How to Create a Dishes Routine

Last week we discovered that laundry and dishes were two tasks families must tackle on a regular basis, and I taught you a 5-step process for creating a laundry routine.

I’m going to cover dishes today!  Read below (or video below with the same information if that’s better for learning) to learn how to find freedom in creating a routine an inevitable part of our lives.

Just like I mentioned with the laundry routine, I’m not here to give you a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all dishes routine.  I’m here to encourage you to assess, become curious, plan, and implement a routine that works best for you and your family given your schedule and current season of life.

Here’s a 5-step process for creating a routine around dishes:
Step 1: Just like the laundry routine, the first step in creating a dishes routine is to take inventory of the way you currently tackle dishes. 
  • Do you have a dishwasher? If so, about how many cycles do you run in an average week?
  • If you have a dishwasher, do you tend to also hand wash dishes? What kinds of dishes do you hand wash?  Large pans? Anything that won’t fit?  Other items?
  • If you don’t have a dishwasher, do you hand wash dishes once per day? Twice? More?
  • A current assessment will help you know where you’re at to have a better plan for where you’d like to be.
Step 2: Through the inventory process, can you determine what areas could stand improvement?
  • Do dishes pile up in the sink? On the kitchen counter?
  • Does it take you a few days to fill up the dishwasher, and it starts to smell?
  • Do you forget to rinse dishes and have caked on food that you can’t easily get off?
  • Do you have baby or kid items you’re struggling with? Bottles?  Sippy cups?  Drink containers everywhere?
  • Identify any other areas you would like to improve.
Step 3: Determine what dishes routine method works best for your schedule.
  • Start the dishwasher just about every evening no matter how full it is?
  • (No dishwasher) Hand wash all the dishes in the morning? In the evening?
  • Start the dishwasher every other day?
  • Hand wash bulky pieces?
Step 4: Pick a time that you’d like to regularly handle dishes.
  • This time is up to you, but I will say that many families see success in tackling loading/hand washing dishes immediately after dinner.
  • Do you want to split up loading versus unloading? For example, load or hand wash dishes in the evening, then put away dishes in the morning.
  • Are mornings better? Or mid-day?
Step 5: If you’d like other family member involvement, share the plan with them to get feedback and buy in, then start!
  • If your spouse is helping, maybe you could all work together after dinner?
  • Or maybe you could alternate days and the other spouse starts bedtime routine with the kids?
  • Assess and make adjustments if you’ve started a routine and after 2-3 weeks you notice it’s not working like you had hoped.

Here’s my dishes routine if it might be helpful to see an example and help you in figuring out what works best for you and your family.  My husband and I rinse off dishes right after using them, then immediately stick them in the dishwasher.

After dinner, our oldest daughter knows the routine…she takes her tray to the kitchen counter next to the sink after throwing out any small uneaten pieces.  I HIGHLY suggest Bumkins Silicone Grip Dish with Lid 5-Section Divided Plate for kids.  Here’s an affiliate link to the product on Amazon:   

If either girl has leftovers, we simply put the lid on and put it in the fridge!  We hand wash the silicone plates and put them on our drying mat.

My husband and I put our dishes in the dishwasher after rinsing off any food that might cause a smell since we do not usually run the dishwasher daily.

We usually run the dishwasher every other day.  When you run the dishwasher doesn’t matter as much as figuring out how you will avoid having a large pile of dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter.

We hand wash large bowls (when we meal prep on Sundays), and we’ll also hand wash our breakfast and lunch dishes sometimes because we can simply reuse our breakfast dishes for lunch and even for dinner so that we’re only dirtying one plate/bowl instead of three!  We just put the hand washed clean dish on our drying mat.

We like to unload our dishwasher either in the morning before our work days begin or after work; the time we choose depends on the morning schedule with our kids, but our one goal is to have the dishes unloaded before dinner so that we have an empty dishwasher ready for dinner dishes after eating.  If there’s any large pieces that need to be hand washed after dinner, my husband will wash them while I start bedtime routine with our kids.  Love this new routine where my husband takes care of large pieces and cleans up the kitchen if it’s needing more work than our 10-minute family pickup can handle!  It’s a great trade-off for him as I usually get the girls teeth brushed and flossed (and our dog’s teeth brushed), and have them get their jammies on before he joins us.

Here’s a truth about life…schedules get thrown off, emergencies sometimes happen, and there’s usually bumps when you’re transitioning into a new season of life.  Here’s another truth…just because life throws you curveballs doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel on your existing routines.  Recognize when routines go awry, accept that’s part of the journey, check in to see if there’s any lessons to learn for future improvement, adjust as needed, then get back on the routine as soon as you’re able.  You can get back on track, and you will experience positive benefits from creating routines in your life.

What happens when schedules go awry and the unexpected happens and throws you off routine?  Dust yourself off, recognize that life happens and routines don’t have to be anywhere close to perfect, and just get back on the routine as soon as you can.  If you’re thrown off your routine on a regular basis, it’s a great time to assess and see what you can change about your routine to make it stick because I can promise you that the more you can automate tasks that must happen, the less mental brainpower they require and the more time you have for other priorities!  I’ve noticed that the longer I sustain my dishes routine (and other routines), the more efficient the routine becomes, taking less and less time to accomplish!

As a reminder, routines need to be customized to fit the season of life you’re in with special consideration of your personality and your schedule.  Trying to force an ill-fitting routine will only result in temporary success, not lasting change!

Are you wanting more help on habits and routines?  Please reach out to me (; I’d love to help you create lasting routines and find more joy!

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