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Frugal living tip #13. March 30, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for another frugal living tip here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. This one’s all about using the sense God gave you. And a little dishwashing soap.

I was astounded the other day to read an article from the Associated Press about how the residents of Spokane, Washington, were crossing the border into Idaho to smuggle in, not cheaper liquor or cigarettes, but dishwashing detergent. The author explained that Spokane County had banned the use of phosphate-laden detergents, which contaminate lakes and rivers, causing an algae bloom that kills fish, in favor of eco-friendly phosphate-free detergents. Spokane residents weren’t buying it, or I should say, them.

Why? Because—and here’s the telling part—the “green” detergents don’t work as well in a dishwasher. As the article explained, “Many people were shocked to find that products… left their dishes encrusted with food, smeared with grease and too gross to use without rewashing them by hand.” [emphasis mine]

I don’t for a minute blame anyone for not wanting to eat from food-encrusted, greasy dishware. Eeeeewwww!!!! But I have to wonder why it doesn’t seem to occur to any of the outraged citizens quoted in the article to wash their dishes by hand to begin with. They’d save water, save electricity, save themselves from noise pollution, save our waterways from chemical pollution, and get a little exercise in the bargain. And, of course, save money.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we have no dishwasher and have always washed dishes by hand. We use “green” dishwashing liquid. Our dishes come out clean. But we also don’t use dishes the way most Americans do. From what I’ve seen in people’s houses, it’s like filling the dishwasher fastest was an Olympic sport. Some people I know use their dishwashers several times a day; others have more than one dishwasher to keep up with the overflow.

Not us. I always set the table with the full complement of silverware. But if we don’t use, say, our spoons at a meal, I put those clean, unused spoons back in the drawer rather than tossing them into the sink. If our friend Ben has several cups of coffee in the morning, he drinks them from the same mug rather than hauling down a new mug every time. If we’re eating chips and cheese and think we might want a few more later, we’ll leave our plate on the counter until we’ve either refilled it or thought better of having seconds. And so on. You’d be surprised at how this approach cuts down on washing.

Mind you, this does not mean that we leave filthy, food-smeared plates lying around. I can’t abide filth, and not only do I not want to look at it, I don’t want dirty dishes to pile up. Our trick for keeping hand-washing manageable is to wash up immediately after each meal. It keeps the chore down to a just a few minutes, and almost anyone can face the prospect of that.

Okay, you’re asking, but what if you have kids? Guess what? Kids have minds and arms. You can teach them not to use more dishware than is needed, and to wash their dishes and put them on the drying rack (yes, you’ll need one of those) afterwards. Obviously, you don’t want a three-year-old washing dishes. But for older kids, it can be a rotating chore like making their beds, setting and clearing the table, feeding the dog, and taking out the trash. Kids get delightfully excited about being green and helping their world thrive. Put it in that context, and you may be pleasantly surprised at their willingness to pitch in, as long, of course, as you lead the way.

Which reminds me: I hope you’ve already gotten in the habit of using an under-sink compost bucket for your kitchen scraps rather than tossing them down the garbage disposal (more noise pollution and wasted resources!). Keep vermin-attracting stuff like meat scraps, bones, and grease out of the bucket, but everything else can go in. Look at it as free food for your garden!

Oh, and here’s another frugal fun fact for you: If you invest a few dollars in a dishwashing pan, you get a great freebie when you hand-wash dishes. That dirty, soapy wash water may not look too appealing to you, but plants love it. Use it in your garden to feed and water your plants, and the soap will help keep pests off, too!

          ‘Til next time,