, emptying the dishwasher was his job. He hated it, but I told him it was helping him learn how to do things that you don’t like e v e r y day.

  • kris

    I have 3 kids, 12, 9, and 6. Every day after school, the youngest puts away the silverware. The middle one unloads the rest of the dishes. The oldest loads and runs the dishwasher. After dinner, everyone rinses and stacks their dishes. In the morning, everyone rinses and stacks again. If we are all home for lunch, we all rinse and stack again. I really only handle the dishes I use when cooking. Works for me 🙂

    • A psychiatrist is a psiyhcian who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. I have a bachelor’s degree in the social services field. For several years, I have worked with children who have been diagnosed with mental disorders. It is upsetting to see children victimize at an early age and even more disturbing to see them as predators as early as 5 years of age, however knowing that I am doing my part to assist them in becoming functioning youths and adults is rewarding. The empathy, confidentiality and maturity of a medical assistant are definitely needed in this area. I enjoy establishing a rapport with these clients and helping them to find adequate coping skills to deal with their disorders, therefore I would like to work for a psychiatrist.I would not like to work for an emergency psiyhcian for several reasons. I will explain a few. Patients who come to the emergency center typically have serious injuries or trauma. I would not like to have my mind constantly focused on who is coming thru the door and how sever the prognosis is. Knowing myself, I know that would be my focus and I would not be very productive. Also, in the emergency room the staff has to be prepared for anything, I would prefer an area that focuses on a particular specialty. Most importantly, I do not wish to see excessive amounts of blood loss on a regular basis. Actually, not even a minimal amount of blood loss on a regular basis. Giving my opinion and thoughts about this specialty, I would not be an effective employee.

  • Great post! I think as moms, we sometimes need that little bit of encouragement for keeping up with the daily mundane tasks, like dishes. I admit, keeping up with the dishes is definitely not my strong suit. However, I HAVE come up with 2 solutions that I find work for us, and they might work for you guys as well. Here are the 2 posts I wrote. One is a tip for how to keep track of whose cup is whose, and the other is how to keep dishes from piling up in the sink. 🙂

  • Stella

    Great! My two boys were taught to put the dishes they use in the dishwasher immediately. I started when they were approx. two yrs. old. While cooking I put everything I no longer need, into the dishwasher also, same for baking. I hate clutter kitchens at every hour of the day! Thanks!

  • This is something I DEFINITELY need to work on! Going to start tomorrow 🙂 Would make the day go so much smoother 🙂 good tip!!

  • Laura

    ALWAYS wipe down the counter tops, stove, and sink after doing dishes. Wish I had a dishwasher! It’s been broken-down for a couple months now. 🙁 But, on the positive side, it means I’m MUCH less likely to get behind on my dishes, cuz I do NOT want to spend an hour doing 2-3 days’ worth all at once!

  • Antoinette

    Whenever I cook dinner my 12 year old daughter unloads the dishwasher so when we are done eating it makes it easier to rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher. Plus it gives us time to catch up on our day.

  • Lori Orman

    All you told us was to do them at night before we go to bed. That’s not a strategy on how to get the dishes done. Maybe info like…. I always load as I go, or I make family load their dishes as they use them, even saying I load after each meal. All you said was do them before u go to bed. Ok, thanks!

    • Lorry

      I agree with the stressed mom! I made the habit of making certain that the dishes were actually done versus leaving them til the morning, for over a year and have fallen off the wagon as of late… Sigh! Lol but while I was in that habit of doing them EVERY single night, the mornings were wonderful! With my sink smiling up at me! Time to get that habit going again! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Lorry

    Try to find the coaster-like tray for each family members’ cup. I saw it on Pinterest!

  • Arlene

    Before I start dinner (or a baking project), I put hot soapy water in the sink and open the dishwasher. Every dish or utensil I get dirty goes either in the dw or the sink. If something needs to simmer for 5 minutes, or whatever, I use that time to quickly swish off whatever dishes are in the sink, rinse, and place on a towel on the counter. As I serve dinner, I try to pop the last dirty skillet or pot into the sink. When we finish eating and load the dishwasher, there are usually just a couple dishes in the sink that need to be washed, and often the ones on the counter are dry enough to put away.

    I started doing this when we lived in an apartment while building our new house. That kitchen had an incredibly small amount of counter space, and when I moved into my spacious new kitchen, the habit held, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. There are exceptions, but usually I’m out of the kitchen in less than 15 minutes after a meal — dishwasher humming, and everything looking cleaned up.

  • Agree with washing wether it is full or empty and do sinks and stove. What works best for me besides visualizing the joy of a clean kitchen in the morning is… having an extra set of hands! getting one of my kids or my husband to help results in an impeccable kitchen every night.

  • Debbie

    The repetitiveness is what gets me with doing dishes and getting started is often the hardest part (especially if there is a lot to do). I have a strategy of counting my way through the dishes. I start with a goal to get say 20 things loaded into the dishwasher. I know that once I have those loaded that the bench will look clearer (and I’ll feel better about it) and it is so much easier to carry on and load the rest, even if I have to set another goal and aim for another 10 or 20 items to get the job done. It just makes it easier for me to break the job into smaller tasks and motivates me to see the job through to the end.

  • Amy

    Someone once mentioned to me how much faster it goes unloading the silverware if you put them into the basket in the order in which you will unload them, so keep all the forks in one basket section, all the spoons in another. Surprisingly it cuts a ton of time out the overall task. Give it a try, you will appreciate it.

  • Scorchi

    So many people commented about the difficulty of the pots and pans. Many years ago I read a noted authority on cleaning that she always makes sure all the pots and pans are washed, dried and put away before serving the meal. I don’t dry them and put them away before eating, but I ALWAYS wash them before I sit down to eat. They are MUCH easier to wash before the food in them hardens. It literally takes less than 5 seconds to swish them with hot sudsy water and rinse.

  • Cynda

    I love this about the dishes. It is just my son and I and I tend to put the dishes off till they are piled high. I’ve been putting your methods to work in my house and it really has helped the stress level. Thanks for the post.

  • Andrea

    I run the sink with hot soapy water when I start to cook… and wash as I go…Makes my life soooo much easier.

  • Anne

    My family has a five-minute cleanup right after dinner (some tackle kitchen / some tackle other tasks like bringing dirty clothes to laundry room). THEN we have dessert!

  • Kristina

    We have used the same system for keeping the same cup all through the day that my mother used as I was a child. I use a mason jar holder (2 to 6 pack sold at wal-mart in the kitchen isles) to store the days cups. All 4 kids know to put their cups in after they are finished with them. We store it at the end of the counter where even the littlest can easily reach. Then each cup is washed at night while I am shinning my sink!!!!!!!! No more lost cups throughout the house and no more mommy washing 30 cups during the day.

  • Cassie

    great post!

    I really struggle. I work long hours, during the week I leave the house at 6.30 each morning and get home about 8pm. My husband tends to do the cooking, which is great, but he doesn’t wash up. Too, too often we have a week’s dirty dishes piled up by Friday. SO horrible, I hate it.

    We don’t have a dishwasher so it can be a fairly big job but one strategy I keep planning to try is putting dishes away in another cupboard. My husband has a tendancy to just keep taking out more plates (human nature to find the easiest option). Even plastic picnic plates would be used rather than wash up. So I’m thinking if I put the picnic plates and spares for when we have company away in another room then the kitchen will only contain the number we actually need. Washing up will suddenly be easier than finding more plates. At least I hope so.

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