“Can I tell you something? Use the tools. Use the tools you have. Use them all the way….”

We’ll start with the dishwasher- but you know this isn’t just about the dishwasher. This is about committing ourselves to really use the tools that we have learned can help us, and to using them fully. For our own good, and for the good of those around us.

Transcript and show notes:


Recorded 27 September 2023.


Hey everyone.

Can I tell you something? Use the tools. Use the tools. Use them all the way.

When I was a little kid, actually growing all the way up, we didn't have a dishwasher. I mean, we had one, we were in a suburban house in southwestern Connecticut, and it was in the kitchen, but it did not work. And it had not worked for my entire lifetime, as far as I know. I assume that one day it quit and my parents decided that something else- like probably making sure the roof didn't leak, or the bathroom pipes didn't leak, or something else didn't leak- was more important than having a dishwasher. And they were right.

So I grew up with hand washed dishes. Somebody who was always hand washing dishes. And when we got old enough, we developed a routine a rule, a something- so that each of us hand washed our dishes when we were done with them, mostly. And that kept the dishes down to a dull roar, which was good.

At my last house share, we had a dishwasher. And it was in California. And what that meant was that we were a little more cautious about water usage then people in a lot of other parts of the country. Because California has been so abjectly and so recently, so deep in drought. Which is a kind of water debt that hangs over your head and you can't fix it individually, but you can feel like you're doing a little something if you take fewer showers and run fewer dishwasher loads. And so we did, because my last housemate did.

And so she was an expert in jigsaw-packing the dishwasher and generally everything came up clean. So that worked out all right.

And then in my next place, there was no dishwasher and the kitchen was a tiny remnant of a kitchen it- it seems like maybe it was not designed for an entire robust set of cooking tasks. That instead, probably originally, the person who lived there had eaten half their meals on campus. And half their meals at home. Lightweight, small ones.

So the fridge was smaller. The original fridge. And there were plenty of cabinets but the stove that I had was clearly bigger than the stove that had originally been meant for the space. And it was a shoehorn kitchen and that was okay. That was okay and it makes sense in a 1910s, updated in the 1920s apartment building a few blocks from the University of California Berkeley.

But in December as you know, we moved from there to Portland. And here in Portland, we are able, through many graces, to have a house. A whole house. Like a three bedroom, 1955 ranch house. Which has its own challenges and its own issues but it also has a dishwasher. And the dishwasher works. It's a little bit falling out of the hole under the counter where it's supposed to go, but it works.

We moved in December. It has taken me until now- it is September and late September at that- to begin using the dishwasher the way it was meant to be used.

With both dishes and laundry I have this weird habit, where if there's something that I use a lot that I really need to have always I tend to hold it out of the laundry load or out of the dish load. Because when I was a kid, things would disappear into the pile of things needing to be done that my mom took care of. And I wouldn't know when I would get them back.

So if it was a favorite pair of jeans and it was Tuesday, I couldn't put it in the laundry because I didn't know if I was going to have it for Wednesday or Thursday. It might be gone and I needed to wear my favorite pair of jeans and so I would just not wash them until Saturday.

Which worked out okay. They were jeans and I had two pair so I could alternate. But I didn't want to let the process and the machine take it out of my control. Because I didn't know when I was going to get it back. And if it was midstream, if it was like hanging over the edge of the washing machine with some kind of pretreatment on it that- I don't know, it took me until I was an adult to do my own laundry too. Because there were so many specific rules about how to do laundry wen I was growing up. And I couldn't wrap my head around them. And that was fine.

It was important to my mom, and she did them. So okay. As an adult, I was like, What do you mean? I can just sort my laundry into three piles and throw it in the washing machine with some soap. And that's it? That's what it takes to do laundry? That's how complicated it can- Alright, I can do that.

But I don't like to release my stuff into the gaping uncertain maw of a process. And with the dishes. Because really, the first dishwasher I'd had in a long time was for stacking the dishes as close and tightly as possible, and then hoping they all got clean. I still didn't want to release anything important to the maw of the dishwashing process.

And so I didn't. And I didn't. And I didn't until last week, at which point I was completely overwhelmed with piles of dishes. We had both had a bad day on the same day. And so the emptying hadn't happened. So the backup had gotten bad. You know how it gets. And the funny thing about emptying the dishwasher is that if you do like one dish at a time, and you put it in the dish drainer, and then when you notice it you put it away, it's like it's no big deal, you put one dish away.

But when you have a dishwasher or a laundry machine and everything piles up, even if it's clean, it like- it's a big task, suddenly, to put things away. In our house, we often only put half of it away at a time one of us will do what we can and then when we start to hit the inside the skin itchy rebellion response point, we stop. And we tell the other person Hey, listen, the dishwasher is emptied, except for the silverware. The dishwasher on the bottom is emptied, but the top is still clean, or- We manage to get it done, we often take turns. It's a task neither of us particularly likes.

But anyway, the dishes had gotten backed up. And I was past my point of overwhelm. But I was also the only person in the house at that moment who could do this thing. And so I just started piling everything in there. Everything. Pots, mixing bowls, knives. I have a few knives that I wash by hand. But mostly my knives aren't worth preserving in any kind of robust way. They're not delicate orchid chef knives- they're just knives. So everything went in. Everything.

Yes, the mixing bowl took up a third of the bottom shelf. I didn't care, it all went in there. And part of this also is because our sink doesn't happen to be quite the right size. And there are other things going on on the counter. And so hand washing dishes has actually become well-nigh impossible.

Logistics are logistics. And every space is different. And in this house, this 1950s house, designed, I think, to have a dishwasher- I don't think it's new, although the kitchen was redone probably in the 80s. I just piled it all in there and ran it.

And it didn't fit everything that was waiting to go in and that was okay. I took it out. And I piled a whole bunch of new stuff in there. And you know what, when it's not as densely packed as possible, it's less of a task to empty. When you let the mixing bowls and the pots and pans go in there too- not the cast iron, but the stainless steel. It's easy. You put it in there, you pull it out, and like half the bottom is empty when you take out one pot and one mixing bowl. And you can just run it again.

I know, dishwashers have existed for some time now. And perhaps I should have worked this out sooner, but I didn't. The only person that I know who routinely does that is the partner I don't live with. She routinely runs her dishwasher. Every single night, with whatever's in the kitchen. Lots of stuff, not lots of stuff, no big deal. It just goes in there and washes overnight. And when she wakes up she has clean dishes. Every day.

I've been trying to get myself more on her schedule because it makes sense. Instead of waiting two days, three days, to have enough dishes- and really only not having enough dishes, because I'm not willing to put everything in there. I'm not willing to use the tool to its full extent, I'm only willing to use it half way. Everything gets harder.

Trying to use the dishwasher halfway makes things worse. But making the dishwasher do its job entirely makes things better.

Okay, maybe making things worse is an exaggeration. But using the tool, committing to the tool, devoting to the tools- it makes, it makes a difference. Devoting to the tool makes a difference.

And that is not just true in my kitchen, or in anyone's kitchen. It's not just the kitchen. It's everywhere.

So many of us grew up being told that we couldn't do things a certain way. That we weren't allowed to do things a certain way, that this or that was wrong. And we believed it. And then we grew up. And we realized that wasn't actually true. That it was okay to have more than two pens, or more than five pencils. That we could have just the pencils we really liked.

As intensives, we've spent so much of our lives trying not to need the things we need. Trying not, as I've said before, to be the orchid, or the specialty plant of whatever type. You know, the rain forest tree here on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Or trying not to be who we are. Trying to be, as I said to my therapist the other day, a dandelion.

I'm not a dandelion. I'm never going to be a dandelion. I wish I were. I was taught that that was the right way to be. But I'm never going to be a dandelion.

I do need to be watered, I do need certain conditions, I do need certain nutrients. That's just who I am. And I have tools for that.

As I've gotten older, as we get older, we get tools. We figure stuff out. And then we're like, Oh, I know that I should nap or I know that I should create space in my schedule. Or I know that I should do this or that or that I should or shouldn't take on this particular commitment because it's going to nurture me or it's going to drain me.

We do this to ourselves all the time. We know, and then we don't use the tool we have: which is knowledge. Or we don't use the tool we have which is a calendar. Or we don't use the tool we have.

And this is not about planner shaming, I know we're entering planner season, it's a big deal. A lot of us buy planners, and then we use them for about three months. And then we stop. I tried to make a planner a few years back and I never really had the time and the space to focus on developing it fully. So it stayed in beta for a few years. And now I haven't launched it.

This is not about planner shaming. This is about if you know a tool does work for you, or that it works in a particular way- maybe that three months of using a planner helps you get the shape of the rest of your year. Who cares if you don't use it for 12 months? Use it for three if it's useful for three. Maybe you need to start a new kind of planner every three months. Buy four planners. Just go for it.

Get four planners and anticipate and decide which one you're going to use first and which one you're going to use second. And when you get to the third planner and you're not interested in it anymore, use a different planner. Buy a different planner in the middle of the year. Find one that's on sale that you didn't know about before. Or don't use a planner at all. If you know that tool doesn't work for you, don't use it.

I knew one woman a long time ago who got a kind of buddha-like meditative satisfaction out of doing things like laundry and dishes. She was even on the Oprah show for it, I think. And so I would not necessarily recommend to her that she do things any differently. Now she was using a washing machine.

She had a family of several people she was doing laundry for. She probably also used a dishwasher sometimes. But she was talking about how the warm water and the soothingness of the stream on her hands. And the soap. And the satisfaction of being able to have a concrete thing happen right? Where you pick up a dish and it's dirty, and then you wash it and then it's clean.

In a world that's so virtual, it can be very satisfying to have a concrete result to anything.

I mean if you're that person. If you're that person, maybe you don't need to use all the tools everyone else is using. Maybe your tools are a blank notebook and a fountain pen. Or a blank notebook and a pencil. Or a blank notebook and specifically a Blackwing pencil.

Maybe your tools are words, maybe your tools or videos. Maybe your tools are only words and not video. Maybe your tool is writing. Maybe your tool is specifically journaling. Maybe you communicate better by text message.

Use your tools, use them all the way and use them in the way that works for you. For me, I'm going to be putting every single dish I can into the dishwasher and running it every day.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll talk to you soon.