“I didn’t make this mess. So why do I have to clean it up?”
For years, I heard these words of protest from my kids when it was their turn to clean up the kitchen.
Sometimes, I responded with a snarky comeback about all my years of selfless diaper-changing. Other times, I cleaned up the kitchen myself.
Honestly, whenever I took care of the kitchen on my own, I caught myself thinking the exact same thing:
I didn’t make this mess. So why do I have to clean it up?
The problem with cleaning the kitchen
Our protests reveal our belief that whoever makes the kitchen mess should be the one to clean it up.
As with so many time-honored cliches, this seems so logical.
Like, “You break it; you fix it.”
And, “You make your bed; you lie in it.”
“You mess it, you clean it.”
It just felt right.
But it caused all sorts of overwhelmingly negative feelings, such as annoyance, frustration, irritation, and resentment. (Just for starters.)
A different way of thinking
A few years ago, I realized there are valid exceptions to the “you mess it, you clean it” rule.
1. Sometimes, the person who makes the kitchen mess has done so to bless the family, or perhaps a houseful of guests, with a delicious meal. Since they’ve done all the work of fixing the food, it’s only fair for others to pitch in and help with the clean-up.
2. Other times, the kitchen stays messy while a cleaning-related process is happening, such as running the dishwasher or waiting for pots and pans in the drainer to air dry.
3. Often, it’s impossible to figure out “who made this mess.” When we try, we end up in petty arguments:
– “No, that’s not my knife. I put my knife in the dishwasher already!”
– “Those aren’t my crumbs. I know how to use a sponge!”
– “The stain in the sink is green. I never fix green food.”
Our solution to cut the complaining
Instead of wasting our time and energy fretting about “who made this mess?” we started asking ourselves one simple question when entering the kitchen:
“How can I move the kitchen to its next stage?”
Together, we came up with a list of kitchen stages and necessary actions:
The sink is full of dishes. Put them in the dishwasher.
The dishwasher is full. Run it.
The dishwasher is clean. Empty it.
The dishes in the drainer are dry. Put them away.
The counters are crumby. Wipe them down.
This one simple change in focus produced surprising results.
1. We’ve quit worrying about “Who made the mess?” and accepted the fact kitchens get messy.
2. We’ve all taken ownership of the kitchen. And its messes and clean-up.
3. We’ve become more considerate. We realize when we each do our small part, the “next stage” requires far less work.
Making it work for you
Your kitchen stages may well be different than ours. And if you have younger children, you’ll want to break the various stages and actions into micro-steps. Perhaps even make a stages flow chart and wipe-off checklist to put on the fridge.
Consider printing and posting 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 as a reminder that while we are unique individuals, God calls us to work together as one.
One Small Win: However you choose to do it, intentionally change the protest “I didn’t make this mess!” to the question “How can I move the kitchen to its next stage?”
You’ll say, “Good-bye” to overwhelming negativity.
And “Hello” to cooperation in the kitchen.
Cheri Gregory is a teacher, speaker, author, and Certified Personality Trainer. Her passion is helping women break free from destructive expectations. She writes and speaks from the conviction that “how to” works best in partnership with “heart, too.”
Cheri is the co-author, with Kathi Lipp, of The Cure for the “Perfect” Life and Overwhelmed.
Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, her opposite personality, for twenty-eight years and is “Mom” to Annemarie (25) and Jonathon (24), also opposite personalities.
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person? Take the self-quiz and discover the surprising strengths of a tender heart.