Eli Albert

The Tyranny of Dishes

a quick comedic essay about doing dishes under a communal living system. I wrote it for a magazine that then never used it as far as I know.

you say you want to live communally, altho what that means you’re not 100% sure but then again is anyone really? and the other DSA / B+P / BLM peeps all do it so it must be a reasonable plan of action for a twenty-something what’s that you’re 31 now woah time flies but anyway money is tight so.

is trying to save money a respectable political reason to cram 8 adults into a ramshackle 100 year-old house on the edge of town? fuck yes it is! since when is trying to get by not political?? and so now that you’ve got that sorted your problems are all solved, because you can spend that extra couple hundred a month on actual nonnegotiable life expenses like healthcare and student debt wait what’s that you don’t pay either of those ok well booze it is.

but what’s this, there are roaches in every sink? you didn’t even know you had 3 sinks. the basement one. arighty then what should we do? maybe not leave food everywhere. good plan.

attempt 1 “dish poverty-capitalism”:

jennie obviously cares more about cleanliness than me so they can clean. we could hire a housekeeper but we’re poor.


jennie is moving out / hates your guts / burned the house down? bummer dude.

attempt 2 “in soviet kitchen dish wash you”:

all house members clean following a chore wheel to keep it fair.


nobody spins the wheel for weeks at a time. nobody knows who is doing what. nobody cares except the roaches, who are pleased.

attempt 3 “utopic dish socialism”:

well we all know what we’re good at, so we’ll all agree to do the things we’re good at, and then we’ll never mind doing our chores.


donnie hates all the chores and rarely does his one thing and goddammit donnie is sweeping the second floor really all that hard? the sinks are slightly better assuming the sink cleaner is on their shit but are they really? why are there still bugs.

attempt 4: “democratic socialism aka i shit you not this just might work”:

everybody picks a day until every day is covered. on that day you clean for 10- 60 (but let’s be honest, probably half that) minutes and then communicate to the group what you’ve done, for accountability and planning’s sake. every few months, hold a group deep clean.


the garbage and dishes are done every night. the bugs are moving on to dirtier pastures. resentment is minimal. the one weirdo who likes cleaning bathrooms can still do that whenever they want…

…and so your journey comes to, if not an end, at least a temporary oasis in the great sea of stupid. you realize that people, not systems, are the real problem, but that thinking out systems a little more carefully can ease the pain. the result of your journey thus far turns out to be 1% wisdom, 99% cynicism, but oddly, you’re ok with that.