Kitchen Experiement

Lionel hoped to one day move up from spit-turner to spit-turner regional supervisor.

I’m trying something new in our office kitchen. If it works, it could revolutionize the way that shared office space is managed.

Like many work-place kitchens, we have several signs proclaiming things like, “Your mother doesn’t work here; clean your own mess.” These signs are meant to instill personal responsibility for cleaning up after oneself.  They get moved around and reprinted from time to time in an effort to keep the message fresh and relevant.  In my office, they seem to work. Eventually.  Dirty dishes tend to sit in the sink for 24 hours or so before being washed.  Then, the clean dishes will sit in the dish drainer indefinitely, which actually discourages further dish washing, creating a dish gridlock (dishlock?).

I started to look at this situation from a “broken windows” perspective. In short, broken windows theory posits that our physical environment sends signals and sets norms as to the acceptable behavior in a community. In my office, the general messiness of the kitchen sends a signal that there are no rules for whether or when you clean up after yourself. Our little signs and reminders are not enough to overcome the fact that the place was a mess.

So I embarked on an intervention that is part fixing the broken windows and part eastern philosophy. My goal was to make it karmically appealing to keep the kitchen clean at all times.  I made a new sign that says, “It’s okay to wash and put away someone else’s dishes.”

To set an example, whenever I am waiting for the microwave or the kettle or the toaster, I wash or put away dishes.  In the past week, I’ve definitely noticed that the kitchen is cleaner than before. Of course, that might have something to do with how often I’ve been using to kettle to make tea lately.

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