Keeping your sink empty [when you cook all the time]

Is it just me, or do kids eat more in the summertime?

Actually, my husband does, too.

Wait, so do I.

What's going on?!

We're all home. Three meals a day, seven days a week. We work from home, the kids aren't at school, and it seems we can't keep the refrigerator stocked to save our lives. And don't even get me started on the piles of dishes! We cook almost every meal to save money (and eat healthier), and it's hard to keep the sink clear. Our kitchen is also the centerpiece for our living and dining area, so if the kitchen's full of dishes, our entire living space feels dirty/cluttered.

Have I ever shared here that dishes almost ended our marriage? Not. Even. Kidding! Let's just say we can't ever buy a house without a dishwasher again.

I don't claim to be an organizing or cleaning expert, but I do know a few tricks that help me feel better about the way my kitchen looks, and I've got a Facebook community full of people with great ideas, so today I'm sharing a few tips that will help you stay on top of the dishes, even when you cook all the time, like me.

Here are some of my favorites snippets from the Facebook community:

“Everyone gets one plate and one cup for the day. Rise after each meal and put in a dish rack next to the sink. Also, I usually try to instantly wash and dry cookware and baking sheets.” –Kara

“The biggest thing is we just committed to cleaning up whatever we didn't get to during the day right after the kids are in bed.” –Matt

“I do 99% of my cooking in the same cast iron pan- baking, roasting, sautéing, and since I use it so much, it stays seasoned which makes it super easy to wipe clean.” –Laurie

“After visiting my mom recently, I learned a few things from her: always have a dish rack or mat in the sink or next to it, then as dishes are used, train everyone in the house, even the kids as young as 3, to rinse them and put them in the rack.”


I put most of these into practice for about a month leading up to this post, and here were my takeaways.

1. I purchased an attractive dish drying rack with good reviews on Amazon. So far, we love it! I also got a drying mat for when we have lots of big stuff (pots and pans, mixing bowls and cutting boards). The dish rack stays out all the time, and gets put away when we have people over. The mat stays folded up under the sink until we need it, and gets put right back when we're done with it.

We mostly use the rack and mat for stuff that can only be hand-washed OR random odds and ends that either don't fit in the dishwasher (because it's full) or are just quick and easy enough to wash by hand.

2. We tried following Kara's plan of each getting one set of dishes and utensils for the day that each one of us is responsible for, ourselves. I tried training Julep to be responsible for her own cup, plate/bowl and spoon. We never fully got there before I gave up. That's a lot of keeping track for me, and I'm not a person who keeps track of anything very well. What ended up working better for us was making sure the dishwasher is empty at the beginning of the day, then throwing every dish directly into the dishwasher instead of in the sink. Yes, we go through more dishes in a day by not reusing them, but it saves my sanity which is a worth-it trade off for me.

4. Here's another habit: If the dishwasher is full, you wash or rinse your dish/pot/utensil/whatever you just finished using by hand and put it in the drying rack. If the dishwasher is empty, dishes goes directly in there. Period.

Nothing is allowed to sit in the sink. Every dirty dish either gets washed by hand or put immediately into the dishwasher. Now, do you think I actually do this perfectly? Nah. Lots of times, there are cutting boards in the sink. BUT at least it's not piled up and overflowing because I try to stick to this rule as well as possible without turning into a crazy person over it.

5. To follow up on the last point, a great habit to form is loading the dishwasher at night and emptying it in the morning. That way, you'll have an empty dishwasher at the start of the day that you can load as you go throughout the day of cooking. To Matt's point, if we just commit to making sure the dishes are out of the sink and in the dishwasher at the end of the day before we go to bed, we're in good shape.

6. Finally, something we've found to work really well when we ever start to get off track: Run the dishwasher, even if it isn't full. If you've managed to empty the sink and there's still room in that thing, it doesn't matter -- run it, anyway. No, this is not the most water-conservative advice. But it is sanity-conservative and, in this house, that will always win out.

7. Find pockets of time throughout the day to work on dishes little by little. I've found that while I'm waiting for oatmeal to heat (or coffee to reheat) in the microwave in the morning, I'm usually just standing in the kitchen staring at the microwave. So, I've started using that time to get ahead on dishes or do other little bits of cleaning in the kitchen. It's simple but it helps!

I truly hope this was helpful to you in some way! We aren't perfect at keeping up with it, but this really is the best we've ever done with staying on top of the dishes, so give this method a try! I would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, and any extra advice you may have on this topic. Come join us over in the Seamless Facebook Community for more conversation about this and many other kitchen related topics!