Everyday Things You Don't Really Need At All #1: Washing Up Liquid

I've always had a soft spot for those statistics you hear about how much of your life is occupied with the utterly mundane.  You spend one year of your life sitting on the toilet.  Six months in queues (not including the five months spent 'on hold').  Eleven years watching television.  Five years doing housework.  There's any number of listicles out there to scare and/or inspire you into spending more time doing things you love, always wished you had the time to do, or just doing the things that don't make you long for the sweet release of death.

If you're anything like me, you'll find all this rather amusing.  So I thought it might be interesting (and maybe even practical) to start reporting back on some of my experiments in anti-consumption, by taking a look at everyday things you don't actually need at all.  The things that cost money, rather than time, but which are so often sold to as if they're somehow, miraculously, going to save you both.

First on the list is about as everyday as you can get: washing up liquid.  Washing up liquid is one of those products that illustrates perfectly late-stage capitalism's most enduring fetish: choice.  Let's consider what washing up liquid is for.  Well, it's for washing up.  It's a liquid detergent that makes scrubbing your eating and drinking utensils slightly easier than just hot water alone.  That's it.  That is its entire raison d'ĂȘtre.  Of all the trillions of bottles of washing up liquid even manufactured, not a single one has ever experienced the long dark night of the soul.  It does what it is here to do.  Then it is discarded - perhaps recycled, but quite probably not - or perhaps it finds its way into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic's best hope for any kind of afterlife.

Revelation 21:1
But I digress.  Don't worry about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It's completely harmless and anyway it'll probably just go away on its own.  As plastic tends to do.  Let's think instead about the varieties of washing up liquid.  By way of research for this post, I nipped over the road to my nearest supermarket, a small Co-op, providing four or five aisles worth of everyday essentials.  (It's been rather low on lettuce the last few weeks though, but don't worry about that either - the changing climate almost certainly doesn't have anything to do with, um, climate change).

Four varieties of Fairy liquid are available, along with a cheaper 'own brand' version that could very easily be totally identical for all you're ever going to know (or care).  Fairy is available for £1.69 per 520ml, in "apple orchard", "original lemon" and "platinum", um, flavours...? as well as "original", which comes in bottles 20ml smaller (making it 13p per litre more expensive than the alternative, smellier varieties), and which boasts the scientific breakthrough of now lasting "up to 50% longer", a statistic that has certainly been independently verified by the various washing up liquid watchdogs.  "Original lemon" has a similarly attractive selling point, having "50% more grease cutting power", a fact which again I have no doubt must have passed the scrupulous process of peer review and definitely makes sense.  Fairy's only competitor on this shelf is 'Clean n Fresh', which costs 35p for 500ml and, because it's fucking washing up liquid, is EXACTLY THE FUCKING SAME.  I left without buying any.  The choice was just too much for me.  So ends what I like to imagine was the funniest paragraph about washing up liquid that you have ever read.

Of course you'll have had thoughts like this before, as anyone who's ever spent time gawping at the pointless variety available on supermarket shelves has done.  It's just one of those things, isn't it?  Maddening, stupefying, something we've just come to accept as kind of insane, but there it is anyway.  Another blight on our psycho-social landscape, the price we pay for convenience, high employment, and economic growth.  There's room.  There's always room.

I have decided that it's the little battles against this kind of madness that are exactly the ones we should be fighting.  Which brings me to my point.  I've been washing my dishes without washing up liquid now for about four months, and they are as clean as they always were.  There have been no negative consequences.  I haven't died of salmonella, for example, and that's even without the 50% spike in Fairy liquid's already astonishing grease cutting power.  Here's all you need to do:
  1. Soak your dishcloths in warm water with a splash of bleach overnight.  You only need to do this about once or twice a week.  If you don't already have some bleach, don't buy some specially, just do without.
  2. Leave your dishes in the sink to soak in hot water for a while.  Sometimes I add a little a 'vegetable soap' just to ease things along.
  3. Wipe clean with the dishcloth.  You might need to use some steel wool to scrub off anything burnt but again, if you don't already have any, make do.  Leave to dry.
  4. Your dishes are now clean, using items you probably already have anyway, and without spending a penny.
As an added bonus, you now have yourself a sink full of 'grey water', free from any weird chemical soapy scum that you can use for watering plants, a subject on which I'll have more to say another time.

Perhaps this all seems facetious to you.  If so, look at it this way.  How much do you spend on washing up liquid a month?  A year?  Over the course of your life?  Is there really any point?  How many hours of your working life are spent just earning the money to buy washing up liquid, something you objectively, demonstrably do not need?  What else could you do with that money?  These questions matter.  They matter because the immediate moment matters, the simple and the mundane matters, and how much you allow the economic and philosophical systems that are destroying our world to make you a part of their ridiculous game matters.  So stop using washing up liquid.  You've got to start somewhere.