My approach to dishes (and laundry as well) is strongly influenced by my experience of traveling with a backpack (both on trails, and in cities). Living in tiny Tokyo apartments, and later in an RV, probably had an influence too. As did attending many camping music festivals.
Even though I live in a house, and haven’t backpacked for some years, I still find it helpful to minimize the volume of stuff that needs washing. The other day I was looking through a book about hiking the Appalachian trail. It was published in 1971 and was one of many books about camping and backpacking that my parents bought when we were growing up.
The author’s mentality for keeping dishes and utensils clean on the trail is similar to what I do at home. I generally use one dish, one cup, and one spoon — all of them metal. Unlike him, I use a cookpot rather than eat directly out of the pot, and unlike him I do use both a cup and a dish. (My dish and spoon were actually part of a whole dish & pan kit I used to carry on backpacking trips til I wised up and pared it down.)
This passage, from the 1971 book Appalachian Hiker, Adventure of a Lifetime, by Edward B. Garvey, describes an approach I find useful:
“It consists of a 6-inch sauce pan, a Primus stove, and a soup spoon. … Breakfast: Instant wheat cereal — sugar and powdered milk added — ready 2 minutes after the water boils. Eat from the pot. Do not wash pot, Add water, boil, add powdered eggs and ham. You’ll never taste the cereal anyway. In 3 minutes, eat eggs. Do not wash pot. Add water or snow and boil for tea … Do not wash pot. With reasonable technique, it should be clean. Pack pot in rucksack and enjoy last cup of tea while others are dirtying entire series of nested cookware, Enjoy sunrise or take morning stroll while others are washing … entire series of nested cookware.”
Here at home, I just rinse my dish after each meal. Usually just a tiny bit of water, cold (from the tap or a rainbarrel), is fine. After rubbing the dish clean so no more food particles remain, I dump the water into the garden. And the dish is ready for next meal. Same approach goes for cookpot. I only rarely have to full-on wash any dishes for my own use.