Is the Kitchen Sink the best place to think?
Do dirty dishes help to clear the mind
This article was authored at the kitchen sink.
As a young Malawian bachelor (some rude people would say senior bachelor), I often find myself at the kitchen sink doing dishes. Not only because it's the one skill I am confident at in the kitchen when I compare myself to my house mate, particularly his cooking skills, but also because it's the one activity I have found that somehow helps me think a lot more than other activities.
There are few places in a house where one can retreat to have some time to think. Many of us retreat to the revered W.C. 🚽, others will walk about in a garden if they have one, others laze around the couch or if they are fancy on a Hammock, still more others lay in bed looking up at the ceiling as they gather their thoughts. (Side note: I intend to try to be fancy one day because of this talk by Rich Hickey).
As for me, I long for dirty dishes and some time at the kitchen sink.
The Kitchen Sink Theory
Why is the Kitchen Sink so amenable to thinking? I have thought about this a bit (no doubt at the Kitchen Sink) but can only offer a theory: Washing dishes is an activity that has a predictable, well-defined process and outcome that it can be done almost mindlessly, but not completely. You cannot mindlessly handle a knife, soapy ceramic plate or glass tumbler. Even though it's a somewhat mindless activity, it leaves one room to spend time thinking about other things throughout the activity. Washing dishes is one of the most delightful activities because it leaves you with a clean kitchen sink, countertop, clean dishes, and a sense of completion - if done right.
What to think about at the Kitchen Sink ?
I tend to think about about life, relationships, programming, work related issues or new ideas. One limitation of working the mind at the kitchen sink is that my hands are arrested by the very dishes, cutlery, water and dish washing liquid and I cannot write down what I am thinking of immediately. Taking a break to write would disrupt the flow of cleaning and thinking so I usually delegate that to later, if I don't get distracted by another thought by the time I am leaving the kitchen. Most of the time the thoughts do stick or lead to some action; whether finding something to read, research on, write down or code up.
There aren't enough dirty dishes, I need an alternative.
Despite the fact that this works for me, the most glaring limitation is that once you are done washing dishes, that's the end of the session. It makes no sense to wash dishes for the sake of washing or just as an excuse to think (though I get tempted to do so every now and then).
Therefore I am looking for an alternative activity, something similarly mindless, that will not wait on me to have dirty dishes at my disposal.
What would you suggest ?
❤️ Thank you to my lovely fiancée for helping me edit this post. Thanks for being patient when I'm doing dishes. ❤️