Some chores I hate—vacuuming is loud…laundry is tedious…and scrubbing toilets…well, you know. But I love unloading the dishwasher. 

Before you dismiss me…or tell me how miserable you think that chore is…hear me out. Emptying the dishwasher touches upon many things that make me feel good…

It is task-oriented. It is a quick job that can be easily accomplished. When I start the day with unloading the dishwasher, as I do most days, I get a quick hit of dopamine—that goal is accomplished. It is great to start my morning with an infusion of that feel-good hormone.

There is a peaceful rhythm to the emptying. I’m not sure if it’s the placement of my dishwasher in relation to the cabinets, but when I unload, my body gets into a very satisfying rhythm. Swing…bend…lift…reach. The glasses and dishes go up…the silver goes midway…those awkward containers are stacked in their drawer. Emptying the dishwasher reminds me of one of my favorite activities—skating. The rhythm of skating’s bend…push…glide is very hypnotic and calming to my body. And oddly, the swing…bend…lift…reach feels the same to me.

The teamwork creates a personal connection.  When I was young, I often unloaded the dishwasher with my sister…and I loved that. We would get into a different rhythm working together as one of us emptied and, after the perfectly timed “baton handoff,” the other placed the items into the cabinets. No talking…just connection…and all in one flowing movement. Even without looking at one another, we just knew what to do and when to do it. I have felt the same connection and flow when unloading the dishwasher with my husband, my kids, even my son-in-law.

It creates more happy hormones. There’s nothing like a pair of us unloading the dishwasher to get that oxytocin—the connection hormone—flowing.  Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I enjoy sharing the moment, just as I see a special connection when middle-aged or older people can share reading glasses.

I am making order out of chaos. Empty cabinets feel so…so…empty. For a symmetry fiend like me, the empty spaces and gaps on the shelves feel a little chaotic—especially those coffee mugs, which have expanded over the years from my neatly matched set to an array of souvenir mugs from past trips and gifts. I know this sounds a little OCD, but there’s a lovely calming feeling that comes from putting everything back in its place. Dishes and bowls fully stacked, and glasses/mugs all lined up in their neat little rows.

I enjoy the fun of replenishment. There are shopaholics whose closets are filled with clothes they will never wear and knickknacks they don’t really need. I’m not a collector in that sense, but I do make sure I have backups for the necessities in the cabinets—olive oil, antibiotic salve, peanut butter, soy sauce, hand cream. And I get an odd feeling of accomplishment when I empty a container and have a replacement handy. I actually get a similar small thrill when I replenish the cabinet with the dishes and silver. It was empty, and now it’s replenished and I am ready for the next meal.

I can’t say that I get the same level of pleasure from filling the dishwasher since that happens piecemeal and is kind of a dirty process. But I do get similar satisfaction as I get from straightening up the house, returning items that have been randomly left on surfaces to their homes…or at least stashing them in cabinets and getting them out of the way. Putting dishes in the dishwasher doesn’t exactly finish the job of cleaning the kitchen, but it makes things look far better.

Compared to my usual musings about the state of humanity, the joy of emptying my dishwasher may seem trite, but hold on.  Many experts talk about the power of simplicity to reduce stress and anxiety. You can sit quietly for 20 minutes to meditate. Or you can engage in active meditations to similarly disengage your mind from stressful thoughts—walking the dog, chopping vegetables, washing your hair, shoveling snow…and yes, emptying the dishwasher. 

There is much joy to be had in simple pleasures. They’re not necessarily Insta-worthy like that walk on the beach at sunset or the concert you went to last night. But these moments exist all around us each day, releasing the hormones that make us feel good.

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