The Dish of Sysiphus: How to have a clean kitchen without having to clean the dishes for your dirty residents

If dishes were wishes, I’d be the most magical genie in the universe.

photo (14)

My primary genie wish I will grant today is to bestow you with Part 2 of the official  Kitchen Manifesto: a guide to keeping your kitchen squeaky clean.

The key is to establish both PERSONAL responsibility and COMMUNAL responsibility for the cleanliness of the kitchen. Personal responsibility is the best, because it is clear, efficient, fair, and happens spontaneously (communal responsibility often requires a scheduled time). But the fact is, sometimes people might drop the ball on doing all of their dishes and clean up, and the community needs a system in place for that eventuality.

Personal responsibility means that everyone is responsible for cleaning their dishes after they use them. Set a clear standard with your community on how much time they can allow to pass before they clean their dishes (do they need to do them immediately? Can they wait until after they have eaten their food? Can they wait an hour, overnight, 24 hours?). Personally, I’m going to ask that residents do them before they go to bed, but 24 hours if the official mark I make before I will have an actual consequence. The consequence will probably be that I take the dish in question to my room, and the resident has to come get it from me. The consequence is not about trying to make people feel bad, it is more of a practical matter that dishes left out are an inconvenience, and the inconvenience should rest on the person who didn’t clean and not the community.

Communal responsibility can be done in a number of ways:

  • Humorous reminders
  • Having soap, dish racks, scrubbing devices, and possibly a designated dish bin (like at a cafe) to keep dishes out of the sink
  • if your residents are consistently not cleaning their dishes, do what one of my teammates did one year and hold a hall meeting IN your kitchen. If they have to be around your stinky kitchen, your residents might hold themselves a little more accountable
  • One of my favorite methods is, if you have a regular weekly community builder, you can have everyone clean the kitchen together at the beginning of your get-together. 10 minutes of communal work will probably make a huge dent or get it cleaned entirely.
  • If food is being stolen, ask if you can get a lock for your fridge or kitchen cabinet. Give the combo only to your residents and tell them not to tell their friends
  • Have labels for where dishes go so that dishes can be put away in a consistant and orderly manner
  • Facilitate kitchen communication with a white board in the kitchen or a sharpie tied to the fridge for people to label their food with
  • find ways to reward success (pizza party after 2 weeks of a clean sink, etc)


The biggest and most important thing I’m trying is the Kitchen Charter. At the first hall meeting, we’re going to sit down as a hall and determine our communal rules for the following:

  • Rules for sharing food
  • when can food in the fridge be thrown away
  • Borrowing kitchen supplies
  • guest kitchen usage
  • who cleans when someone cooks for everyone
  • what to do when it is gross (I’m going to suggest that we clean it before community builders)
  • what can be stored on the counters (everyone always has a million rice makers, and I think there should only be one of a given object, things like that)
  • who cleans for shared tasks (counters, sponge cleaning, and such)
  • when we can use dorm-bought ingredients (for example, make enough to share with everyone)
  • cabinet and fridge space usage rules
  • how long can dishes sit in the dish racks and who has responsibility for putting them away
  • what do we do in case of a problem (food stealing, things are gross, items not returned or damaged)

I’m going to ask everyone to sign in agreement at the bottom of the charter, and put it at the entrance to the kitchen or on the fridge.


(This is my kitchen after three weeks–clean, and beautiful)

I hope you enjoyed this attempt to put “communism” back into “community”…or rather, your communismunity.


One thought on “The Dish of Sysiphus: How to have a clean kitchen without having to clean the dishes for your dirty residents

  1. Pingback: Kitchen Manifesto Part 1: How to make your kitchen a well stocked den of love | Superheroes Sans Capes

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