Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The New Method


Cleanliness in the apartment had reached an all time low. The Dinner Club had come and gone twice, leaving not only a stack of used dishes, but all that went into the preparation of the feasts. Pots, pans, and yes, even a basting brush or two.

When Nicolas came over for a cup of tea yesterday, I left him in the living room to go prepare a tea tray. I surveyed the scene, but couldn’t find a single mug. There were dishes stacked in the sink, on the washing machine, on the counter, on the stove, and now, little piles were springing up on the floors. The greatness of the job overwhelmed me, so I chose to ignore it. As had Matt.

But tea required two mugs, and one spoon for stirring. And so I began my careful excavation, removing the top two layers of dishes from the sink and placing them in the entryway. I would clean up any residue later. As I tried to slide a pan out, I ruined weeks of careful balancing. Everything fell and something broke a glass. One of the pots hit the wall so hard that about eight boxes of tea fell about me. I shouted to Nicolas that everything was under control, but it was too late. There he was, his polished shoes among dirty dishes. “Nico, you have to leave, this is embarrassing,” I said, so he backed away, knocking over a basket of recycling by the front door.

When I finally pulled it together and carried the serving tray into the living room a few minutes later, I thought I caught him eyeing the mugs for cleanliness. Not that this was a bad idea. He waited until I’d had a chance to sit down, put down his mug and said, “Emily, I need to teach you the Art of Cleaning as You Go.”

Ah yes, the Art of Cleaning as You Go. That elusive creature. When I was a child, my mother made valiant efforts to teach me this art. If I just cleaned up one game before moving to the next, a big mess could never accumulate, and I would never end up in big trouble (B.T.). Well, at least not for messiness. Even recently, she advised me to spend just five minutes straightening up before I went to bed. But then I would lose five minutes of sleep, I argued.

Yesterday I argued, “Yes, that’s fine and good if you’re lazily cooking along, but Nico, what about when you’re trying to cook like eight thousand dishes at the same time, and perfectly time it, so that when everyone gets here at eight, the food’s all ready to go and hot and good and you can sit down and eat with your friends and be merry? Am I still supposed to clean as I go?” I was defiant. Martha Stewart would have been proud.

Nicolas didn’t answer, just sipped his tea quietly. I could tell that he hadn’t been impressed with my argument. I don’t know whom I thought I was kidding. Martha Stewart obviously cleans as she goes. My efforts to be the perfect host were being significantly undermined by the atrocity of the kitchen. I didn’t try to argue with Nicolas any further, vowing that I would do some dishes that afternoon. And I did. Some.

The dishes moratorium was born from fear of confrontation, and general fondness for passive aggression. Both of us convinced that we were getting the short end of the stick when it came to doing dishes in the apartment, Matt and I silently refused to do dishes. He waited to see how bad I would let it get. I waited to see how bad he would let it get. Neither of us wanted to break first, which wasn’t hard, since neither of us wanted to do any dishes anyway. As the piles grew higher, our refusal grew more rigid. But the Nico Tea Fiasco was enough to break me.

That afternoon, I placed the green cloth beneath the dish rack and set to work. And I chose my dishes carefully. As I lifted the dishes of Dinner Clubs past, I discovered mold. I pushed away instincts to go out in search of rubber gloves and rolled up my sleeves. I did the moldy dishes. It was a moment of roommate sacrifice—I swallowed my pride and my acid reflux.

Surprisingly enough, Matt didn’t follow suit. Instead, when I called him the following day, and hinted that there were still dishes to be done, he said, “I have a plan. But you have to come home so we can talk about it.” Come home so we can talk about it? Why? What was this plan, that I do all the dishes and he does nothing? I felt a dishes-related bad mood coming on.

When I got home, I found Matt sitting on his bed, waiting. I sat down, and in the most diplomatic language possible, he outlined the New Method. (The Old Method was that we weren’t allowed into the kitchen without putting in five minutes of cleaning time. The end result was that we both just avoided the kitchen at all costs and dishes piled up in our rooms.) He had come up with it over the course of the past weeks, and was ready to pitch it. I tried to cut his non-confrontational speak short several times, but this was a rehearsed speech. I listened and agreed to the following:

The New Method: Adventures in Apartment-Living as Outlined by Refusal of and Cooperation to do One’s Dishes
1. Each person living in the apartment must do his or her dishes within 24 hours of usage.
2. If one was to use a recently-used pot to cook one’s own dinner, this pot then becomes the responsibility of the most recent user, and therefore must be cleaned within the 24-hour window.
3. Dinner club dishes must be done by 2am the following night.
4. If one roommate cooks dinner for the other, the dishes fall to the responsibility of the non-cooking roommate.
5. No hiding dishes.
6. No dishes are allowed to linger in any space designated as public (tables, chairs, desks, floors, mantles, etc.), unless the dish was very recently used and the person has not gotten up yet.
7. General leniency for mugs, unless they start to grow mold.
8. Failure to comply with any of the above rules requires the negligent roommate to cook dinner for the other roommate, anything the latter desires, but rule #4 does not apply.
9. A second offense requires the negligent roommate to take the other to dinner.
10. A third offense requires the negligent roommate to do all dishes for one week, no matter the extravagance enjoyed by the second roommate during this time (roasted pig, six-course dinner, etc.).

The consequences of rules eight, nine and ten, have ensured, thus far, strict adherence to the rules. The kitchen is, as I type this, clean. Matt and I point out our crazy cleanliness to each other all the time. Each of us is informed when the other cleans up after him/herself. It’s a beautiful system. Feel free print these rules and use them in your own apartment.

Before me on the table is a Coke can, a water bottle, a plate, and a fork. But hey, I’m not getting up any time soon. Martha Stewart would be proud. Perhaps I’ll write her a letter in prison.


At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

Aaahhhh. Look at this blank box all ready for me to write my "comment" on the sweet disorganization of my dear Emily.

Oh ok, I was going to do a self-righteous "you piled up a lot of Coke cans and empty Domino's boxes when we lived together" haughty thing, but then I realized that now I live alone and I have become Meredith Stroble's worst nightmare.

If you saw my room, Emma Jane, you wouldn't believe it. New BF saw my apartment for the first time after weeks of "No, let's just watch the movie at your place" and I tried to act like it was totally normal that I avoided the bedroom part of the tour and just said "Kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, that's it, ready to go get dinner?" I don't know whether he thought I slept on the porch or up at Kelly's or what.

However, as a big cooking fan and a sigher at gross kitchens, you need to keep this Clean As You Go stuff in mind. If you get used to not starting to cook ANYTHING without having a perfectly clean and organized work surface first, you'll get really used to cleaning stuff. Otherwise cooking takes too much preparation. As soon as I throw anything in the oven or set anything to boil, I wash whatever dish I can. Because I am better than you. That's what I'm getting at.

I also, uh, still have to clean the roasting pan from Thanksgiving 2 last weekend.

Also, get yourself some gloves. It'll make it a lot better. The largest gloves so you don't have to squeeze out of them. Trust me.

At 7:36 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

I put in my website wrong. Now clickin' on my name (above) will get you to me.

At 11:35 PM, Blogger Goonieheart said...

THAT'S HILARIOUS. why am I in all caps. sorry, that's hilarious. I had a friend in college who, when dishes piled up as you describe, would go out and purchase new ones vs washing them. (we didn't have a dishwasher back then and who wants to wash by hand when you're trying to watch Melrose Place I mean, study).

At 4:20 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Looks like it's too late for me to send Martha a message in prison; she got out today.

Check out the ambiguous note about it on her website, referring to prison as merely "Alderson, West Virginia" at www.marthastewart.com. Apparently, she made some good friends.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Dear Susan of the land of big American kitchens, where 'clean and organized working surfaces' are possible,

My kitchen is approximately half the size of your couch. Maximum capacity 2 persons. (One person if you want to be able to wield a knife.)

But hey, I served Thanksgiving dinner to a group of twenty-five.

There's, uh, still a leftover dish in the fridge... and it wasn't Thanksgiving 2, it was Thanksgiving 1. If only the Indians had taught us to Clean as We Go instead of say, how to make corn pudding.


PS. Roasting pan? Have you abandoned your vegetarian roots?

At 3:56 PM, Blogger coffee goddess said...

Hmmmm? I'm all for saving the environment, but (huuuuuuge 'BUT') I think this might just be the time and place for disposable plates and cutlery. Maybe you can get a dog to help with pre-cleaning! hahaha. I knew a guy who, instead of stacking his plates, threw them outside in the snow. That way, atleast nothing dried on - made an excellent intruder alert too.

But, and how do I say this without judging someone? Don't you think this might be an extreme? I was going to say, "Surely you jest!" However, I realize not. I used to live at a house like that (college days) and have a few friends and family members too. Funny how it seems my house ends up the one for holiday's and entertaining - and I don't even consider it clean. You wont find a pile of dishes anymore...you WILL find dog hair everywhere and piles of books, papers, stationery, and journals stretched from one corner to the other.

I used to have a problem with dishes too...it took about 12 years to tackle. By that time, my kids were old enough to do it. Go out and make yourself some kids!

At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About a month ago my housemates and I came home to a letter from our landlord on the kitchen table. Apparently she had sent one of her minions over to case the joint, and the state of our house (by which she meant our kitchen) was "disturbing to say the least." Our living arrangement being the circus sideshow that it is, we (me, and the roommate that talks to me) spent an hour and change crafting an appropriately diplomatic but ultimately very bitter letter full of righteous outrage and deferred responsibility. When we finally got around to cleaning up the shit that saturday, it took but 45 minutes, a full 20 minutes less than we'd spent on the letter. But at least we had our dignity . . . .

Did your mom ever make you sing the clean up song as a kid? You know, "Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up!" I find it a helpful soundtrack to a Clean As You Go kind of life. It's also fun to sing in line at the movies.


At 8:40 PM, Blogger Emily said...

No, but I do have this one:
Mumble Grumble,
This is no fun.
You don't have to like it,
but it's got to be done.
We'll have to exchange tunes next Christmas.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Dani said...

I like the Mumble Grumble song; I'll have to use that with my kids. As for dishes, my rule is that Rubbermaid/Tupperware/plastic plates or containers with mold or caked-on food get thrown out. They are cheap enough that I prefer replacing them to chiseling off the gunk. Luckily, that doesn't happen too often, anymore; dishwasher + kids = dishes washed every night.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Emily said...

As for throwing away Tupperware, which costs, say, two euros...

Things that cost two euros:
1. A decent bottle of wine.
2. Two perfectly ripe avocados.
3. Six kiwis.
4. Two cups of coffee at the counter, one at a table.
5. I kid you not. 2.5 baguettes.

You're talking to someone who finds fifty cents in her pocket and thinks, "YES! I can buy bread!" So I'll be scrubbing the tupperware.

Or I could just get me some kids. I wonder if the neighbors would let me borrow theirs...

At 9:47 PM, Blogger noricum said...

If they're anything like American kids, they'll expect to be paid. ;)

Great set of rules... too bad it doesn't have quite the same effect with me living on my own...

Oh... and as to counterspace, my "great big American kitchen" has a total of 28 inches... 14 on one side of the sink, and 14 on the other. Lovely 50's housing project. :P

At 9:55 PM, Blogger eb said...

This may not be better than Macbeth, but:

Life's but a washing shadow, a poor cleaner,
That scrubs and sweats his hour upon the sink,
And then can rinse no more; it is a toil,
Done by an idiot, full of speed and hurry,
Sanitizing nothing.

At 10:29 PM, Anonymous ben wolfson said...

2.5 baguettes? In Greece 2 euros can buy you FOUR loaves of delicious bread.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Yeah, but are they as LONG as baguettes, that's the question.

France scoffs and Greece's mediocre bread! En garde!

At 10:58 PM, Blogger Emily said...

PS. My fingers are wrinkled from doing dishes as I type. Really, no joke. Matt gets home in five minutes, and I've just gotten them all done. Except for a spatula. And a fork. And that plate on my desk. Dammit!


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