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Monday, October 10, 2022

Dishwasher Tetris

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In case you don't remember, Tetris is that block stacking computer game where the player tries to quickly make all of the blocks fit together without gaps. Well, there's another type of Tetris. This one is played with the dishwasher. The makers of Tetris even wrote about it in this article on their site.

Like just about everyone else, we received notice from our energy provider that rates will be going up this winter. We use natural gas to heat our house, heat water for washing/bathing, and cook on our stovetop. We're doing what we can to reduce our natural gas use. We've been taking significantly shorter showers this past summer to save water for our garden. The bonus was that our natural gas use dropped as well with those Navy showers. 

Sunday morning my husband was about to start the dishwasher. I asked him to hold off and let me play a little dishwasher Tetris with the dirty cups, plates, glasses, mugs, and bowls. He'd not heard that name before, but he indulged my need to maximize the dishwasher's space. I was able to rearrange the contents enough to allow for 2 additional dinner plates and 3 additional glasses or mugs. Maybe 2 plates and 3 cups doesn't sound like a lot. However, it's about 2/3 of what we use for a Sunday lunch. 

So this has me rethinking how I can stack the dishwasher to get even more to fit and still get it all clean. Our dishwasher uses the same amount of hot water whether it is completely full or it is only partially loaded. I admit, we'd gotten lazy in loading the dishwasher. It seemed like work to pack it completely full. In addition, running the dishwasher at the same time each day, whether it was completely full or not, became a habit. In addition to how I stack the dishwasher, I can also see that we can make different choices in the dishes we use for each meal or snack. Most breakfasts don't "need" a dinner-size plate, and neither do some lunches. Salad plates take up much less room in the machine and are often just the right size.

We've also switched to washing clothing in cold water. According to our natural gas supplier, the agitation of the machine does most of the work to clean laundry. Cold water it is.

And we're rethinking what months and even hours we want to run the furnace. We've been fortunate so far this fall in that we haven't needed to turn the furnace on yet. I expect that later this month the weather will be cooler, and we'll want some heat. I'm thinking we can have the thermostat set to turn down the heat 15 minutes earlier each evening and then come on again 15 minutes later each morning. That would save a half hour of heating per day, or 15 hours per month.

I'm hoping that by saving small amounts of gas in multiple areas, the total savings will offset a large chunk of the increase.

Our natural gas is expected to go up by 17% this winter with a possibility for additional increases later. I fully understand that folks in other places will see much more severe increases in cost to heat their homes. So I don't wish to minimize anyone else's pain right now. A 17% increase is a lot for us. In winter, our heating bill is about $200/month. With a 17% increase, that would be an extra $34 per winter month. We don't have a category of non-discretionary spending where we are now spending a whole lot less. The spending in every  category of our budget has increased, and without a corresponding increase in income. I assume many others are experiencing a similar financial squeeze from all areas. What I can say is I am doing what I can to mitigate increased costs. Daily, I seek out ways to save that I have previously overlooked.

What are your plans for increased utility costs this coming winter?


  1. I do some of the same things with the dishwasher that you're talking about. We choose our dishes first on what loads efficiently and only run it when it's full. As far as heating goes, we have an oil furnace. Anticipating even further increases in prices in the winter, we went ahead and had our tank filled recently. Generally, we are on an auto refill. Even with the dropping prices, we still paid about double what we had in recent years. Ouch!

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      Ouch is right at about double what you have been paying. I'm glad you got your oil, though, before prices rose any further.

  2. Freezing my husband.😂 My husband is 71 and doesn't like being cold. We have been using a space heater for years. Our living room

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      A space heater sounds like a good solution for you and your husband so he can have a warm space to go to. We use space heaters in a couple of rooms for that purpose. I hope this is a warmer than usual winter for most folks.

  3. I had to laugh about the dishwasher tetris; though I feel like I load the dishwasher quite well, my husband is the one here who comes along behind me and rearranges to fit just a few more things in. We do mostly run it full, but occasionally will go ahead and run it less full if something is needed sooner, especially as in yesterday when I needed some canning jars run through it (though it ended up pretty full even for that load).

    As for lowering utility bills, there are a few spots in our house where we've gone back to incandescent light bulbs for health reasons (our lights above our headboard, for instance,and the lamp next to where my husband and I sit in the living room). If needing some lighting but not sitting in those spots, I try to remember to turn on the other light nearby, utilizing LED bulbs.

    We had solar installed this past spring, and they were offering a "bonus" for military veterans, which turned out to be blowing 18 inches of quality insulation (a wool blend that is supposed to not compress over time) into the attic. My husband and a friend had actually done this probably 12-14 years ago, but only 6 inches, and it had mostly compressed by this point. This really seemed to help with our a/c usage this extra-hot summer, along with the solar itself providing about half our electricity.

    Also trying to wash more on cold, though I make exceptions for some loads (towels, for instance). I don't know if there is hope to get our teenage daughter (3rd daughter and the only girl still home) to take shorter showers, but the rest of us are pretty efficient. My husband and a friend installed the hot water on demand type water heater a few years ago now, and it has definitely seemed to be more efficient for us.

    Cat (because I can't seem to sign in today, for whatever reason)

    1. Hi Cat,
      I bought an incandescent light bulb for the lamp beside the bed as neither the LED or the CFL felt right to me. The light they give off made me feel unwell. I don't know how to explain it better than that. Anyway, the day I decided to just buy a light bulb I was at the grocery store. Unfortunately, the only incandescents were appliance bulbs. So I bought 1 40-watt appliance bulb. It's not very bright with the lampshade on. But when I need to read by this light, I take the shade off and it's just the right brightness. LEDs are great for some purposes. We have an LED string of lights just outside the kitchen windows in fall. They looks cheery and cost hardly anything to use for a couple of hours per evening.

      That sounds like a wonderful deal on the insulation. I'll have to ask my husband if improving our insulation might help us here. I know what we have in the attic is original to the house (built in '77).

      I wish Google would get their act together with logging in for blogs.

  4. And then the discussion of handwashing vs. dishwasher comes into play. I probably could not fill up a dishwasher in one day with the very little we use. Add to that, I prefer not to put my pots and pans in the dishwasher as it seems to fade the coating. So, we hand wash dishes everyday. I do use the dishwasher once in a while to sterilize my dish drying rack and a dishpan that I wash dishes in. I also like it for a coffee pot or tea pot and a few things like that but I make sure it is fully loaded whenever I use it.

    As for the increase in utility costs coming up, I still am home 24/7 and though we do keep our home on the cooler side I still want to be comfortable. Sweatshirts and socks and slippers go a long way to keeping a person warm. Sometimes just going outside to do a tiny bit of yardwork or anything outside warms me up so when I come inside I'm toasty warm.

    1. Hi Alice,
      I totally agree on your methods for staying warm or warming up. When I start to feel chilled, I get myself up and moving and that usually warms me up. I try to dress warmly even when in the house. I always wear shoes and socks indoors and that keeps my feet toasty. And I have a thick fleece jacket that I wear indoors in winter. I also wear headbands when it's chilly. I have 2 knit ones that I alternate in winter. One of my daughters wears a knit hat indoors when she's cold. And my husband wears a pair of fingerless knit gloves when working on his computer. Every last layer seems to help.

  5. I am naturally good at dishwasher Tetris. :) Back when I was a teen, my parents got a portable dishwasher--the kind that you wheeled to the sink to hook up. I was in charge of dish duty at that time (I was the only child at home full-time) and I was highly motivated to avoid handwashing dishes, so I got really good at figuring out configurations to make everything fit and still get clean. My "skillset" has continued to this day--I think it's perhaps a weakness of mine, as I dislike anyone other than me loading the dishwasher, and I am the annoying person who regularly rearranges what others have placed in there.

    Now that you all know one of my quirks .... much of the reason that I do this is to use the dishwasher as efficiently as possible. We tend to run it daily for the 3 (sometimes 4, depending on my son's college schedule) of us, and typically I still need to wash pots/pans in the sink, as well. As Lili mentioned, I have found that using smaller plates, or for snacks, no plate at all--maybe a napkin--makes it easier to squeeze in even more. I have Pfaltzgraff stoneware plates but I rarely use them--they are harder to fit into the dishwasher and I dislike handling the weight of them. I am grateful to Lili for making one of my oddities into a virtue--I'm saving energy! :)

    I wash most of my clothing on cold, although I periodically run towels and sheets through on hot. I occasionally use a laundry sanitizer additive for those loads--it's supposed to kill most germs.

    We keep our heat on 67* during the day and 64* at night and make use of warm clothes. I also have throws everywhere and we often wander the house wrapped up in those. I have a heater in the bathroom because I hate feeling cold during a shower, so I warm up the room with the heater before my shower and then turn it off. Our bathroom is small and heats up quickly from that and I think it prevents me from taking an overly long shower. If I can get away with it (not working .... ) I will shower every other day--I have eczema and I find it helps my skin to avoid showering too frequently and bonus, then I'm not using hot water.

    That's probably way more info than any of you wanted from me, so I'll stop now. Good topic, Lili!

    1. Hi Kris,
      You made me laugh. I don't consider being good at organizing a load of dishes to be a quirk, I see it as a feature, a plus.
      Like your Pfaltzgraff, I have a set of heavier pottery dishes that are bulky and take up too much room in the dishwasher. I hang on to them because they look nice on the sideboard. But we don't use them because of their size. Every square inch of space in the dishwasher counts.

      That's a great idea to use a space heater in the bathroom. I do sometimes linger in the shower simply because I don't want to get out into the cold air. Thank you for the suggestion!

    2. Kris, you are a girl after my heart! I too honed my dishwasher Tetris skills at a young age. Our family got our first dishwasher when I was 12 (50+ years ago :) and that became my chore. I started then figuring out how to best load a dishwasher to avoid handwashing dishes. Completing some of those paper pencil math spatial problems in school could be challenging, but not when the practical skill was used in the dishwasher! (I think I was the opposite of the Tetris article. My dishwasher skills made me better at Tetris!) Now with just the 2 of us at home, we really only run a (very full) dishwasher every 3 days. My husband washes up the pots and pans as I don't put them in. We do lightly rinse them since they will be sitting there for a while before actually being washed but try to use minimal water and use leftover water from other uses. Like you and Lili said, we too may just use a cloth napkin in lieu of a plate at lunch. And I'm another of the annoying ones who constantly rearranges the dishes if anyone else puts them in "wrong"! I can just fit so many more dishes in than others and it really is more efficient and frugal that way. We have a lovely set of dishes with shells on them. I like to use them in the summer here on the coast, or whenever we have seafood dishes (the women in our family tend to LOVE dishes...). But they flop all over in the dishwasher which I find very annoying, so I don't use them every day either.

      Regarding the weather, and heating bills, we are currently in the "sweet spot" here in NC-not needing heat or AC for now. My husband showed me a meme the other day, noting that in many families the challenge was on for how long they could go without cutting on the heat. That's definitely something we do! As others have said, we dress warmly in the winter with several layers and keep our thermostat at 67 degrees in the day and 62 at night. Ditto for throws on all the chairs and sofa. If it is very cold outside, we may briefly use our gas logs to knock the chill off inside. We do this mainly when we have company who may be chilly with our indoor temps. (We will raise the temps for company). But with propane continuing to rise (we don't have natural gas here) I am very stingy with its use for the logs and cooking. I have a gas cooktop (electric oven) and am always trying to be very efficient with its use. For instance, instead of sautéing vegetables for longer periods over a burner, I will put them in the microwave for a bit to soften before finishing them off in the skillet over gas.

      This has been an interesting topic and laid bare some of my quirks as well:) Have a great rest of the week everyone.
      Lynn from the NC Outer Banks

  6. I’m hoping the two new windows we installed recently help immensely. They should because you could see the blinds moving with the old windows lol. Now all the windows on the main floor have been replaced-finally.
    I keep the thermostat on 64 most of the time. This is plenty warm for me, but chilly for my Dh. Sometimes in the evening we use a space heater in the livingroom because he just gets too cold. I think it’s cheaper for us to use a space heater than heat the entire house, but I could be wrong.
    I try to only run the dishwasher when it’s packed full. I sometimes run it when it’s not crammed full if I’m out of clean silverware or something. I hate washing dishes by hand and almost refuse to do it. I do wash nonstick pans by hand, but that’s it. I usually only have to run it every other day, except for sometimes on the weekend. I never use the heated dry cycle. I wash all laundry on cold, and have for years. I have a clothes in my laundry room I use in the winter to dry a few things. I may start using that more this winter.
    Our gas and electric bills went up as of Oct 1st. I’m more worried about what this means for my oldest dd because she is on a much tighter budget than we are. I figure this will be a good life lesson for her. Years ago we simply couldn’t afford our winter bills so I had to get serious about cutting back, and it forced me to make changes that continue today.


    1. Hi Diane,
      We use a space heater in the family room when we're all gathered together. I think it is cost-effective to keep the furnace off to the whole house, but heat just a small space for the evening.
      I hope your oldest DD finds ways to economize on her heating and electricity this winter. This could be a tough winter for many folks.

  7. We don't have seasonal utility concerns living in the tropics, just slightly higher net usage in the winter 9ffset by higher production in the summer (PV system) . But we still never waste our water and electric use. I have always handwashed dishes, hardly used a dishwasher we once had many years ago. I am one of those strange folks who enjoy washing dishes, pulling weeds and sweeping floors, Meditative?

    Have a nice rest of your day,

    1. Hi Laura,
      You're not strange. I enjoy those tasks, too. Washing dishes by hand or sweeping the floor force me to slow down and not rush through life. I can understand why you would enjoy those sort of tasks.
      Have a lovely evening, Laura!


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