How to Clean Up an Overwhelmingly Messy Kitchen

We all need a blank canvas sometimes. A clear spot on our desk for writing letters or novels or paying bills, a clean page in a notebook, a blank piece of paper for doodling. It’s the same way with cooking closer to home – we need a clear spot to chop vegetables or drain pasta, and when our kitchens are overwhelmingly messy those clear spots, those blank canvases are buried under crusted bowls and sticky plates and somebody’s water glass and a stack of mail. When every surface – sink, counters, stove, dish drain is covered, the prospect of cleaning up is totally overwhelming because there is nowhere to put anything.

So the first step in dealing with the kitchen from hell is to clear off one space, which gives you enough room to clear another space, which gives you room to clear another space until order is restored. This is how I do it:

1. Put all the dishes in the dish drain away, clearing space for all the clean dishes I am about to produce.

2. Clear out the sink, making room for me to wash dishes. Stack dishes on the floor if necessary.

3. Scrape and stack all the big plates I can find. Wash them. Dry them and put them away so there is room for the next batch of dishes.

4. Scrape and stack all the little plates. Wash them. Dry them and put them away to make room for the next batch.

5. Scrape and stack all the bowls. Wash them. Dry them and put them away to make room for the next batch.

6. Collect all the odds and ends lying around – measuring cups, spatulas, whisks, etc. Wash them. Dry them and put them away to make room for the next batch.

7. Collect all the glasses. Wash them, dry them, put them away.

8. Collect all the coffee mugs. Wash them, dry them, put them away.

9. Put all the pots and pans in the sink to soak.

10. Collect all the silverware. Wash it, dry it, and put it away.

11. By this time, the pots should be scrubbable. Wash them. Dry them and put them away whenever the dish drain fills up, then go back to washing the rest. Dry everything and put it away, even if there’s room for all of them in the dish drain. This leaves space for the next round of dishes you plan to use (you know, like, at your next meal). This is very important because it heads of the start of yet another downward spiral, in which every surface of the kitchen is covered in dishes. I am persuaded that downward spirals in the kitchen always start off with a blocked surface, usually the dish drain or the sink.

12. Wipe down the counters – they will almost certainly be covered in puddles from all that dish washing.

Admire clean kitchen, drink a glass of water, and take a nap. Order restored.

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One Response to How to Clean Up an Overwhelmingly Messy Kitchen

  1. Marissa says:

    Thanks so much! This was so helpful! I’ve been so stressed and busy that I’ve had dirty dishes on almost every available surface in my house to the point that I gagged everytime I walked into the kitchen and couldn’t even use the sink to rinse something the sink was so full.

    Using your article I did it and finally cleaned these dishes. Without it I was way too overwhelmed to even know where to begin!

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