“Now what needs to be done?” – David K. Reynolds

“Live now: Just do the dishes!” – Byron Katie

I’m working on making sure the sink is clean before going to bed.

It’s funny how such a seemingly little thing can have such major impact, but it does. Dirty dishes in the sink, piles of laundry on the floor, a heap of junk mail to sort through, all of these things weigh us down. “There is so much psychic energy involved in maintaining our stuff,” explains University of Virginia behavior expert James Burroughs. “Small items need small amounts of care, but it all adds up.”

My approach to the dishes used to be: ‘keep piling them in the sink and surrounding counter-space until you absolutely have to do them.’ My wife wasn’t such a fan of that game, and after a friend advised me to not go to bed with dirty dishes, I’ve been working on keeping the sink (and the counters) clean.

Some nights are better than others, but the kitchen definitely looks better than it used to. Plus, following my friends advice has also led to an interesting assortment of additional benefits.

The Power of a Clean Space

A growing body of research is touting the benefits of maintaining a clean space. For starters, it’s been shown to help relieve depression1 and anxiety.2. According to a study by Indiana University, people with cleaner homes are also healthier and more active.3 A clean sink can even be key to saving money. As debt-free experts Tawra and Jill explain, “Most people are so overwhelmed with piled counter tops and dirty dishes that they would rather go out to eat than face a dirty kitchen.”4

Five Minutes and One Touch

Aside from being one of the top time management techniques, the five-minute/one-touch rule is a great to keeping a space clean. The process is simple: if there’s a simple task to do that will take around five minutes or less, just do it – and do it now.

Don’t waste time thinking about exactly how long the task will take – the fact that something will take five minutes is less important than the fact that it can be done to completion in a relatively short amount of time. And don’t waste time putting it off – just get going. The secret to getting something finishing is getting it started.

When we put off doing a small task, part of our mind stays occupied monitoring what needs to be done. “Even though you’re not consciously paying attention to it when you have this big pile of junk in the corner, you do notice it every time you pass it by,” explains author Richard N. Stephenson. “Maybe only subconsciously, but it is always in your mind. […] When you clean those things out and clear them out, then you free up that mental processing power to other more important things.”

By taking care of these small tasks as they come up, we avoid having to revisit them later. We only have to focus on them once. (One-touch) Plus, the mental energy gained can lead to an increased ability to focus and higher levels of productivity.

So, if something can be done in less than five minutes, do it right then!

Some practical applications of this rule include:

  • Instead of throwing dirty clothes on the floor, put them in the hamper. (Time: 1 min)
  • Instead of piling dirty dishes in the sink, give them a quick rinse and put them in the dishwasher. (Time: 1-10 min)
  • When getting the mail, throw away the junk, act on the items that can be done quickly, and put items that need more time in a space to be processed later. (Time: 1-10 min)
  • Instead of leaving your coat and shoes on the floor when you enter your house, put them away. (Time: 1 min) Note: I’ve got to work on this one. I’ve got a habit of kicking off my shoes onto the drip bin, and then allowing a mountain of shoes to pile up before putting them all away, even though the closet is less than 10 feet away. I’m sure Kristen doesn’t love it, plus Gus has to make a running leap over shoe-mountain whenever he goes outside.

Even when we do our best to follow the five-minute/one-touch rule, things occasionally pile up. Because it’s often easier to maintain a clean space then to get it clean, once a week, try having a 30 minute clean up party, where you get as many small tasks done as you can in 30 minutes. Turn on some fun music and challenge yourself to keep moving!

Bonus! An Opportunity for Mindfulness

It’s easy for our minds to wander when doing the dishes or putting away the laundry, but cleaning can be a powerful way to plug into the present moment. Be here now, and focus your attention on the task at hand.

Make cleaning a practice. “You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time,” suggests author Anne Lamott. “You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.”

Rather than approaching these things as something we HAVE to do, approach them as things we GET to do. We’re alive, dealing with the parts of life that are before us in any given moment. Byron Katie explains it in this way:5

“What I call, ‘doing the dishes’ is the practice of loving the task in front of you. […] What we need to do unfolds before us, always — doing the dishes, paying the bills, picking up the children’s socks, brushing our teeth. We never receive more than we can handle, and there is always just one thing to do. Life never gets more difficult than that.”

What’s in front of you right now?

It’s time for me to do the dishes.

Is there someone in your life who you’d like to see do more dishes? Help them out by sharing this article!

  1. http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/clean-house-when-youre-depressed.aspx []
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201203/why-mess-causes-stress-8-reasons-8-remedies?collection=120960 []
  3. According to a study by Indiana University, http://healthland.time.com/2010/06/02/what-does-a-clean-house-have-to-do-with-health/ []
  4. http://www.livingonadime.com/dirty-dishes-cause-debt/ []
  5. http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=614#sthash.kcl0ckSl.dpuf []