Operation: Mess Kit…


I hate to admit it but we are just awful at washing dishes.  Dreadful.

We have tried so many things…  we bought a dishwasher, used, but it didn’t work right.  And even when it worked slightly, no one was good at loading and unloading it.  We tried schedules and complicated rules and designated washers for each day of the week and nothing.  It would work for a day or two but then we would fall back into our awful habits.  Leaving stuff on the counter and in the sink, hoping that the dish washing fairies would come and help us out.  And clearly, we needed help.

So, we would let them pile up until nearly every plate or dish or glass was dirty and then someone would finally decide to go in and spend the whole afternoon, washing dishes.  It was awful.  You got wet, you had to wash and wash, no one liked it.

Well, as I was doing the dishes last Friday afternoon…  I had one of those ah-ha moments of clarity.  The problem wasn’t that we were awful washers, it was that we had TOO MANY DISHES.

Too many dishes, plates and glasses meant that we would easily reach for another and another instead of needing to keep up on what we had.  I began to surmise, what if we only had a few plates and bowls…  how easy it would be to keep up!  We would be forced to wash often, but in little batches.  Tolerable batches.  But how many?  And which ones?  And would the girl children think I was insane?  Hmm…   I thought about it all afternoon as I washed my way through heaps of dirty dishes.


Well, I got my courage up and I told Jessy.  She looked at me for a good long moment after I explained my plan and I was ready for the eye roll and head shake of young person refusal and she said, Yeah…  Might work.

What?  She was agreeable!  She liked it!  And then we really went radical.  How about we each just pick one plate, one bowl, one glass and one mug that we liked.  Yeah…  then each would be responsible for washing their own, rather like having a mess kit for camping!  We told Maggie and she was gung ho as well!   We were on to something.  Maggie said…  we can use Grandma Mildred’s china for special occasions or guests!  Yes!!!  Wonderful!   We hardly ever use her china because we don’t want to break it.  But that means we never get to enjoy it.

Grandma Mildred’s china is beautiful but very flowery.  It’s really not in style anymore, and probably hasn’t been in favor for years and years.  I looked it up one time, just wondering.  It was nice, a pattern from the 30’s, nothing super valuable or desirable, but just nice.  And my guess is that she got it as a young married woman, perhaps even as a wedding gift and my guess is that she didn’t use it much either, because nearly all of the place settings are complete and hardly touched.  We accidentally broke a teacup one Thanksgiving and felt horrible.

Now that I think about it, though, it’s so foolish that this lovely stuff is hidden away in the cupboard, hardly ever seeing the light of day.  It’s nearly 85 years old.  It deserves to be used and possibly broken or chipped.  It is time for it to fulfill it’s destiny as china!  It needs lunch and breakfast and dinner food on it.  It needs to gently remind us of Grandma Mildred, and even though the girls never got a chance to know her, they can know of her when I talk about her, spurred on by the beautiful china when we use it…  hopefully once or twice a month!  And if we break a cup or chip a plate, well, that is life.  We can be careful and still use something.

So there you go.  Our plan was in place.  Each of us would pick a favorite set of everyday dishes and we would use Grandma’s china for special occasions.  I thought it was rather interesting that immediately, we all had favorite pieces.  Each grabbed for their favorites and none were the same.  We each had a piece that we loved, a plate or a mug, and we just used all the other odds and ends when that favorite was dirty.

We had gotten a new set of everyday silverware last Christmas as a gift and we loved the stuff.  However, we had kept all the weirdo leftover stuff as well.  So, we sorted it out and some went in the Goodwill box and the others were saved for when I get my yurt built out back.  (It was my wedding silverware and kind of meant something to me, the few pieces still left.  It would be perfect in my someday home!)  Now we just have a nice set of 4 for us to share.  And since there were two types of spoons and forks, it would give us plenty to use without clogging up the works.  DSC_0127

A few plates and nice glasses we tucked down below with the Grandma china as replacements and for special occasions.  We made sure they were not easy to get to, so there would be no temptation to use them when our own glass was dirty!  (We could be sneaky like that, you know.)  And we gained a lot of space in our cupboards and pantry shelf after we cleared out all the thrift store and garage sale odds and ends.  Three glasses and three mugs.  Perfection.

I was rather surprised at how little attachment I had with all the cast off pieces.  They were just there, functional but unimpressive.  I really don’t think we have paid much for any of the discarded pieces.  It felt wonderful to pass them on.  We decided that if this experiment failed, we could easily go and replace some of the pieces for under $10 at any decent thrift store.  However, failure is not in our plans, we are very happy campers so far!  DSC_0128

We got rid of our odds and ends of wine glasses and weird flower vases and other oddball glassware.  We kept a set of four really pretty tall pilsner glasses for those rare occasions that a beer or a pretty desert might grace them.  And I kept three tall flower vases because, well, I just liked them.  Tall and slender, they make the most perfect vase for a pretty table or a single for that lovely spring bloom.  Perfection.  DSC_0129


Well, it’s been almost a week now and I am SO happy to report that we LOVE this new system.   We also went through our pots and pans and weeded them down to just the essentials.  Now, everyone is keeping their own mess kit clean or they don’t eat.  We wash any pots and pans as we go.  The sink has been clean and empty every single day and it’s a joy to walk into the kitchen in the morning and the counters are clean and empty.  It’s so wonderful.

And the funny part?  I shared this plan on our Facebook page and with a few friends and several of them were all nonplussed, saying, oh, we did that a while ago and it really helps.  What?  Why hasn’t anyone told me this???  And then I searched online and found, yes, many people are trying the limited groupings of plates and such.  And finding joy and success with the kitchen monster!  I love it…  If you are battling the dirty dishes plague, you might want to consider this plan.  If you have kids, why not color code your plates and assign each kid a color!  Or use some of those fun sharpie markers that work on china to decorate each kid’s plate and cup!  I think it would be a great way to help teach them to chip in and clean up after themselves!

It know it’s working for us…

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About Mobymom

the banjo player for Deepwater Bluegrass, and the editor of BuckeyeBluegrass.com as well as the main graphic designer of the Westvon Publishing empire. She is a renaissance woman of many talents and has two lovely daughters and a rehab mobile home homestead to raise.

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