What should a young husband know about cleaning up in the kitchen?

Kitchen from a 1900 slum (Photo from State Records NSW - CC-BY)

What should a young husband know about cleaning up in the kitchen? If you muttered: “as little as possible”, that may have been honest, but not appropriate for your new role, all the more reason to read the following.

There are stories about men managing to drop their wife’s favorite plate the first time they dried the dishes, and her banning him from the kitchen for all time. I suspect, however, that the stories are wishful thinking. It is also a risky way to start a marriage.

Unless you are the master cook in the household, your wife will consider the kitchen to be her domain; you are only a—more or less—welcome assistant. You will be more welcome, if you respect the ways she wants things to be done. Some of these may be contrary to superior male logic, but it is her domain. Decades of experience have taught me to save disputes for more important matters.

So, do it her way. She may be a stickler about how she likes things arranged in the dishwasher. If your male logic has a problem with this, it is best to ask her to check your arrangement before turning on the machine. Try to understand her system, at least, make understanding noises. Maybe you will adapt, but don’t think you have mastered her system after the first time she does not change something. Next time, there may be a different pot in the dishwasher—or maybe not—but she wants to change something. Don’t argue; she is just asserting that it is her domain.

Similarly, when removing things from the dishwasher and putting them away, respect the fact that she always stacks some miscellaneous items in the same way, for example, various glass bowls. Even though you recognize that she most often uses one that is in the middle of her stack, that it would be most logical to keep it on top, she will complain if you do. The same applies for storage of other things. (See the last sentences of the preceding paragraphs.)

When putting things away, check that they are clean. She thinks that she always does, but you’ll get the blame, if a dirty spoon or plate appears later.

Another tip: when putting things away, leave all the drawers and cupboard doors open until the last item is stored. Otherwise, not only will an item turn up that requires you to reopen a closed drawer or cabinet, but this also increases wear. Kitchen equipment manufacturers test doors and drawers for, say, only 20,000 openings and closings. Avoiding unnecessary use could postpone minor replacements or a major renovation.

You will break something someday. Take special care with her best china; it is expensive to replace. If it cannot be, it may be better to refuse to handle it. It probably won’t go in the dishwasher, anyway.

When cleaning the counter, stove top, etc., do it the way she does, being careful to remove any spots she may have missed after breakfast. If she finds them after you have cleaned up, they are yours.

Don’t let her catch you using the hand towel to wipe even drops of water off the floor, and, of course, only wipe your washed hands on it—not greasy fingers. For some reason, it seems that a wife believes that clean towels should stay that way, despite the fact that they are meant to be used and that she has an ample supply of them—and a washing machine.

I probably have forgotten something important (check for a follow-up comment), but by following these suggestions, most areas of potential difficulty should be removed. Since I have had only one wife, it may be unfair for me to generalize, but experience with other couples and discussions with other married men let me think that the information is applicable for most of the Western World.

First follow-up comment: don’t makes as much noise as she does when putting things away—clattering plates, clanking pots and pans. Everyone is a little deaf to the noise they themselves make, but interprets that of others as an expression of disgruntlement or suppressed anger. Of course, when she is clattering about in the kitchen, she is just exercising the freedom of her own domain.

Second follow-up comment: if your wife has a dishwasher, when she is not around, learn how to remove and replace all the parts; you will have to sometime, maybe every time she cleans it. If she doesn’t ask for your help, you will still know what to do if the rotor was put back in upside down.

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  • Myoarin says:

    Third follow-up comment: Before doing anything on the counter and stove top, close drawers and cabinet doors. Removing crumbs and drips from drawers and lower cabinets is real nuisance, as you will hear from the person who finds them.
    Also, don’t just wipe the counter; check the top edges and front of drawers and doors, especially the one for the garbage bin – inside surfaces there, too.
    Since the handles on drawers and cabinets are often not where a man would naturally expect them to be, you will do yourself a favor by wiping off any finger marks – not necessarily your own.
    Give yourself a gold star if you clean up something you didn’t create

  • Myoarin says:

    Fourth follow-up comment. Occasionally, when you start to clean up, your wife will call that she will do it. Surprise! This could have different reasons: that she is a little embarrassed about how messy she has left the kitchen; that she thinks you are incapable of dealing with something; or maybe that she just wants to let you off KP duty for the evening – which could have promising implications.
    But you don’t know which reason, so don’t assume anything, just agree with her, perhaps insisting mildly that you want to help her. Bad luck if she lets you. If not, don’t just say thanks and run off. Do something easy to help her, something that you know you can do right: putting glasses or cutlery in the dishwasher; moving stuff to the counter by the dishwasher; cleaning the potato peelings or the like out of the sink; maybe even taking out the garbage. Just do one or two of these suggestions as a gesture. She’ll get upset if you do more: impinging on her domain, going against her expressed wish (which she may equate with disobeying a direct order).

  • Myoarin says:

    Fifth follow-up comment. I’ve had 3+ years of more experience (40+ total). We’ve had the hinges of the built-in refrigerator door replaced, probably cost more then the electricity for leaving the door open to grab something else, although I am pretty good at whipping thing out and onto the counter (but that has cost a saucer or two and a butter dish).
    After two of my clever repairs of the under-sink bin, I can advise to hold the bin up with your toes, when pressing stuff down in it (which she seldom does). A few days ago, the lower support of the swing-out bin broke off. I hadn’t found a solution fast enough, so now we have a new one, a little smaller. She has understood about pressing stuff down, and seems to have understood my suggestion to use her toes.
    We also have a new dishwasher. I thought the old one was fine, but wives takes out their frustrations on the kitchen, rather than by buying new shoes. The new baskets for plates don’t seem as practical as the ones before. I tried to improve on her placement of things in them and was admonished.
    Ha! I’ve copped out, told her it was easier for her to do things her way than for her to re-arrange what I did. It is, especially for me.

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