Clean While You Cook

When I was much younger I would spend summers with my grandparents at their cabin located about forty or so miles outside of Minneapolis. Not too far but far enough to a child’s mind that it seemed like a great adventure every time I’d go. Summers would consist of fishing pretty much every day, spending as much time in the lake as possible and helping my grandpa with ongoing chores. I will probably write about my parents and grandparents quite a bit seeing as how much of what I learned I owe to them. This post is about a summer my grandpa introduced me to the phrase ‘clean while you cook’.

Maintenance Is Better Than Repair

I recall one day when I was assisting my grandpa change the oil on his Bronco. I think I was holding a wrench or something. I asked why we had to change the oil and my grandpa told me it was standard maintenance. Being a naturally inquisitive kid I followed up with asking why we had to do maintenance. Well, grandpa saw where this was going and crawled out from under the truck and told me, “Joel, we do maintenance because maintenance is better than repair.”


I then got a full lesson as to what oil does inside an engine, what happens if it gets too low or old and why taking the time to change it every few months is better than having your car explode. I understood to the extent a small child can understand.

It was this same summer I remember my grandpa saying a phrase that would stick with me until this day. We were building a deck attached to the side of the cabin and my job was to carry lumber once it was cut, to the proper area to be nailed down. Each length of wood for the decking had only a small amount cut off and the ground soon was littered with scraps. I was standing idle waiting to do something and my grandpa said to me, “Joel, you should always clean while you cook.” Totally over my head. He began picking up the scraps and throwing them in to a box a few feet away. I joined in and didn’t think a second thought about what he had just told me.

Next time I heard it, we were cleaning fish. I would scale them and my grandpa would gut and fillet. I finished scaling well before the filleting was finished and was again standing with nothing to do. A pile of fish parts on the table in front of me. My grandpa told me, again, “I always clean while I cook, why don’t you take all the guts and scales, gather them up and throw them away.” I did and didn’t think about what he had just told me.

Chopping wood. I was the same size as the axe so I wasn’t allowed to wield it, disappointingly. I’d place the logs on the block and my grandpa would split them. Stray branches and piles of bark were left all around. Clean while you cook…clean up the debris. I started to get it.

One day, my grandpa was in the kitchen cooking eggs for breakfast. Literally cooking this time, which helped me. He had mixed the eggs in a large bowl for scrambled eggs. “If you leave this bowl out and the egg residue dries it becomes very difficult to clean. Mind cleaning this bowl while I cook?”

I washed the bowl and as I was doing so I had a realization. “This way, there will be less to do when we’re done eating, less to wash!” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was super happy and proud of myself. This site is about financial matters…what does this story have to do about finance?

Practical Use In And Out Of The Kitchen

It was years later that the full scope of the statement “clean while you cook” really hit me. Both of my grandpas passed away some time ago. After they were gone I would find myself thinking back to our experiences together and recalling things they had told me, the way they presented it, the decades worth of wisdom that damn near everything I was remembering was peppered with… When the weight of that particular phrase really sunk in to me it was due to early financial woes I was experiencing. I thought to myself “Man…I could have prevented ALL of this debt and hassle had I simply done some basic maintenance early on with my finances!”

That very thought triggered a floodgate of memories I’ve written about in this post. If I had done maintenance early on… If I had ‘cleaned while I cooked’ in my financial life… If if if. I despise ifs. The word if has no place in the past tense. I did away with the ifs and focused on the present and making sure I took these thoughts and implemented them in to my daily life today. Every day.

I review my finances in one way or another every single day. I write down my budget and income and look it over at least weekly. Constantly thinking about these things leads me to generate improvements, little efforts that tidy up my overall financial situation. Monitoring my credit report. That’s great maintenance that can help avoid repair. Paying everything on time all the time, so obvious. Just little actions done each day coupled with paying attention and thinking before you act amount to a pretty beautiful situation.

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