House & HomeMom's LifeThe KitchenWork and Passions

All I need to know about creativity I learned from washing dishes.

by Guest Blogger on May 22, 2013

Today’s guest post is by Heather Caliri, writer and blogger at A Little Yes. Find her online at HeatherCaliri.com.

Photo courtesy Sergio Alvarez

I’ll happily cook a three-course chicken dinner. I’ll willingly gather laundry and drop it in the wash. But for a long time, washing dishes, especially by hand, was my least favorite chore.

But moving to a house without a dishwasher changed that. I’m spending more time up to my elbows in suds. And to my surprise, I find the energy spent, the rhythm and focus of cleaning plates inspiring. Because when it comes right down to it, everything I know about creativity I learned from washing dishes.

Doubt that dishwashing has much to teach about handicrafts, starting a small business, or using your imagination? Think again.

The truth is, the more we rescue “creativity” from the clouds and make it an everyday habit, the more creative we are. Like any other skill, creative projects take practice, perseverance, and a big helping of grit.

We often look on creativity as a nice add-on for some people: perhaps a profession if you’re specially gifted, or an enviable hobby if you’re above-average. But the truth is we’ve all been given a creative drive, and we’re all called to use it. Making a daily practice of the things that give you joy will make your whole life sparkle.

That’s a calling worth taking time for.

Here’s what time at the sink has taught me about creativity:

  • Skill comes with practice. Teaching my kids to wash dishes shows me there’s actually some know-how involved. Dishwashing takes practice. Creativity works the same way. Don’t feel creative? Try practicing one activity that gives you joy–even if you don’t feel good at it. You might be surprised at the shining results.
  • Get started. I used to spend a lot of energy telling myself how hard dishes were. Then I started just doing them. Guess which method worked better? Find one thing creative that gives you joy each week, and do it, even for five minutes.
  • Process, not product. You never really “finish” the dishes. In the same way, don’t pin your creative dreams on one day’s outcome. The only thing that yields results is a day-in, day-out habit.
  • Do a little more frequently. When I put off the dishes, I end up with an overwhelming mess on my counter. With creative work, cut bigger dreams into bite-sized pieces. Then magic happens on a regular, achievable basis.
  • Protect your hands. With dishes, wear gloves, or invest in some good lotion. For creative work, take breaks. If you have your hands plunged into the heat of creation 24/7, you’ll end up dried out and used up from too much doing.
  • Soak. Soap and elbow grease works most of the time, but for harder jobs, time works wonders. With creative blocks, stepping back and allowing ideas to steep can uncover fresh inspiration.
  • Find your own method. People swear by brushes, sponges, cloths, dishwashers, microfiber and any number of strategies—but what works for you? Learn from others’ successes, but find your own way to your best outcomes.
  • Add heat for superior results. Lukewarm water produces half-clean dishes. And creative work without the heat of passion is always a bit tepid. If your work seems less than thrilling, go deeper or take a bigger risk.
  • Workspace matters. A window full of light, good music, or a glass of wine helps me enjoy my time at the sink. In the same way, take time to create a workspace that invigorates you, reminds you of your values, and inspires you to get things done.
  • Find a buddy. At night, sometimes my husband and I clean the kitchen together while we chat. Inevitably, the washing-up flies by. Find creative partners to collaborate with and you’re much more likely to work on creative things.

We’re all waiting to be useful, like the best china stuck in the back of the kitchen cupboards. Instead of saving the best of ourselves for later, let’s pull out our gifts, scrub off the grime, and put them into daily rotation. Every day, each of us has the chance to make this world a more beautiful, passionate place.

A big thanks to Heather for this guest post. Want more on creativity, and the creative habit? Check out these posts from the archives.

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Heather Caliri Heather Caliri’s work has appeared in Skirt! Magazine, Brain, Child, and Literary Mama. Normally a homebody, she’s spending half this year in Buenos Aires with her husband and two kids. You can read about their journey, plus her pursuit of little yeses and small bravery at http://www.heathercaliri.com.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Esther May 22, 2013 at 9:10 am

I can’t wait to share this one!

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Heather Caliri May 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

And I’m excited for you to share it :)

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Sarah Powers May 22, 2013 at 11:04 am

Heather, I love this for a whole bunch of reasons. One, I am like you about washing dishes by hand. I’d rather do many other things. Two, I am a sucker for lovely little life analogies like this, and you so nailed this one. And three, it’s all SO TRUE. What wise words, and a beautifully written post. Thanks for being here! xo

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Heather Caliri May 22, 2013 at 12:45 pm

(Happy dance). I’m so glad you liked it, Sarah, and I’m thankful you think the analogy is apt. I so want to see creativity and joy become as everyday as scrubbing forks in all of our lives.

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Meagan Francis May 22, 2013 at 11:33 am

Oh, I love this post so much! You’re so right – creativity is a habit we must nurture. Have you read Twylah Tharp’s book on living a creative life? I love it – it’s so practical and hands-on, and speaks to me much more than some of the more ooey-gooey books on creativity and art.

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Heather Caliri May 22, 2013 at 3:24 pm

I’m writing down that book title, Meagan–thanks for the recommendation. I LOVE practical advice on subjects that don’t seem practical–faith, creativity, service. I need me some baby steps to work all that stuff out.

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Elizabeth May 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I have a GIANT pile of dishes (that I’ve been procrastinating) waiting for me downstairs. I’m about to get on that… :)

I’ve noticed that any time I start a timer for 5 minutes to do anything house or work related, I can get myself moving just enough to finish the task. I just have to *start*!

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Heather Caliri May 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Or, you could use this article as a justification to leave it and go try needlepoint for the first time. Or a business plan. Or conceptual art. Just sayin’. :)

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Momchalant May 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm

This is a REALLY great view on washing dishes. I love when people see things for what other’s usually don’t see them for. This is awesome!

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Heather Caliri May 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Thanks! I loved writing this post, because it helped the whole idea of creativity seem more approachable for ME. I’m glad it’s connecting with you, too!

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Casey May 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I HATE doing dishes. I totally needed this post. Thank you!

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Lori May 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

genius — i love this so much

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