Back to the Future: Part 2: A Book Review


How to Wash the Dishes by Peter Miller

In my effort to simplify and de-clutter my life, as well as become more ecological, for example, purchasing items not made of, or wrapped in plastic, I was attracted to How to Wash the Dishes by Peter Miller, with delightful illustrations by Colleen Miller, the author’s wife. It could easily be subtitled, “The Zen of Washing Dishes,” especially after reading the Dedication:

   It is always my hope, and the hope of many people, the hope of every
civilization, that we share our lives. We eat together and, with luck,
we realize what fortune that is. We do the dishes. As simple as that.

What I learned from this book is whatever task is at hand, focus on that task. Not thinking: Oh, I wish I could be reading my novel, or I hate doing the dishes. Also,

Miller’s philosophy about washing the dishes could be applied to any other task: one that you save for yourself, one you do as a sacrifice, or a task that you avoid doing at all!

The author calls his book a primer, because he deals with basics, or as he writes….”with rules and regulations, safety and sense, and a start and a finish.”

He notes in the beginning that the fact that we can wash dishes in a sink (or dishwasher, if you use one), with clean, warm water is actually a luxury. Think of all the people in the world who wash dishes by a stream or have to lug water from a well to your house as the pioneers did and first heat it before even attempting to wash the dishes.

Each aspect of washing dishes is delineated step-by-step, with the author comparing your kitchen to an operating room and you are the person cleaning up after a type of surgery. Even though I do have a dishwasher, I also do many items by hand and this primer helped me focus on a better way to do these tasks, such as handwashing one of a kind items that you may need before the next meal, for example, your favorite paring knife.

The Table of Contents gives the reader an idea of what’s in store in the eight short chapters, from Decisions and Details to Flow to The Daily Dishwashing Routine. It’s all here for the taking and using in the spirit in which it is written.

Throughout the book, a quote from the text is placed alone on  a page to emphasize the task. Here’s one I love: “Washing the dishes is in sum an act of grace and rhythm.”

Miller ends his serious, yet whimsical, primer with a lovely statement that seems to fit his philosophical take on life:

“You will always have Paris, and there will always be dishes. I will wash, and you can dry.”

This delightful book of 125 pages from Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications in Boulder Colorado is in hardcover at $19.95 and is only 7 inches X 4 ½, easily fits into your purse or briefcase, and makes a delightful gift for someone who likes to wash dishes!

P.S. The back cover’s message is priceless:

“You will know your state of mind when you wash the dishes. Your care or your impatience; your attention or your distraction. You will see yourself at that moment, clearly.”

All this from washing the dishes!!

Photo above is one of Colleen Miller’s lovely line drawings. There are many throughout the book and the inside covers.


Leave a Reply