5 Tips for Living Without a Dishwasher

Our last two homes have not had a dishwasher. After three years of living without one, I can honestly say that I am so used to it, it rarely phases me. While I often look at a pile of dishes and dread starting the job, once I am doing it, I usually don’t mind too much.

Over the years I have learned a few tips that make living without a dishwasher easier.

1. Limit your dishes to the number needed for one meal.

The first time we moved into a house with no dishwasher, I knew I needed to form some new habits to make life easier without a dishwasher. Instead of putting all my dishes together, I put two bowls, two plates, two glasses, and a set of plastic dishes for Stefan on one shelf that was easy to reach. All my other dishes were on a much higher shelf. These were fairly easy to access if I had company, but I would have to use a step stool.

This small step was key to getting me in the habit of not using too many dishes. Instead of pulling out a new plate or bowl each time I needed one, I was forced to wash the one that had been previously used.

2. Clean as you go.

I wrote awhile ago about the idea of cleaning as you cook. When you don’t have a dishwasher this is especially important. Earlier this week, I mentioned my rule of three as an easy way to simplify. If there are more than three things in the sink, I quickly wash them. This keeps things from piling up. Washing a couple of dishes takes just a moment, but when you let it pile up, it becomes a big job.

3. Focus your mental energy on something else.

For the most part, dish washing is a mindless activity. I love putting my mental energy elsewhere while washing dishes.

  • Family Bonding: Often times in the evening, my husband and I use the time after dinner to wash dishes and catch up on the day. We try to keep dinner time a family conversation, but often I am eager to know the details of the progress on his thesis or other various things going on. Washing dishes together while our kids run around playing makes it go by faster, and we are also getting some couple time.
  • Thinking: Thinking about life, memorizing a scripture verse, writing a blog post in my head, or praying, are some of the things I do while washing dishes. Some of my greatest times of contemplative and productive thinking have come while doing the mindless task of washing dishes.
  • Listening: This is a great time to listen to an audio book, a podcast, or music. My husband often has an evening class one or two times a week which means our normal evening schedule is thrown off a little, and I can’t get to the dinner dishes until after the kids are in bed. This is my favorite time to get the iPod out and listen to something worthwhile. Often times I don’t stop at the dishes, and get the floors mopped too when I have something really good to listen to!

4. Just Start.

The time I dread the most without a dishwasher is right after a big, more involved meal with company. Think Christmas or Easter here. This is the hardest time for me to get going, but here is where I have learned to just do it! Sometimes I tell myself to just wash dishes for 10 minutes, that’s it! Often times that is enough to get me going. Other times I am so tired after a big meal that I have to do several 10-minute increments. Eventually, though, I get the job done!

5. Reward Yourself.

If it is a really big job after a bigger than normal meal, I like to reward myself. A simple reward of 10 minutes to read, or sitting with a cup of coffee, or a slice of leftover dessert is motivation to get the job done! It may feel like a big job, but it feels much worse to have an unfinished job hanging over you.

What are your tips for keeping up with the dishes?


  1. Great tips. “Sometimes I tell myself to just wash dishes for 10 minutes, that’s it!” I used to do that all the time (and still do with other chores).

  2. When my sister and I were teenagers we used to sing our way through the dishes. Besides being tons of fun, it made the job go so much faster. Now that we are both married, we occasionally get to do the dishes together at family gatherings, and we always sing!

  3. We don’t have a dishwasher either… and it’s always getting started on them that’s the hardest part. Great tips. I especially love #3.

  4. great post! The dishwasher has been one thing I wasn’t sure I could part with but you make it sound doable. I think #1 is key. We just cut down our number of dishes (got a new smaller set I liked better at Goodwill this week).

    Cutting down on my baking stuff and mixing bowls when we moved helped a bunch. Now the kitchen can’t ever get that bad because I have to keep washing and using the same stuff :)

  5. We were without a dishwasher for about 4.5 out of 6 of our married years. I rarely minded or even noticed it when I was without one. (Though I think I realized the difference once we moved to a house with one. :)) We still pretty thoroughly rinse our dishes before putting them in a dishwasher, so lots of this can still apply to those of uswith dishwashers.

    I am still working on clean as you go, but that is a huge factor to making it not feel so overwhelming–dishwasher or no.

    When we would do bigger/holiday/guest meals, I would try to prepare many of the dishes ahead of time. It still left me with a lot of dishes, but not so much of the mega-mess if I’d had dishes from both prepping an entire meal and eating and serving it.

    For the sake of habits, as well, we’ve tried to incorporate the daily used dishes accessible/store away those not needed so much, as well. We were on a pretty good routine of having the girls set the table and put them away. We’d started it a few months ago, but then it sort of fell away after the new baby, though. :)

    • Johanna says:

      Oh, I am sure I would get used to having one pretty quickly, though I don’t mind it now! :)

      I need to do better about cooking things ahead for big meals. I seem to always have a complete disaster afterwards!

  6. amber robinson says:

    We have a dishwasher now but we are moving soon and won’t have room for one. My tip is to involve the kids (we did that when the dishwasher broke last year). It took a bit longer and it got a bit messy but it sure was a lot of fun. We have done without a dryer for about 5 months now and it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it might be.

    • Johanna says:

      Oh, I think it is great that your kids help you! I hope to include my kids eventually too, though right now they are a little too young. Thanks for the tip!

  7. Okay girl, your ideas have revolutionized our home for real. Now I just need you to tell me how to do laundry and keep our bedroom clean, mmmkay? :)

    Thanks for the help!

  8. I do have a dishwasher, but I still have some things that don’t go in. I do them at the same time every day, so that helps. (10:00 when we’re on our schedule, I’m in trouble when we’re not)

    • Johanna says:

      Wow! I’m impressed that you keep to a schedule that closely! That’s a great way to make sure that you get it done.

  9. Thanks SO MUCH for these tips. My fiance and I moved into our first home together a while ago and while I had lived on my own for a few years he was just leaving the nest. He always had the creature comforts, I’ve had to do without a dishwasher in the past, so when I saw our new home didn’t have one ( or washer and dryer hookups either!) I was filled with dread! I kept complaining about how much it was going to suck, he kept saying ” it wont be bad! This is great! The dishes will be EVEN CLEANER this way” His optimistic attitude lead to him being named sole household dishwasher. Needless to say….I have taken the job over due it it ahem…never getting done ( :p) I’ve found that with discipline a pre-soak really helps. I’ll fill the sink with hot water and soap and soak the dishes just until the water has cooled enough to put my hands into. THis really makes the process go much faster. So as not to waste time, I’ll do another less time consuming chore while I wait.

    • That sounds like a great system you have! And you do eventually get used to not having a dishwasher (though I wouldn’t complain if I had one again!) :)

  10. I love this post! Great thoughts. We practice most of this advice, plus more. I especially love the “reward yourself” part. My reward is usually a sweet nibble and an episode of Gilmore Girls before bed. :) Here is a compilation of more tips to coping without a dishwasher: http://www.smallishblog.com/2012/09/10/tips-for-living-without-a-dishwasher/


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