Are you struggling to get into the habit of an after dinner routine, because you think you need to do everything perfectly? I’m sharing the three simple things I started to do every night, which have not only made an impact on how clean my kitchen is but also how we tackle our mornings.
I’m not overly proud to admit this, but we struggled with family routines for a long time after Em was born. It got especially hard when she started on solids, and I was (and still am) really passionate about making family mealtimes at an actual table happen.
The worst thing was that we a) always seemed to be out of dishes, b) never had a clean dining table and c) generally had no clue what to do at mealtimes.
And do you know what? It wasn’t the dinners that were the most exhausting.
It was the mornings that destroyed us.
After a night of restless, heavily interrupted sleep – the last thing you want to wake up to is piles of dirty dishes all over the kitchen, a dishwasher that’s full but didn’t run and worst of all: Last night’s leftover Capellini Pomodoro (you know, skinny spaghetti with a jar of tomato sauce, because that’s what we ate when we didn’t eat toast) still on the dining table.
And the crumbs from about a thousand breakfasts before that.
It wasn’t just a physical challenge – sleep deprivation and cleaning don’t really go hand in hand. (There’s more of a body-couch connection going on…) It was also mentally hard, because I felt like a failure as a wife and as a mom.
So one day we sat down and discussed strategies how we could make our life easier, better and more manageable by introducing a few simple steps to settle into an after dinner routine.
I tried a few different things, but the after dinner routine I’m sharing with you today is what WORKED, and what I’m still sticking to today!
Wipe down the dining table
While we do use the dining table for other things than eating, I do try to keep it free of clutter like paperwork or art supplies once we’re done with what we were working on.
That way we (usually) don’t have any extra stuff lying on the table like we used to, and it makes it easier to sit down and enjoy a meal together.
It doesn’t always happen during the day, because sometimes I need to keep working on something after lunch. But the one rule I’m sticking to after dinner: I wipe down the table.
And for that I have to carry all the dishes to the kitchen sink. Put away any clutter still hanging out. As long as I’m at it, I also wipe down the sticky toddler high chair.
Because that thing used to be a HOT MESS! Hint: never give your baby a tomato without the seeds removed. Those bad boys stick to anything and everything.
This simple step takes 5 minutes, tops. And it means we’ll at least have a clean table to sit at for breakfast, even if we have a rough night.
Load and run the dishwasher
The moment you get up in the morning and want to make breakfast but can’t because all the bowls are still in the dishwasher and DIRTY – you know what I’m talking about.
I used to think that I cannot POSSIBLY move another limb after eating dinner and putting Em to sleep. But the 5-10 minutes I put myself into auto-pilot to get the dishwasher going have saved me countless nervous breakdowns in the mornings.
I will usually do this while Brani gets the kiddo ready for bed – or the other way around. That way most of the cleanup is already done when she’s fallen asleep, and we don’t feel like we need to spend our ENTIRE EVENING washing dishes.
Because it does tend to feel like tidying up will take HOURS.
Stack the dishes and soak what needs to be soaked
Yes, I’m giving you permission to leave the dirty dishes be dirty dishes until tomorrow.
I tried to be all adult about this, because I remembered how my mom made sure the kitchen was spotless every single night.
But I once complained to her that I never seem to be able to keep the house in order. And her response was this: You don’t have to do everything at once.
And it’s true – you don’t! We still have many nights when neither of us can even begin to imagine doing the dishes. When we’re sick, or when we just had a really exhausting day. Sometimes life happens, and that’s totally OK.
Chances are that there’s not that much around anyways if you already loaded the dishwasher. And anything that’s remaining – just stack everything in the sink, soak what needs to be soaked (!!) and wipe down the counter tops.
Not only does this make it easier to prep breakfast in the morning (because there’s actually clean counter space available), but you’re also not greeted by a dish-explosion first thing at 6 a.m. (yes, that’s when Em gets up and demands breakfast to be served – you can send uplifting eMails my way, thankyouverymuch).
Extra credit: Set the table for breakfast
This is something I don’t do every day, just when I know I’ll be extra happy about it in the morning.
Or when my in-laws are staying with us and I need to impress them.
Either way, when we have an even earlier morning or a very busy day planned ahead, I try to set the table for breakfast in the evening.
I don’t know why, but that simple step relaxes those crazy mornings so much. It even helps me remember packing drinks and snacks for road trips. I consider that a serious win.
It may sound silly, but ever since we started implementing this simple after dinner routine, our life has gotten so much easier!
- We’re no longer in a bad mood in the mornings because everything is a mess. I’m much calmer now after getting up, because there’s no mommy guilt. I don’t feel like I need to rush around to get everything clean BEFORE I can even start making breakfast. OK, you got me: Before Brani can make breakfast. It’s all about dividing the chores, right?!
- When I walk through our home in the evening it’s no longer giving me headaches. A messy dining table and dirty dishes everywhere most certainly did give me headaches. And when I sit on the couch at 9pm and decide I need to watch some TV to relax, I can do so WITHOUT thinking about the mess I should actually be cleaning up. Plus, it’s easier to make popcorn in a (somewhat) tidy kitchen.
- Cooking and feeding a hungry toddler has become much simpler. I don’t know why exactly, because it’s not like I’m putting in hours of effort in the evenings. It’s 20 minutes, tops. And that’s on a bad night and/or when I did the cooking (I’m a messy cook, Brani is the wonder genius of mess-free cooking). But somehow sticking to this routine has really helped us make family mealtime a thing that’s generally happening at a table with home cooked food.
- It’s just generally cleaner and tidier around here. I don’t think I need to explain this one 😃
I’m not claiming I’ve found the wonders of parenthood. Or that I found anything significant at all.
It’s just a really good way for me to get a grip on the ever-present chaos, and to have some basic guidelines I can stick to when life gets crazy. WITHOUT EVEN HAVING TO DO THE DISHES AFTER DINNER!!
Sorry for shouting, but that’s the part I’m really most excited about.
If you want to experience the same AHA-MOMENT, you just need to know this: It takes 66 days to make a new thing into a routine.
And I’m not exactly known for sticking things out, because I’m a somewhat impatient person in certain ways.
But what I did was this: I wrote the steps on a piece of paper, and stuck it to the dishwasher. Seeing it written out helped me focus so much. It broke down
the chaos the things I had to do to get some sort of order into my house into manageable steps. And it kept me accountable. This was especially helpful again when I suffered from all-day sickness during my second pregnancy and didn’t even want to cook.
If I was able to make this a routine, YOU are as well.
And because I’m really, really trying to convince you to try this – I already wrote everything down for you. All you have to do is click here to print it, put it up somewhere you will see it, and then remind yourself that you won’t get your chocolate until that dishwasher is running and the pots and pans are stacked in the sink 😉