The first time I hosted an actual dinner party was when I was in Stanford Law School. When the guests left, Nikki and I took one look at the mountain of dishes that loomed before us and ran for cover. We left those dishes in the sink for nearly two weeks until the smell of growing mold demanded we take action.
The first time I hosted Thanksgiving was for 10 guests. Two days later, the aforementioned Nikki showed up at my door, pushed past me into the kitchen and saw, as she had feared, that the place was as much a disaster as it had been when she had left on Thursday night. “Roll up your sleeves, we’re doing this,” she commanded.
I’ve come a long way in the intervening nine years, baby. I have become somewhat of a master of the post-dinner party clean-up. I have had a great deal of practice as Kent and I love to host holidays and dinner parties. It has been years, YEARS, since I let the sun go down upon a dirty dish. My husband will tell you that I consider “soaking” a fraudulent invention by lazy men who hope someone else will do their dishes before they get back to them–and a personal afront–and an insult to my intelligence—and, and…. My au pairs can attest that one of my biggest pet peeves in life, perhaps my biggest, is dirty dishes in the sink.
Since I had such a fine time writing my guide to breastfeeding twins, I thought I’d share with you my guide to cleaning up after the holidays. Various people have asked me for it over the years, and I dearly wish I’d had it in grad school before the mold monster broke out in my sink and terrorized Palo Alto. I used to have this all in a neat little document that I kept with all my holiday recipes, but now it’s second nature so I rarely refer to it.
In the words of Ms. Johnson, “Roll up your sleeves, we’re doing this.”
The whole thing can be summarized as four steps: Put away, throw away, load, wash.
That’s right, washing comes last. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to clean up is to pick up a pot and start washing. Put down the sponge. You don’t have the SPACE to wash dishes yet. Beside which, if you start before you’re organized, you’ll end up doing things twice and/or getting so frustrated with the whole process you give up.
If you’re lucky enough to have help (I usually fly solo during clean-up), it’s good to have a plan so that when people ask if they can help, you know exactly how to utilize them instead of saying, “Well, Bob’s at the sink, and the dishes are really a one person job, so…um…well….”
Let’s go step by step.
The first thing you should do is put away all the perishable food. Makes sense, right?
I like to stock up on a few Ziploc cupcake containers before a party so guests can make their own take-away box as the first step in helping clean up.
Next, put away any other items you may have left out during prep like ingredients, cookbooks, Saran Wrap, salt shakers, unused silverware, etc.
Chances are that 10% to 25% of the mess that looks so overwhelming is actually stuff you don’t have to wash at all. Throw out all the boxes, plastic, paper towels, potato peels, and so forth. Throw away includes scraping plates and dishes. Yes, there’s only room at the sink for one washer, but a couple other people can scrape plates and dishes. You’ll waste less water, your dishwasher and garbage disposal will thank you, and you can use the scraping exercise to organize your dishes into stacks thereby giving you the space you need for washing.
You thought I was going to say wash, didn’t you? You’re just dying to wash! What is this obsession of yours with washing? Sheesh.
God gave you a dishwasher; use it. Load everything you possibly can into that dishwasher and start it. Let it do its job while you do yours. I like to leave out one plastic spatula to assist in any scaping that might be necessary during washing. Other than that, pack that baby up with utensils, chopping knives, measuring cups, food processor parts and so forth and hit start.
Okay we’ve made it to washing, but before you soap up, take a quick second to look at your kitchen. Wow. You’re halfway to clean and you haven’t even washed a single dish yet! Don’t you feel so much less intimidated? Don’t you feel like you can do this? Great! So wash down as much of your counter as you possibly can and cover it with 4-5 dishtowels for drying. Here’s your washing order:
– All possible counterspace (yep, so you have room to dry things)
-Big pots, pans and platters
-Smaller stuff (Like filling a jar with sand and rocks, you put the big items on the drying towels first, then fit the little stuff in around them.)
-Floor (sweep and mop)
At this point, many people will consider the job done. Personally, I like to keep going until the dishwasher finishes so instead of doing the floor after I finish the stemware, I
-Wash the rest of the counters
-Wash the stovetop
-Cover the stovetop with the ceramic cleaner to dry
-Dry and put away the pots, pans, china and stemware
-Spray the counters with granite polish
-Unload the dishwasher
-Polish the stovetop and counters
-Sweep and mop the floor
-Put all the dishtowels, tablecloth and napkins in the washer and start it.
Ahhh! Clean and sparkly. Of course your washing order doesn’t really matter that much. If you’ve Put Away, Thrown Away, and Loaded before you start to Wash, you’re golden.
Just because we all love lists, here are my top tips for making the end of the meal feel less like the end of the world.
1. Have plastic containers on hand for people to use as doggy bags.
2. Use gloves to wash dishes.
3. Ask guests to scrape their plates into the trash and stack them on the counter, not in the sink.
4. Put things away and wash dishes as you go as much as possible during meal prep.
5. Just do it. No matter how tired you are, just get started, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you get through. The easiest time to clean up is before the meal has hardened into solid rock on your dishes.
I started cleaning up today at 6:20. It took me a little longer than usual because I had to nurse the boys, plate and microwave dinner for Kent, G and me, eat, and put the boys to bed, but with just an army of one, my kitchen looked like this by 8:45.
If you’re still overwhelmed and/or terrified, tell yourself, “I’ll just do the putting away.” Yes, once you get that done, chances are you’ll feel up to the task of throwing away. Then you might as well load even if you’re too tired to wash. Suddenly the kitchen is looking pretty manageable, so you might just wash after all. Way to go, superwoman/man.