Washing the dishes has long held a honorable position in the arsenal of strategies adopted by those who procrastinate. (Sometime in the near future I anticipate Facebook and Twitter conducting some sophisticated data analysis to indicate how many of their users announce it as such.) Indeed, we should elevate this claim to be one of those truths universally acknowledged: if an anxiety-inducing piece of work awaits, well then, so does a pile of dirty dishes in your sink which demand immediate attention. The reasons for why dishwashing has risen to the top of the heap of alternative occupations of time instead of our work are not hard to find.
First, washing the dishes is a virtuous act. Dirt is banished from the kitchen and household; cleanliness is welcomed; salmonella are vanquished; disease and pestilence are expelled. Order is imposed; entropy is resisted, vainly, for just a little while longer. Cleanliness is next to godliness, n’est ce pas?
Second, dishwashing is a physically immersive and thus intensely absorbing act, all the better to dispel paralyzing anxiety with. Faucet flow and water temperature must be adjusted; sponge and soap make contact with dish surfaces; dirt dissolves underneath our fingertips; our hands feel the flow of soapy water over them. Dishes that call for extra scrubbing require intense concentration on the task at hand. Clean dishes must be stacked and arranged carefully; memories of wine glasses broken during this phase especially help concentrate the mind here. These considerations do not apply to those who use a mechanized dishwasher; those poor saps, slaves to technology and automation, have no idea what they are missing out on. (My wife often wonders why I resist buying a dishwasher; besides not trusting their ability to actually clean our dishes, I sense a grave loss would ensue. I would be denied a central strategy for procrastination.)
Third, dishwashing lets us feel we have helped out with house work, sometimes foolishly considered an ignoble calling. We sense our roommates–whether college buddies, fellow city workers, or significant others–will delight in the sight of a sink free of dishes. (These considerations do not apply to those who live alone, of course, but then, they have greater worries on their minds.) We anticipate our partners’ reactions of gratitude and appreciation with some pleasure, which make an excellent contrast with the imagined scorn of those who would read, or otherwise experience, the execrable work we would be engaged in otherwise. The payoffs here are greater; immediate pursuit of this venture seems an eminently sensible move. In this regard, some men might regard their washing the dishes as part of their movement toward a new sort of manhood, one more in tune with the demands of housework, a kind of personal growth which our newly acquired feminist sensibilities would appreciate.
Note: I’m writing this post in an anxiety-induced state, unable to finalize my syllabus for the fall, finish a long-in-the-works essay, resume working on a draft manuscript, pack for a soon-to-be undertaken hike, or do the laundry. I’ve already done the dishes.