When I was a kid, one of the worst things I could hear my parents say to me after a meal was “Chris, do the dishes.” This was a mindlessly boring daily chore which needed to be done, and it seemed to last forever — especially on a nice summer night when all my friends in the neighborhood were outside playing games and I was the one stuck inside.
Growing up, the house I lived in didn’t have a dishwasher, we didn’t really need one — with three boys, we were the dishwashers. Today, our house still doesn’t have a dishwasher, and with four kids…well, I am still the dishwasher (wait, how does that happen?). But, honestly, I kind of like it this way. As I’ve grown into this stage of life called adulthood, I’ve come to realize the many benefits of completing this once loathsome chore.
One such benefit is coming up with topics for upcoming articles…
The many benefits of doing the dishes
Doing the dishes each evening allows me some time for peace and quiet — for some much-needed silence. With working full-time, combined with being a husband and a father of four, things can get pretty hectic. Doing the dishes allows me some time to relax, to reflect on the day, to look out the window over the backyard as the sun sets and appreciate all that I have. It allows me some much-needed time to think and ponder. It’s peaceful, mindless, repetitive, and oddly meditative.
Plus, the kids aren’t anywhere in sight. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids to death, but the endless barrage of questions a 4-year old can lob at you can be unrelenting sometimes. When I’m doing the dishes they don’t dare come around — lest they get too close and get stuck drying or putting the dishes away.
When I’m doing the dishes I can’t really do anything else. I can’t check my phone (water and smartphones don’t usually mix well), I can’t watch tv, I can’t read, and I can’t be outside with the kids. I’m basically stuck. And this is actually enormously beneficial because it gives my brain a chance to slow down and unwind from the break-neck speed of daily life.
My mind is thus free to wander and think of all sorts of things. I reflect on the day, I think about the days ahead, I daydream, I think of books to read, I contemplate current events, I come up with topics to write about (in fact, the idea for this very article occurred to me while doing the dishes, go figure), the list is endless.
What the research says
I’m not alone in thinking there are great benefits to mundane tasks such as doing the dishes, either. Two fellas you may have heard of, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, have admitted they do the dishes every night at home too. When someone asked Bill Gates at a Reddit Ask Me Anything Event in 2014, “What is something you enjoy doing that you think no one would expect from you?” He replied, “I do the dishes every night — other people volunteer, but I like the way I do it.”
Research backs this up as well, finding that mundane repetitive tasks such as doing the dishes can increase your creativity, reduce stress, and improve your mindfulness (it also uses less water).
From Real Simple.com: “A new study conducted by researchers at Florida State University suggests the simple act of washing the dishes could actually encourage a state of mindfulness, which has been linked to improved well-being, reduced levels of stress, and even immune system boosts.”
I get the same benefits from other mundane household chores as I do from doing the dishes, such as ironing my clothes. Many times, I’ll spend a Sunday evening ironing all the work shirts I plan to wear throughout the week. Not only does this afford me the previously mentioned benefits (less stress, creativity, mindfulness, improved well-being), it also saves me time.
By ironing my five work shirts in one evening I have more time during my mornings. This culminates in one less decision I need to make each day, staving off decision fatigue for a little bit longer. Deep Patel says that by bedtime the average person has made 35,000 decisions. Every decision requires time and energy, and depletes our willpower. And let’s face it, with four kids, I need all the willpower reserves I can get — otherwise it’s ice cream in front of the tv come dinnertime.
So, there you have it. One simple daily task that not only contains health benefits, but boosts your creativity, and reduces your stress.
What could be better?
If we re-frame the seemingly boring or mundane tasks in life, such as washing the dishes, they can actually take on a new meaning and provide tangible benefits — it all depends on how we look at it.
Stuck thinking of an idea for your next blog post? Do the dishes!
Stressed out from work? Do the dishes!
Want the chance to zone out, detach from the day, and just daydream?
Do the dishes.
Maybe this is what Mom and Dad had in mind all those years. Maybe they were on to something…