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Experiment Log No. 15 — Returning to doing dishes by hand

The purpose of this experiment is to reintroduce regular mindfulness practice to my life after a lengthy illness has left me reactive and lazy. I will do this by ceasing the use of my automatic dishwasher and instead washing all dishes by hand every day.

I want to see if this small commitment leads to a greater overall increase in mindfulness in my life. Positive spinoffs is what I’m looking for.

The Terms

The first day is Monday, April 8, 2013. The last day is Wednesday, May 8. After that I may use the dishwasher if I choose.


The Log


First day and it’s really feeling right. I ran the dishwasher last night one last time, with the idea of unloading it when I got home from work. I washed supper’s dishes in the sink before that and had a great time, then I slid open the dishwasher and the dishes were all wet. I realized that they always are — the auto dryer doesn’t really work. It felt like the last time I was ever unloading the damn dishwasher.

It might be different if it actually worked well. But it does a second-rate job, and second-rate jobs make me feel crummy. I’d rather hand wash the dishes and let them dry on the counter, then put them away when they’re dry.



Not much else to report except that I really like doing dishes by hand and I don’t miss my dishwasher one bit.

My illness, it turns out, was pneumonia, so I can expect a fairly drawn-out recovery period. I’m no longer stressed out like I was a couple of weeks ago. The mindfulness aspect of washing dishes certainly helps to keep me grounded and optimistic, but there are too many variables to attribute the recovery of my mood directly to dish-washing. Still, I feel generally more caring and present every time I wash the dishes, and I carry that feeling throughout much of the day, before and after my sink session. I have also been meditating again, intermittently, now that I don’t feel much psychological resistance to it. Again, I can’t credit the dish-washing solely for this, but it certainly helps.



Hand-washing dishes has been so much more efficient and rewarding that there’s really not much to say about it. I am done with my dishwasher, except maybe for when I’ve got a few sinkloads to do (from having people over or something).

There have been a few times when I’ve been working on something right until bedtime, and I’ve noticed the dishes aren’t done. Letting them go for a day definitely doesn’t feel so great, and so I’m learning to do them right after dinner, then wash immediately any other dishes I use after dinner. Waking up to no dirty dishes is wonderful and improves the trajectory of the whole day.

Also, I never run out of forks anymore. That used to be my signal to run the dishwasher — all of my seven dinner forks would be in the dishwasher, then I’d start using dessert forks until the dishwasher cycle was complete. Now I never run out of anything.



One lesson is not to skip a day. There are days when I don’t have many dishes and so when it’s almost bedtime I have a tiny, neat stack of dishes waiting to be done beside the sink. Sometimes I’m wrapped up in working on something until past my bedtime and I reason I’ll do them the next day after work. I find this quickly leads to runaway Broken Window Syndrome and soon the whole kitchen is messy, then the living room.

So the dishwashing ritual has to happen every day no matter what, so that I keep tethered to the sense of containment and duty that comes with having done the dishes.



Well today’s the last day and I do dishes by hand now. I don’t want to repeat myself  — right from the start I’ve found it an altogether more rewarding and effective way to do the dishes. This has been a very simple and effective experiment and I’d suggest it to anyone. You may be surprised at how non-taxing an activity it is.

I did end up buying dishgloves after having started out barehanded. I’m not squeamish about getting my hands dirty but I found after a few weeks my hands were quite dry and my eczema was irritated. Now they’re returning to normal. A minor adjustment.

The idea at the outset was to create a point during the day at which I’d have to bring my attention to bear on a manual task. But I wasn’t always mindful when doing the dishes. Sometimes I was drifting along with mental chatter, or writing in my head, which is probably fine. Although it didn’t quite demand mindfulness, it did encourage it and reward it, and it did demand that I reach a point in the evening where I get up from what I’m doing and go be a responsible adult, putting in a bit of manual work to settle up for the costs of the privileges of cooking, eating and drinking tea.

This has helped to keep me balanced — since I took manual control of the state of my dishware, I can’t as easily just indulge and leave the resulting mess inside a machine that will erase it while I’m at work. The dishes-by-hand habit required me to play the responsible cleaner-upper as well as my normal role as the indulger. It felt better to go to bed having fully paid for my messes.



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Michelle April 8, 2013 at 5:27 am

I like the idea behind the experiment. I’m right smack in the middle of a life of run, run, running rather than simply being in each moment of my life. Even though I am aware of all that is around me and all that I have, I still feel compressed by the demands of work, famiy and friends, life. I still feel that weekends–those periods of unscheduled existence that I covet–should be 3 days, not two.
So I wish you a more mindful month, but mostly, I hope you regain your health, which sounds worrying, frankly!
Finally, dishwashers, when properly used, are far more eco-friendly. Worth considering.

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Edward Sanborn April 8, 2013 at 6:04 am

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, recommended this therapy by washing the dishes with mindfulness. It could help and even have unforeseen consequences. We’ll be anticipating your next report.

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Linda Lesperance April 8, 2013 at 6:31 am

I’ve never owned a dishwasher. Washing dishes was something I learned to do when I was so small I had to stand on a chair to accomplish the task. So, I have a lot of practice! LOL My daughter, who owns a $2,009 dishwasher from Europe, always chastises me for washing the dishes too well before I load them into her miracle machine. I like washing dishes and I think your friend, “Lily” is spot-on (no pun intended). I also love washing clothes (though most of it gets done in the machine). I don’t know if monks wash their own dishes but they probably do….but then they only have one bowl.
I hope you are feeling better soon. Spring will come and your illness will be gone soon, too. (I am never, never sick and I had the bug you are talking about and it is resistant to medication as you said. You just have to take care of yourself and it will go away.) Cheers.

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richard April 8, 2013 at 7:56 am

loook at your alkaline levels ! colloidal silver !and cognitive affirmation mindfulness? I am a survivor of brain damage (frontal and a little rear!) and chronic pain since 96 and research with a fervour the potential of mind plasticity and the response of the chemical potential decision induced! to bring cause and healing effect! do we skip on the surface ? or dive deep and find the pearl?

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Lenna April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I too find pure Zen mindfulness in the process of ironing, doing housework, cooking, and washing the dishes. I find my attention is fully engaged in the moment and no thoughts other than those related to what I am doing invade my ‘moments’. I have not used a dishwasher in over fifteen years and frankly there is no need to do so. I used to essentially wash the dishes without soap before placing them in the dishwasher because I could not just leave them to crust up until there were enough in the dishwasher to run the darn thing. However, if I skipped the ‘basically washed’ step the results from a run of the dishwasher would be so dismal that I would have to let them soak in warm soapy water and wash them by hand; that is unless I wanted old spaghetti sauce on my plate prior to putting the next meal on it. So. (Just broke that grammar rule and it is at my discretion as a writer to do so.) I am in complete support of positive results being attained by your month-long experience of hand washing your dishes. I just want to recommend that you buy a three-pack of the green rectangular scouring pads. You will need a dish washing cloth of course but you may not know that in order to get the final food off of all of your cookware unless it has a special non-stick coating. Then – when you approach your non-sticking coated cookware – I suggest just leaving them to soak in hot soapy water until the wash cloth is sufficient to remove all of the baked on food from the surface of the particular pot, pan, or whatever. May every ‘moment’ come with your feeling all of the love and light we are blessed to choose to experience every minute of every day. I support your experiment and will send you some very positive energy to use as you see fit should your energy flag in the face of yesterdays lasagne (smiles). Signed with my very best regards.

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Magda April 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I haven’t used a dishwasher for years, simply because I don’t own enough plates and pots to fill it. Washing dishes by hand after every meal is such a natural thing to me that when I first read about this experiment, my first thougt was that it’s such an easy thing that it doesn’t deserve any attention (however I do understand that the purpose of the experiment is to see an increase in mindfulness and not simply not using the dishwasher).

I guess I take it for granted that not using diswasher (or clothes dryer or a microwave etc) is normal (I don’t own any of those becasue I don’t need them). It is amazing how dependant the society is on those modern inventions, which quite recently were considered unnecessary luxury.

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marie April 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I love washing dishes, and folding clothes. They are two things that are easy to accomplish, do not require a lot of thought, are productive, and give me a sense of accomplishment is a short period of time.

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Karen Renee April 9, 2013 at 9:56 pm

When it’s just one or two people, washing by hand is probably less work, in the end. I’ve experimented a little with the concept myself. One of these days I should train my children to do their own dishes as they finish eating.

One element that really helped was to take a moment in the morning to prep a small dish of soapy water with a soft scrub brush that sits next to the faucet. For anything that isn’t stuck-on it’s only seconds of effort to scrub the dish and rinse without the item ever needing to touch the counter or wait in line.

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gem April 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Wow so many people are getting pneumonia! At least you know what’s up and can recover. Take it easy!

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Evelyn April 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I hope you are back to full health soon.

A good, unscented hand lotion, applied after washing dishes, will prevent your hands from drying out. I notice cuticle dryness if I don’t do this.

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Mrs. M April 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Sorry to hear it is Pneumonia but I’m glad to know what’s wrong.
There is a relief of knowing what you are working against.

I’m hoping for your Rest and Recovery

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