I’m in charge of our disgusting office kitchen

A reader writes:

I am an administrative assistant for a small company (about 50 people). My problem, especially now that folks are fully returned to office, is the cleanliness of the kitchen.

As any admin in charge of the office kitchen will tell you, it is a NIGHTMARE. Food left on counters, molding fruit in the fridge, stolen cutlery, dishes left “to soak” for eternity. Think of your worst roommate and multiply that by an entire office. It is a nightmare. I am fairly early in my career (two years in) and don’t have much authority. However, since I do the ordering and restocking for the kitchen, the kitchen is technically my job and when things are a mess, they are left for me to clean up. I receive reports from my coworkers all day about the state of the kitchen, even if I have just cleaned it!

I have asked our staff repeatedly to clean up after themselves and their guests and yet, every day I come in to a sink full of dishes that I have to clean, and dried food stuck to the countertops. I feel like I’m losing my mind.

To make matters worse, if I choose to leave the mess in a statement of resistance, my boss will clean it and then let me know that he had to clean the kitchen since no one else will.

I have made announcements at meetings. I have made signs. I have sent emails. I don’t know what else to do. I feel like I am screaming into the void that I don’t want to scoop oatmeal out of the sink drains! Every time this comes up I am met with shocked faces and exclamations of “who could do this! That’s so rude and gross!” but someone HAS TO BE DOING IT!!! This can’t be a shock to everyone! I am at my wit’s end and could use literally ANY advice on how to make a group of grown adults treat a shared space with respect.

Based on the experiences of other offices everywhere: You can’t. People are filthy heathens. It’s the tragedy of the commons.

Or at least, you can’t fix it without the authority to impose different systems on the mess than you currently have. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Whenever this topic comes up, people say things like, “Your managers need to be willing to fire people who don’t clean up after themselves!” In practice, that’s not going to happen. No one is going to fire a top performer who left crumbs in the kitchen, or a busy exec who dropped off her mug while running between meetings. Sure, management really dedicated to solving the problem and willing to be a hard-ass about it might nag people enough that they stop, but few managers are willing to spend the energy and capital that takes.

Another popular response: “hire cleaners!” But most offices with this problem have cleaners. It’s just that they only come once a day, if that, and that’s not enough to keep kitchen mess under control all the other hours of the day. You would need full-time, on-site janitorial staff, which is unlikely to be affordable or a priority for an office of 50 people.

Here’s the very short list of things that do work:

A rotation of volunteers who sign up to each be in charge of cleaning for a day in exchange for a desirable incentive (like getting to leave early one day that week). Why volunteers? Because it doesn’t make sense to assign highly paid staff to spend (expensive) time cleaning up after coworkers or to insist someone who’s already stretched thin take it on.

Permission from someone above you to throw out dishes that are left in the sink. If the dishes belong to the office rather than to individuals, get rid of the office dishes altogether.

Spread a rumor that this is happening.

Other than that, nothing really works.

Feel free to show this column to your boss.

{ 529 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I’m in our smaller office today. There are 3 people who regularly are in this office. And there is a mystery (appears clean) glass food container on the table in the kitchen.

    1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Unrealistic and probably unethical: I am tempted to suggest putting up a security camera and OP can send a daily, individual note to people who are leaving a mess with the specific segment of video clipped out for evidence.

      1. Not on board*

        I was going to say – put in a security camera and announce that to the office. Then also let everyone know that any dishes left in the sink overnight will be tossed in the garbage the next morning. Then do it. It’s not too terrible to wipe down counters and tables, but having to deal with others’ filthy dishes and rotting food in another story.

        1. Rosie*

          I agree with tossing any and all dishes at the end of the day. Office just stops providing dishes and mugs, and employees are on their own for bringing from home. I imagine it will only take a time or two for someone’s mug or bowl to be thrown out that they stop leaving in the sink.

          I would also supply paper towels so people can dry their dishes after washing (I know, not the most environmentally friendly) and NOT have a dish drying rack, so that people don’t clean their dishes, only to have an overflowing drying rack. Basically, no dishes should be staying in the kitchen, period.

          1. Rosie*

            As for gross things left in the fridge – in my old office we had a rule that anything left in the fridge EOD on Friday was tossed UNLESS it was labeled with a name and a date; anything more than a week out of date would be tossed.

            1. eggo*

              my office does this. Well, my cohort and I do this because we’re usually the last ones to leave on Fridays. anything in a plastic to-go box, or anything “gross” looking is thrown away.

            2. Mari*

              My school just went to this policy in the staff room. So far no complaints, but that’s because we went with humor:

              ‘Greetings all!

              As anyone who’s opened the fridge in the last two weeks knows, the ‘science experiment’ factor is once again out of control. We may be committed to growing things at our school, but sentient fungus seems a little less than ideal.

              As such, in consultation with the site committee, we have come up with a new plan for fungi wrangling. Starting this week, there will be a weekly purge on Friday after lunch. If it doesn’t have a name on it, is melting into goo, fermenting into potable alcohol or leaking anything, it will be going into the compost pile/garbage as necessary. If it does have a name on it and isn’t showing signs of metamorphosis, it will receive a tick on it with a dry erase marker – if it’s still there next week, out it goes.

              We hope that this will cut down on the jump scare feeling of opening the fridge – and have the pleasant side effect of making sure there’s actually room for everyone’s food!

              Thanks for your help with this!’

              So far so good….

              1. Mad Harry Crewe*

                Yup, and keep a sheet of stickers and a sharpie stuck to the front of the fridge. Make it easy for folks to label.

                1. Mongrel*

                  You can also find stickers printed with days of the week cheap as, in my experience, any writing implement goes missing rather quickly

                2. Quill*

                  Replying to Mongrel but the dry erase marker gets physically tied to the fridge / a clipboard / a drawer if you need it to stay on location.

              2. Selina Luna*

                I would use a wet erase marker rather than a dry erase marker, but otherwise, good plan! My school doesn’t have such an issue with… experiments in the fridge, but I think that’s because most folks just bring that day’s food from home.

              3. Princess Sparklepony*

                Make sure to check how many co-workers who have the button that says:

                Forget lab safety rules … I want superpowers!

                If you have a lot of those, you may not have much luck in keeping the fridge biohazard free. :D

            3. Zap R.*

              The trouble is that someone has to do the tossing and I can say from experience that it’s super gross, even if stuff’s only been there a week

                1. Zombeyonce*

                  Yep, people in my office threw a hissy fit when their old moldy tupperware was getting thrown away during the weekly purge (with multiple email notices beforehand). The best part was that whenever they complained, we just reminded them that the simple way not to lose their containers was to take them home and wash them.

                2. Momma Bear*

                  This is what happens here. End of the week if it’s not labeled, someone (presumably the office manager) throws out the entire container. There’s a sign on the fridge to warn you. If you have your name on an item that has gained sentience, you will be contacted directly. Between that and a few people leaving the company, we haven’t had much of a problem in a while.

                3. Grenelda Thurber*

                  I instituted a rule that any *dirty dishes* left on the counter or in the sink were tossed in the trash on sight. If you don’t have time to wash your dirty dishes, leave them at your desk until you do. (It isn’t an eat-in kitchen.)

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Having cleaned my workplace’s fridge more times than I can count, I concur. The last time my manager helped and was absolutely aghast at the level of “one step away from demanding a salary” life forms growing in there. I was all “oh, this is nothing. You shoulda seen that time two years ago when R almost puked three different times trying to take the compost out once I was done.”

            4. Felix Unger*

              We did that too, but some of the names and dates were hard to read. We switched to colored labels that changed every week so the person who threw things out didn’t have to guess. If this week was blue, she’d leave anything with a blue label until the next Friday. Then she’d throw out anything without a yellow label the next Friday, without having to try to read some nearly illegible name or date.

              1. Cinn*

                I like the coloured labels system, Felix Unger, but you just know there’ll be one person who just sticks the new week’s colour over last week’s label on repeat.

                1. Cinn*

                  I have no direct reply to you, Dorothy, sorry. But I was basing this purely on the gross hygiene situations that happened at various places I’ve worked. And therefore I assume there’ll be one person who doesn’t want to be bothered to clean their stuff, but also doesn’t want it thrown out or something…

                  Franky I’m one of those people whose happy to just dispose of the gross stuff after a warning, but I’ve also come across people who complain about that.

            5. Seeking Second Childhood*

              All I ask is that discard be done on a schedule – and you DO NOT move it up.

              We lost a brand new bento box because someone wanted to leave early on a Friday and assumed no one was going to eat that after 1pm. Except my husband had been called into an emergency and didn’t get to eat until nearly 2pm. No food, no apology, and he left for the day.

              1. Anjali*

                Then you label it with the date. I think it is asking a lot for someone charged with this task to read minds.

                1. basically functional*

                  They didn’t need to read minds. They just needed to do the task at the time they said they would instead of hours earlier.

              2. Baunilha*

                We had a similar situation where the person in charge of the tossing forgot to do it on a Friday and tried to make it up for it by doing the cleaning the following Monday. They threw away a lot of food people were saving to eat later or take home after work and it was a mess.

            6. Lauren*

              I found out the hard way my new job goes HARD on this rule. I put a yoghurt in the tea room fridge last Friday, didn’t get around to eating it that day, was looking forward to having it for breakfast the next Monday, but when I got in it had been trashed (along with most of the other contents of the fridge).

              I’d had a terrible weekend so that just about broke me, but my fault for not following the rules I guess.

          2. cottagechick73*

            My office followed both of Rosie’s suggestions (throw things out that are left in the sink and clean out the fridge on Friday. This really stopped the pile of dirty dishes and the gross science experiments shoved to the back of the fridge. People will initially complain A LOT about their lost items, so you will at the very least need to get your boss’s okay to throw things out. My boss did not need a big long argument about this since they were grossed out too and were sick of the reminder emails, notes in the kitchen which did nothing. They gave one warning about the new system and eventually people started to get better about the dishes. But the crumbs and spills are still an ongoing issue that everyone turns a blind eye to.

            1. PleaseNotifyMySnoopervisor*

              This. THIS. Zero tolerance is the only way forward.
              Empty sink into garbage at end of day.
              Empty fridge into garbage on Friday.

              Buy a large box of gallon zip lock bags for the first week. You can seal up any gross things in sink & toss them the next day if you want to give owners a 24 hour grace period.

              1. Can't get the hang of Thursdays*

                Yes, toss anything approaching gross regularly! don’t hesitate! And as the office manager tasked with cleaning the kitchen, I have tried to cultivate the mantra that this top is paid work. (Although I still curse the idiots who put dirty dishes in with the clearly just run dishwasher.)

                1. Office Manager Extraordinaire*

                  We had this issue as well until we bought a magnet for the dishwasher that has CLEAN / DIRTY options on it. It only fails when I forget to flip the magnet after unloading the dishwasher. Also, side note: I used to share the kitchen duties with a coworker until I noticed the constant coughing and sniffling while unloading the dishes. I happily took over the entire kitchen duty mostly for hygiene purposes.

          3. SD95*

            I had to do this recently with getting rid of dishes in our kitchen and the drying rack on our counter. I’ve also thrown away containers in our refrigerator regardless if it’s plastic, glass or disposable. I mentioned this to some coworkers and they were in agreement with me. None of us want to clean up after someone else. It was one thing if someone forgot overnight but took care of it the next day. This would be days of stuff laying around. Let me say, the sink stays clear now and the fridge is much neater.

          4. No food waste here*

            I worked in an office with this system, and all employees took cleanup rotations. People were mostly good about keeping things from getting too gross, but there were a lot of things left unlabeled that never got tossed. On my last rotation, I sent a note saying for every labeled item, I would donate $1 to a local food pantry. For every unlabeled item, I’d deduct 50 cents from the total. People came in droves to label things, and I had about ten coworkers say they would match my donation (or more). In the end, we donated a few hundred bucks, and the fridge looked great for awhile.

            1. No food waste here*

              P.S. I’m not saying OP should be spending their own money or doing this. I thought it would be a fun way to engage with coworkers, and creatively donate to charity. It was! Now, if the company wanted to make such a donation once, that might get people’s attention. But I don’t want give the impression I’m suggesting any employee take this on at their expense.

            2. Rose*

              This is such a fantastic idea! I love that people were willing to engage. It’s a weird aspect of humanity that “don’t make your coworkers life miserable and your own work space gross” was not enough of a motivator but I love that helping strangers in need was.

              I think this might highlight a larger piece of the issue which is that people forget about their own stuff so they genuinely think they’re not to blame. They don’t need to label anything or check the fridge, this is other people, not them! Giving them a difference incentive to do so is very smart.

          5. Fate is the Hunter*

            This is atrociously bad advice.

            I’d fire an administrative assistant who casually threw out hundreds of dollars of company property to make a point.

            The bottom line is that this company has internalized the externality by appointing the administrative assistant with cleanup duties. That’s a reasonable solution. LW gets to decide whether she wants to remain in the position, given that kitchen cleanup is part of the job description.

            1. PleaseNotifyMySnoopervisor*

              Would it be okay if the administrative assistant casually threw out hundreds of dollars of employees abandoned property to make a clean kitchen?

              1. Momma Bear*

                If the company (for example) buys reusable mugs and nobody washes them, then they are a waste anyway. Get people to wash them after use or stop supplying them.

                IMO this isn’t just casually throwing things out. This is last resort after people decided not to clean up after themselves. The assistant shouldn’t be fired for having to babysit adults.

              2. Cyndi*

                As someone who has had an entire lunch bag full of my stuff thrown out in a Friday cleanup, I say this is absolutely a cromulent policy, lots of workplaces do it, and OP is totally within their rights to consider it.

                (I still say I was at least partly hard done by, because there was a “fridge cleaned out 5PM Fridays” sign but this never actually happened, for the first three months I worked there. Until I came in on a Saturday morning and my entire perfectly clean lunch bag with fresh food in it, which I had left overnight to ease the pain of working on a Saturday morning, had disappeared. There should have been a warning!)

              3. Fate is the Hunter*

                The person I was responding to (or at least that I thought I was responding to; admittedly, it’s far upthread) was suggesting that OP throw out dirty crockery and silverware.

                I have no problem with someone cleaning out a fridge in a weekly basis, or throwing out used, disposable paper plates.

              4. PleaseNotifyMySnoopervisor*

                Also – while it is nice that a company provides refrigeration and running water for lunches/lunch clean up — why would storage of dirty dishes or food be assumed? Do employees also store used tissues or empty water bottles on company property?

            2. Mad Harry Crewe*

              Nobody is saying OP should do this without their boss’s backing.

              Nor is it casual – this is an issue not just for OP, but for their boss. One possible solution is to eliminate the source of the problem, and remove the dishes in the break room.

            3. Caliente Papillon*

              Eh this makes no sense. Presumably the admin is worth more than a bunch of dirty dishes “higher level” people don’t want to deal with. There is nothing wrong with creating a system and yea, throwing out the crap that people leave expecting the admin to clean up after them. If they don’t want it thrown out they will clean it up.

              1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                Seriously. It’s ridiculous that in this day and age office administration are still expected to be cleaners for overgrown babies who think some elf should be picking up after them. Just another dividing line between “the admin” and the real professionals. An employer that expects their administrative staff to also be janitors is not a good employer.

                “Oh, you need that contract and PowerPoint deck completed, reproduced, and distributed by 4:30 today? You need the budget spreadsheet set up with the formulas and the pivot tables and charts? And you need someone to mollify and reschedule a touchy client because The Boss missed their appointment? Sorry, too busy, I have to wash someone else’s filthy dishes. You’ll fire me? Someone else out there needs my computer expertise, education, and soft skills with clients.”

                1. Fate is the Hunter*

                  Those are mostly tasks being done by fee earners or, at best, paraprofessionals, not admin staff. (Admins are not lawyers who should be negotiating bespoke contracts, for instance.) I would expect the tasks competing for the admin’s attention would be more along the lines of ordering office supplies, ensuring desks are ready for new hires, ensuring invoices are paid, and do on. That’s not to say that the admin tasks are unimportant, but they are not as mission critical as what you list above.

                  I’m thoroughly unimpressed with the “overgrown babies” argument that some people are find of making. As noted many times elsewhere in this thread, the tragedy of the commons is real, and it has nothing to do with overgrown babies. It makes perfect sense to assign a brisk mid-day kitchen tidy-up to a junior admin.

                2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                  In response to comment from Fate is the Hunter: The tasks I listed are things I or admins I know do/have done. Admins often functions as paraprofessionals (not necessarily in law offices, in other fields too). Many admin jobs require a college degree and that “brisk” tidy up sounds pretty patronising. A firm large enough for a c suite, paraprofessionals, and staff at multiple other levels ought to be able to afford a real cleaner.

                3. Galadriel's Garden*

                  Also replying to Fate is the Hunter, who evidently has not been an administrative assistant in the past decade, or at least not one for a large organization – I moved out of admin work about 7 years ago, but spent a good chunk of my career as an admin before that, and Who Plays Backgammon is spot on with the types of tasks an admin will be tasked to do. Fate, those tasks you listed out often fall to the office manager or receptionist, while the admins take on more paraprofessional responsibilities.

                4. ShysterB*

                  Reply to Fate Is the Hunter: I’m a lawyer in an AmLaw 100 firm. My administrative assistant routinely does all the things Who Plays Backgammon? described — including negotiating contracts for services required by the firm/the litigators she supports when we are on trial. She is a paraprofessional, not an office cleaner.

            4. Not on board*

              Nobody is saying casually throw out stuff. They’re saying talk to the boss and implement a system where stuff will get thrown out if left – and warn people in advance. Wiping down counters and tidying up is a reasonable expectation – washing people’s dirty dishes and dealing with rotting food is treating them like a personal maid isn’t acceptable. Also, the kitchen is one small part of their position – unless they’re supposed to neglect other more important duties to spend all day keeping the kitchen clean, this is a reasonable solution.

            5. Not Your Housekeeper*

              Fate is the Hunter, did you just say “internalize the externality”? Bruh. Back away slowly from the absurd corporate speak.

              Further, based on your comments downthread, you’re an attorney. Let me tell you something: every non-attorney in the office is not a “junior admin” who should be washing your damn lunch dishes. If you treat your paralegals like the maid, they will leave your firm for greener pastures. They are getting paid to do legal work even if they didn’t go to law school. Try not to be so elitist.

            6. Rose*

              Not only is this not atrociously bad advice, it’s extremely common. You don’t do it without warning, obviously. But if people can’t keep their things clean, then they forfeit the right to using the kitchen, including as a holding cell for their dirty dishes and old food.

              Having the admin clean up after everyone isn’t internalizing the externality. It’s pushing it onto the admin. And 9 times out of ten it’s not going to make financial or logistical sense to hire and pay an admin and then have them dedicate a huge amount of time to janitorial duties. Nor are you going to keep anyone in that position for long.

            7. Full Banana Ensemble*

              It sounds like the LW’s actual responsibility was “order and restock supplies” and the rest of the stuff ended up on them by default. Which sucks. LW almost certainly did not take this job to be a dishwasher.

              And if the boss is saying, “I had to clean the kitchen because no one else will,” that doesn’t suggest that LW alone is responsible – it sounds like the boss is (rightfully) pissed that NO ONE is taking responsibility. If it were part of the LW’s job description, I’d expect the boss’s response to be more along the lines of, “This is part of your job. Please make sure that it’s taken care of and that complaints are addressed in a timely manner.” So again, that means it’s falling on LW by default, which isn’t fair.

              At the very least, I think it’s worth asking their boss to try implementing some of these policies before just giving up and quitting the job.

        2. Young10*

          We did the announcement method in our office. People got miffed that their stuff got thrown out but they couldn’t say they weren’t warned. People will remember consequences.

        3. Some Words*

          “Any dish left in the sink or on the counter will be considered abandoned and will be discarded. No exceptions.”

          This was the policy our office had to adopt. It was the only thing that worked.

          Finally we were free of dishes half full of slimy water sitting all over the counters in the breakroom (and in the sink). For multiple days.

          You’re an admin, not a maid or mommy. I’d be ashamed to drop this task on a staff member.

        4. Tiny Soprano*

          Psychologically speaking, people do generally behave better when they know they’re being observed. The landmark study I think involved children and a lolly bowl. Children took the permitted amount of sweets from the bowl with eyes on it, but went ham with the unadorned bowl. OP has seen exactly this happen with her coworkers doing gross stuff they would never do if they felt they were being watched.

          Anecdotally, I once reduced (by a lot!) the instance of people clogging the toilet with paper towels at a cafe I used to work at, by weaponising this. I did the usual little sign “please do not… yada yada…” but with a cartoon paper towel roll with BIG STARING EYES on it.

          So my advice is: people never read signs, but if you put BIG EYES on the sign, they’ll behave a bit better because they feeeeel like they’re being watched.

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              Or potentially a large framed picture of Captain Raymond Holt staring down at them with stern disapproval. I think that would motivate anyone!

      2. Sloanicota*

        I don’t think it has to rise to the level of video cameras to get to my only suggestion for this conundrum; often times, there is one person who is responsible for at least a good chunk of the mess (sometimes an 80/20 thing), or a really specific mess (“butters toast directly on the counter guy” or whatever). It’s possible that with a little investigation, OP could find out who that is, and appeal to them directly about the specific behavior. That is more effective than notes and all-staff emails in my experience. They lose the comfort of anonymity and they know you know. While the overall mess is probably a net result of multiple infractions, a) people might treat the counter with more respect if there wasn’t already a toasty crumb outline b) you can hit a few people with specific requests.

      3. Magenta Sky*

        Or send it out to everyone. Public shame is an effective educational tool.

        Probably not a good idea.

        The biggest drawback is you can only install the camera if upper management lets you, and they likely don’t care.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          It also might be upper management leaving the mess in the first place. With so many of these things, it’s the C-suite that seems to contain the worst offenders.

        1. Alison2*

          Yes! I read somewhere (Freakonomics?) about an effective sign which had a drawn picture of eyes. As in, “we see you!”

          Inexpensive & worth a try, especially in combo with a dummy camera.

          1. Wonderer*

            I also read this. Then I read that this is one of those famous psychological experiments that turns out to be impossible to repeat – it seems that the effect sounds good but actually isn’t that strong in reality.

      4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I was thinking, work from the kitchen one day. Just set up a laptop, transfer your phone and settle in.
        “Oh, there is so much to do in here, it’s just easier if I work from here.
        See who has the nerve or lack of awareness to leave a mess. I wouldn’t even say anything to the people who leave their stuff first.
        “Oh, I’m letting that soak. I’ll get it later.”
        Stare and reply, “I have no doubt it will be clean later.”

        1. Sloanicota*

          I will say, I had a bad habit of leaving cupboard doors open (somehow I did not even notice I was doing this) and one day a coworker watched me do it and called me out on it, and after that I never did it again! It was clear that the coworker had been waiting to figure out who was leaving them open haha. And of course once it was called to my attention I noticed it all the time! I’m not sure how it was happening but the personal correction was all I needed! No note or mass email would have worked.

          1. Dragon Tea Smithy*

            My daughter has ADHD and is really bad about leaving cabinet doors open. We have named this phenomenon: Adie H. Dee, the Cabinet Ghost.

            1. Tio*

              I am a big horror fan and ALSO an ADHD cupboard opener, to the point where my husband has called me the “poltergeist” before. “Oh, all the cabinets are open again, looks like the Poltergeist is back.” Really takes the sting out of it when you’re chuckling to yourself like yes, I AM spooky, teehee.

              1. Minimal Pear*

                Lol I have ADHD and do this, because I’ll forget what I have in the cabinets if I can’t see it! Luckily I live alone.

                1. I Have RBF*

                  The struggle is real. I also have ADHD, and I have two warring instincts: keep the cabinet doors open so I can see what is in them, but close them firmly so I don’t whack myself on them!

                  One of these days I am going to do a kitchen remodel where all of my cabinets have an acrylic front, so that I can see in them without opening them.

            2. Zombeyonce*

              This is hilarious because my husband is the only neurotypical person in the house and also the one that leaves cabinet doors open constantly.

            3. ferrina*

              I love this so much!!

              I’m also ADHD, and sometimes I just need a single reminder, and sometimes my brain simply won’t absorb it. I have no control over which. I regularly walk out to my car without my car keys (at least several times a week). My young cousin is this way with flushing the toilet- she just constantly forgets! She’s not trying to be rude or make other people clean up, her brain just skips a step. And she’s embarrassed every time- seriously, if embarrassment were quarters, she’d have a fleet of Ferraris.

              All these suggestions of shaming the offenders doesn’t work with ADHD*. A lot of us are already ashamed about all of our ADHD habits. We know that what we do impacts others, but our brains just don’t work the same way as other people’s. They skip things and drop things in weird ways. Sometimes it’s predictable and we can find systems to work around it; sometimes it’s just weird. We try so, so hard, and it’s never enough. There’s a reason that depression is a common co-morbidity with ADHD.
              *And yeah, a certain percent of ADHDers will also be jerks, because a certain percent of any people are jerks. The jerks will be entitled and rude and expect the world to revolve around them, including their ADHD. Most of us don’t expect that and aren’t asking for it- we’re just trying to get by and let you know what we will actually be able to do. I will never be able to get into the Olympics, and there is a 50% chance I will forget to do the dishes for the next hour. That is the reality of my human condition, no matter how hard I try (and I try really, really hard. And I have internal guilt, trauma, therapy bills, sticker charts, time blocks, pomodoro timers and pretty much anything else I could think of to prove it).

              I love that you found something that gently acknowledges what’s going on, while not shaming your daughter and accepting her where she is at. What an amazing parent!

          2. Bob-White of the Glen*

            I thought I was the only one! I walk through my kitchen closing all the cabinets at the end of the day, with no idea why I cannot as I use them.

          3. Ally McBeal*

            I wish this worked for people who leave 3 seconds on the microwave and don’t clear it. I get that some people don’t like hearing the microwave beep, but you can stop the microwave and clear the display so the next person doesn’t have extra work (however small) to do before they can heat their food. I went to summer camp a lot as a kid and had “leave it better than you found it” drilled into my head to the point where it apparently has bled into my office-dweller life.

      5. bamcheeks*

        I think one of the problems with office kitchens is that every individual is leaving a very small mess, but when you have 20+ people using a shared space, it adds up. There’s probably one person who leaves a dish “to soak” very day, ten people who clean their dishes immediately, and fifteen people who clean up most of the time but justify leaving it one time out of five because they’re in a rush and have to get back to a meeting but they’ll definitely 100% do it later— and you’ve got four or five dirty dishes on any given day. Similarly, twenty five people making a cup of tea or a biscuit and spilling the tiniest amount makes a filthy countertop very quickly.

        LW, one thing you can potentially be in charge of is making sure there’s decent washing up liquid and very regularly new sponges/cloths, and emphasising that people should feel free to throw out old ones and replace them. And some sort of system for a good supply of clean tea towels— we had a rota which mean each individual person washed 20-30 tea towels every four months, and that was enough tea towels to use 5 clean ones a day. Because i do think one of the top three reasons why normally clean people baulk at cleaning up small messes in office kitchen is the general grossness of the communal office sponge.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I do also think there’s a self-perpetuating thing. If I’m running late and I need to deal with my mug of coffee before a meeting, and I see seven other mugs in the sink, I might think “oh, this is fine to leave” and then the magical sink fairy has to deal with those mugs – but I don’t feel as guilty. If the kitchen stays cleaner, I’m not going to be the one who messes it up. Same with a gross counter top if I slop a lil coffee or whatever. But there’s probably a few people who really mess it up and then a lot of sheeple like me going along with it.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think this is relevant both here and for this morning’s letter about not being allowed to leave a half-full cup of coffee in the break room for later–we are very good at noticing social norms and adapting our own behavior to fit them.

            So if there’s a mess, might as well add my little corner.

        2. M2RB*

          The decent washing-up liquid and regularly replaced sponges are key to me. There’s nothing grosser than “Old Sponge” scent on my hands.

          In my current workplace, we have a stack of napkins and tea towels, but I can’t use them because they are washed with a very strongly-scented detergent/softener. BUT we have plenty of clean sponges and always have paper towels, so I can still wash my coffee cup every afternoon (and take it back to my desk immediately).

        3. Fate is the Hunter*

          I think one of the problems with office kitchens is that every individual is leaving a very small mess, but when you have 20+ people using a shared space, it adds up.

          That, and the tragedy of the commons alluded to in AAM’s advice, and also process and operations management: if there are already dishes in the dishwasher, the capacity of the dishwasher becomes the bottleneck.

          In other words, this is a classic organizational behavior problem, not a “blame them pigs” problem.

          IMO, putting a junior admin in charge of tidying the kitchen is a reasonable solution. Make it clear that’s part of the deal in the job description when hiring.

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I never found it reasonable when I was looking for administrative jobs. Any job that required cleaning in addition to computer, organizational, and good communications skills was a job not worth having because you would never be regarded as a professional or skilled employee–just the mop-up crew.

            1. Hokey Puck*

              My friend who is the Exec Admin for the CEO was clear in her interview that she doesn’t do things like clean and fetch things like coffee. Not her job.

            2. basically functional*

              Exactly. Administrative work is skilled work. So is cleaning, but the skills are different. A company that lumps these jobs together clearly doesn’t value either.

      1. AnonORama*

        Hey, a realtor once told a friend of mine to have the house power-washed. My friend said she couldn’t because the house was historic and the bricks wouldn’t hold up to it. The realtor said, “No I meant the INSIDE of the house!” (Needless to say, my friend didn’t continue working with this realtor — who was 100% correct. The place was nasty and took YEARS to sell.)

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I don’t even want to think about the horrific condition of the inside of a house if it’s reached the point where powerwashing is the best solution.

          1. Clisby*

            I don’t want to think about the structural problems of a house (historic or not) where BRICKS can’t stand up to being washed.

            1. Hokey Puck*

              As a person who has lived in homes all built around 1880-1920, those houses are built like a fort – so well made. I’d be more afraid power washing a new home built with paper and matchsticks.

      2. La Triviata*

        I used to work in an office where we had assigned weeks; one day, I got fed up with the mass of dirty mugs left in the sink that I put them all in a plastic bag and stuck it in the cabinet under the sink.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah I was like, hmm how close are you to a river you might be able to re-route … it worked for Hercules …

      1. Jaid*

        “Weir: You can’t just leave her!

        Miller: I have no intention of leaving her, Doctor. I will take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance and then I will launch TAC missiles at the Event Horizon until I’m satisfied she’s vaporized! F*&* this ship!”

        That’s how it’s done.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    If you don’t get permission to throw them away, drop off the dirty dishes at the owner’s desk – still covered in food. Do the same with the crumbs. An old college roommate did this to me once and I was pissed but it worked.
    Can you work from the kitchen for a while and remind each person to clean up after themselves as they try and run out on their messes? It’s extreme but if you explain in advance what is going on in a company-wide email and how much time you are spending doing this, perhaps it will help.

    1. ferrina*

      Don’t do this. It simply can’t be done in an egalitarian way. Some people are just too high powered or too valuable to the company to chase down about this. If a VIP complains, OP could take a major loss in political capital. From a company perspective, having a staff member lower on the hierarchy wipe down counters is worth letting a VIP leave their dishes in the sink.

      It can also prove messy in other ways- I’m ADHD and have a job that keeps me quite busy. Back when I worked in the office, I would eat at my desk, leave dishes in the sink on my way to a meeting (so the dishes weren’t at my desk) and try to clean them later in the day. Sometimes I would forget (ADHD), and I would try to get to them the next morning when I came in. Usually someone else had already cleaned them. I would try to regularly go through the kitchen and clean what I could, but I probably made more mess than I cleaned (I cleaned more metaphoric messes than I made, but those are different). There was no way the company was going to penalize me for it either- I was doing multiple jobs, heavily increasing revenue in my department, and they were drastically underpaying me.
      That said—sorry sorry sorry to all my coworkers who cleaned up after me! I love you guys! Now I work remotely, and only my poor family has to deal with my ADHD cleaning habits.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        It’s not as extreme as throwing away someone’s favorite mug or their lunch container – at least this way they get it back! You’ll definitely lose capital that way.
        I mean, your experience was to leave it for someone else (albeit on accident) and that’s not acceptable.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I agree, in the case described I would say the person should leave their dirty dishes at their own desk, where they will presumably notice the issue sooner or later and resolve it one way or another (cleaning at the end of the day or bringing disposable containers or getting takeout), versus putting them in the kitchen for someone else to clean because they’re “out of sight, out of mind.”

        2. Smithy*

          I used to work in an office of around 40 people with a genuine cleaning service that would come in every night and truly clean the entire kitchen, dishes and all. And it was not uncommon for that kitchen to be a disaster every day by 4pm. I brought my own mug that I’d clean/take to my desk every day and never used the kitchen for the microwave/food prep because it just seems liked an endless struggle.

          As mentioned above, the reality is that one kitchen shared by that many people where cleaning dishes is just not a top priority for any staff member will get gross. I actually think that processes such as not having office plates or even cutlery is a huge way to cut down on the mess. Doing stir sticks for coffee and letting people fend for self on spoons/knifes/forks/plates would significantly cut down on mess. Otherwise, individual naming/shaming really doesn’t work.

          1. Fate is the Hunter*

            Minor problem: that’s going to create a lot of plastic waste when people start bringing in disposable cutlery.

            1. My Brain is Exploding*

              I have some thrift store cutlery that I bring…no big deal if I lose it, but I take it home to wash it.

            2. SnackAttack*

              In fairness, it will create a lot of waste if OP throws out everybody’s containers, plates, and mugs!

        3. Annony*

          I actually think throwing away dirty dishes left in the sink is less extreme than tracking down their owner and leaving a mess on their desk. If there is an announcement that all dirty dishes left in the sink will be thrown away and a sign above the sink saying the same, most people will not leave their favorite mug in the sink. And it gives plausible deniability of not knowing whose dishes are being thrown away.

          1. Diocletian Blobb*

            yeah, throwing or giving away the dishes is not great, but much much better than dumping them on someone’s desk. In the dumping scenario, you’re actively creating more mess and starting interpersonal drama that’s almost guaranteed to make you a lot of enemies. (Oh, and if you’re not 100% positive whose dishes they are – and really how could you be? – you run a pretty significant chance of dumping them on the wrong person’s desk.)

      2. extra anon*

        Having been married to someone with those kind of habits, who thought sorry sorry sorry somehow erased years of unequal labor and unending stress, I would be extremely triggered by all of that.

        1. ferrina*

          I totally get that. You’ve been through a horrible experience.

          Ironically, I actually lived through that too. My ex did half the housework I did, and worked less at his job than I did. It was exhausting and so demoralizing. To him, my needs were non-existent and I was there to make his life easier and nothing else. Even though my brain makes it physically harder for me to do housework than most people, I still managed to do twice as much as he did.

          And no, I don’t think that “sorry” erases anything. But the thing has been done and I need to acknowledge that other people covered for me, and I appreciate that. I know that I broke the rules of social engagement, even though I didn’t mean to, and that’s on me. But I also know that I will always have an above average incidence of leaving dishes, no matter how much I improve (and I do actively work to improve). That is how my brain is built. Yes, people do blame me and say that I make a “choice” to be messy, but that’s just not how ADHD works. I’m also not “lazy” or “wasting my potential”. My brain is just built different, and I have to balance not being neurotypical with how that impacts the people around me. That means having grace for myself while still taking accountability how things like my forgetfulness impact other people. I try my best, I try different things, and still I fall short. I try to make myself more palatable to people in different ways.
          First, I try not to impose on people. I know that my ADHD symptoms can trigger people, so I try to minimize the impact on others. There is a fine line to walk between minimizing the negative impact of my neurodiversity and simply making myself smaller, and I don’t always know where the balance is.
          Second, I find ways to try to balance my negative traits. I’m really, really good at certain things that most people struggle with, so I take on much more than my fair share of this. I actively study ways to make myself useful and a better human being. I’m one of the easiest people to work with at my company, and I’ve got the feedback to prove it.
          Third, I apologize and I don’t ask others to clean up after my messes. I never asked for other people to make accommodations for me, but I’ve also taken that too far. You know the deal of “I cook, you clean?” Yeah, I felt so guilty for making a normal amount of mess while cooking that I refused to let others clean after I cooked. “I made the mess, I should clean it up.” (a mentality that my ex totally took advantage of, until I found myself doing all the cooking and kitchen cleaning).

          But all this still won’t fix the fact that I will forget to do the dishes when I’m running between meetings (sidenote- I also overcommit, because ADHD. Then run myself ragged with the overcommitments. Also working on that). I also know that if I use a dish at the office, there is a 50% chance I will forget to wash it no matter how hard I try or what my intentions are. I guess what I’m saying is- you don’t know what’s in other people’s hearts or heads until you know them. Some people are messy because they are lazy/entitled/glassbowls, and some people are genuinely trying.

          *Not that this undoes any of the harm that you had to go through with your ex, extra anon. I hope you are well rid of the person that took advantage of you and that you are thriving!

          1. Claire*

            Why can’t you just leave your dirty dishes on your desk until your meeting is over and you have time to clean them?

            1. Zephy*

              PSA: If you’re talking to a person with any flavor of spicy brain, especially someone who’s just written a short novel about what it’s like in their head and what they have to do to function in the world with a brain like that, and you’re about to say something that starts with “why can’t you just,” think better of it. There is no “just.” Our brains do not work like your brains.

            2. Twix*

              I’m not the person who wrote the above comment, but I also have pretty severe ADHD. The answer, at least for me, is that I struggle a lot with object and task permanence. If I’m thinking about something that needs to get done, like bringing my dishes to the sink, I have to do it right now or there is a very high chance I will forget about it. If I leave them on my desk, one of two things will probably happen:

              -I’m really focused on something work-related and don’t want to interrupt that, so I’m trying to work around the dirty dishes and will put them out of my way, where they no longer exist to my brain, and they’ll sit there for weeks

              -I’ll bring them to the sink and wash them so I don’t forget about them and then I need to spend half an hour or more mentally re-digesting the information from the meeting so I can get back to work

              I’ve developed coping mechanisms for trying not to let tasks slip, like always writing things down, but my brain just does not naturally work that way. It makes me a great engineer but sometimes a frustrating person to share space with, which is something I am very much aware of.

            3. ADHD brain*

              As someone (else) with ADHD, I want to give you a head’s up that ever asking a neurodivergent person–especially if they just wrote several paragraphs trying to give an insight into how their brain works and where they show just how hard they are trying to do things better/be more palatable/etc.–is *not* the move. “Why can’t you just” is something we hear *ALL THE TIME*. Believe us when we say we are trying, that we know how frustrating it can be, that we’re not trying to excuse our behavior but are trying to explain it. Trust that our lives would be easier if we could “just” do whatever. But we can’t, and (general) you asking why we can’t won’t help and won’t get us to magically do things the way you think we should. It’s not an excuse to say that our brains don’t work that way, because they genuinely do not work that way.

              Also, if you read the comment you’re replying to, Ferrina did a pretty darn good job of explaining why they can’t “just”.

          2. Cqrit*

            This is extremely well described. And yeah, finding that balance between not making ourselves small and minimizing negative impact on others is really, really difficult.

        2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          hear hear!!!

          Or as my mama reminded me many times, sometimes “sorry” isn’t enough.

      3. Rosie*

        I think perhaps the solution then would be to leave your dishes on your desk, so you don’t forget to clean them. I get it, I have ADHD too, but I don’t think that makes it an OK excuse for others to have to clean up after you.

        1. Username Lost to Time*

          Thank you for saying this. What type of accommodations can folks consider in the same way reasonable accommodations are applied to job duties?

          Regarding the original suggestion of picking up dirty dishes and crumbs to move to the owner’s desk: 1) how do you know/track who the owner is and 2) that’s a serious “yuck” even with gloves.

        2. ferrina*

          I never asked or expected anyone to clean up after me. I would put my dishes in the sink between meetings, then try to come back later to wash them. Sometimes later was in an hour, but sometimes it was the next morning. Even if I remembered to go back immediately after my meeting, sometimes someone would have already gotten to it.

          My alternative was to leave them at my work station in the middle of the open office. That would just leave my random plate sitting literally next to my poor coworkers- at least the kitchen was a little out of the way. (and yes, I had to work through lunch. I was doing multiple roles working on things that were time sensitive and often spending 4-6 hours/day in meetings. Bright side of my ADHD- I am incredibly, incredibly good at tracking a million projects and deadlines. I just forget the basic life things)

          1. Texan In Exile*

            I know you didn’t expect anyone to clean up after you, but I don’t think leaving dishes in the sink is ever acceptable at work, even while you are in a meeting. The sink is a common space and I don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s dirty dishes while I am washing mine.

            1. ferrina*

              So….leaving it between my keyboard and my coworker’s keyboard was a better solution? Or should I have skipped a meal (which makes me incredibly cranky)? Or not used a dish and gotten extra crumbs on my desk? Or been late to the meeting? (which was usually with clients or higher ups)

              I didn’t have even 20 minutes for lunch. Honestly, the 2 minutes it spent getting my lunch from the fridge would sometimes get me chided by my boss (why yes, it was a toxic workplace).

              Sometimes the only options are bad ones. And while I really, really don’t want to defend leaving dishes in the sink, it really was me trying my best. And if that’s all my coworkers saw and they missed everything else I was contributing toward the company (including driving a bunch of revenue, advocating for DEIJ and holding C-Suite accountable, and containing some of the crazier politics and projects) then I guess I’m defending dirty dishes?

              1. coffee*

                Disposable plates would have worked better. Also honestly, leaving your workplace for somewhere less toxic, which I know is easier said than done.

              2. Grenelda Thurber*

                Yes! Leave your dirty dishes someplace where you won’t forget them. If you want to be polite to your coworker, keep something in your desk that can be used to briefly store them at your desk, i.e. a zip lock bag/a small waterproof bin with a lid/whatever you brought your dishes in.

                1. LTR, FTP*

                  Yeah, I would definitely tuck my dirty dish back into my lunch bag before leaving it in the public sink. Sometimes I used to do this just because the sink at work was so gross I couldn’t bring myself to use it!

              3. Starbuck*

                Other solutions that worked for ADHD me & dishes at work:

                1. Bring food in a container with a lid, that I can eat out of. Put the lid back on when I’m done and then it can go in my bag, on my desk, etc without being gross.
                2. Leave dishes on the counter next to sink or other flat space that’s not the sink that people aren’t using.
                3. Wipe dish quickly with a damp paper towel if you have to leave it somewhere not ideal so it isn’t as gross.

                But would probably also decide that maybe a toxic workplace means I don’t care about leaving the sink empty for others. Honestly and sincerely! In your scenario I would probably be annoyed enough at all that, that I would say fuck it, dish goes in sink if you can’t even respect my lunch time. So I don’t think you should feel bad.

              4. Cqrit*

                Forget “cranky” — in my experience, letting regular meals or sleep slip At All is a recipe for dramatic exacerbation of ADHD symptoms.

            2. Boof*

              Yep; just don’t leave dishes in the sink, period, then you can’t forget them.

              … i say that an i am about halfway to full blown adhd if it’s a spectrum and i have Once every few months managed to leave a mug by the sink because I put it down on the way to the bathroom, not wanting to take it in the bathroom and then forgot about it. But it’s certainly a lot more rare than if I tried to leave dishes to soak routinely.

              1. ferrina*

                I have forgotten to put on shoes before I left my house. There is no surefire way for me to remember anything

                1. Katydid*

                  Hi, ferrina! I remember you from Carolyn Hax! (I had a different username & left not long after Red died.)

                  It looks like folks might be taking their frustrations with their coworkers out on you. I understood and appreciated your explanations of your experiences, but wanted to ask you if continuing to explain to people who maybe really just want to vent at a proxy is healthy for you? You deserve the same respectful treatment you clearly give others (which I remember from my Hax days). If they cannot see that you treat people well (even though you struggle to remember dishes, etc.), they’re not seeing you, but someone else.

                2. Boof*

                  I really, really get it; I’m not sure if you’re writing in for absolution (?) vs if you’re looking for techniques to avoid causing the sort of situation the LW is writing in about, or what; you know your situation best and if the only solution is to accept leaving dirty dishes in the sink at work, ok? As someone with ADD tendencies and a whole family with ADD diagnosis, I’d say I accept a lot of chaos and dirty dishes at home, but at work, my rule is to take the time to clean the dish immediately and never leave it in the sink. Do I still manage to forget anyway? Sure. But it’s a whole lot less than if I made a habit of leaving dishes in the sink and remembering to retrieve them later (won’t happen until I’m missing the dish or spot it when passing the sink!). I saw your post that you are always trying to do better; I’d ask if being 2 minutes late to the next meeting (if that’s what the equation is) is “worse” than leaving dishes in the sink (because, you’re trying to run to the next meeting and have dirty dishes and have no where else to leave them, if I understand correctly; vs clean them on the spot and be late?). Or maybe you could have a bin under your desk to stash them until you have time to clean them. Just brainstorming; if there’s just no other solution, OK I guess? I’m curious tho, do you think LW should not institute a policy of throwing out any dishes in the sink at the end of the day?

      4. ThatOtherClare*

        Presumably, based on your comment, you weren’t doing what the letter writer’s co-irkers are doing and pretending it wasn’t you. ADHD doesn’t impair one’s ability to appreciate the people who literally and metaphorically pick up after you.

        NT or not, saying something along the lines of “Hey, I know I have a bad habit of forgetting my dishes, thank you so much for picking up after me again this morning!” goes a long way. Lying and pretending it’s not you (I doubt the letter writer’s kitchen has an infestation of crumb fairies) goes a long way in the other direction. I don’t doubt that the gaslighting and lack of appreciation is causing a significant part of her distress.

        1. ferrina*

          Absolutely not on the lying and gaslighting! And I always scrape my plate, and I’m weirdly good about wiping up crumbs. But man, the dishes elude me. I’m the first to admit that I’m cluttered, and I apologize frequently to everyone around me (weirdly, I’m only physically cluttered. I can organize a project extremely well). I also regularly do other things to help out and try to make up for my chronic messiness. I’m one of the best people to collaborate with (literally have had roles custom-designed for me so I can represent my department in interdepartmental collaborations). I am just the single worst person at cleaning (and yes, I try very, very hard. But it’s like expecting me to faster than Usain Bolt- I work at it and I get better, but I will never be on that level)

      5. Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god*

        Sorry…you have to exist with other people. Clean up your snit! Seriously, you were so important that you thought it was ok to leave a mess for someone else? Don’t use ADHD as an excuse. Would you expect someone staying at your home to act like this? No, you would not. You knew it would be cleaned up so you blew it off for selfish reasons. Thirty seconds to wash a dish. Or use disposable dishes (biodegradable of course)!

        1. ferrina*

          You forgot to call me lazy.
          You managed to hit most of the Insults for ADHD People though! Making Excuses- check. Selfish- check. Entitled- well, it was implied, so I’ll give you credit. And you implied Stupid and Thoughtless- credit on that too. Almost a bingo! Oh, and I didn’t write this bingo board- this is a bingo board for any ADHD person. We deal with waaaaaay more negative comments than our neurotypical peers (feel free to Google the studies) and you’ve managed to hit almost all of the insults that are aimed at us! Congrats!

          Thank you for equating my disability with my morality. I certainly haven’t heard that every day of my life starting literally before I could write my own name. You are absolutely right- if I just tried harder and was less selfish, I could absolutely rewire my neurobiochemistry. Will power is the answer to a complex brain condition! /s

          Seriously though….I try. I try very, very hard. I have tried more systems for basic functioning than most people will go through in a lifetime. If you want an organizational system, I have tried it. The thing is- my brain is broken. I was born that way. Does that negate my other value to society? Does a dirty plate mean that I don’t care about my coworkers? Or is that just part of the picture of a very complex human being who is trying to navigate when they are missing the map that everyone else has?
          Part of existing with other people is understanding that we all have different limitations. I can manage insanely complex projects, ridiculously difficult stakeholders, and have consistently performed above my paygrade for well over a decade. But I absolutely struggle with simple things in the same way I can’t lift 500lbs. That is my limitation. It’s a weird one, but that doesn’t make me a liar. Maybe I should add “liar” to the ADHD bingo board, cuz the amount of people that tell me that the way I process information (or don’t) is wrong! When an ADHDer tries to tell you how their brain works and you say “it can’t work that way becase that’s not how normal people think!”, um, well, yes, that is literally the definition of neurodiversity. But if you want to claim based on a few internet comments that you know my brain better than I do, well, I can’t stop you.

          1. Lalchi11*

            I understand your frustration with these comments; but, at the end of the day, you are still the person leaving dishes in the sink that other people have to clean up. It’s very frustrating and gross for the others who have to do the cleaning up.

            1. Boof*

              Yea, this is a letter in a work advice site about an admin bemoaning having to deal with a fithly kitchen. This is probably not the proper forum for absolution (?) / sympathy with leaving dirty dishes in the sink; But it’s a good place to find advice on how not to do it/do it less, and/or discuss how this translates into what the LW should/shouldn’t do.

          2. Cqrit*

            You’re spot on, ferrina! As someone whose ADHD seems to function similarly to yours, I have to believe/hope that the people working with us directly are cognizant of what we bring to our companies, teams, and communities than is Bigger-the-hair… and some of the others here and are thus able to give us some grace in return. Just like I (presumably we) sometimes carry our colleagues on things they do poorly (and before anyone dismisses this — the skills ferrina describes absolutely do cover gaps others have, often significant ones that filling allows the team as a whole to pull off some amazing things regularly, in my direct experience).

            The bingo is so damn depressing. Especially after you described so clearly what it’s like inside. Gee, if only I could just… be neurotypical? Of course, in that case, who would pull off miracle X, might I ask? Answer: nobody. (But that’s invisible until catastrophe Y is averted by said X, unlike a plate? I guess?)

            1. Cqrit*

              I should note that it seems to me like ferrina’s office kitchen was not like the one poor LW is dealing with. (Or ferrina wouldn’t have been returning to find their dish washed, obvs.)

              In the office, I don’t use plates – I used glass tubbies with lids or jars. And I’m a “put the napkin/utensil in, close it up, shove it aside, keep working, and find it much later under a pile/collect several at once and wash at home” type (a different problem). I never had to worry about the open office near neighbor situation that ferrina did.

              In my experience, office kitchens are either startlingly tidy (my lab and lab adjacent jobs) or horrific (my tech related jobs). There must be an office cultural switch somewhere, and it would be great to find and use that.

        2. Username Lost to Time*

          This comment is… not helpful or compassionate.

          As I read this thread, I realize a companion to Alison’s curated list of what works for the kitchen cleaning manager might be a list of habits to help folks who are unintentionally causing the kitchen to be messy. No need for personal attacks as our community tries to address the issue.

    2. Askew*

      I was in the office one day when the HR director got so fed up she did this to the 3 worst offenders: put their plates still full of half eaten food they’d dumped in the kitchen back on their desks, asked which one of their colleagues exactly they’d expected to clean up their food after them, then sent a scathing email to the entire office reminding us we were adults. Two of the 3 were pretty high ranking VPs and one was a younger fast tracker.

      Anyway, even with that I think things improved for maybe a week then gradually slid backwards again.

      1. Fate is the Hunter*

        Two of the 3 were pretty high ranking VPs and one was a younger fast tracker

        Sorry, but if I were one of those VPs, I’d be reprimanding the person who did this.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          If you were in charge, you’d reprimand someone who tried to get you to deal with your own crap that inconvenienced others? That would lead to everyone thinking it was okay to leave their stuff in the sink, making the problem even worse. I would never want to work for someone like that, so I guess you’d end up with a company either filled with selfish, rude people or resentful employees (or both).

        2. Askew*

          The person who did the plate dumping was very senior in HR, and while it was a small office (about the size of the OP’s), it was part of a huge global corporation. The only way she could be reprimanded would be for him to submit a complaint to her manager in a different country and I’m confident that if he’d tried he’d have come off worse.

          I only witnessed one of the interactions that day, but she waited for him to get back from a meeting, took the plate (with half a chicken on it) from the kitchen, put it on his desk and asked him who exactly he’d expected to clean it up for him, naming each of them: did he expect his EA to clean his dishes for him? The receptionist? His junior? Her? Was he planning to leave it there all day until the cleaners came in that night, even though they weren’t paid to clean to that level and it meant making everyone else who used the kitchen work around his dirty plates? He apologised, carried it through to the kitchen, and disposed of it.

          In a lifetime of dealing with dirty office kitchens it was incredibly satisfying to witness, even if there was no lasting change. It was also an industry known for a blunt culture, with a lot of perks, a lot of entitled people but also where it was clear from the top down that in this particular office there was no 24/7 service of people who came round regularly with trolleys to clear your desks of dirty plates and cups and wash them for you as well as keeping the kitchens clean and tidy (this literally did happen in the big offices), and that everyone had to scrape food from their plate into the bin and put the plate into the dishwasher

        3. dawbs*

          Well, maybe it goes all directions.

          Because if I found out someone was reprimanded for this, I’d be job searching for places where they value these tasks and responsibility.

        4. Not Your Housekeeper*

          If you’re ever one of those VPs, hire a daily cleaner so you don’t have to clean up your own messes. Otherwise put a sock in it.

    3. Always Tired*

      Are you my college roommate? We wrote it into the roommate agreement, and the first time, I kindly put the dirty dishes in a dish bucket on the offenders bed, but made it clear they would not get that courtesy the second time. We never had dishes in the sink longer than a few hours. (we gave each other grace for running late to class, etc). We were also the only apartment in our building not really affected by the great fruit fly outbreak of springer quarter.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        I don’t think it was me – I didn’t get them in a bucket. Just dropped onto my bed. and it wasn’t in the roommate agreement.

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Growing up, my sister and I alternated who did the dishes after dinner. If you didn’t do them, my dad would put the dirty dishes on your bed. My sister regularly didn’t do the dishes and just moved the dirty ones to my bed. So fun.

  3. Juicebox Hero*

    People have gotten away with leaving the kitchen a pig sty so far because there aren’t any kind of consequences for doing do.

    Unless you get the authority to enforce rules regarding furry food and orphaned dishes, nothing short of a miracle is going to change things. And even a miracle isn’t going to make people wipe down the counters, stop dumping chunky stuff down the drain, or clean the microwave.

    1. HappilyJF*

      After years of admin work, I became convinced that leaving the kitchen messes for someone else (conceivably someone else in a more “lowly” position) was the only semblance of power that some folks ever got.

    2. Anonymouse*

      Pig sty.

      Have office pigs.

      Office pet pigs.

      Living in a crate in the kitchen.

      Occasionally greased up and running loose in the office itself.

    3. HRgal*

      It is a classic principal/agent problem, the key is to put the responsibility/consequences back on everyone to clean.

      The only place I have worked where the kitchen stayed clean was where there was a printed rota with every single member of the team (including the director) on it who was the ‘kitchen tsar’ of that day, and their job was to ensure – by cleaning or by reminding others – that the kitchen remained clean. In a company of 50 people, that would only amount to 5 days of kitchen duties a year per person, and it truly ended up not being that much work on your scheduled day.

      But you do need someone with authority to care that the kitchen is clean, and to admonish people when it is not.

    1. WellRed*

      Oh and I’ve not been in charge of the kitchen but quite liberally tossed old food (so much expired yogurt!).

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yes, you can at least implement an “all food left in the fridge or kitchen area on Friday at 3PM gets tossed out, no exceptions” rule so that you don’t have to spend time considering each leftover or washing out other people’s tupperwares. I don’t like creating extra waste but I also don’t like being an unpaid housecleaner.

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Wonan*

          This works. The last time I was in an office this was the rule and you better believe that fridge was pretty dang empty by 3pm. Even well before Friday it wasn’t pretty clean at the end of every day because people got in the habit of not leaving stuff in there.

          It might take a few weeks, but will help some.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          My office has a policy that any unlabeled (owner’s name + date) food in the fridge is thrown out Friday at 3pm, and also anything named/dated but over 2 weeks old. If it’s in your personal tupperware, well, sucks to suck.

          We have blue tape and sharpies in a magnetic bin stuck to the front of the fridge, so there’s no excuse.

          We do have office dishes, but also multiple dishwashers per kitchen and porters who generally keep things clean. Also, and I have no idea how this happened but it may be the most important part, leaving dirty dishes in the sink is a HUGE faux pas and you will be absolutely massively dragged and informed by basically everyone that you are not a child and your mom does not live here. I don’t know if it’s possible to jumpstart that culture in an office, it may just have to happen naturally. (I think it might be because a lot of our salespeople are new grads and actually need to be reminded…)

          1. Sloanicota*

            I know it’s probably better … but I just hated having to pick through everybody’s gross sticky stuff looking for names and dates or whatever. The “toss everything, no exceptions” rule meant that I was done in 5-10 minutes and could also wipe the inside of the fridge. The “I will examine all the items in the fridge personally” plan was not nearly as efficient. Also this thread is reminding me how glad I am not to have that job anymore.

            1. Rosie*

              Agreed. AT MOST food should not be left for a week after it is dated. That way you don’t have 2 weeks worth of crap to go through.

              1. SD95*

                Last year my co-worker and I decided to go through our 2 office refrigerators to toss any old items, especially frozen dinners. OMG, there was stuff from 2019 – before the pandemic! And I threw out all containers if there were no names, even a nice glass one because I wasn’t about to try to clean it. I didn’t hear if anyone noticed their containers or food was gone but I was fed up with the mess.

            2. LCH*

              nah, just tossing is fine. although the only place i worked where this happened on Fridays, the coffee milk was office bought. so they were fine throwing it out because new milk was delivered every week. but i could see a problem if people had to bring in their own. not sure what else needs to live at work for multiple weeks? i guess meds? obviously don’t toss meds.

              1. NotRealAnonForThis*

                Prepandemic, salad dressing and non-dairy milk for my coffee.

                Now? I don’t use the refrigerator or the lunchroom.

              2. Full Banana Ensemble*

                Condiments, mostly? At my office, we have a stash of communal things like coffee creamer, butter, and jelly, although those are generally single-serve packets, not a jar. People sometimes bring in their own creamer, if they don’t like the kind provided, and I could see doing that with salad dressing or milk for cereal if you eat it regularly. Or, back when my metabolism let me eat french fries for lunch every day (lol), a bottle of ketchup was not unheard of.

            3. Non-profit drone*

              Agreed. I was not technically in charge of the refrigerator but every couple of weeks I threw everything out because it was disgusting. I put up a warning sign a few days before, so too bad. No one ever had the nerve to complain to me.

            4. Wendy Darling*

              Yeah, I think part of the reason it works well is that we do have the porters and it’s literally their entire job to keep things, including the kitchens, tidy and stocked and they knew cleaning the fridge was a major part of the job when they took it.

              If it got out of control I think it would get way more draconian.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            We use a similar system, and it works well. You are also allowed to have condiments and coffee/tea accoutrements that stays there but no will will guarantee it’s not used by others and it will be thrown out once the best by date passes.

            The best ways our kitchens stay clean is that we have a full-time staff whose job includes basic kitchen cleanup/restocking – same team that does conference room and meeting prep and supports onsite events. (They’re wiping down counters and putting dishes into the dishwashers, not dealing with your science experiment or scouring anything.) They also clear the fridges on Fridays. Because the kitchen location can be visible to guests, higher-ups will also ask people getting ready to walk away from a dish or spill to clean it up immediately.

        3. Nina*

          At a previous workplace we couldn’t do that because people so often worked on weekends, but there was a huge snack (and reasonably healthy microwaveable meal) cupboard and freezer, and clearly identifiable ‘the company paid for this’ drinks that you could only get from wholesalers so nobody ever brought any of that kind in.

          The fridge was cleared by the office manager at 8 am every Monday when the milk delivery arrived, and anything that was not both a) a company-paid-for object and b) still sealed was thrown out. If you accidentally left something over the weekend, or were working the weekend, you had time between getting in on Monday and The Cleanout to retrieve it, but the fridge was largely clear for the week.

        4. WantonSeedStitch*

          THIS. Put the notice on the fridge, make it clear that this includes containers as well as the food that’s in them, and send out a reminder email Fridays before lunch.

        5. Ama*

          Yup we ended up having to do this at my office — for the most part I think my coworkers are pretty considerate (dirty dishes do not get left in the sink, tables get wiped down after people eat at them) but the fridge remained a consistent problem. We did our cleanout about once a month.

          The only other office where we had minimal issues with the staff kitchen we had an onsite cafeteria and four small kitchenettes, so we employed a full time housekeeper/chef’s assistant whose job it was to go pick up all the dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher every day. (But since it was a grad school we still had to lecture people about not leaving dirty dishes out on the weekends).

    2. Beth*

      Agreed that implementing a “dishes in the sink will be thrown out at 5pm each day, label all food in the fridge with name and expiration date, anything with no label/an expired label will be thrown out at 5pm on Fridays” setup would go a long way! I’ve never been in an office that had a kitchen and didn’t have rules like that. I have been in offices where the rules were strictly enforced and rules where they were looser, though, and the strictly enforced ones absolutely stayed cleaner.

    3. Impending Heat Dome*

      Get rid of the kitchen entirely! Take out the microwaves, the fridge, the coffee pot. People can bring their stuff from home and eat sandwiches.

      Honestly. What a ridiculous situation. An admin is not a goddamn table busser and dishwasher. I would absolutely quit if I thought I was being hired as a admin, and found myself being expected to waste hours a day cleaning people’s dishes.

      1. Fed up campus advisor*

        I used to work at a campus resource center with a hang out spot. 1 month into the semester the students got lazy so I set warnings that if food trash was going to be left than food would be banned. Next week the tables looked like a restaurant waiting to be bussed. Since they didn’t leave a tip, I removed the microwave and unplugged the fridge with a notice that all food was banned for two weeks. Everyone had to take their food outside. I would also not eat lunch in there either to really drive home the point.

        There was one student who was furious but understood why, she had actually stayed behind a few days to help clean up. After I allowed food again she was one of the people who would get on people to clean up. We had a mystery of someone dumping leftover ramen in a nearby drinking fountain. When I threatened a longer ban it was her who found the culprit.

        Sometimes you need to show people you are serious.

  4. Antilles*

    In terms of food in the fridge, every office I’ve ever been to or even heard of which managed to keep the fridge clean has had an ironclad rule posted on the fridge of “the fridge gets emptied of food every single (insert day/time here, e.g., Friday afternoon), no hesitation, no mercy, no negotiation, anything in here at that time is going straight in the garbage”.
    Every workplace with a less stringent rule has had the fridges turn into disastrous mess.

    1. Seashell*

      That’s how my former office was. You had to have things labeled with your name if you wanted to keep it in there, and everything else got periodically thrown out after a mass email reminder. If you had something in there that had been there forever, they could hunt you down since your name was on it.

      1. ferrina*

        I worked at a couple places with this policy. A couple mass emails and a sign were posted at least a week before the cleaning took place, then the purge happened. It was great!

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes, this. Given how fast fruit goes bad you may still end up with a moldy clamshell pack of berries now and then, but it should keep things from getting too dire.

    3. The Original K.*

      Yep, and it only took one time for someone’s food to be tossed for them not to leave it in there. My old coworker had picked up a few groceries and left them in there and they got thrown out, and that was that on that – she never made that mistake again.

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      We did this in my office for years, and the people working in-person still do it. Near the start of a new year, the administrative assistant divided up the calendar into weeks, everyone got assigned a week or two, and everyone got an Outlook calendar invite for their assigned weeks sent out to them. The calendars also got printed and posted in the break room. If you were going to be out of the office/insanely busy with some project on your assigned week, you could arrange a trade with someone else.

      The expectations were that you would (during the week) do quick wipes of the counters and tables, and generally tidy up. On Friday you would email the group with the “fridge cleaning at (afternoon time)” warning, then go do a deep clean of the fridge (cleaning products provided) and any other surfaces. Then the stray food (very-newly-expired items, unlabeled stuff) and containers would be put on the table, a picture taken, and a warning email with photo sent out to claim your stuff to get it out of there or it would get trashed at the end of the day.

      Dishes became not too bad at that point and other messes improved too, because everyone had to deal with this.

      We still had issues with a too-small-for-the-group fridge being squished full of people’s insulated lunch bags / people bringing salad-making-supplies for the full week / huge condiment bottles crowding out other things, but at least it was clean! (I brought an insulated lunch tote but kept it at my desk due to the veritable Tetris game that fridge space was.)

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Hit submit too soon: Allowing labeled and non-expired food to remain on Fridays did contribute to the fridge crowding issue and I really wish that they had been strict about that considering the limited fridge space. It is NOT that hard to think ahead and bring a tiny salad dressing bottle that fits in your lunch bag, or other similar condiments, but the Mean Girls contingent in the office got their noses out of joint about their special expensive keto salad dressing bottles being tossed so rules got shifted a little, and it turned into “I’m gonna bring my salad prep for a week (or two, maybe it’ll not wilt) and take up lots of space” and from there giant bottles of ketchup/etc started popping up.

        1. Antilles*

          That’s exactly why I said the rule needs to be ironclad with no exceptions. The instant you start allowing exceptions suddenly *everybody* wants to rules-lawyer and be an exception.

      2. Dahlia*

        Insulated lunch bags in the fridge are such a big pet peeve of mine. You’re insulating them AGAINST the cold!

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      No hesitation, no mercy, no negotiation.
      You need an office Venn diagram with heavy overlap of “People with the cold-blooded ruthlessness to wield this kind of power” and “People put in charge of keeping the kitchen clean.”

    6. Llellayena*

      We have this rule: 4pm on Fridays. However, my desk is within sight of the fridge and I have NEVER seen anyone clean the fridge at or after 4pm on Friday…or ever.

      1. JustaTech*

        We have this rule, and it used to be implemented regularly. Then, between WFH for COVID and a serious reduction in the number of people who work on this floor (and therefore use the kitchen) we’ve just kind of stopped doing it, and it’s been fine?

        Like, there’s adult beverages in there between happy hours (so, weeks at least) and people’s personal coffee creamer, but for the most part folks just aren’t in the habit of keeping food in the work fridge (like, they put in a whole lunch bag in the morning, but take it home every day) so it hasn’t gotten scary.

    7. HotSauce*

      Yes, this is the only way. I am unofficially in charge of this task because I’m the first one in every morning. When I put my lunch bag in the fridge, if there’s anything else in there, it gets thrown away. End of story. Same with dishes on the counter. People started being a lot more compliant when we enacted this rule.

    8. Some Words*

      Same with dirty dishes. The only thing that works is “wash & remove it or it will be tossed”.

      Some people complain the first time their fancy food storage container is thrown away, but when they realize the new rule really is being enforced it’s suddenly not a problem.

  5. PurpleKatz*

    In one place I worked they switched to paper plates and plastic utensils because everyone got sick of the stacks of dirty dishes in the sink. Definitely not environmentally friendly but it worked. The other thing that helped was that on Fridays the admin threw out any food in the fridge that was not recently dated with the owners name or initials. That helped too. When people learn their favorite tupperware ended up in the trash they suddenly learned how to label it.

    1. Venus*

      In complete agreement with single-use plates and utensils, especially given that some are better for the environment. Or if everyone brings their own then start putting them in big plastic baggies, unwashed, rather than cleaning them yourself. Make it harder for them to leave dirty items than it would be to clean them.

      Also agreed with throwing out unlabeled items from the fridge at the same time (Friday after lunch) every week. The first couple weeks you might quickly empty out the contents without washing the container and put it in a sealed bag hidden away so that if someone has a problem the first couple weeks then they can retrieve their container and no permanent harm is done and they learn their lesson. Only if you’re feeling generous!

      I have never worked anywhere that one person was responsible for the kitchen area, and somehow the area is always quite clean. I think it really helps that a cleaner wipes down the microwave and counters a couple times a week, and once a month the fridge is checked, but otherwise individual responsibility works.

    2. Forty Years in the Hole*

      Along the same line: if the office is providing- albeit a bit more costly – switch to bamboo dishes/utensils. They are at least recyclable /compostable/biodegradable.

    3. Michelle*

      This is what we do. A sign goes up saying if anything not labeled or it’s expired or moldy or whatever, it goes in the trash bin.

      We have housekeepers but they don’t do your dishes.

      I wonder what these people’s homes look like. Another reason I do not do potlucks. I’ll contribute, but I always have something I need to do “real quick” and go back to my desk.

      1. SMH*

        We went to throwing everything out on Fridays regardless of dates or container. if it was in the fridge at 4 it went. it took a few weeks but people stopped forgetting things in the fridge.

  6. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    I have nothing useful to add here, but just dropping by for what promises to be amazing comments because my day has been really wacky so far and I need a distraction.

  7. Charlotte*

    I thought the title of this post indicated that the writer was in charge of “our disgusting office KITTEN” ha! No such animal IMO.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Dear Alison, our office collectively adopted a sweet baby kitten with cerebellar hypoplasia, which is an adorable but objectively insane idea. The boss thought a cat that couldn’t move far under her own power would be more practical for an office setting, but as the most recent hire I’ve been tasked with cleaning up after she flings her food across the floor with her cute little head-wobbles and flops over in her own waste, and it’s starting to gross me out! How do I get out of this duty without being labeled an ableist animal hater?!

      1. Spreadsheets and Books*

        My parents have a cerebellar hypoplasia cat and boy does she take a lot of work. She’s very cute, and generally clean enough, but they have to watch her constantly or she does things like fall down the stairs or slip into a space she can’t get out of because she can’t jump. She’s a little skittish, too, because she seems to take it personally when she falls over because something startled her, as if you made her topple over or something. But she runs like a hopping bunny and it’s hysterical.

    2. ashie*

      I work at an animal shelter and I can promise you, no matter how adorable they are, kittens are nasty.

      1. Random Bystander*

        Yes, but they grow out of it (I put up with the kitten stage, but I love cats). If I adopt from a shelter again (my last three adoptees were former ferals that I captured as kittens while working on TNR with the neighborhood colony), I’m going to ask for the oldest cat on site.

  8. Quizix*

    I’m a fan of no communal dishes, BYO everything and if it’s left in the sink it goes in the bin! Of course you need your bosses total support for this hardline.

      1. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

        Communal dishes are handy for employees since they don’t have to constantly commute with things like a plate to eat off of, and a bowel if they want soup that day, and utensils, and a water bottle, and a thermos for coffee/tea etc. They’re also more sustainable as many people will just jump to disposable dishes if reusable ones aren’t provided.

        Basically communal dishes are great – if and only if the office kitchen also has a dishwasher.

        1. CheesePlease*

          We have a dishwasher in our break room but there is no single person responsible for running it / emptying it etc so it’s basically useless because it creates a task nobody wants.

          We switched to compostable single-use items. The dishwasher still exists and is never used.

        2. Observer*

          They’re also more sustainable as many people will just jump to disposable dishes if reusable ones aren’t provided.

          It depends on what you mean by sustainable. Because dealing with communal dishes can have costs of its own, including environmental. There is a reason why commercial establishments often use dish washing machines that use VERY hot water. Plain soap and hot-ish water washed by hand is not always clean enough when dealing dishes used by groups of people.

          Basically communal dishes are great – if and only if the office kitchen also has a dishwasher

          Yup. But you *also* need to have enough dishes / people that use them so that you can run the machine fully loaded on a regular basis (like at least once a day.)

        3. WellRed*

          I think offices should use disposables otherwise you get the scenario in the letter. Then uou are throwing out regular dishes, saying OPs time, and probably running lots of extra water trying to clean dishes and dunking up the sewer system with food waste. So, in terms of sustainability. I call a draw.

        4. Chirpy*

          I’ve just always brought my food in microwaveable containers. One less dish to wash, and I don’t have to worry about how well other people cleaned them (or if all the spoons walked off.)

          You really only need separate plates/bowls if you’re assembling your food at work from ingredients you brought separately (which probably takes up an annoying amount of space in a work fridge) or if your work supplies lunch (which typically is only special occasions most places.)

        5. LCH*

          i just eat things from the food storage containers i bring them in. then the container goes home with me. i just put the lid back on, wipe down my utensils, and put everything back in my insulated lunch bag to wash at home. transferring food from my storage container to another dish feels pointless.

        6. Fate is the Hunter*

          Every office I have ever worked in has had occasional office celebrations and parties. Dishware gets used then. Maybe this is a finance thing.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Reduces a lot of waste from disposable cups/etc. Doesn’t really work without a dishwasher and somebody paid to run it.

      3. Dahlia*

        It is a very white collar thing, isn’t it? Like I’m not saying that to be rude, but I’ve never really worked a retail job where they had communal dishes. My mom works in a bakery and everyone has their own mug, but that’s it. Otherwise you bring lunch fully-made and take the dishes home, or you leave for lunch.

        It’s interesting seeing how different the norms are.

        1. Some Words*

          It probably is, but in my white collar offices everyone has always been expected to supply their own dishes, mugs, etc. The disposables only come out for group gatherings.

          It’s really not a burden to keep a bowl, plate & flatware stashed at one’s desk.

        2. Impending Heat Dome*

          In my white collar job, there was no communal anything except the appliances. If a person wanted to use a real plate and cutlery, they brought it from home and took it home with them at the end of the day. If a person clogged the sink with leftover food (no garbage disposal) or left their dish in the sink, there would be a terse reminder that it wasn’t allowed.

          People were also strongly discouraged from bringing full-sized bottles of whatever to keep in the communal fridge (cream, salad dressing, whatever). Everyone needs to be able to use the fridge, it’s not for someone’s personal half-gallon of milk or six-pack of Pepsi. Keep a pack of soda at your desk and chill one when you want it? Sure.

    1. Desk Dragon*

      I work from home now, but when I started in-office at my company we had communal dishes in the kitchenette/break room. We also had a dishwasher, though, and every night after hours the cleaning staff would run it, then put the dishes away. If we brought in food in our own dishes, we were responsible for cleaning those/taking them home, but people were pretty good about both taking care of their personal stuff and putting the communal dishes in the dishwasher when they were done with them. Since the office was downtown in a city where most people came in by public transportation, having less to bring in/take home each day was very handy.

    2. Sloanicota*

      If there is a dishwasher, you can also compromise with communal mugs/glasses, but no communal plates/bowls. I find mugs and glasses less onerous to load and unload from the dishwasher top rack, and they don’t get as gross usually since they mostly contain liquid. But you may have to take a hardline on anyone who eats cereal or oatmeal out of the mug, particularly if they leave it “to soak” in the sink haha. You can provide paper plates and bowls. If people bring their own, warn them that “soaking” dishes (I put this in quotes because most people I know who soak dishes never return for them) will be tossed with extreme prejudice at the end of the day.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        We have communal mugs and cutlery at my office. Everything dirty that belongs to the office gets put into the dishwasher and it gets run periodically. In conjunction with the weekly fridge clean-out rule, this seems to work pretty well. And we’re lucky that we also have a great (multi-person) facilities team who take care of the kitchen along with many other duties.

  9. Chairman of the Bored*

    Sounds like this should become the boss’s problem.

    He clearly cares about the condition of the kitchen, and might be able to take it over with more authority than LW.

    Consider something like “Hey boss, I can’t figure out how to get people to clean this kitchen up. Can you take it over for a few weeks and show me how it should be done?”

    Either he demonstrates a method that works, or (much more likely) he also fails and then everybody can just give up with a clear conscience.

    1. uncivil servant*

      The OP definitely needs buy in from the boss. If the boss is willing to clean (occasionally), he might not be at the scorched earth stage. I would not start tossing people’s reusable items ruthlessly without support from higher up. I’m just not paid enough to take on the entire office.

      The boss needs to decide if he wants to pay someone professional wages to basically just clean the kitchen (hopefully this is not his first line of defence or OP will have to make a tough decision), get rid of the kitchen, or ruthlessly enforce a behaviour change.

    2. Ashley*

      I worked at a place with a super clean office kitchen. The reason, the main boss was adamant it stayed clean. One time the VP got called into a meeting and their lunch got abounded in the microwave. Because it wasn’t readily identifiable we got the mass email about don’t do this. There was no mercy but really you were just shamed more than threatened.
      Outside of the boss – having a dishwasher really made a huge difference and it was run every night even when barely full. If it was left in the sink someone typically put it in the dishwasher but really everyone knew not to leave it in the sink. The fridge got emptied in a major way quarterly to clean out the excessive condiments and make sure nothing was hidden — we had a lot of trainings so many catered meals. They also provided disposable and reusable supplies to give lazy people options. This really all came down to the boss wanted it this way and made it know (and also designed for a dishwasher when they moved to help).

    3. PotsPansTeapots*

      My thought is that boss, at the very least, can set expectations about what cleaning the OP will do and shut down complaints.

      Boss can say, “OP is responsible only for cleaning surfaces/stocking food, etc. They tidy things up once or twice a day. They are not full-time janitorial staff and will not wash dishes/clean the sink/whatever.”

      Even if Boss isn’t willing to allow the OP more authority to throw away office food or whatever (though I think he should), at the very least OP should be spared the complaints.

      1. anonymous anteater*

        Came here to say this. The last place I worked, the big boss cared about the kitchen being presentable (in case visitors walk by to see him), and made it clear that the admins were not responsible for dishes or cleaning up after adults. He would send a strongly worded email every year or so to remind people, and it generally worked.
        The place I work now has the fridge cleanouts, although not more than a few times per year, and the rule that dishes left in the sink can be thrown out.

  10. fallfromfaith*

    Resonating with this today… a group of us recently discovered a food-container-turned-science-experiment in the mini fridge. An email went out but nobody’s claimed it yet. Top 100 Unsolved Mysteries…

    1. Beth*

      My technique for handling this: all science projects go into the trash, with their containers, immediately. Same for any food package that’s past its expiration date. Especially if it smells.

      The incident is reported to the office at large, and if the owner of the container wants to grub in the garbage, they’re free to do that. If they don’t want to lose their containers, they can avoid having science projects in the future.

      I will say that I’m not an office admin, so I have some traction to be this heavy-handed. I’m very glad I am!

      1. fallfromfaith*

        Totally wish I could!! Our unspoken policy for this type of thing is that it stays in the fridge until claimed. If I wasn’t junior and very new to the company, it would accidentally slip into the trash.

  11. morethantired*

    50 people sharing one kitchen just sounds like a recipe for disaster and there’s probably no way it will ever stay clean.
    I would recommend posting signs that say all food and dishes left unattended will be disposed of on Thursday/Friday afternoon. Then, cycle who’s responsible for throwing out things and advise them to follow the throw out rule to the letter.
    I agree with Allison that getting rid of any office-provided dishes is probably necessary and forbidding people from leaving their own dishes in the kitchen.
    But even then, short of hiring someone to clean it every day, the kitchen is going to be dirty.

    1. JustaTech*

      I was noticing that the kitchen on my floor is surprisingly clean, and it’s pretty clear that’s for two reasons. One, there are like maybe 20 people who use it, and it’s right out in the open of our painfully open-concept work space, so nothing is ever really “out of sight, out of mind”.

      We do have re-usable dishes and no dishwasher (the dishwashers are on the floors of the favored people) but people are really good about washing their dishes and at least putting them in the drying rack (and it’s like 5 items), but we also have compostable everything for when you don’t want to wash plates.

      The only way to get around the tragedy of the commons is to have a very small group of people using it.

      1. morethantired*

        I noticed this when working in an office where the staff grew slowly from 12 to 24 over a couple years. Suddenly, the shared kitchen was never clean. Luckily leadership understood it was a growing pain and just paid to have a cleaner come every evening.

        1. JustaTech*

          I was thinking about this again this morning and another part of it is that the offices were renovated about 5 years ago so they still feel “new” and “fresh”, and from my experience in college, there’s this underlying urge to keep a space cleaner if it looks “nice” to start with (ie, the dorm with the most broken-down furniture was hardest on their furniture because it was already ruined, so why bother?).

      1. morethantired*

        This is true but just starting to throw things out every day is time-consuming and may seem aggressive. Also, as I mentioned, I think this is a lost cause anyways and so throwing stuff out once a week will hopefully get at least the worst offenders to adjust their behavior.

  12. ferrina*

    Can you make a schedule where each department takes charge of the kitchen for 1 week?

    Clearly list out what the team is expected to do, then post a schedule. Make it very public. That way if the kitchen is filthy, everyone knows whose turn it was to clean.

    1. pally*

      Yes! This!
      In fact, why is the OP, who is already doing the ordering and restocking, expected to lift a finger to do any part of the cleaning up? (hmmm, gender issue here?)

      OP should establish a schedule as ferrina writes. And make it something that is set-up for many weeks in advance- or even for the entire year. Put departments – and even names- to the tasks listed. The only thing the OP should be doing here is issuing a reminder to the department slated for kitchen duty for the upcoming week. That’s all.

      1. Fate is the Hunter*

        Because OP is an admin and probably the most junior admin, and that’s part of his or her job.

    2. Be Gneiss*

      we do this. everyone from the top down is paired with a buddy, and you clean once a quarter. take out trash, do any dishes, clean the coffee pots & restock supplies, clean up any communal snacks or treats, wipe the counters. clean out the fridge Fridays. it takes a pair of people roughly 10 minutes to do it each day. if you’re out, you switch, or you bribe your buddy with snacks to do the job without you.

    3. Ashley*

      This isn’t always the best use of resources. When you have a 70 hour week and it is your turn to clean the kitchen that isn’t really going to go over well. Yes everyone should clean up after themselves, but there is a resource balance of making some people clean up after the group. I think applies most to people in the middle because the big bosses should help set the example the most.

      1. Fate is the Hunter*

        You also assume this is some kind of office where fee earners aren’t constantly on travel.
        Good luck doing this in law, consulting, finance, accounting, or tech.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          If you’re not in the office, you’re not making the mess, so you’re irrelevant to both the problem and solution. Good luck to making more excuses though!

          1. A.K. Climpson*

            I think the point about travel and 70-hour weeks is that a pre-determined schedule is fine in some circumstances (I’ve certainly been in offices where it worked okay) but not going to fly in others. If it’s your week, but you have a massive deadline that cannot be moved–as is common in some of the fields mentioned–it’s much more important to the company to meet that deadline than to get to the kitchen duty.

            There might be work-arounds or week trading, though that often benefits the same people who aren’t cleaning now.

            In some of those industries/fields it probably does make sense to have an admin in charge of the kitchen clean-up, but that should be clearly communicated on hiring and well compensated. (And other strategies, like authority to throw away food weekly, could still be effective.)

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’ve worked places where they did this, and it just passed the problem down without solving it. Because no one in the department was specifically assigned the task, it usually fell to whoever was lowest on the rung / felt the guiltiest / experienced frustration first, and that was usually the women.

  13. ThursdaysGeek*

    As usual, I am so happy to be with my co-workers, who also wash their hands when they use the toilet (at least the ones I share a toilet with), and who I’ve seen wiping down counters just because. It is nice working with adults.

  14. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Another suggestion if your boss/company owner doesn’t want to get rid of the communal dishes – get a portable dishwasher. They can be attached to the sink and run every night. People in my office are good about putting their dishes in the dishwasher so that would hopefully take care of that problem. Frame it in terms of time that will be saved by you and your boss when you don’t have to wash dishes.

  15. Twix*

    If your boss is willing to back you, the best thing you can do in this situation (to the degree that you can) is stop asking for buy-in and start implementing a system where there are natural consequences for not following the rules. Alison’s suggestion to throw out/get rid of dishes is a good example. Another would be to say “This half of the fridge is for lunchboxes and everything still there at the end of the day will get thrown out. This half is for condiments, coffee stuff, etc. Anything that goes here should be dated and will be thrown out after a week, or if it doesn’t have a date. (Or whatever makes sense for your office.)” You’d still have to clean it out, but at least you wouldn’t have gross moldy food to deal with. I’m not sure what you could do about leaving messy counters and stuff – maybe find a spray-and-sit cleaner that leaves the counters unavailable for a while if the mess requires more than a quick wipe-down?

    The only way to fix the tragedy of the commons is to make being selfish less desirable than being cooperative.

  16. sunny days are better*

    At our place, there is a dishwasher. Everyone puts their dirty stuff in the sink and the facility staff person loads the dishwasher at the end of the day and puts it on.

    At some point the next morning, they put all of the clean dishes in the cupboard.

    Maybe you can get them to install a dishwasher, and then toss everything in at the end of the day and empty it the next morning?

    1. TechWorker*

      Yes we have dishwashers (actually we have two, but our office is a tiny bit bigger and there’s some communal food sort of in the culture – like a shared breakfast one day a week so we do have a tonne of plates & cutlery). It doesn’t 100% solve the problem (some people manage to put things in the dishwasher covered in food/drop grated cheese all down the front) and it is still a task but it’s waaay better than washing things up by hand & much easier for people even in a rush to dump their cup/plate in and go.

      1. TechWorker*

        Edit: also fwiw putting it on at the end of the day is something our cleaners are responsible for, emptying in the morning is either ‘whoever gets there first & has a conscience’ or our office manager.

  17. Toni*

    Not sure if this idea is good or not but perhaps a sign with “X minutes since last clean” would guilt people into cleaning? If I saw the sign with say “15 minutes since” I would feel bad about making the kitchen dirty again so soon. But then again I feel bad about leaving rinsed dishes on the countertop above the running dishwasher..

      1. JustaTech*

        This might work.
        Long ago at my job we made the coffee in these giant carafes that would keep the coffee warm forever. Like, on Monday morning Friday’s coffee would still be tepid. So people were *terrible* about throwing out the old coffee (and forget getting anyone to rinse let alone wash the carafes). As one of the first people in I decided that the best way to fix the tepid coffee thing was to just put a little note on the coffee saying what day and time I had made it.
        Without me saying anything everyone started doing that and folks got a lot better about being aware of how old the coffee was and being willing to make a new pot.

    1. TPS Reporter*

      I like this.

      on top of the whole mess, OP is getting emails from the office about the state of the kitchen, which must be quite frustrating.

      if OP must continue to clean, post clearly that cleaning is once a day (say 2pm) and all dishes are thrown out by 5pm.

      plus all fridge items cleared Fridays at 5pm.

  18. K*

    What I have seen work before:
    – One of the owners has stepped in and clarified the responsibilities to the entire office. They emphatically stated that “admin assistant’ does not equal “janitor/nanny/parent” and if anyone was confused on that, they can routed their questions directly to him. I think the infantilizing language embarrassed at least some of the bad actors and he followed it up by visibly cleaning up after himself on a daily basis.
    – The one cleaning task assigned to the administrative assistant was to establish, publicize, and enact a “trash day” for the kitchen. They regularly publicize this as the day the refrigerators are cleaned, personal items are trashed etc. Yes it was assigned to one person (rather than a cleaning rota) but that one person got to throw out everything without a second thought. As

    1. JustaTech*

      A little thing to make the “chuck everything in the trash” job better is to buy a box of disposable gloves. So many semi-gross kitchen jobs are a lot more approachable when you can wear a pair of gloves and not have to actually touch anything.

  19. Seen Too Much*

    We have the “everything in the fridge and freezer is tossed Friday afternoon” rule. Everything goes, except office-purchased milk that is not close to expiring. That has kept down the amount of ick in the fridge.

    We removed the dishwasher and now have a rule that “any dishes/utensils in the sink at the end of the business day (6 pm) is tossed”. 6 pm because that is when the admin leaves and her last job is to toss anything in the sink. Rarely does she actually have to do that anymore. If it is clean and in the drainer, she leaves it alone.

    We have a cleaner come in once a week for our offices only, and the building sends cleaners once a day. The kitchen is much, much cleaner.

  20. Garblesnark*

    Tactics: (these are not recommendations)

    1. for a day minimum, just stay in the kitchen and tell anyone who leaves a mess how terrible they’re being

    2. super glue googly eyes in front of the sink above a note that says “you are being watched, take your f%€¥!ng oatmeal with you”

    3. install cameras in the kitchen and publicly shame offenders

    4. keep all the kitchen supplies you ordered at your desk, and only allow people to have them if they provide a notarized blood oath saying they will clean up after themselves on pain of eternal servitude

    5. booby trap the kitchen to throw darts at anyone who leaves a mess

    like and subscribe for more supervillain management tips.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall in a book I read about the first cities, when you are no longer a little hunter gatherer tribe you need to create the feeling that someone is still watching what everyone does and so no one will violate any social covenants. One solution was freaky little clay figures with enormous eyes, scattered everywhere.

      (Also, the concept of powerful all-seeing gods who keep an eye on you, and are judging you, seems to date to this time.)

  21. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Put all the dirty dishes in a big clear plastic storage bin. Anything not cleared out by the end of the day gets thrown away.

    I would also get rid of communal dishes altogether but agree that people will just bring stuff from home, and continue to make a mess.

    Put out notices through management first (give folks like 1-2 weeks heads up maybe) that draconian measures will start in two Mondays (or whenever). Anything not washed by the end of the day will be put in the tub. Anything in the tub on Tuesday end of the day and Fridays will get tossed.

    Volunteers will clean the counters and toss the fridge contents on Fridays except condiments.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      We had a manager who did this. Dirty dish jail. I’m not sure it got dumped daily, but pretty close. The fact that you had to go to the box to fish out your lost item was a good learning process.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think this is a good example of creating a consequence that inspires people to make that extra effort in the moment.

    2. Generic Name*

      I wouldn’t do a tub. People will just take stuff out of the tub and put it in the sink (still dirty).

        1. WellRed*

          I can’t imagine most people would go to the trouble of moving a fish from the tub to the sink and leave it there. But yeah, two can play that game. Move it back or move it to the trash.

  22. Lucy*

    I guess I am confused about “left for you to clean up” and “your job to clean up”. What I mean is, it doesn’t sound like it is your “job” to do it, so much as your job to let people know that they need to do it themselves. In which case I’d try to get into the mindset that when you have let people know, that’s your job done. And I wouldn’t clean it.

    I’d get really used to saying, “oh, I know, isn’t it awful? And I keep letting people know they need to clean up after themselves..!”
    Empathise, but don’t fix. If it’s not your job to clean it, don’t clean it.

    The problem comes about if it’s your job to “make sure it’s clean”. In which case, yes, there is basically nothing you can do except clean it, because you can’t make other people do anything without the authority to do so.

    If it’s all unstated, and it’s just been left to you as a woman in the office (possibly with a job perceived as “less vital”), then I am absolutely fuming on your behalf. My instinct would be to then say, “cleaning the kitchen whenever it’s dirty is taking my time away from my job. I won’t be doing it anymore, so people need to be aware that it will be more vital than ever that they clean up after themselves.” Then never ever do it again, no matter how bad it gets.

    Also, bring sandwiches and a thermos.

    (I may be missing what it means that the kitchen is “technically” your job. If your job is just ordering and restocking, I would just order and restock and not clean…!

    1. pally*


      Maybe the ordering and restocking needs to be suspended until there’s a system in place whereby folks clean up after themselves. Either according to a schedule or on their own. But the OP shouldn’t have to lift a finger to clean up.

    2. Anne Elliot*

      Chiming in to strongly second this. There is no inevitable tie between being the person who orders stuff for the kitchen and/or restocks the kitchen and being the person who keeps the kitchen clean. Those jobs are not the same, and in the vast majority of offices, an administrative assistant is reasonably only responsible for the “ordering stuff” part. Just because you order the hay doesn’t mean you are automatically the one to muck out the stalls.

      So my question (like Lucy’s) is: Is this really your job? Because if it is NOT, then I would stop doing it and explain to my boss why. (“I don’t mind helping to keep the kitchen clean, but the level of cleaning I’m expected to do, and the frequency with which I’m expected to do it, isn’t really what I signed up for in this job. It’s really negatively impacting my job performance and satisfaction and I can’t do it anymore. Can we talk about how the office collectively can address the issue differently?”) If it is NOT your job, then it is also not your problem if your boss does it instead. (“I cleaned the kitchen because no one else would.” “I know; isn’t that awful? We really need to figure out how to handle that issue.”) If the office kitchen falls into disrepute and squalor, that is not your problem, it’s your boss’s problem, and they need to figure out how to address it.

      Of course, if it IS you job, then you’re stuck, but I still think there’s scope to communicate with your boss about the fact that your coworkers are a bunch of pigs and they are making your daily work life harder and less pleasant by being a bunch of pigs, and can the boss please remind them — repeatedly if necessary — to be less pig-like, out of consideration for their fellow coworkers, especially you.

      1. Anne Elliot*

        I will also add that in my last job but one, there was a rotating schedule of monthly fridge cleaning that involved everyone in the office regardless of level or seniority, which quickly led to multiple storage containers/food containers being summarily tossed in the trash by people who were sufficiently senior in the org that the juniors who lost their tupperware/expired yogurts/partially eaten sandwiches could not object. And thus people learned to take their crap home if they wanted to keep it.

      2. A Girl Named Fred*

        Maybe I’ve just ended up in jobs that were aberrations, but I’m an admin and at every single place I’ve ever worked, kitchen duty was either implicitly or explicitly my responsibility. Granted, in most of those places the staff were generally responsible and it was only an occasional stray dish or fridge science project that I had to deal with, and that along with the “This fridge is cleaned every Friday at 3pm – any food not removed by then will be disposed of,” sign kept it to a pretty manageable task.

        Again, clearly my experience is not universal, but I’m surprised that there are places who don’t default to the admin being the de facto kitchen cleaner.

        1. Lucy*

          Well, to be fair, I’ve never worked in admin, or especially used an office kitchen. So, maybe that is the case – it feels to me like it shouldn’t be, though. How much of a revolution would it be to kind of go, “implicit job roles that were not paid for and which aren’t in our job description are nonsense, and we’re not doing them”? Like, would it be the kind of thing that would lose you the respect and collegiality of your colleagues and boss?

          Honestly, I’d be tempted to do it anyway, but I would also be a terrible admin for other reasons. But my instinct is just, eugh, no, absolutely not..!

        2. TX_Trucker*

          In my work history there has been about an even split between the admin and the facility person being in charge of the kitchen. When I say “facility” this has been for employers large enough to have their own maintenance staff for electrical, plumbing, etc

  23. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I work in an office where we can have 5-100 people depending on how many people are working remote. Their solution is to have a dedicated Admin/Office manager role as well as building cleaning staff (also, paper plates/mugs). She in turn has enacted several sensible cleaning policies (regular weedings of the office fridge, any glassware/tupperware gets set out for a few days before it goes bye-bye). We also have a dishwasher.

    I think what’s worked for them in particular is that she has management backing her, so if she tells someone they’re being a slob it’ll stick. YMMV.

  24. Keyboard Cowboy*

    If there are communal dishes *and* they’re ending up dirty in the sink, does that mean there’s no dishwasher? I wonder if you can get one put in – that might really simplify “people aren’t cleaning up after themselves” if all people need to do is scrape, optionally rinse, and drop in the dishwasher. Granted, I doubt you can get people to actually run it, but it still takes less time to drop in a pod and hit start than it takes to nicely scrub and stack a plate.

  25. The Original K.*

    Your boss’s buy-in and word coming from him that stuff must be cleaned (and if necessary, how it should be cleaned and by when – as others have said, the “everything in the fridge is thrown out on Fridays at 3, period” tactic is usually effective) may go a long way. The CEO of a previous employer sent out an email that was basically “are y’all kidding me with the state of this kitchen?” and that did the trick.

  26. Garlic Microwaver*

    Ugh. Pre WFH, I took it upon myself to do a deep clean/toss once a month. Bleach, gloves, everything. Colonies of fuzz on months-old salads, including spores/mushrooms. Decayed meat. No one else volunteered, so I bit my tongue.

  27. CR*

    I guess my question is, did you know this was going to be part of your job? Because we have an admin person at my work and cleaning up the kitchen, even messes that people should have cleaned up themselves, is explicitly part of her job. It sucks but that’s the job.

  28. ENFP in Texas*

    Absolutely put a sign on the fridge saying that “Anything left in this refrigerator after 3:00 p.m. on Friday will be thrown out. No exceptions.” And then do it.

    Another sign: “Any dishes left in the sink overnight will be thrown away in the morning. No exceptions.” Then do it.

    Ideally you will get your bosses buy in to do this, but if not, just refuse to clean the kitchen for about 3 days, and if your boss makes a comment about it, you can respond “I know! I have to clean up after everybody every day! It’s ridiculous! Here are the policies I would like to put in place in order to encourage people to clean up after themselves.”

    1. Stardust*

      This is what I’ve seen that works in having a clean kitchen.

      Make sure you have a posted time that the fridge will be emptied. It could be every Friday at 4 pm or once a month, on the last Friday.

      I do think there could be some exceptions though, since some things last longer, (i.e., condiments, creamer, salad dressing).

  29. ConstantlyComic*

    My first job had a lot of similar dish issues, and it was really infuriating because the worst offender was the site manager, who would then turn around and lecture everyone because the sink was a mess (the dishes were washed in the staff bathroom sink, which is a whole other kettle of worms).

    If I was reasonably sure who created each dirty dish, I’d be tempted to leave them on the offenders’ desks. That said, I do like the idea of just trashing all the dishes and not providing office dishes so everyone’s responsible for their own.

  30. D. B.*

    Offices don’t need kitchen sinks. They should install a water fountain/bottle filler instead. Water can be heated with an electric kettle. People can bring their own dishes and wash them at home.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        wasn’t there a whole letter about trying to figure out who was dumping their coffee in the (NON-DRAIN) water bottle filler?

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Not a whole letter, but story #8. The water fountain war from “the microwave battle, the bagel club chaos, and other stories of strangely dramatic reactions to mundane changes at work” post on January 16, 2024. Link to follow.

      2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        After having worked at some places with very suspect fridges and ways to wash dishes, I learned really quickly to bring my own bowls and utensils daily and just take them home. It’s a lot easier on me in the long run- I rarely have anything in the office fridge and if it gets thrown out, that’s on me. I never have to worry about my utensils and bowls getting tossed because they’re always in my lunchbox.

      3. Dahlia*

        It’s incredibly normal in non-office jobs to wash your dishes at home. Like a lot of retail jobs I’ve encountered don’t even have sinks in their breakrooms. There’s public bathroom sinks and that’s it.

        1. Goldenrod*

          Dahila, I agree! Office workers are spoiled with a lot of expectations about things like access to cafeterias or kitchens (and lots of other perks) that retail workers don’t have and don’t expect.

          I say this as a current office worker and former retail worker of many years. I have even witnessed office workers complain about the quality of food in the cafeteria, which made me think: most workplaces do not have this perk, get over yourself.

          1. TechWorker*

            Whilst I sort of agree, most (not all! But probably most?) retail jobs will be in locations you can feasibly buy food in your lunch hour. If your office is not (I’ve worked some places in the middle of nowhere) then your options are packed lunch or canteen. If you work long hours, the canteen may be really the most feasible thing so it’s not that ridiculous to want the food to be decent quality & value.

      4. D. B.*

        Liquids can be dumped in the bathroom sink.

        Tons of people bring their dishes home to wash! I have done it myself many times when working at job sites where there was no kitchen available. It’s really not a big deal.

      5. Audrey Puffins*

        We don’t have a kitchen. We dump our liquids in the bathroom sink (or sometimes just straight out the window, if it’s only water). We take our dishes home or keep them in drawers, and as my co-workers don’t seem to be using dishes with yesterday’s food crusted on them, I promise you, people do wash dishes at home.

    1. Seashell*

      If your office already has a kitchen sink, that’s not likely to change without moving or major construction.

    2. anywhere but here*

      Ew? Why should people who are capable of cleaning up after themselves have to carry around their dirty dishes as the remnants of food within begin biodegrading (and smelling)?

      1. Dahlia*

        That’s a little dramatic. Plenty of people take a packed lunch and don’t wash the dishes at work. Like… school?

        1. happybat*

          That can lead to some awful bathroom sinks! One woman of my acquaintance drank a lot of health teas with big bunches of herbs and chunks of fruit and ginger and stuff. After her tea, she would tip the vegetation into the bathroom sink, then poke it until it went down the drain. Then the drain would block. It happened twice a week for about two months. We were all puzzled about the drain issue.

    3. Lore*

      I bring lunch in my own dishes and very often it’s fruit and yogurt and there is not going to be a non-gross way to keep that dish around between lunch and EOD if I can’t rinse it, nor an easy way to get it home without making a mess in a city where plastic bags are banned and no one has a car to leave stuff in. Likewise with anything that involves sauce, soup, or salad dressing. The grossness factor of the unrinsed dish all afternoon is high!

      1. Lucy*

        Do you not have Tupperware? I’ve not done office jobs (teaching and similar) until my current one, and I also think the office culture must be different here, but I’ve always brought pasta, yoghurt etc in Tupperware and taken the dishes home. It doesn’t smell, or cause any issues. In teaching we mostly couldn’t eat it anyway as we didn’t usually have time at lunch – so I’d just eat it when I got home. It was fine..!

        1. TechWorker*

          Guess it depends whether it’s something you eat straight out of the Tupperware or not. If I get the option (which I do at work) I will use an actual plate – or if I bring soup then I’ll use a bowl. Yes ofc I’d survive if I couldn’t do these things, but it is much nicer to be able to use actual cutlery & heat up my leftovers.

          1. Lucy*

            Yes, it definitely limits you to more snacky, packed lunch type foods. If people don’t wash up though, it seems a natural consequence.

    4. Not Totally Subclinical*

      I bring my own dishes and take them home for proper washing, and I still don’t want to leave an unrinsed plate or bowl in my office all afternoon, let alone put it in my bag.

  31. Goldenrod*

    Oh, you poor thing! I have no advice, only a ton of sympathy. I’VE BEEN THERE. SO MANY TIMES.

    I agree with Alison – it’s an unsolvable problem. Well, there is one solution – get a job as far away from a fridge or kitchen as you possibly can. But that really takes time. My current job is the first one where the fridge/kitchen are waaaay down the hall and totally not part of my job duties. This is partly why I will cling onto this job forever!

  32. Mom of 4*

    This always happened to me and I got fed up. I put up a sign that said any dirty dishes left in the sink each evening be thrown away and that is what I did. I tossed everything each night. After a couple of weeks there were no dishes left to get dirty. I had a few people angry at first but they got over it.

  33. too many dogs*

    We had a similar situation here. Dirty dishes everywhere. The difference is that I am the supervisor, and the dirty dishes, forks, etc. were purchased at yard sales by me. I put up a warning sign that all unwashed items would be disposed of. Unless it was somebody’s personal mug, anything left at close of business just….. vanished. They got the message. You might not be able to do that without your supervisor’s support. Keep track of the number of times, and the length of time, you spend cleaning up after others. Point out to your manager how this interferes with your regular work. Show him all the great suggestions being made here, and see if you can change his attitude, so that these adults will clean up after themselves. If that won’t work, can you just… slow down on the cleaning? When people complain, can you answer that you’re in the middle of something work related & will get to it when you can? Because this is not fair.

  34. Anonny*

    I instituted a policy for our fridge. I will throw out anything in the fridge after lunch on Friday if it is not labeled with a name and date. EVERY Friday. NAME and DATE. I dont care who you are. Keeling something in the fridge and just replacing the date wouldnt save it cause if it smelled i tossed it. i didnt save tupperware or your favorite water bottle or whatever. Trash all of it. so many people were angry that I tossed their tupperware and didnt clean it out. I kept my response brutal and simple. I am not a maid nor am I your parent. I do not get paid enough to be either. You are responsible for taking care of your own stuff. Don’t like it then clean it yourself. I repested that to people above me and below me and got my point across quickly. I think it took 3 or so weeks before it hit home and the carnage stopped. Constant yells of YOUD BETFER BE CLEANING UP AFTER YOURSELF when I saw someone enter the kitchen with a dirty dish. I was brutal and I didnt not apologize.

  35. plinkyplanky*

    Wildcard suggestion. Tell the office you’re installing a webcam so you can track whos leaving a mess and address it directly with them. Maybe people will behave under the threat of being watched?

  36. Insert Pun Here*

    The chaos solution: instead of throwing away ALL the dirty dishes in the sink, throw away 1 or 2 a week. People will start noticing, getting paranoid, and hopefully change their behavior. It will take some time to fully come to fruition, but may just solve your problems.

  37. Kevin Sours*

    I notice that Alison doesn’t mention getting somebody to clean it Do you have a janitorial service? If not, can you get somebody in to clean the kitchen daily? There is a real “if it’s everybody’s problem then it’s nobody’s problem” aspect to office kitchens. There is a tendency for this to get dumped on some random person by default without regard to “does this make sense for their role and did they agree to do it when being hired”.

    Of course the risk is that it will get explicitly added to OPs job description if she brings it up which would be a suboptimal outcome.

  38. HonorBox*

    The thing that stuck out to me is your boss has done the job when no one else has. Next time that happens (and let it happen) and a comment is made to you, I’d just go right ahead and ask if you have their back to implement some changes because it is taking “x” amount of time each day/week/month to clean up after everyone in the office. Then go ahead and implement change. The ideas others have shared are great. Dump every dirty dish into the trash. Post a sign on the fridge and dump everything at 3:30pm on Friday that isn’t clearly marked and still OK. And then keep doing it. I’d wager a package of paper plates and disposable silverware that actions will change. Or at the very least, you’ll have some satisfaction.

  39. Immortal for a limited time*

    My current office is small (23 staff) with only one fridge, one sink and one microwave, but the way we deal with this is to assign everyone 2 weeks out of the year to clean the breakroom. This includes our executive director, who is a big stickler on everyone doing their part. Nobody gets to opt out, and if your week falls during your vacation, it’s up to you to switch it. AND — the best part — the weekly assignment chart is posted there for all to see.

    In a previous tech job, we had 110 employees and two fridges, so the problem was harder to manage, but the same rules applied — everyone took a week, in teams of 2. It’s been so many years that I don’t recall if those two people were assigned or if they volunteered on a sign-up sheet in exchange for some reward. Our site director at that firm was known to send scathing emails berating employees for acting like their mother was going to come clean up after them. He would have flipped if someone dumped oatmeal in the sink and walked away. It’s all about expectations! Employees’ relative salaries or value to the firm didn’t matter; everyone was expected to act like a responsible adult and share the load, including the director and management team.

  40. desk platypus*

    At my job we have around that many people in the building. Every department is assigned two months of the year (think Feb/Sep and not back to back) where the lounge/kitchen is their responsibility to clean. There’s a list of duties to be done like wiping counters, microwaves, tables, etc. Making sure napkins are stocked on the table, chairs are neat. My department has a calendar when it’s our month of days we’re assigned. At the end of the month on the very last day is the fridge cleanout and deep clean where the whole department assigned tackles it. If it’s not labeled with a ‘please don’t throw out’ sticky note with a date then it goes in the garbage.

  41. ThatGirl*

    Last year, my office switched from disposable everything to an office stash of plates, bowls, mugs, silverware, etc. We are supposed to put them in a bin under the sink once they’ve been used, and the nightly cleaning crew runs the dishwasher.

    I will say that mostly people do what they’re supposed to; what drives me batty is folks who don’t seem to realize our sink does not have a garbage disposal, and they just dump bits of pasta/salad/etc in there instead of wiping it into the trash.

    I know this method is more environmentally friendly, but ugh, it was so much easier before.

  42. librarianmom*

    I think the recommendations of paper plates, etc and the once a week frig clean will help a lot. I would clean the area once a day after lunch. Period. If boss wants it cleaner, then he/she can clean it. You are an admin, not a janitor.

  43. Sleeping Panther*

    I’m pretty sure that same single-serving tray of sushi has been sitting in one of the fridges in my office’s kitchen for two and a half weeks now. I want to quietly throw it away before it starts to smell, but part of my brain says that maybe someone just buys the a sushi tray with the exact same items every day.

    1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Put a little piece of tape on it. If it is still there tomorrow throw it out because sushi has a very short shelf life.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Move it just a little, and see what happens. Is it stays moved, toss it. Someone bought it and forgot it.

  44. theletter*

    – give everyone a company branded water bottle with their name on it. Swag! Allow them to order a coffee mug if desired.
    – get rid of all dishware/glassware, replace with compostable dishware/utensils and very tiny cups.
    – Hire a someone to toss all food related items every Friday afternoon. No mercy. Only leave bottled water and alcohol. This person should be someone that no one could possibly negotiate with.

  45. I should really pick a name*

    Send out a message:
    “As the current situation isn’t working, the communal dishes will be removed at the end of the week. You’re welcome to bring your own dishes for personal use, but anything left in the kitchen at the end of the day on Fridays will be thrown out.”

    Dishes are a privilege, not a right.

  46. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    “if I choose to leave the mess in a statement of resistance, my boss will clean it and then let me know that he had to clean the kitchen since no one else will.”
    And he makes you feel bad about that?
    Maybe you can tell him that since it is crystal clear that nobody is going to do it, you will do it. Each day at 2:30 till 2:45.
    If it’s in there after 2:45 it will wait until tomorrow at 2:30.
    If you don’t want to make your morning coffee or your lunch with yesterday’s dishes in the sink, clean up. Or they tell the people who left the stuff there to clean up.
    But you, OP will clean once a day, at 2:30.

  47. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Way back in the long ago, I was on extended travel for a special project, but when I came back to HQ, they had me use a visitor’s office on the executive floor because I needed to be convenient to them. So I would get my coffee in the same kitchen that the CEO got coffee (this was a 1000-person consulting firm with revenues going on half a billion dollars).

    One morning I went to get a cup; the CEO had started a fresh pot, and while he was waiting for it to brew, he had soaped up a sponge and was cleaning the sink and faucet. He wasn’t making a fuss about it; he did what needed to be done. He wasn’t doing it in order to set an example for everyone else – but that’s precisely why it was an example for everyone else. So I’ve always gone out of my way to be better than average in cleaning common spaces, because he was the kind of manager and leader I aspire to be.

    The moral of the story is that if OP’s boss is cleaning the kitchen, he should try to do it in a way that subtly encourages everybody else to pull their own weight too. Small things like that are how you develop a strong and positive culture.

  48. UpstateDownstate*

    How about installing a fake camera, or several, at very visible locations throughout the kitchen?

    At your next meeting you can let everyone know that those that do not clean up after themselves will be asked about it. You will provide photographic proof, in case they need their memory jogged. If they miss the meeting you will share the screenshot in a ‘All Staff’ email until the kitchen is tidy.

    Otherwise the only other solution is to start ordering paper cups and dishes , which they can throw out after use, and give them a week to collect their favorite mugs before you toss them all out into the trash.

    I’m sorry this has fallen on you…people are just the worst.

    1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

      My first thought was “fake camera” and my second thought was “might as well get a real camera.” You’d need the support of higher-ups to name and shame though.

  49. CheesePlease*

    We had a similar issue with the men’s bathroom at a previous job and the owner put a lock on the main door and employees had to as a supervisor for the key. This way individuals would be held accountable. It would be a very angry all-hands meeting announcing this rule.

    I’m not sure how it played out because I’m a woman but judging by the fact that this method was employed more than once, I don’t think it worked.

    It sucks working with gross people though.

    1. Nina*

      I’ve been in the position of being the only woman on site but still had to sit through an all-staff about how pissing on the floor of the men’s bathroom (wtf) or in the sink (wtf) or leaving toilet paper on the floor (wtf) or poop on the seat (wtf) or flushing paperwork or cigarettes (wtffffff) were not acceptable.

      The women’s bathroom, which only I used, literally never had any of these problems.

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        In mid-2023, our women’s bathroom became a hotbed of controversy when someone decided that they didn’t have to flush the toilets OR poop exclusively in the toilets (basically, on the rims/seats- nothing on the floor, fortunately). I had to create a bathroom etiquette flyer and was pretty put out by it. I found one flyer on-line that had instructions such as:

        1) Enter stall facing toilet.
        2) Turn 180 degrees.
        3) Pull down pants and/or skirt.
        4) Pull down underwear.

        It kept going and was kind of amazing.

  50. CutenessCentral*

    Here’s what I did after dealing for several years with the “not me’s!”

    I had an empty file drawer. Every time I had to do somebody’s dishes I cleaned and dried them and put them in the drawer. Nobody but me knew of it. Did it end the dishes? No. Did anybody ask where their dishes had gone? Again, no. But, the feeling of fighting back albeit passive aggressively was so nice. I wonder if they ever found their dishes after I left for greener pastures?

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Oh, I assumed this ended with, “And that’s how I became the owner of a set of mismatched dishes/utensils/etc.” If I were to implement a “throw out at the end of the week policy,” I’d suspiciously become the owner of a lot of use containers that may or may not end up in my lunchbox filled with my own food.

  51. Observer*

    I disagree that having cleaners doesn’t work. It won’t deal with *everything*. But if your boss is willing to back you on this, it can help with the worst issues (eg moldering food, trash piled up etc.)

    Basically, the cleaners come in on a fairly regular basis and get rid of all un-packaged /not in container food on the counters, wipe the counters down, clean the floor and get rid of the trash. Part of the rotation is once every month or two weeks, all food in the fridge that is not explicitly marked gets tossed. If you have people who routinely mark food looong past the due date, you change that to anything that does not have a date / has a date older than ~~Whatever you decide~~ gets tossed.

    Is it going to be perfect? No, but it does help. And do not provide dishes / cutlery because dealing with that is just an impossible situation.

  52. Some People’s Children*

    I once threw out shortening that had expired several years before. The date on it was several years before that and the initials were of a former employee. Former as in several years. That was after weeks of notice and warnings that I would be cleaning and aggressively tossing. Someone was so indignant that I had thrown away rotten shortening (yes there is such a thing) that they called former employee wanting him to make a complaint about it.

  53. Half Dad Half Misfit*

    This level of poor hygiene is how most people’s home kitchens look, too. I found this out through my volunteer work where I get to see people’s homes when they aren’t expecting visitors.

    Since I realised this, I refuse to eat “pot luck” meals or home baking people bring in to work.

  54. Alex*

    I would go the route of indiscriminately and ferociously throwing away anything – truly anything – that is left out at the end of day and when asked where something is cheerfully, with the biggest smile you can muster, say “In the trash!” and return to your work. It’s so disrespectful and thoughtless of your coworkers, but I think you’ve done all you can and tried your best to work *with* them. Good luck!

  55. BlackCatOwner*

    OK so I’ve been the office admin. I had to clean the kitchen and the fridge.

    If you accept it’s part of your job to clean the kitchen and make peace with it, rather than getting annoyed that other adults aren’t cleaning up after themselves, you might find yourself in a better place mentally.

    Otherwise there’s some good advice here, but you gotta let go of the idea that you can change people’s behaviors, and accept that this is the sucky part of your job.

    You could explain to your bosses how much time it’s taking – if it’s really eating into your day you can frame it as “I don’t mind spending some time on this each day but the amount of time is now problematic because it means I spend less time on (list other important things) or “it takes me away from my desk so I can’t take calls and greet visitors” or whatever you think might motivate your boss.

  56. SharkTentacles*

    Unfortunately, it sounds like cleaning the kitchen is part of OP’s job, but their manager isn’t coming out and saying that directly. If that responsibility was explicitly acknowledged, would you still want the job?

    There is no way for a junior colleague to compel more senior colleagues do anything that transfers effort from the junior to the senior person. It just gets gross when it comes to kitchen cleaning and all the sexist baggage of that task.

  57. Seahorse*

    Put up inspection sheets like they have in retail store restrooms.
    “Kitchen last cleaned at _____ am/pm by ______.”
    Include a notes section for anything particularly egregious.

    Keep a running record of how many times a day you’re in there, and save the sheets when they’re full. Then when people complain and act like you’re slacking, you have proof that no, it’s just taking up an absurd amount of your time.

  58. Mouse named Anon*

    I have dealt with this on occasion too.

    I have a few suggestions and you can take what you will from them.

    Designate that every Friday (or other day of your choosing) at 3pm will be fridge clean out day. Ask people to label and date, items they want kept. Make it VERY CLEAR that items will be tossed if they are not labeled. Make signs and post them on the fridge, on the doors of all restrooms and other prominent locations. Also send an email on Friday morning as a reminder.

    I would also make a sign that says dishes left in the sink after XX time or amount of time will be thrown away. You have to be firm on this and toss them. People will likely come get them if they really want them.

    I was admin assistant for many years and really the only way to deal with adults acting like kids is to treat them like such. Throw stuff away, nag them, send tons of reminders and hold them accountable.

  59. Another Anon*

    I worked at an office where the owner had a real pet peeve about adults leaving their dishes behind in the sink and there was an absolute rule against it. There was a security camera by the sink, and if you left a dish behind, she was emailing the entire company about it in all caps. LOOKS LIKE JOHNNY APPLESEED THINKS HIS MOTHER WORKS IN THIS OFFICE AND IS HAPPY TO CLEAN UP AFTER HIM!

    It was a wild place to work in many ways, but that kitchen was always spotless.

    1. LCH*

      haha, i was thinking you could use a nanny cam and talk to the culprit in real time. “hey, are you just going to leave that mess there, Arnold?”

    2. KitchenSink*

      and at the places I’ve worked you were expected to leave dishes in the sink. leaving them anywhere else would be the problem

  60. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I feel OP’s pain. We (company had office & shop workers) had a system where the office staff rotated every day to clean the breakroom. For the most part, it wasn’t bad, just a wiping down of tables, wiping out the microwaves, cleaning out the coffee pots and a couple of coffee cups in the sink.
    We complained that it was unfair that the office staff (mostly women) barely used the breakroom, while the shop staff (mostly men) used the breakroom a lot more. So the system was changed and all employee’s were put on the rotation. I don’t know if it was because the shop was upset about being put on the rotation but after that the breakroom was left dirties than before and there was often a sink full of dirty dishes to do at the end of the day.
    Also, the shop staff would often “forget” their day (even when reminded) and leave it to the office staff to clean (shop work day started/ended an hour before office work day). Reminders, notices, calling out offenders, signs. Nothing worked. The worst offender (owners dad) came right out and refused to do it because it was “women’s work”.

    The only thing that slightly worked was when we stopped washing dirty dishes left in the sink. They were put on the table dirty, to be taken home. If not claimed on the table after a day, thrown away. Coworkers would at least rinse out their dishes after that.

    Management eventually gave up and now two (women) managers switch days and do it themselves.

    OP, you may be responsible for ordering supplies, but unless told otherwise, leave the cleaning to the manager. When he complains about being the only one cleaning the kitchen, nod sympathetically and say nothing. As a manager, it is up to him to find a solution since he has authority to make changes. On top of getting rid of all the dishes, I’d recommend also getting rid of the microwave (if you have one). If coworkers can’t be adult enough to clean up after themselves, they can eat cold leftovers or sandwiches for lunch like generations of school kids.

  61. LCH*

    honestly, i think the worst is having to clean up the mess someone else has left in the microwave. WTF, y’all? solutions here?

    i have never worked anywhere that people left their dishes in the sink to soak. what hell is this?! i have worked places that had an office dishwashing machine, so there’s a solution. if not possible, toss those dishes daily!

    i have worked places where the fridge was cleaned out every Friday afternoon. the person in charge of this would send out an email that she was about to go do it. then she did it!

    1. Always Tired*

      For the microwave, you can buy one of those little plastic covers that goes over the plate, but people just leave that disgusting. I have trained my coworkers as my mother trained me: just drape a paper towel on top. Throw it out if it got really gross, but if not, use it as your napkin, then throw it away.

      1. LCH*

        right? i always put a paper towel under and over my frozen dinner or whatever because it did leak one time and i had to clean it up. never again!

    2. LCH*

      another option, so that you don’t toss someone’s favorite mug, as a transition, you could move whatever is in the sink in the morning into a bussing bin. send out the email notifying people that dishes still in the bin at the end of the day will get tossed. then transition to just directly tossing them after sending out a lot of notifications about this change. hopefully this will break (most people’s) habit of leaving stuff in the sink. this is not their house.

  62. dietcoke*

    So, at my last job, the kitchen was always a mess. Honestly, I think it was a symptom of the toxic culture there – no one cared if there were dirty dishes because we had a fire-breathing director constantly on the prowl.
    When I started my current job, I was SO relieved and happy to find a deeply-entrenched culture of cleaning up after yourself! I have no idea how it has remained so effective for the last 10 years. I think a big part of it is that we have enough people who *do* care. If the coffee pot is left on to burn, or if donuts are left out so long they get stale, someone will comment about the importance of cleaning up. Just today, I turned off the coffee and emptied the somewhat-burnt pot even though I never drink it. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, this is probably a cultural thing that would be very difficult to change. The only tactic I might try would be to make comments that shame the gross habits. When it comes up naturally, say things like “It’s such a shame that some of our staff are abusing our kitchen.” Maybe a few people will realize how childish and gross their behaviors are, and that you’re the one who suffers directly because of their actions. I know it’s unlikely to work wonders, but maybe you could get a few people on your side.

    1. Elle*

      At my last toxic job the kitchen and bathrooms were always a mess. The office manager would send warning emails that includes disgusting pictures of the messes left. She got into an argument with someone who dropped a container of yogurt on the carpet and refused to clean it up because it wasn’t her job. I went to a much better org and the kitchen is usually spotless.

  63. LCH*

    “To make matters worse, if I choose to leave the mess in a statement of resistance, my boss will clean it and then let me know that he had to clean the kitchen since no one else will.”

    question: how often are you supposed to clean it? are you expected to be stationed inside the kitchen for your entire work day? or can you have a discussion with your boss that it will sometimes get messy because you actually have other tasks? like, maybe you clean it up a little in the morning (toss those dishes), then wipe things down after core lunch hours, then do the fridge clean out Friday afternoons. more than this seems weird? like this isn’t your entire job. if people are going to make messes, it will be messy in there.

  64. Always Tired*

    I, too, am stuck with a not so clean office kitchen. We are moving offices soon, and the one kitchen “must have” was TWO dishwashers. Why? Because you never have to empty the dishwasher. People grab from the clean one, and put used dishes in the dirty one. When it’s time to run the dirty one, there’s usually only 2-3 things to put away from the clean one before they officially swap.

    Also we moved to the “if it’s in the fridge at 4pm Friday, Tired is throwing it out.” Exceptions are made of labeled containers with your name and a throw out date, and the shared condiments in the door. I also leave the all purpose cleaner on the counter next to the soap, so everyone knows where it is, and I remind them where it is when they come tell me there’s a spill, as if I think they are telling me because they don’t know where the cleaning supplies are.

    1. Csethiro Ceredin*

      Great as long as people are clear on which is clean and which is dirty!

      Someone putting one drippy mug in a clean dishwasher is one of my office pet peeves.

  65. Somewhere in Texas*

    A few thoughts beyond my condolences for this madness!

    – Can y’all get a dishwasher? Hit start each afternoon (or every few days).
    – Stock up on paper plates and plastic cutlery. Yes, it’s wasteful, but your time is valuable.
    – Everything in the fridge has to have a name and date. Chunk it if it doesn’t.

  66. Tess of the D'Atabases*

    We had a ruthless manager who left a couple of years ago, and she ruled the kitchen with an iron fist. I so miss her! She threw out everything left in the sink and tossed the entirety of the fridge every Friday at 2 pm. The first time your sh!t was tossed you definitely learned your lesson.

  67. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I once worked in an office that shared a kitchen with another business that was run by the owner’s son. We were constantly getting hassled about how messy the kitchen was, but it wasn’t us doing it—it was the people from this other office.

    One day our owner said something and I said “you know, my desk is right there and I see who is cleaning up after themselves and who isn’t. Our people all tidy their things away. The mess is coming from your son’s office’s personnel.”

    PURELY BY COINCIDENCE I’M SURE, I was laid off the following week due to “we don’t have enough work for you to do” (a blatant lie, this office has people working 50-60 hours on the regular.) I learned a valuable lesson in office politics.

  68. DefinitiveAnn*

    I used to work for a great place with a big, beautiful kitchen/break room. About 50 employees, two dishwashers (with clean/dirty/empty labels), two fridge/freezer units and a garbage disposal. Weekly schedule where people were assigned (not volunteered) to kitchen duty on the fridge, and everybody had a turn. Daily, those people were responsible for emptying the clean dishwasher, loading it if necessary (usually only a couple of dishes were left in the sink), wiping down the counters, cleaning the sink, straightening out the cupboards, etc. Purges of non-perishables were as needed and posted the Wednesday before for Friday with a fridge wipedown after.

    There was a woman who was generally known to be willing to take your week for $25. Some people took her up on it. Overall, though, people kind of liked taking their turn. It was an easy task that took all of maybe 15-20 minutes and got you up and moving around. And it really WAS a beautiful kitchen, so we took a sense of pride in shining it up.

    They were acquired by Big Evil Corporation and the building was sold.

  69. JB*

    I know it’s passive aggressive, but it’s warranted in this case. Signs saying “your mother does not work here, clean up after yourself” are needed.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, if I saw that sign over the sink where I work, I’d tear it down. It is not your mother’s job to wash your dishes either, especially if you’re an adult!

        1. AYFKMWTS*

          Old office had one that said, “Contrary to popular belief, Elves do NOT clean this kitchen overnight. Clean up after yourself.”

  70. HannahS*

    Several versions of the same idea, all of them start with “send out an email informing everyone of the changes and post a sign on the fridge and over the sink.” You will need your boss’ buy-in, though, because there will be complaints.

    Rule: Everything in the fridge will be thrown out on Friday at 4:00.
    Possibility 1: Everything left in the sink or on the counter will be thrown out daily at 4:00.
    Possibility 2: No dishes are permitted to soak, ever, so any dishes found in the sink will be thrown away, starting on X-date. Pick a day where you have minimal other admin work, and do a round of throwing things out every hour.

    Rule with an iron fist.

    1. HannahS*

      I will say this, also, which believe me, I say with all the compassion in the world: it looks like part of your job is making sure that the kitchen is clean, and it looks like that might include doing some cleaning yourself. In many, many offices, the person responsible for the weekly fridge cleanout is the admin or office manager. We can argue that it shouldn’t. We can talk about how female-coded jobs often include other tasks coded as “women’s work” like cleaning or remembering birthdays, and they really should put it in the job description because those things are WORK. But your office isn’t going to hire an extra cleaner to clean throughout the day, nor will the hired cleaners wash dishes and empty the fridge. Your boss is telling you, subtly, that it’s your job. So yes, I think you can motivate people to be tidier, but ultimately, it’s possible that part of your job is cleaning up after adults who should know better, and you may need to accept that (or find a different job, of course.)

      1. Boof*

        Probably part of the job yes but also part of the job to figure out how to do it efficiently. Which I totally agree means motivating people not to leave a mess. I concur that regularly cleaning and throwing everything out with preceeding announcements will probably be the most effective strategy. Forcing a cleaning rotation will be the second most effective strategy, if it is viable, because then people will Probably be slightly more cognizant about not leaving a mess since they will be the ones cleaning it up sometimes.

    2. Petty_Boop*

      “Possibility 2: No dishes are permitted to soak, ever, so any dishes found in the sink will be thrown away, starting on X-date. ”

      Such a pet peeve! I always hated the people who “soak” their dishes. You reheated some leftovers. You didn’t roast a turkey. There should be NO NEED to soak your dishes in the office breakroom unless you let it sit at your desk or on the counter for 3 days. It takes no longer to wash the dish than to fill it or the sink with soapy water. Ughhhhhhh

  71. Lacey*

    If you have sales people – or anyone else who only nominally works in the office – it’s them.

    I worked in a small office for 10~ years.

    Email after email would go out about not leaving things in the sink.
    I could see the sink from my desk and I could see that every who worked IN the office was cleaning their dishes like normal adults.

    The people who didn’t were the sales team & delivery drivers.
    And if someone happened to catch them & chide them about it they were always shocked that the literal hundreds of emails that had been sent on this subject also applied to THEM. They’d never imagined! Their dishes were a problem too?

    The problem could have been solved by targeting those people with conversations about how inconsiderate they were being. But they bring in the money, so…

  72. OnyxChimney*

    IME dirty kitchens happen at unhappy companies. The places I’ve worked were people are paid well, appropriately staffed, and generally kind to one another? Immaculate kitchens. The places I’ve worked where the coworkers could be the subject of an AAM letter? Filthy kitchens and bathrooms.

  73. LoraC*

    I’ve never had this issue at any company I worked for. I assume it’s because of several things:

    No communal dishes. Everyone brings their own and manages it. There’s a sponge and dish soap if they want to wash it.
    No soaking at the sinks. Anything left unattended at the end of the day is tossed.
    We have 2 fridges per kitchen. One of them gets completely emptied out every Friday night. If people have milk/creamer/juice they want to keep, they move it to the other fridge. We put magnets on the fridge that’s going to be emptied and have re-occurring calendar reminders.

    And then facilities come buy every couple of hours to wipe counters and clean the sinks.

  74. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    One thing I did early in my career, and this only works if the dishes belong to individuals, not the company: throw them out. Dirty dish from yesterday still here in the morning? Throw it away. No explanation, no apology, no warning. Because that forces the person who left a dirty dish to ask about it. Or bring another one. Which I also tossed. This did work. My current company ditches everything in the fridge on Friday at 3pm. Everything. Labeled, not labeled, bagged, don’t care. Only physically losing their stuff motivates people.

  75. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Would you like to swap kitchens? My office kitchen doesn’t even look used after a full work day. Only downside, I’m in the UK.

  76. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

    This probably does not really help, but the best setup I ever worked in was a place that did NOT f*** around with the kitchens. There was a PROCESS and it was followed. Any dishes left in the sink “soaking” in the sink were literally thrown away at 5:15 every day. Every Friday at 5:15, the fridges and freezers were emptied completely. 100% emptied and wiped out. Anything left in them went right in the garbage. Forgot your lunchbox? Welcome to Tough Crap Town, population you. The janitorial staff was in charge of this, and the two main janitors were gruff older dudes who would shrug and tell you that you could dig your Tupperware out of the trash if you wanted it so much- they cleaned out the fridge/sink at 5:15. An email reminder was sent every Friday- I don’t remember if they sent reminders about the sink, but I also don’t remember that being as much of a problem. It was a big office building with several fridges. I know it seems tough, but really- cleanest office fridges ever. This was the late 90’s in banking.

    1. e271828*

      I like this solution. If the office has daily cleaners, giving them carte blanche to nuke the entire kitchen daily will solve the problem fast.

      1. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

        It was easily the cleanest office kitchen I ever worked in. I don’t remember people throwing too much of a fit except new employees, but Scruffy the Janitor and his total lack of f***s shut that down fast. You would have to have a supportive structure for this to work, but I thought it was awesome.

  77. e271828*

    1. Trash everything in the fridge on Friday at 3:00 PM. No exceptions. Warn well in advance (two weeks?) of starting this policy and be ruthless about it. Use the big Hefty contractor bags; they don’t leak.

    1a. The sink, countertops, and tables can also be bin-cleaned Friday at 3 if people are leaving stuff on the sink, etc.

    2. No office dishes, plates, drinking glassware or mugs, or cutlery. It is charming of an office to supply these items, but the courtesy has to go both ways, and in your office, it doesn’t.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      I would say: do not warn. OP is dealing with people who know they are being slobs and don’t care. Shock is good when you’re trying to change behavior.

  78. Delta Delta*

    New idea: ask to move your workstation to the kitchen. Set up your desk and computer and phone, and work from the kitchen. When one of your jackpot coworkers leaves dishes “to soak,” very creepily say, “you know, I can see you.” And then stare at them. Don’t break eye contact until they clean up. Record as necessary.

    If the boss tells you you can’t work in the kitchen, ask how you’re supposed to take care of it full time and also do your job full time. This really is the most efficient solution.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      Normally I just guffaw at over-the-top solutions. But this one’s got me thinking, “They’ve got something there.”

  79. Introvert girl*

    My suggestion: send an e-mail that you will start throwing things away that are left at the end of the day: unwashed dishes, food,… In my previous office, every food in the fridge that was left over on the last Friday of the month was thrown away.

  80. hello there*

    I feel for you, OP. While waiting for the higher powers to step up and provide consequences, my one addition to what’s been said: Place clear signage about “tragedy of the commons” and the baby steps you want people to follow in all the places – even behind the doors to bathroom stalls if need be. Bonus idea: get a trug/tub/tote for dirty dishes, so you can simply tidy them into their designated spot rather than clean them all.

  81. BellyButton*

    sweet stupid. Just throw it all away. Gather it up, throw it in the garbage. “Oh my! I guess if you want your tupperware you shouldn’t leave it!

  82. tw1968*

    Is Op a woman and therefore the boss has assigned the cleaning chore to someone based on gender? Just curious…

  83. Garden Gnome*

    My off used to have that same problem. We don’t anymore because the admin who takes care of the kitchen and supplies got rid of all the dishes and replaced them with paper cups, plates and bowls (recycled and biodegradable). We are responsible for our own containers if we bring them in. Notes are put up about cleaning up after ourselves and it seems to work perfectly. The only cleaning our admin does now is a fridge dump every other Friday. She emails everyone ahead of time and if you miss it, you just might get your stuff tossed. Simple yet effective.

  84. Coverage Associate*

    If you do get a dishwasher, try to get an old style model with several visible buttons, not one of those sleek new models with hidden buttons, often only one or two that do everything.

    My old office had a very nice looking dishwasher with hidden buttons where you needed training to run it. This meant that if the handful of people with training were out, common as the pandemic was winding down but off attendance was sparse, those of us left could only load it and apologize.

    I was at the office fairly late one evening and it kept beeping. My office was right across from the break room, so it was annoying. After somehow figuring out I wouldn’t flood the place by opening the door, that’s what I did to stop the beeping. If I could find the buttons, I might have stopped the beeping and restarted the dishwasher.

  85. Coverage Associate*

    I would be interested in the perspectives of non Americans on this. I know that in Japan, students clean their own classrooms, and I expect that instills less of a “not my job” mindset.

    And maybe other, cleaner cultures have ideas that don’t have to start at kindergarten.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      But in Japanese corporations, cleaning is exclusively the job of the few women employed. So, great at school, not great at work.

  86. Alex*

    I definitely vote for removing all communal dishes permanently. Your coworkers have lost the privilege of having them. If they want to use dishes, they need to bring them from home.

    And then have a rule that anything left unattended, ever, at all, during the day, will be tossed in the “shame bin.” Get a dish bin or a plastic box and everything just gets put in there for the owners to fish out if they see fit. At the end of each week the bin gets emptied into the garbage, along with every single thing in the fridge.

    That at least limits your job to putting anything you find in that bin, giving the counters and inside of the microwave a wipe down daily, and throwing out the trash at the end of the week.

    Sorry your coworkers are pigs.

    1. DisabilitySucks*

      I hope that office doesn’t have disabled workers or you’ve just doomed some of them to never eating or drinking anything at the office. Go you!

      1. basically functional*

        Huh? How does being “disabled,” a term which encompasses a wide variety of disparate physical and mental conditions, prevent someone from bringing their own dishes from home? Or was this a misthread?

      2. AYFKMWTS*

        How so? Do you not have your own dishes/tupperware/ziploc bags at home that you can pack your lunch in? Can you purchase a pack of plastic disposable cutlery to keep at your desk? Why does the office disposing of dishes somehow doom anyone, disabled or not to never eating at work? Reheating leftover pizza requires a paper towel. Soup, pasta etc.. can be toted in a tupperware, and they make disposables of those now too. Or do you feel that somehow since you are in the office it is THEIR job to provide those things for you? Hint: it’s not. It’s a courtesy not a requirement.

  87. the Viking Diva*

    “Due to the continued disgusting state of the office kitchen, we are canceling the annual golf outing.”

  88. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    I worked in an organisation that had counsellors, lawyers, directors, general staff, admin, etc. One day while I was in our kitchen one of the lawyers came in, said hello, used the dish sponge to wipe his shoes, dried them with the tea towel, and then went out. He did put the sponge back in the sink and hang up the tea towel.
    So people have all sorts of ideas about what is clean and/or appropriate!

  89. Kevin Finnerty*

    I would put up a video camera. They’re cheap these days. I would announce at a meeting that a camera has been installed, and footage of offenders will be shown at the next meeting. Then, do it.

    1. AYFKMWTS*

      One cannot generally put up a camera in an office if they’re just an admin or worker bee. If the owners choose to, well that’s one thing, but you’re proposing that the office ADMIN put up a camera??? Without permission of leadership and/or building owners? I see potentials for a lot of problems and pushback with that.

  90. Always Tired*

    If you are a human that struggles to not leave dishes in the office sink, from one ADHD person to potentially another: Eat your lunch out of the container you brought it in, wipe out with a paper towel/napkin to get the worst out, then just close it back up and throw the dirty container back in your bag. Then the container to be cleaned is at home with you, and you are the only one to deal with the consequences of unwashed food storage.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, I found that my ADHD makes it really hard to remember anything that’s out of sight. Unless I’m swinging through the kitchen regularly and seeing my items, I’m going to forget that they exist. I’ve found that the most surefire way for me to be a good office kitchen citizen is to use the kitchen as sparingly as possible.

      1. AYFKMWTS*

        But, it’s NOT out of sight if you clean it immediately after eating out of it. It’s only out of sight if you put it in the kitchen and leave it there. That’s not ADHD; that’s laziness. From the mother and wife of people with ADHD, it’s not an excuse to foist your filth on someone else. Eat, clean container, put in bag or backpack or whatever, go back to work. At what point in that process are your dishes left in the kitchen and “forgotten about”?

        1. Username Lost to Time*

          This comment isn’t helpful. Using terms like “laziness” is fueling the perception that people suggesting actionable solutions/accommodations are attacking people with ADHD. Always Tired and kiki already nailed their actionable solutions: 1) Gently clean your dirty dishes and put them right back in your lunch bag and 2) Try to avoid using the kitchen.

          1. AYFKMWTS*

            It’s exasperating to read all the tiptoeing “well ADHD” excuses. My husband and 2 of my children have ADHD–husband wasn’t diagnosed until he was mid 40s! They did not before diagnosis and still do not leave their messes for me, or others and blame it on ADHD. Blaming it on ADHD does more to stigmatize ADHD than calling the behavior out for what it is. And I suggested that washing it immediately (I care not if they wash it “gently” or not) and putting it away was the proper way to deal with it–NOT putting it in the kitchen and leaving it there. My point was that if it’s “out of sight out of mind” that’s on the person who’s PUTTING IT OUT OF SIGHT when they could just … take care of it in the moment.

            1. kiki*

              I want to be clear that I didn’t make an excuse in my post that you responded to. I clearly outlined the way I work with my ADHD to avoid leaving a mess for others and left that as a potential solution for anyone else. I don’t think of my ADHD as an excuse, but I have come to accept about myself that I will never be the person who is able to remember that they put my cookie down on the counter for “just a few minutes” while I ran to the bathroom. If I happen not to see it on my way back in, I will forget about it. So I don’t put my cookie down on the counter. I only leave items on my desk. I think everyone I work with would call me a conscientious, clean, and respectful coworker.

        2. kiki*

          For me, I wasn’t leaving unwashed dishes in the sink. It was that I would tuck my half-finished of lunch (to be clear, neatly packed in tupperware) in the fridge to bring home for dinner but then would forget about it. And if I happened not to use the fridge for a few days, I would completely space that my tupperware is in the fridge and needs to be taken home. I tried to intervene by setting habits, like always checking the fridge before I leave for the day regardless of whether I thought I might have something in there or not. But then I would get tripped up, for example I’d end the day with meetings outside the office or I’d be talking to somebody on my way out the door and get distracted. In the end, I found the best solution for me was to just not use the kitchen in any way where I’d leave something behind– no tupperware in the fridge, none of my mugs on the drying rack, etc.

          I’d like to say I’m not lazy :). I saw that I had trouble remembering, didn’t want others to come across my aging leftovers in the fridge, and came up with alternatives that wouldn’t create any sort of mess for others. I was sharing my strategy BECAUSE I don’t think people should leave mess behind for others. For others like me, I want to remind them that instead of trying and failing to remember to take things home from the fridge, you can find ways not to use the fridge (bringing a cooler or lunchbox)

      1. AYFKMWTS*

        How though? When you’re done eating, why would your dished be out of sight in the kitchen? Why wouldn’t you just … wash them immediately. They’re only out of sight/out of mind if you put them out of sight…and leave them there. It’s a really simple solution: Wash them as soon as you’re done. Or leave them on your desk where you see them until you’re ready/have time to do so.

  91. Turquoisecow*

    My office is about the same size (maybe 60 people) and as I am part time remote I am not included, but there is a rotation of departments to clean the office. Who within the department does it is left up to that particular department to figure out, but the departments are rotated fairly (so for example one month will be Advertising’s turn, and the advertising department figures out who within their department will clean which days based on who is in the office when).

    It’s absolutely considered a duty for the people in the office and definitely not something left for the office admin, who has plenty of other work to do. I don’t see why it can’t be mandatory, but the boss needs to put their authority behind that requirement, because OP can’t do it on their own. If everyone uses the kitchen, everyone should have to clean, regardless of their position in the kitchen.

  92. commenter_commoner*

    Love the advice and the advice/sympathy of commenters! And now: because I researched the commons for my graduate degree, I am called to share my favorite cocktail-party-conversation-topic-that-makes-people-excuse-themselves-for-the-bathroom: I call on us all to rethink how we talk about the tragedy of the commons!

    Loads of people with dubious motivations love to use the tragedy of the commons argument to promote privatization, or surveillance, or exclusion (the author himself, Garrett Hardin, used it to justify his unapologetically racist ideologies). But Elinor Ostrom (the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economics!) wrote The Book rebutting aspects of this argument, outlining how successful commons actually exist all over the world, provided there are clear rules and institutions. (Even Hardin had to grumpily walk back his arguments later and say he was really writing about the **unmanaged** commons.) And there’s been tons of debates on what the commons really are since then, but no need to get into the dissertation here.

    So, basically, what Allison and others are suggesting is taking an unmanaged commons (a kitchen for which no one feels a sense of obligation or responsibility to the collective) and form management institutions. Technically, in a commons, these should be collective and self-governed, but…since we’re talking about a private business and workplace kitchen here, the answer is probably not to make it a whole commons **thing** but just involve a top-down penalty or incentive structure that’s imposed by the boss.

    Scientific American wrote a great blog about the tragedy of the commons: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/the-tragedy-of-the-tragedy-of-the-commons/

    Aeon too: https://aeon.co/essays/the-tragedy-of-the-commons-is-a-false-and-dangerous-myth

    OK, now I’ll go bother someone else with this topic at the cocktail party!

    1. Starbuck*

      Oh I’m so glad to see this because I feel the same! We were taught the Tragedy of the Commons using Hardin’s essay in my college bio class, without the caveat that he was a racist eugenicist and his work is HIGHLY suspect because of that. I wish people would stop using it, or at least put it in the proper context! It’s really insidious to allow what’s essentially ecofash propaganda in the classroom unquestioned.

      1. commenter_commoner*

        Oh 1000%. It’s still widely taught in the physical sciences and accepted as fact without any caveats, and it’s so problematic. And it’s a bummer, because it also teaches us to fiercely believe that humans are inherently selfish and bad, when we at least have the capacity to be equally cooperative and good, provided we’ve built systems and society that encourage and reward those better impulses.

  93. Franklin*

    I bill 1200/hr. You earn what/hr? Which one of us do you think is best utilized doing the cleanup?


    1. Me*

      there’s a big difference between “cleaning up after other people” and “not leaving my own mess to make it harder on others” and the second one does not require much more time than the actual time to utilize the item or space.

    2. Pam*

      I mean, yes, but maybe a bit nicer? If the admin wasn’t told that kitchen clean up duties were part of their job when they were interviewing, then it’s reasonable that they’d be upset that it’s now part of their job. But also- it’s not uncommon to make a junior admin responsible for light kitchen clean up (light clean up, like doing a few dishes and a quick wipe down, not mitigating a disaster zone).

      But also- I’ve worked with plenty of people billing at 1200/hr who manage not to make a mess of the kitchen and who wash their own dishes when they can. Not all the time, but they also appreciate the folks that clean up when they aren’t able to (note: “not able to” and “not willing to” are very, very different things)

    3. basically functional*

      Yes, you are clearly far too rich and important to clean up after yourself. Let the lowly (female) peons do it. You are also totally entitled to drive your BMW/Audi (it’s always one of those, isn’t it?) on the shoulder during traffic jams because your time is so much more valuable than everybody else’s and laws don’t apply to you anyway. (Do I need to add a sarcasm tag?)

      What a disgusting attitude.

  94. Wesley*

    I find this all so baffling and it makes me very grateful that I’ve never worked in an office where people did this. Maybe there’s something about Canadians, or public servants, or people who work on environmental policy (or all three?), but the shared with 70 people kitchens always stay near spotless wherever I’ve worked,

    1. Indolent Libertine*

      It’s the Canadians. Definitely. Every time I visit Canada I am struck by how nice people are.

  95. Melissa*

    I would just stop stocking the kitchen and leave a note that “As of March 15, restocking of the kitchen will end due to the lack of sanitary procedures.” The end.

  96. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    Franklin, your comment made me laugh. Once upon a time there was a very highly sought after royal position called Groom of the Stool, which involved wiping the king’s bum for him after he had used the toilet. Bet that saved him a minute. Maybe we could look at reintroducing that role for people without a minute to spare. Or maybe non-royalty could use a minute of their own time to wash their own cup just to preserve the niceties of sharing a work space with other people.

    1. Franklin*

      Cool story and not entirely historically inaccurate.

      However, in the real world, there’s also a reason I don’t stop and brew a pot of coffee in the office. I do at home. In the office, we have people ever do that. That is your job. That is basic economics.

  97. Tip*

    Here’s a good solution – dirty dishes get cleaned up, but are taken back to your office. The owner needs to come to your office and retrieve them in person if they’d like them back.

  98. Me*

    get the security camera for the kitchen and post a “highlights reel” to the company message system including well timed audience reactions to shame people into behaving

  99. Mmm.*

    The entire concept of office dishes baffles me. Bring your own. Have biodegradable ones available. Whatever. Just not that.

    I think going in every hour to create a time lapse of what happens and then emailing it out would be hilarious though.

  100. Possum'smom*

    We had a coworker who tasked herself with kitchen duty so that she had a legitimate excuse to harass people ( she was referred to as Mrs. Hitler behind closed doors). She went through post- its like Kleenex, randomly sticking them on every surface in or out of the communal kitchen, stating her demands to the rest of us, which no one gave a rat’s a** about because she was so caustic in all her interactions .In her desperation for a cleanup in the lunchroom, she resorted to taking and sending pictures of Tupperware or glass containers removed from the fridge ,with R.I.P. superimposed on them, placed in the trash barrel, then sending out an email blast at 3:45 to claim your stuff before 4:00!

    1. tommy*

      yes, being a caustic jerk in those ways is definitely parallel to the literal murder of millions and millions and millions of people.

  101. tree frog*

    Is there any way to make your coworkers’ mess not your problem anymore? This might just be a problem that you don’t have the power to fix. If your boss is reasonable, you could lay out everything you have tried and see if either you can borrow some authority from someone high up enough who thinks this is a priority, or if no one cares enough for that, get permission to let chaos reign.

  102. Peanut Hamper*

    Personally, I would be willing to burn everything to the ground by just coming in on a weekend, throwing EVERYTHING away and carrying it out to the dumpster.

    That’s probably more than most people would be willing to do, but a messy kitchen is a hill I’m willing to die on. I’ve turned down at least two job offers in the distant past because the work kitchen was basically a human-sized petri dish.

  103. AlternatePerspective*

    I don’t want a filthy kitchen, but I also can’t comply with most office kitchen rules, especially as more and more offices outlaw disposable plates/cups/silverware/etc. I physically can’t load a dishwasher. I can’t wash dishes. I have a hard time carrying plates. I usually need help if stuff is stored in a cabinet. If you move my food in the fridge I may jot find it again and even if I do I likely won’t be able to remove it, thus it stays there until it rots.

    I’m not suggesting this applies to everyone or even most people being messy and gross, but the expectation that everyone can just clean up after themselves is also problematic.

    Not eating is not an option, but if you don’t supply disposable stuff I have to leave everything for someone else to clean up. Period. Nothing I can do about it.

    1. anecdata*

      I think if you worked in OPs office, some of this stuff you could request as an accommodation (like a dedicated space in the fridge, so you’ll know you’ll be able to get your stuff). Some of it you can solve with bringing in your own disposable items. But it any case, you need to approach this as an accommodations conversation with your employer, not just leave stuff because you can’t clean it up

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        One can also buy a small personal desk fridge, I’ve seen them on Amazon and other vendors for about $40. So the community fridge won’t be impacted if Person X can’t clean up their mess.

        I don’t understand this as an accommodation, frankly. Part of being on a job is to not make things harder for other people to do their jobs. Strewing a mess because one “can’t” clean up after themselves sounds like it needs a larger conversation than “Someone will have to do it for me.”

    2. basically functional*

      Bring your own disposable stuff? Or a tupperware container with a lid that you keep in an insulated bag at your desk, eat from, and take home at the end of the day? Or make special arrangements as a disability accommodation? I get that not everyone can have sandwiches, but…come on.

    3. NameRequired*

      You can’t bring a tupperware for you lunch or a ziploc bag? You can’t bring your own stack of paper plates and cutlery to store in your own cube? I mean, you’re clearly able to work, to fix a lunch and put it in the fridge, and get it out and eat it independently, but you are completely unable to do the minimum to clean up after yourself?

  104. Sarah Z.*

    Aw man, this brings up a sad memory for me. in one internship I worked at, there was this sad little unused kitchenette. Why unused you ask? Because the fridge was a straight up BIOHAZARD. Congealed brown, mold thriving, goo everywhere.

    Gender bullshit be damned, I didn’t care, I was gonna not care that I was the only woman in a huge office and machine shop of men. I cleaned that fridge from TOP to bottom. Took drawers home to soak in my own kitchen sink (because they were too big to soak in the work one).

    It. Was. Sparkling. Slowly people realized it was clean and started using it again. I would meal prep and keep my food for the week in it on Monday so I could eat it throughout the week.

    Then, someone (with similar cleaning zeal? with a bone to pick on those who dared put 5 small Tupperwares stacked in the fridge?) threw ALL my food away. Containers, meal prepped food, everything.

    I cried and have not deep cleaned a work fridge since.

  105. Anon Midwest*

    Unconventional, but if your boss allows, you can buy a cheap Nest indoor camera and plug it in and point it at the kitchen. Send an email to the office saying that “management” is enforcing a clean kitchen and will be monitoring compliance, and anyone who leaves a dirty dish without cleaning it will be marked up.

    There’s probably no way to actually enforce this, but the camera’s presence alone would likely do wonders.

  106. The Valeyard*

    I’ve been in a similar situation, but I was the boss who would do it if the assigned person flaked (in our case a loose rotation that included everyone in the floor).

    Didn’t complain after that happened a few times. Did put up a sign with two weeks notice. Any dishes left unattended subject to being tossed. And fridge would be emptied every Friday- anything not clean and clearly labeled with owner name would be thrown away.

    One big trashing took care of 75% of the problem. Very minimal whining, I think very much minimized by me doing it all myself. The rest was solved by the fact that my team (a subset of the floor who happened to sit next to the kitchen) loved the change so much that they took it on themselves to do a lot of kitchen spot checking, and our kitchen wound up looking consistently great.

    If you clean the kitchen the rules should be yours to make and I sincerely hope your boss backs you up doing whatever is needed.

  107. Caitlin*

    In terms of mouldy food in the fridge, see if you can get a policy that all food in the fridge gets thrown out on Friday afternoons. Most food will last a week when refrigerated (and if you find that isn’t enough, do it both Wednesdays and Fridays), and it’s a consequences you can actually enforce if people don’t start taking responsibility for their own fridge contents.

  108. Possum'smom*

    We had a coworker ( privately referred to as Mrs. Hitler ) who, when she wasn’t yelling at people for whatever infraction she felt they were up to at that moment,
    stuck post-its everywhere with her rules for civilized living in the workplace. She outdid herself with her edicts when she, after taking pictures of Tupperware and glass containers from the fridge sitting in the kitchen trashcan with “R.I.P. ” captions, sent an email blast throughout the department at 3:45 on Friday stating ” fifteen minutes to save these”. We hated it when she resigned….

    1. Possum'smom*

      I like to think our barbarian ways drove her out, but actually our staff kept the kitchen the cleanest of any place I ever worked

  109. Happily Retired*

    I wouldn’t suggest this if it weren’t for the fact that kitchen maintenance is part of OP’s job.

    That being said:
    – OP, hit the kitchen for 10 minutes at 9:30, 1:30, and 4:45 (adjust per your hours) and throw anything – plates, mugs, tableware, food – left out on counters or sinks (of tables, or the floor; who knows) into a plastic-bag-lined heavy-duty cardboard box.
    – The bag gets hauled out each night by the overnight cleaning crew. Or maybe, just for the first week or two, it stays in the kitchen until the following evening, allowing people to ROOT THROUGH ALL THE STINKY CRAP TO FIND THEIR NASTY DISHWARE AND TAKE IT HOME. Then the bag gets hauled out on night #2.
    – Every Friday, the entire contents of the fridge are dumped into the trash at 4:30 (again, adjust per OP’s schedule, labels or no labels. Or maybe (grudgingly) if they are labeled and dated, they can remain one week after the date, then out they go. No label/ no date: gone.
    – If someone suffers an emergency at work, their co-workers are encouraged to rescue their stuff.

    (1) OP’s manager has to sign off on this, including the times that OP will be away from their desk to (essentially) change other adults’ diapers.
    (2) An email detailing all of this goes out office-wide daily for the week before Kitchengeddon commences. People who have been on vacay can read about it when they get back, plus there will still be plenty of commentary going on so that they will know.

    The concept that people need to get through their heads is: yes, you’re busy; no, you’re not special; yes, we are in a group environment here, and we need to up our awareness of how our behaviors affect other people. Folks will figure this out soon enough.

    Good luck!

  110. Student*

    AAM’s last link reminded me of the event that made me stop using the work kitchen space.

    It was a single powerpoint slide in a routine, yearly required training deck.

    The training was for our general lab procedures. The slide was documenting the lessons they wanted us to learn from recent mistakes. These were always actual mistakes from our own workplace over the last year – not something generic. So they were always interesting, and sometimes you could recognize the incident they were describing from dumb things your co-workers had done.

    The slide for that year’s notable mistake was short and to the point. It said something close to this: “Laboratory samples must never be stored in the kitchen refrigerator or put in the kitchen area oven under any circumstances. Only approved laboratory equipment can be used for heating or cooling samples. Non-compliance is a fire-able offense.”

    We work with radiation. All our “samples” are radioactive. On that day, I swore off using any shared refrigerator or food preparation/storage device that was communal with nuclear physicists. Over the course of my career since then, this has often turned out to be the right call. Ask your local radiation health physicist to survey the lunch table, I dare you.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Oh wow. Yeah, I totally get that and am completely on board with your viewpoint!

      I work in public healthcare property management myself and now I’m envisaging what could happen in our hospital fridges…on a day when I’m going to a site where just that sort of stuff happens.

      I’m going out for a walk. I may be some time…

  111. Tiger Snake*

    My vote is the “toss stuff” option. Pick a date. Send an email to everyone that the kitchen will be cleaned this day and any food in the fridge, cutlery and tableware in the sink etc will be thrown out. Put up a sign in the kitchen. Send a last warning two days before.

    Then dump everything they’ve still left wholesale.

  112. Raida*

    We started using a MONTHLY rotation of teams for the kitchen duty.

    There was a checklist made, laminated, and put up in the kitchen/dining area:

    Each team was expected to figure out amongst themselves who did what on which days (we’re 50% in the office), and *every* team includes a Director or higher. Any tasks not completed are not pointed out to anyone other than that person – and they do the task.

    So if they don’t pay attention for three and a half weeks, guess what Director of Procurement, you are now solely responsible for… wiping down all the chairs and tables, cleaning the microwaves, cleaning the sandwich presses, clearing the fridges, cleaning the fridges, cleaning the coffee machines, etc.

    Not once have we had an issue since it was implemented – because everyone realistically only has to do, like, half a dozen tasks once a year, and management bought in wholeheartedly.

  113. Weird Barbie*

    I’m surprised that no one has brought up the method I’ve seen work best: public shaming.

    Take photos of the offending dishes, post them on slack, and let everyone share their *outrage* at the barbarians* among you.

    After having made comments about said barbarians, 1. No one wants to BE a barbarian and 2. People will police other barbarians’ bad behavior.

    Get the CEO to make a Firm Statement about it and people will fall in line even more quickly.

    *please note that 90% of them are guilty. But when you start to get them to clutch their pearls about how horrible the others are, the dishes will somehow magically end up in the dishwasher.

    1. Tiger Snake*

      I have never seen Public Shaming work for this.

      I have seen “someone gets labelled a Priss”, which haunts them the rest of their career.

      I have seen “now its EXTRA normalised because everyone does it AND the exec don’t say anything directly despite knowing who it is”.

      But I’ve never seen Public Shaming work.

  114. Heffalump*

    It’s excusable for someone to drop off their mug while running between meetings. But post-meeting they should wash and dry it, take to their desk, whatever.

  115. Filicophyta*

    Does the kitchen have a lockable door? Can you get permission to lock it for 24 hours, then 48 (and increasing) every time the mess passes a certain yuchiness?
    If people learn there is a consequence, they might be cleaner.

  116. Filicophyta*

    Please don’t put dishes on people’s desks. Someone used to do this to me, but they were wrong, the dishes weren’t mine and it felt terrible.

    Also, if there is a throw-away-day, don’t have it on Friday (if most people work a M-F week) because people are most likely to not be going directly home on Friday, and they won’t want to carry their containers the the bar.

    The company could buy a large amount of reusable plastic dishes and write peoples’ names with indelible ink on the rim. You can only use your own, so if you want to eat again, you have to wash it.

    1. OMG It's 2024*

      “Also, if there is a throw-away-day, don’t have it on Friday (if most people work a M-F week) because people are most likely to not be going directly home on Friday, and they won’t want to carry their containers the the bar. ”

      Wouldn’t most people just….leave them in the car? Also I don’t think “most people” are going to bars every Friday. Maybe single folks, I suppose, but, unless we’re talking about Mad Men, most people I know, DO go home on Friday after work, and then MAYBE go out with their partner.

      1. Filicophyta*

        If you drive. I’ve mostly lived in cities where that’s not practical and 90% of my co-workers and I take public transit. OK, I do know in a lot of the USA that’s not the norm.
        I didn’t say ‘most people were going to bars’. I said it was the day people were =most likely= not going straight home. Moving the adverb makes a huge difference.

  117. GythaOgden*

    Cleaners are also there to do the big stuff, like handle the chemical products, hoover the carpets, that kind of thing. It’s not a good use of their time to be stacking or clearing a dishwasher or pouring old coffee down the drains.

    It’s like having a cleaner come in at home and simply asking them to tidy up. You can do that — the value of a professional cleaner is that they’ll do the icky stuff like the bath and the toilet and the floors, not make your bed or do the dishes.

  118. ellie*

    File under things I do not miss one bit about previous office manager/admin jobs. There is basically no solution here. I would do quarterly purges of left-behind Tupperware with literal weeks of warnings, and still have grown adults having toddler-esque tantrums because I threw away their takeaway container growing the origin of the next global pandemic.

    I don’t love Alison’s suggestions of volunteers – COSHH regulations and having staff who aren’t trained to clean to a professional standard is likely to make things worse, or at least open the doors for mishaps.

    If you do have cleaners it could be worth adjusting their schedule or hours so they come after lunch rather than after hours/in the evening, although that will depend on how your office is arranged and how disruptive it could be.

  119. kiki*

    I think people are more forgetful than they realize they’ll be. I think the issue with office kitchens isn’t that people are filthy monsters who intend to cause a mess, it’s that unless everyone is absolutely scrupulously clean, mess builds up with so many people using the space. Mike dropped off his mug in the sink between meetings and forgot to come back to clean in because a big data error was found in the data project. Leandra didn’t notice her coffee was dripping because she was in a rush to present to the board. Hasan put a bowl of strawberries in the fridge for lunch, but then found out he needed to fly to New York the next morning for a week and forgot all about them.

    1. JustaTech*

      Yes! I know I am a forgetful person (yo ADHD) so I do my best to *never* say “oh I’ll just let that mug soak for 5 minutes” because I will have completely forgotten about the existence of my personal mug until I either see it in the sink or wonder why it isn’t on my desk. Which could be the next day.

      One of the ways I’ve found to combat the forgetfulness at home is to make sure that the quick cleaning supplies are always out and accessible – if I have to unlock the under-sink cabinet to get the counter cleaner spray bottle, it might not happen right away. So would it be possible for the OP to put out a tub of counter wipes (yes, not the most eco-friendly, but not terrible) so that it is easier for folks to quickly wipe up a spill or some crumbs?

  120. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    Late to this, but just in case it’s seen, maybe make this more your supervisor’s problem.

    1. Ask your supervisor to set what percentage of your time should be spent on cleaning the kitchen. Are you the kitchen cleaner who sometimes does other work for the company or are you a contributor who has light cleaning duties? (If the former, start looking for a new job because you’ve been pigeonholed at this one.)

    2. When the kitchen gets bad, ask your supervisor which you should prioritize, the cleaning or the work you do at your desk. Ask every time, until you’re given a reasonable parameter.

    3. Point out that it’s unreasonable to expect one person to keep a space that is used by 50 people clean at all times. Even if you are the kitchen cleaner who sometimes does other things, that’s a lot to ask of one person. (If pointing it out is ineffective, ask for clarification on how to accomplish this. Because it is unreasonable. This is why restaurants have teams to provide service!)

  121. Ebar*

    Ah memories of my last year of University, where I (M) ended up sharing a house with a bunch of first years (F) (Not planned on my part). The dirty dishes would advance along the breakfast bar until every so often I swept the whole lot into a bin bag and dumped it out in the yard. The culprits had to fish their plates out. The lesson never seemed to stick for too long.
    Still an eye opening year once you include one of them nearly setting themselves on fire and another’s belief that fish fingers provided all the vitamins needed.

  122. AAM fan*

    I once worked in a small office that had this issue. The head of the company sent out a strongly-worded, direct email that said they would close the kitchen if people didn’t start cleaning up after themselves. People believed them, and behavior changed.

  123. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

    I have not worked in an office in a good while, but my husband still does, and he takes his lunch every day. I asked him last night about the office fridge. He just looked at me like I had two heads, and said he had no idea because he was so traumatized by the gross fridge in his first office that he’s literally never even bothered to look in the fridges at the other places he’s worked. He keeps his lunch in his desk drawer. He *does* have an insulated lunch bag, but I had never thought much about it. He also makes coffee at home, but I did not realize that he was not drinking the work coffee at all. That one makes sense, though- he’s not a huge coffee consumer. He said that as far has he knows, the coffee pot at his last workplace *maybe* got rinsed out every now and then.

  124. NameRequired*

    I have to say that this behavior really surprises me. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a govt. contractor, working in DoD offices, on military bases, etc… but…our break rooms/kitchens just don’t typically get like that. You may see a soapy coffee mug in the sink once in a while, but people generally wipe the counters after themselves, whoever takes the last cup of coffee is expected to start the next pot, etc.. and this is all just … unspoken expectations! Are there certain fields, types of offices where this is happening? Law firms? Construction companies? Mostly male engineering offices? I’m trying to figure out a pattern of who the slobs are who legit expect another grown ass adult to clean up after them!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I work in AEC and the worst thing people do in my office is let the coffeepot drip onto the marble counter. Eeek!

    2. The Unfrazzled Project Manager*

      The aforementioned husband in the comment above is an engineer who works in mostly male-dominated offices.

  125. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t think there’s any 100% satisfactory solution to this problem no matter where you are. There will always be at least one pig in every office. I’m not really sure what to suggest to OP. If she has no authority to do anything about it, and her boss keeps punting it back to her, it may just be part of the job.

    Also, your office is full of pigs in bee costumes, OP.

  126. Seraphina*

    My old job had a rule that containers left in the fridge or in the sink after closing time on Friday were thrown away because of this very issue. No one thought this was actually going to happen, but it did and very rarely anyone had to sit there on Friday at 5pm chucking stuff into the trash.

  127. TX_Trucker*

    We used to have a rotating kitchen duty that never worked. I was so frustrated because our office has a janitorial service that includes cleaning the sink and and fridge at no extra charge – but only if they are completely empty. I finally got so fed up with the mess that I sent a message to all staff that at the end of the day I was placing straight into the trash anything still left in the sink or in the fridge. Many fancy coffee mugs were lost that first week, but no one leaves a mess in the kitchen any more. And if they do, it still gets thrown away.

    You probably don’t have the standing to do that. But you might want to ask your supervisor for permission to do something similarly drastic. I’m part of the C-suite, and no email or sign that came directly from me or from my admin resulted in a clean kitchen. Me throwing away their stuff away resulted in immediate change.

  128. Mack*

    Had this problem at a prior job. We ended up finding a perfect solution in March 2020 – remote work! Doesn’t suit everyone but it sure does suit me. I’ve only considered remote positions since then.

  129. DISH BOY*

    I am the one in the office who regularly does the dishes and tidies the kitchen. I’ve found that threatening to throw away people’s expensive lunchboxes if mouldy food is left in them goes a long way! Give them a week’s notice of course, but absolutely follow through.

  130. Nelly*

    I was put in charge of the office kitchen, despite being IT, because I’m a woman and woman are just ‘better at these things’, so every day I went in and threw away every single cup, plate, mug, or bit of cutlery on the counters. Your lunch? Bin. Your mug? Bin. I also made sure to smash everything breakable, because poor little ol’ me was too blonde and dumb to know how to handle big tough man mugs (insert eye lash flutter). Anyway, after a week or so the problem magically disappeared. Along with everyone’s mugs.

  131. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Additional point:
    Cleaners are an important part of health & safety. They need to know how to correctly use chemical cleaning supplies and organize their time to get their job done so the workplace is clean. Working in a messy, dirty office is horrible, distracting, and sometimes a health concern.

  132. TrixieD*

    This is my world in a nutshell. As the Office Manager, I’m frequently confused with the office janitor, and I have to work very hard to remind people that throwing away your toxic sludge in the fridge or washing the mug you left in the sink is not my job.
    I, too, have put up signs, sent emails, and even recorded a video as to what our office expectations are when it comes to cleaning up after oneself. Things get better, until they don’t, and I’ve thrown away plates and mugs of people who “forgot” that they left their stuff there (even after a reminder email has gone out).
    If you’re on Twitter (X), you may know of Tizzy Ent, who is a Social Justice Warrior that tries to track down people who have wronged innocent people. I *wish* he would come to my office and host a whodunnit.

  133. Blue Horizon*

    Count me as one in favor of eliminating communal dishes if you have this problem.

    We had them at a previous office that also had kitchen challenges. I didn’t use the plates, but kept one mug at my desk for coffee, which I would wash out daily. Then we got a nastygram about that – apparently people hoarding cups at their desks meant not enough were available when needed, so we needed to return them every day.

    I wasn’t keen on this – I liked a coffee in the afternoon, when they were usually all gone, and I had no faith in other people washing them out properly anyway (like I said, kitchen challenges). So I decided to bring one in from home for my personal use. That failed too because people started doing desk sweeps to gather up mugs that had been there too long, and because our mugs weren’t branded and were just a hodgepodge of different styles, I guess there was no easy way to tell that mine wasn’t one of them. It would disappear, I’d bring in another one, and that would disappear as well. Once they were gone I never seemed to be able to find them again. I’m still not sure where they went.

    I eventually started hiding them in my desk drawer after washing them, and that solved the problem.

  134. Tammy*

    I’ve been an office manager/facility manager for over 25 years, been there, done that. Even with an office of over 350 at one point – same. Stuck on oatmeal etc. Horrible. Now, I did come up with a few solutions and it works, kitchen is clean. 1) No more food like oatmeal, cereal. We just have snacks like granola bars, etc. Nothing that you need a dish for. period. 2) No more dishes in the kitchen for employees to use. You don’t need them if you don’t provide food. We only have coffee mugs. You bring your own water bottle. So the worse case scenario at my office now are a few coffee cups in the sink. 3) No dishwasher – also not needed with no food and no dishes provided. People are forced to wash the coffee mugs if they want a coffee. They don’t get piled into a dishwasher that nobody turns on and nobody empties. It works. Good luck.

  135. Mim*

    I am pretty convinced that the only way to keep a communal kitchen clean is to hire someone to do it or to require everyone who uses it to share in the responsibility of cleaning it, in a way that has accountability and specificity. The only communal kitchen situation I’ve experienced that was truly functional was in graduate student housing, where everyone was *required* to sign up for an equal number of shifts, and there was a very detailed list of every task required, with a checklist so you couldn’t “forget” to do something. And cleanings were twice a week, so when some humans inevitably did a less thorough job of cleaning than others, at least there wasn’t enough time for things to get too gross — it stayed a very manageable duty (and the kitchen stayed a usable non-gross place) because cleanings were maintenance cleanings, not crisis cleanings. There was so much built-in peer pressure to not leave your dishes for extended periods of time, because of the shared responsibility, and because you didn’t want others to leave their dirty dishes in the sink when it was your turn to clean.

    I know that a required cleaning schedule may not work in an office environment, where there are power dynamics and other things that are not at play in a shared living environment. But I also think that it’s really the only option for a non-terrible kitchen situation, short of hiring a cleaning person. I also think that they should get rid of the shared dishes and silverware, and not even replace them with disposable. People can bring their own, or keep their own stash of disposable stuff at their desk if that’s what they prefer. And then, I wonder if it actually might be feasible to find the funds to hire someone to come and clean the fridge once every couple of weeks or even month or so. I just detest the idea that it’s up to an admin assistant to do that. Not only should that not be in their job description, but the power and often gender dynamics at play are gross.

  136. Hannah*

    I would just like to say that we (department secretariat in a university – so about 60 people using the same small kitchen) were somewhat succesfull with this (infantilizing, we know) strategy: we LOCKED the door of the kitchen and people had to come to our office to request the key if they wanted to take something from the fridge/put something in/wash dishes/etc.
    That made it veeerrry easy to spot the filthy culprits, so no-one dared to make a mess. It was also so unbelievebly inconvenient for everyone that, when we “re-opened” the kitchen, we haven’t had any major issues. It’s been a year and still a mostly clean kitchen!

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