How to do fewer dishes and save water

telephone and glass of water

Erik’s outdoor office and his special glass.

This is just a little thing which we’ve started doing recently, but I really like it. Erik and I now have assigned water glasses and coffee mugs to use throughout the day. By reusing these glasses and mugs, we’ve really cut down on the amount of washing we do, and also save water, which is becoming increasingly critical in our never-ending drought.

We have very little cabinet space, so over the years I’d honed our glasses and cups to identical sets which stack neatly. This is great in terms of saving space, but the downside was that we never could tell one glass or mug from another, and so tended to just grab a fresh one whenever we needed a drink.  (As if we are going to catch cooties from each other!)

As a result, by the end of the day we’d have a ridiculous number of cups and glasses littering the house, considering there’s only the two of us. To remedy this, recently we each chose a unique glass and mug at the thrift store, and now use only these throughout the day. Basically, we’ve brought classic office practice into our home office.

This is one of those ideas which seems like a no-brainer, but which can easily not happen at all. I’m glad we’re doing it now.

I’m working on the same thing with plates. I have a wooden bowl which I use for most everything, but Erik is distrustful of wooden bowls–apparently he thinks they hold bacteria, since I don’t wash them with soap. I think he also finds them disturbingly hobbit-ish. So, for now, there are still multiple plates to wash. Maybe one day I’ll seduce him into Hobbiton and whittle his cutlery down to a wooden bowl, a big spoon, and a pewter mug. But in the meanwhile, we’re doing less dishes overall, and that is, and the high priestess of domesticity likes to say, A Good Thing.

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  1. I do this with my tea cups. I drink tea (pretty much) endlessly, and always have a teacup of one sort or another on the go. I keep the same one on my desk until it’s too grungy (generally about a week, unless I get something nasty onto the saucer) then switch it for another one. Nothing goes into the teacup but tea, although the type of tea varies, and I don’t contaminate my tea with anything (like milk or sugar) so it stays pretty clean for a while.

    I do the same thing for work – I have an empty small plastic pop bottle which I fill with tea for my lunch there. I rinse it out every night, and reuse it. I’ve used the same one for 4 months now. It’s starting to look a little… worse for wear, I guess… so I’ll switch it out soon.

    Yes, I drink cold tea. It’s just a good as hot tea, if you drink good quality tea.

  2. Perhaps he could be convinced to use a low ceramic bowl-plate? My grandmother had a wonderful set of dishes, of which the bowls were my favourite. They were wide, and only about an inch and a bit deep. You could make a sandwich, then fill the bowl with soup and balance your sandwich on the (also wonderful design feature) one inch horizontal lip of the bowl.

  3. I was taught this practice growing up as we did not have running water in the house. It is even better if you have a titanium or enamelware cup you can re-use for tea or coffee. You can rewarm that on the stove whenever you want.

    Blue is always my choice for water glasses. Somehow that habit holds in my mind from childhood very strongly. I always know my water glass because it is blue and I specifically have a set of 4 glasses with blue rims on two and blue throughout on two. One for each of us. I don’t really care if I drink his water or he drinks mine 😉 It is always going to be water in that glass.

    Also, another good habit is to put on a kettle of water first thing in the morning in the cooler or freezing months and pour that into a thermos for refreshing tea throughout the day. It helps to warm the body instead of the building as well as making sure you stay hydrated. It is a very good practice to keep an elderly person well hydrated as elderly do not have the thirst mechanism quite the same way those a bit younger do. So if you are caring for one offering tea as a social thing throughout the day is one of the best ways to keep them hydrated especially with a dab of honey in that mint or chamomile tea with some nettles hidden for that extra mineral boost they and you and me all could use.

    • We share the water warming trick with you and sometimes just sip the warm water without making it into tea. It somehow has a taste different from cool water.

    • I agree too– hot water is a great drink, esp. in the winter–and it does taste different. I learned it from a woman who called it “white tea”.
      I like c.’s tip about the elderly, and about adding a bit of extra ingredients to boost mineral content.

  4. This is the spur I need. With 3 of us home full time and the 4th a “heavy drinker” when he is home, I’m constantly washing glasses and fuming. I think I’ll make elastic bands encased in different fabric scraps to fit around our glasses. Each person gets his/her own color.

    When the extended clan visited my grandmother’s house, she had lacy crocheted sleeves in different colors that slid onto the bottom of her glasses. We were all firmly told to use ONE glass and remember our color. My solution will be a little more rough-n-ready.

  5. I did this as soon as I married. Someone gave us jelly in a jar with paraffin on top. So, I claimed the clean glass and kept it on the sink….until my mil’s first visit. I caught her drinking from my glass. I was upset and told her not to drink from my glass. However, she claimed I was silly. So, for the rest of her visit, I used about a dozen glasses each day and had no dishwasher. I was so glad she lived over 1000 miles away since I seemed to have no say about my own home or preferences.

    When I worked, glasses or dishes were never a problem. I used on in the morning for milk and another at night. NOW, home all the time for five years, glasses were the bane of my existence. So, I changed to plastic “glasses.” For $3/month I am free of all those glasses.

    Then, one day I saw Klean Kanteen stainless steel “glass” in a local shop. I vowed I would wash it after each use of milk or other liquid for three months, thus saving on plastic use and cost. I did.

    Why couldn’t I wash a glass all day long? I don’t know.

    At some point my survival became more important than being frugal or planet-minded about some things. I can barely walk or stand or sit. However, I reuse my paper plate from a sandwich to put food on to take to the hens. I even put the plastic glass in the refrigerator if I have only had water in it. After using a glass for me, then the hens, I usually reuse it again for wet scraps for the hens. I do use a real plate for real meals.

    I have had a fruit fly problem and a fly problem that is recurring, so a glass on the side of the sink is no longer anything I can stand because it attracts these two pests.

    When the family arrived at Mama’s for a holiday, she had a set of hard plastic 8 oz. tumblers she pulled out. She had all five children’s names, seven grandchildren’s names, and sil and dil names. She told me that was what all were to use all day and parents were responsible for washing them for their own children for the duration of the stay. She stored them away for the next holiday. Daddy could use whatever he liked and was the only coffee drinker in the bunch.

    When I was about eight-years old, Mama bought a set of four aluminum tumblers and each of us four older children had our own color. (baby had a bottle) From that time on, we had some sort of glass, real glass after the aluminum ones that we drank from.

    With five kids, no ac, no dishwasher, and living in the Deep South at that time, a person thinks about these things. There was no thought of saving water or energy.

    • I remember those colored aluminum tumblers! And also, I agree about the Kleen Kanteen cups–they’re nice. I have an insulated version for camping, and I really like it.

    • PP – this post reminded me of your cheese knife post awhile back….as i mentioned on your blog, i use the same tea cup which i also use for water….my husband uses his same coffee cup and has a large water bottle he refills. i don’t wash my tea pot either – just gets a quick rinse maybe every other day or so…..we leave a spoon in our pot of food for eating…..i use my same plate throughout the day unless it is something really messy I’ve eaten – pots and pans and messy dishes get the dogs licking to clean them before i wash them so i don’t have to spend tons of time cleaning food from them……i don’t know that i ever have done it with any environmental intent – i just don’t see the point of washing things so much….maybe I’m lazy???? but then i don’t refrigerate things like people say i should either. we also share a toothbrush. i do treat guests with clean plates and glasses and as many as they like.

  6. We still don’t have a dishwasher after raising our kids and now empty nesters for 25 years. We each have a coffee cup that we rinse out after drinking from it. Same with glasses. We lived the Waltons lifestyle when I was little…same era, too. Water was always too precious to waste.

  7. I grew up with an assigned glass we used all week, sometimes longer, same with cereal bowls. You do a quick rinse if it’s something like milk, but otherwise, that glass/bowl sat on the back of the sink unless in use or until wash day. My husband grew up with a mother that washed things the instant they hit the table practically, but he adapted to the assigned glass through the week thing really quickly and we only run our dishwasher maybe once every two weeks.

    I also grew up using paper plates and napkins and tossing them out rather than washing and I changed that as soon as I moved out. It is easier and better for the environment to use real plates and wipe them off (9 times out of 10 there’s very little food left on the plate from sandwiches or the like) or wash them and we use cloth napkins than tossing out all that paper…

  8. I was always impressed by the stories of the monks in Asia who just used a begging bowl. If they could do it, why can’t we?

  9. We’ve been doing this for years with our water glasses (I enforce daily hydration). Each individual has their own spot on the counter. Personally, I wash my glass when I see it looking smudgy or dirty, which is every other day or so.

  10. I like your idea! I also live in California were drought is a problem and in order to conserve water have put a big bowl into the sink. I use eco friendly dishwashing soap and catch the gray water which I then feed to the lawn. It’s an endless back and forth to the yard to dump water, but I look at it as exercise. My grass that has received the gray water has stayed in a much better shape than the grass that has not received the additional watering.

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