How to Do the Dishes: A 12 Step Program


At first glance, doing the dishes and being a professional model don’t look like they have anything in common. One of them is a fun, fulfilling creative career. The other is endless, thankless drudgery.

I’ve also been a model for far longer than I’ve had a clean kitchen. I’m not proud of that fact, enough so that I kind of shamed myself into said endless drudgery. But after I did it, I noticed that the process of building a modeling career and getting myself to regularly tackle my personal definition of hell was actually the same. Reaching a big goal like modeling is less about hitting milestones and more about learning good habits. It’s a process, not a to do list. And at least for me, it turns out adding a new habit follows a similar pattern—call it a 12 step program—every time.

Step 1: Be really bad about ever doing the dishes. Like, college student bad. Have you ever found maggots in your sink because you left food-encrusted plates? That level of bad. (Okay, that wasn’t me. That was a friend. But I’ve been pretty damn close).

Not working on your dishes? Do you want to be a writer but never actually write anything? Or have you been saying you’ll start modeling for years?

Step 2: Get good advice. Spend way too much time researching your topic on the internet, or reading experts in the field.

Me? I go out to coffee with my crush. He tells me that his work is often long-term projects that can take upwards of a year to finish, and that sometimes they’re just the glue in the background holding things together. So he always tries to do something short term and immediate every day to improve his surroundings—even if it’s just washing the dishes or pulling weeds in the garden. Specifically, he recommends working on short (day), medium (weeks to months), and long-term goals consecutively.

Wise, right? You can see why I like him.

Step 3: Ignore said advice, and spend the next few years pursuing and growing a relationship with your crush instead. Be vaguely jealous of his adult-like, functioning kitchen with visible countertops.

Hypothetically, of course. Maybe your style is just to be distracted by other shiny goals and projects, or just by life being busy in general.

Step 4: Rationalize. Tell yourself you only have so much time, and you have to prioritize. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. And you’re doing big things. You’re a model; you’re writing hours a day. Or you’re just successfully keeping a roof over your head. Whatever—it’s impressive. You can’t be arsed to do the dishes too.

You take comfort in the fact that your bandmate and best friend—one of the most creative and successful people you know—has dirty dishes piling up in his kitchen for exactly the same reasons. You two commiserate about how limited your resources are, and how you’re both making the best choice in using them on other things.

Step 5: The turn. You realize that you’re not getting any younger. Or you realize that if you’re going to do the thing you want, you’re going to actually have to do the thing. Whether that’s sitting down and writing the book, starting the career change, or actually cleaning your goddamn kitchen like the adult you supposedly are. Slacker.

Step 6: Start doing the thing, and get positive feedback. In this case, it meant my nesting partner was thrilled that he could actually cook regularly. And I learned that I am psychologically more comfortable and work better in a clean environment.

Step 7: Get pretty good at the thing. Put in your hours. Have spotless countertops, all the time. Revel in your awesomeness and success. Realize that you actually enjoy the process.

Step 8: Notice that you haven’t had a dirty dish disgrace your sink in weeks, or that the novel is getting written, or that your modeling career is taking off. Also notice that the rest of your life is suffering, because you made this goal your top priority to the detriment of everything else.

Step 9: Actually, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’re using the dishes (or whatever you’re working on) as a way to procrastinate. How’s the writing going, you ask? Well, your kitchen is spotless. Oops, a pot got left on the stove? Guess you can’t respond to that modeling email right now. And really, is a kitchen truly clean if the spice rack isn’t alphabetized?

Step 10: Start trying to balance things. Yes, do the dishes, but also go back to doing everything else. Sometimes leave the dishes when something else important has to be done. Acknowledge that you can only do so much, and that your spice rack will never be alphabetized. Stop being such a perfectionist, and once again start working on short, medium, and long-term goals.

You can’t always learn from other people’s wisdom—or their mistakes.

Step 11: Realize the advice from your now-boyfriend that you ignored was right all along. Sulk about it. But you also realize that you can’t always learn from other people’s wisdom—or their mistakes. You can only do the research, and maybe catch yourself earlier when you recognize you’re falling into the same pattern.

Step 12: Be proud of yourself for incorporating another habit into your life. Tell yourself you absolutely won’t make the same mistakes as you eye the next big thing…