The Kitchen and I

by Titus Kalksma, UWCM
16th of December, 2022 

The kitchen: the holy grail of food, communal living, and warm memories. But for me, as a floor rep, the bane of my existence. Nothing frustrates me more than a dirty kitchen, and let me tell you something: the kitchen is ALWAYS dirty.


During our floor rep elections last year, the main question was: “How will you solve the kitchen crisis?”. I was full of ideas: naming systems, cleaning rotas, and even security cameras; I would do whatever it takes to achieve a clean kitchen. And yet, almost a year later, the state of the kitchen remains atrocious (if not, worse). It seems not everyone shared my idealistic vision. 


I am not the only one that struggles with the kitchen. Every current and previous facilities floor rep shares this annoyance. In fact, most previous years also fought to make kitchen culture more positive. I have said numerous times to my floor: “We are at a bloody UWC! You are selected for your responsibility, your respect, your compassion! Is it really so difficult to clean up after yourselves?”. Unfortunately, we all fall victim to the tragedy of the commons. Angered, I decided to research this concept. 


Investopedia says the following about the tragedy of the commons, from an economic standpoint:

  • It is a problem that occurs when individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gain.
  • This leads to over-consumption and ultimately depletion of the common resource, to everybody’s detriment.
  • For a tragedy of the commons to occur a resource must be scarce, rivalrous in consumption, and non-excludable.

But they do note some solutions:

  • The imposition of private property rights, government regulation, or the development of a collective action arrangement.


So I applied these solutions.

I suggested a camera as a means of totalitarian government regulation. Some of my floor mates were even excited to catch the infamous ‘mess-maker’ (a mess which, undoubtedly, was partially their fault). However, since a camera would break privacy laws, the idea was scrapped. 

So I came up with the idea of government-regulated private property. Each room was allocated a set of dishes and utensils; these were marked with their room number and distributed. If a filthy dish was found in the kitchen, its origin could be traced and the perpetrators held accountable. Any unmarked, “foreign” dishes were promptly seized, becoming property of the state (me). For the first time in history, a perfect kitchen system was created, and it worked for a whole week. Unfortunately, eventually crime skyrocketed and unruly floor members started scraping numbers off the dishes. With inequivocable malicious intent, they caused the downfall of this system. 

Tired of this theory, we tried a collective action agreement. The floor had devised a cleaning rota; a system where, every day, a different room took action to clean the kitchen. The theory was sound, but it failed to account for external factors. Deadlines, absences, and negligence crept like snakes into our plan. Friday nights, the kitchen would never get cleaned; the room assigned would be out, enjoying life to its fullest. Thursday nights, floor night. Wednesdays, better get assignments done before Thursday. So on and so forth. 

It seems no solution is perfect. In a school of near perfect, idealistic, and motivated students no simple and overarching strategy solves the question of kitchen cleaning. Thus, every floor night, we find ourselves in a conversation about the kitchen. Every time, the conversation remains unfinished.