Dishes: In the Sink or Out?

There are some things that life cannot prepare you for. And one of those things is the inevitable encounter at close quarters with people who Do Things Differently.

I’m not talking about the culture shock that frequently accompanies trips to another part of the planet. No, I’m talking about the first time you start sharing domesticity with someone outside your family, and find that the things you took for granted – didn’t even realize were a thing to be taken for granted, even – are not inevitable, are not even non-negotiable.

Humboldt squid in sink
Where do you store your squid?
Other people do things differently, and when you come to question your outrage, you find that there is no particular reason to do things your way – it’s just that That’s How You Do It.

Take the question of dishes and sinks, for example. Leaving aside the vexed question of who should wash the dishes, let us consider what should be done with said dishes in between usage and washage. (There are some people who claim that there should be no time in between these two events, but that to my mind is a counsel of perfection.)

There are two main schools of thought. The Sink school, and the Bench school (or Counter school, if American). The former hold with putting used dishes in the sink until they are washed; the latter stack them on the bench beside the sink.  There is also the Everything Goes Straight into the Dishwasher Which is Emptied as Soon as it Finishes school – see counsel of perfection, above.

Dirty dishes
Both Sink and Bench schools agree that Both is the wrong answer.
I frankly admit that I was raised in a Bench family, but I endeavour to set aside my prejudices and consider the reasons for and against. And it must be openly acknowledged that at first sight, the Sink school seem to have logic in their corner. The dishes are to be washed – where? In the sink. So why not put them there directly, instead of moving them to the bench first?

I’ll tell you why not. Because the Right Way of washing dishes does not start with squirting detergent over a heterogenous sinkful of pots, plates, cutlery and what have you, then adding water to the point marked X (even if you can still locate the plug and plughole).  If your sink is full of dishes that need to be washed, what’s the first thing you do? Take them out and stack them on the bench. So why not stack them there in the first place?

One reason, of course, is that dishes are less visible in the sink, and this is a strong argument for those of us with an overactive sense of aesthetics. It was even enough to make me reconsider where my loyalties lay. But then another argument came along, sweeping all before it. If your sink is full of dishes, how will you fit the kettle in under the tap?

Try fitting your kettle in there without causing an avalanche.

The jury is in, at least as far as I’m concerned. If it makes it hard to have a cup of tea, it doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing it is; I won’t do it.

Where do your loyalties lie in the sink/bench debate – and what are your reasons?

8 Replies to “Dishes: In the Sink or Out?”

  1. I am firmly of the School of Bench. (this may not be much surprise to you)
    As you stated: “If your sink is full of dishes that need to be washed, what’s the first thing you do? Take them out and stack them on the bench. So why not stack them there in the first place?”
    Really, in the case that one does not possess (or use?) a dishwasher, what more need be said?

    1. Quite so! But then, humans are not celebrated for their rational behaviour. Emotion and tribalism (and the widespread custom of doing things without necessarily thinking about them) probably play a larger role than we’d like to admit.

  2. Definitely Bench. If one is a follower of Flylady and her Ways, Bench may be replaced by a spare cupboard!
    The only time Sink is better, is when one has a very small sinkbench, and space is at a premium; I am currently living in a small house with only one side to the sinkbench.
    The notion that dishes in the sink are less visible is risible. If I can see them then so can everyone whose sightline is higher than mine.

    1. An excellent point!
      Speaking of cupboards, I’d love to have one of those dish-rack cupboards built over the sink with a rack and no bottom to it, but in this house, that would mean attaching a cupboard to the window. Difficult, to say the least.

  3. Did you mention the need to rinse dishes before putting them to await washing? Rinsing is easier when one uses the Bench method. I suspect that people who rinse in the sink, and then and stack on the bench, are not usually in a hurry to wash up. However, people who simply pile all the dirty dishes in the sink are expecting to come back soon and wash up, to avoid having to use heavy duty tools to remove the encrusted gunk.

  4. In our home, Husband prefers that I leave dirty dishes on the bench (or counter, as we call it in the USA). Actually he greatly prefers that I wash each spoon and cup as I am finished using them. Who wants to follow a cup or coffee or quick snack with another washing up? I consider that inefficient and wasteful of hot water, dish detergent and my precious time and energy. I prefer to hide the few dirty dishes that accumulate between standard meal times in the left-hand side of my double sink until the next ascribed washing up time (breakfast, lunch or dinner time). At the standard washing up times, I wash those dishes and then I place them to drain in the second bowl of the sink to continue hiding them. Out of sight, out of mind works for me. Usually the newly cleaned dishes join dishes from an earlier meal time. It is not good form to hastily put dry dishes in the cupboard. More will be joining them, correct? Allowing dishes, cutlery, and pans to air dry means I do not have to wipe them with a dish towel before putting them away. Such practice saves my time and energy and is, I believe, more hygienic. My Obsessive Control Disorder (OCD) does not allow me to pile up dishes and pans as shown in your photos. Good gracious, such freedom and spontaneity amaze me and fill me with exquisite envy. Perhaps one day I will be cured of the OCD and can leave dirty dishes about the kitchen without the ensuing and engulfing guilt and anxiety. Until then, I can only dream. I do enjoy reading your blog.
    Yours Truly,
    Suellen James

    1. You’re quite right, washing each item as it’s used is both inefficient and wasteful. And putting dirty dishes in the sink is much less obtrusive (both to the eye and the sink-usage) if one has a double sink. Not having a double myself, I hadn’t thought of that.
      I am firmly of the belief – and feel free to tell your husband this – that people should not criticize how someone else does a job unless they’re prepared to do it themselves 🙂 As the saying goes, if you want it done your way, do it yourself.
      Thank you for commenting. May your future be free of OCD and the guilt and anxiety it brings!

What do you think?