A House of Order

5 Ways to Keep Your Dishes Clean With a Big Family

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manage dishes with a big family

With four kids, there are two jobs in our home that take up more time than any other.

I’m sure you can guess what they are.

The biggest one, by far, is our dishes. The next is, of course, the laundry.

We recently got our laundry problem figured out so it doesn’t take so much time.

At least when it comes to laundry, each kid (usually) only uses one pair of clothes a day.

Dishes, on the other hand, are another story. Every single day, each kid in the home will use a cup, bowl/plate, and a spoon/fork at least 3 times. Often more.

With everyone in my home, that’s a minimum of about 40 dishes a day not including the ones that were used to prepare any meals.

Now, if those dishes aren’t taken care of every single day, how long would it take for it to become an uncontrollable mess of 100+ dishes that need to be cleaned?

Two days! That’s it!

To make things harder, we don’t have a dishwasher. Every single dish has to be washed by hand.

Dishes Were One of the Biggest Causes of Stress In Our Home

With these numbers, I’m sure you can see why the dishes would be such an overwhelming task.

To add to the stress, our dishes often disappeared (I have no idea where they went; they would just turn up missing!)

What it came down to is, the dishes were being used all over the house. They were brought in the other rooms, outside, in the car, and everywhere we went. (Of course they got lost).

To sum it all up, it was a big chaotic mess.

It seemed like an impossible task for one person to take on every single day, and to be honest it was!

We tried a lot of things and finally found five simple ways to make the dishes a manageable chore with a big family.

5 Things We Do to Manage Dishes in Our Home

1) Give Each Kid Their Own Set of Dishes – They’re In Charge of Them

This is the biggest change I made in our home.

Most of our dishes were given away. I don’t even have enough dishes in our cupboard anymore for each kid to use a new dish every meal.

To replace them, I bought a set of colorful dishes that would be fun for the kids. Each kid gets their own set.

fun dishes for kids

They have one spoon, fork, butter knife, bowl, cup, and plate.

When it’s time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, everyone has to use their own dishes to eat with.

If any of the dishes are dirty, part of meal prep is washing them so the kids can use them.

The older kids wash their own dishes. They’re also in charge of helping one of their younger brothers get their dish cleaned. (I don’t have to do it all!)

With each kid assigned their own set of dishes, we’re guaranteed to never have more than one set of dishes per kid that need to be washed at the end of the day.

We’ve also seen so many other benefits with these dishes.

  • If dishes disappear, I know who lost them because each kid has their own color. I know which kid to work with so they know how to take care of their dishes. Before, the best I could do was guess.
  • We usually eat together as a family, but if something comes up and I have to work, I know who didn’t finish their meal. I can make sure that each of my kids is getting enough to eat. I no longer worry that it’s the same kid every time whose food is almost untouched.
  • Before getting these dishes, there was rarely a meal where several dishes didn’t end up on the floor. I never knew what to do about it because I didn’t know who was doing it. I talked to my kids over and over, but it still happened. Now I always know and it rarely happens.

It’s been over a year and a half since I first bought these dishes and each of my kids still has their cup, bowl, and plate. The forks did get lost early on, as well as one of the spoons. The rest we’ve had for almost two years and my kids still love them!

We use them 95% of the time in our home and the dishes have never been as overwhelming as they used to be even though we still don’t have a dishwasher.

2) Don’t Allow Food Anywhere but in the Kitchen

We should have been doing this from the start, but we weren’t. Meals were eaten in the living room, car, kitchen, and outside.

When the kids finished eating, their dish was left wherever they happened to be.

On top of that, food was usually spilled everywhere the kids had their dishes. It was all a big mess and so overwhelming!

It was a simple change to make sure food wasn’t allowed anywhere in the kitchen and our house is much cleaner because of it!

3) Nobody Leaves the Table Until Their Plate is Empty

A lot of food used to go to waste in our home.

My kids often came to me just an hour after a meal saying, “I’m hungry, can I get some food?”

Later, I’d realize the same kid had barely touched his plate.

With the tight grocery budget we have, it really bothered me to see food going to waste after every single meal.

The biggest change I’ve made here, is we all sit at the table and eat together. I don’t eat in the other room like I used to.

Dinner is eaten together as a family and my kids know I expect their plate to be clean before they leave the table.

Occasionally one of them gets too much on their plate. If this happens, one of their brothers helps them finish or we put it in the fridge right then so they can eat it another day.

4) As Much as Possible, Make Sure Dishes Are Done Every Day

With one set of dishes for each kid, we have to wash them every single day.

When you do them every day, it’s not such a big job. The dishes never get piled up in the sink to the point where it’s too much.

Every once in a while, we miss a night. That just means we get to wash the dishes in the morning because we can’t eat breakfast until we do.

5) When Friends Come Over, Use Paper Plates

When I got my kid’s dishes, we gave away most of the other dishes we had. Even if we wanted to, (which we don’t) we don’t have enough dishes for my own kids to get a new one every meal.

If somebody comes over, that means we don’t usually have enough for everyone to use one for a single meal either.

I keep a set of paper plates on hand for these cases and everybody uses them (including my kids).

These are usually the times when we don’t get around to washing our dishes after the meal anyway. With the paper dishes, everybody can eat, and the only dishes left to wash are the ones used to prepare the meal.

We can enjoy having friends over without a sink full of dishes to take care of when everybody has eaten!

What do you think of these tips to manage the dishes with a big family? Are there others you use in your home? Let me know by leaving a comment below!


dishes and a big family


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6 thoughts on “5 Ways to Keep Your Dishes Clean With a Big Family

  1. That is SUCH a good idea to buy a colored set and assign each kid a color. Totally using that thanks! And yes, I’ll stick with paper plates when visitors are over.

    1. We really have been doing this in my home for almost two years now and the amount of stress it has taken out of me has been incredible!

      The kids love having their own set and being responsible for it. I love never having more than one set of dishes per kid in the sink at a time. We both win.

      And the paper plates for visitors saves so much cleanup time afterwards. With a dishwasher, it probably wouldn’t be that bad, but it’s still a lot more than usual to take care of. It’s so nice to be able to enjoy having people over without the sinkful of dishes after.

  2. Haha I had to stop to give a good laugh when I read dishes disappear, its funny but its actually so true, there’s go my favorite cup and I won’t ever find it , maybe it landed in the moon, but joke aside I get the stressful task of dishwashing especially cause I am a housekeeper and I got to deal with this issue every day. Good solution organization really keeps everything more efficient.

    1. It sounds funny, but it happens! It’s crazy. Before, it almost seemed like their was a dishes monster coming in at night to take our dishes (just like the sock monster). 

      After doing these things though, we found it really was my kids and I just not putting them away afterwards.


  3. This idea is AWESOME! I am doing this tomorrow! I cant believe we have argued so much over dishes and it was totally preventable!!!!

    Any ideas for the pots and pans that are dirty in the sink from “I dunno”?

    Thank you !!!!!!

    1. Hi Monica!

      Thank you 🙂 We’ve been using it for years now and haven’t gone back because it makes things so much nicer.

      The pots and pans are another story.
      It’s hard to keep those to a minimum, but some of the things we do are we have very little pots and pans.
      We literally have a small, medium, and large boiling pan. We also have one small and one large frying pan.
      Doing things this way, they can’t really pile up because if we want to make anything they have to be washed.

      In every area, (clothes, dishes, belongings, etc) we keep the amount we have to a minimum. We only have what we need. Having more than we need with so many kids is too hard to manage.

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