Subject: Dirty Dishes
Sent: Tue 3/8/2011 4:45 PM
To: All Employees

Are those your dirty coffee/tea cups in the sink? If so…please be respectful of others and remember that you are not at home. Some of them have been there a loooong time, have mysterious things growing in them and are in desperate need of a washing. Thanks very much for taking care of this.

The dirty mugs appeared in the sink months ago. It was sudden, as if there had been some sort of morning social gathering where coffee was served. I don't remember anything like that happening in the office, but maybe I wasn't invited. I have my own mug anyway, one of the free kind that we all get whenever the marketing department designs a new one to give away to customers. It gets washed regularly, basically every morning before I use it again. If I were a different kind of person, I would wash it in the afternoons, once I'm finished with my morning tea. It's my morning tea, but it takes me all day to drink it. I usually heat it up for a few seconds in the afternoon. Sometimes I don't finish it at all, and the next morning it's still sitting there, cold and gross, the fat from the cream having risen and made swirly patterns on the top. That's when I dump it out and wash the mug so I can do it all over again.

It's the same with the travel coffee mug that I use on Friday afternoons, when the marketing woman and I go to get coffee at Starbucks. You get a discount if you bring your own mug, plus they only charge me for a 12 ounce, when the mug is more like 16 ounces. So every Friday afternoon, I have to go wash the crusty dregs from last week out of the mug. It's a little harder to clean the travel mug because of the cap, and so every time I have to use my fingernails to get in the tight spaces, I think it would have been easier if I had just rinsed out the mug last week. But I never do that.

I clean on an as-needed basis. I clean my house when guests are coming, I do laundry when I'm out of underwear, and I wash the dishes when I run out of spoons (or sink space). In college, we used to run out of spoons before anything else. My solution was to go to the thrift store and buy a dozen spoons for a dime apiece.

I had a roommate in college who wanted to wash each dish right after use. Her idea was that if we all did this, then there would never be a fight about whose turn it was to do the dishes, because we'd all be only responsible for ourselves. It was good in theory, but the other roommate and I wrecked it by always just setting dishes in the sink and walking off to do something else. Sometimes my dishes didn't even make it to the sink, and they sat in my room for a few days until someone else got frustrated enough to go looking for them. I would have preferred a different system, one where we all tossed the dishes in the sink and then one of us would do them all at once when the sink got full. This didn't really work either, as each of us had different tolerance levels when it came to a stack of dirty dishes. Our idea for when the situation had reached the point of being just too disgusting to continue varied. I think now that the only difference between a very messy person and a very tidy one is tolerance. Most people probably prefer to live in a clean house, but some people are able to live with the dirt.

See? I'm not messy; I'm tolerant.

At one point, my roommates lobbied the landlord to get a dishwasher, one of those little countertop jobbies. I didn't want to pay for it, and the dish situation really didn't bother me anyway. Between my tight purse strings and high mess tolerance, I was against the idea, but I was outnumbered. It didn't matter, because to get one, you needed a disposal in the sink, and no one, including the landlord, wanted to pay for that. I thought it was a waste of time anyway. We'd just end up arguing about loading and unloading a dishwasher if we had one.

Then I lived alone for several years, and there were no fights at all about dirty dishes. I was responsible for my own messes and I cleaned them up whenever my tolerance was tested. I would visit Josh and listen to him and his roommates bicker about whose turn it was to do the dishes, and I laughed inside.

We all got that email about the mugs yesterday afternoon, and this morning, I took one for the team and washed three of the ten mugs in the sink. I picked the cleanest-looking ones, figuring that since I was stepping up first, I had the right. Not that it matters, because no one else will wash any of them. I'll wash three more this afternoon or tomorrow, and keep doing that until they are all clean.

That's kind of the way it works at the office. Everyone creates messes, most of which are mopped up by the cleaning staff that comes in every evening. But the staff does not wash the dishes, nor do they clean out the fridge or the microwave. Those things remain dirty.

We have two microwaves, one white and one black. The black one is fairly disgusting. Months of exploded food are crusted on each of the six interior walls. Someone has been eating a lot of marinara. Truth be told, I hadn't even noticed it, because I usually use the white microwave. But the few times I have used the black one, the remnants of reheated lunches never caught my attention. The only reason I noticed it at all is because someone else mentioned it.

"We ought to just throw that microwave away. It's disgusting."

"You can't throw away a perfectly good microwave just because it's dirty."

"Why don't you clean it?"

"Because I don't use it."


"No. It's because I don't care."

Then my coworker was shocked, because I am female and he thinks that all females are very tidy. I wanted to be offended by the implication that I should be a neat person, that I should enjoy cleaning, just because I'm a woman. Hey, dude, I'm not supposed to be a software engineer either, but here I am. But more likely is that he really does think that all women are clean, having only shared living quarters with two women in his whole life. If both his mother and his wife happened to have low mess tolerance, then he might come away with the idea that we're all like that. Messiness is certainly more tolerated in a man than it is in a woman (See also: aggression, rudeness, being fat). Women, who are subject to this, too, help the perception by allowing it to drive their behavior. Women are supposed to be clean, and so they clean, at least for the sake of appearances. Why else would I suddenly develop an interest in the state of my floors when company calls? I certainly don't give two craps at any other time.

I met a woman recently who talked very openly about having a dirty house. She talked about clothes on the floor, dust bunnies under the couch, crusty dishes in the bedroom. Now it was my turn to be shocked, not because she lived that way, but because she talked about it openly and without embarrassment. I admired her honesty and unconcerned acceptance of her natural high tolerance for mess. Despite how often I announce it to the internet, I've not yet made peace with that part of myself. I felt embarrassed for her, wondering what the other women at the table were thinking. But I too am a victim of the stereotype that women are clean beings. Maybe the others were thinking, like me, that this lady's house sounded a lot like their own.

1 comment:

Carla said...

My motto: Keep it clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy. Life is too short to stress about keeping your house spotless all the time.