Monday, October 31, 2016

Less mess = Less stress

When I was a little girl, one of my regular chores was to clear the table after eating. Our meals, especially evening meals, were always family affairs. It was, after all, the 1950s and 1960s. We were a family of four.

When my father and older brother finished eating, they would push out their chairs, leave their plates on the table, and retire to the TV room to watch sports. It didn’t matter what season it was. Some type of game, match or team event inevitably demanded their immediate attention. While the males were in the other room yelling directions to the players, my mother would be in the kitchen tidying up, and I was expected to join her. It was my responsibility to clear the table and help out in the kitchen.

It didn’t take me long to realize that if I lingered over my own meal, picking away and chewing slowly, my mother would get tired of waiting and do much of the table clearing herself. However, no matter how slowly I ate my food, I could never avoid my next job — drying the dishes.

In the kitchen, my mother positioned herself behind the sink where she dutifully washed the dirty plates, pots, pans, glasses and silverware before stacking them on a countertop drying rack, which, to my continued puzzlement, was never actually used for drying. 

My mother, Goldie Levy, in the kitchen after a holiday meal
Yardley, PA - April 1959

The rack was merely a temporary waiting station, waiting for me to do my job. My job was to pick up each item right after it was deposited and wipe it completely free of any droplets of moisture with one of the striped dish towels hanging beneath the sink. I was then expected to put each piece away in the shelf, drawer or cabinet where it belonged.

I never liked drying dishes or putting them away. I always wondered why they couldn’t just air dry on the drying rack. And why couldn’t I be the one doing the washing at least some of the time instead of my mom?

Fast forward 50 years.

I do the dishwashing now, and I like it. I like washing dishes so much that at our beach house, I had my husband Ralph remove the perfectly functional dishwasher that came with it.

“We don’t need it,” I said, and he agreed. “We can use the space for something else.”

We still have a dishwasher in our Groveland home, but I can’t recall the last time I used it. Probably when all the children and grandkids visited. But even on the rare occasions when we have a full house, I still prefer to suds up the cotton washcloth and clean the dishes by hand.

To me, dishwashing is a kind of meditation. Just as making the bed in the morning starts my day on a saner note, cleaning the kitchen after mealtime clears away mental as well as physical detritus. I find the entire process of cleaning up after a meal to be one of the best indoor ways for me to release tension and restore order. I don’t even mind clearing the table like I used to as a child. I’m happy to tidy things away, wipe down tabletops and counters and make our eating area look attractive again.

A tidy table.  A well-balanced plate full of good food.  A book to read.

Somewhere along the path to adulthood I realized that internal harmony often results from the removal of external stresses. Less mess equals less stress.

I doubt if my oldest daughter understands my compulsion to handwash dishes any better than I understood my own mother’s when I was a child. Amber is a mom with two young kids and to her, a dishwashing machine is an essential weapon in her housekeeping arsenal. But perhaps someday when her young children are grown and living off on their own, she’ll realize the peace and pleasure that comes with doing certain domestic chores.

Hot water and sudsy soap washes away more than just dirty dishes. It degreases the mind of stained thoughts as, one by one, a stack of clean kitchenware air dries on the kitchen counter. Visual proof of a job well done.

Dishes air drying on the dishrack
Another meal, another mess cleaned up

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