he wine bottles are empty. The candles have seen their last flicker. And the last guest has gone home. You want to put your feet up with a big sigh of relief, but wait — there's cleaning up to do.
Doing any type of cleaning when your holiday party is over might not seem like a particularly glamorous way to finish the evening. But taking care of a few housekeeping matters right away will lighten your load when you wake up the next morning. And tidying up actually isn't that hard when you have a game plan.
Make the transition quickly and cleanly by:
1. Clear the table. If you only have the energy to get one room in shape tonight, the dining room is the easiest to accomplish. Do not allow dishes to pile up. Ensure your guests know you're not rushing them, but remove dishes as they're done eating (just like in a restaurant). It'll be easier at the end of the night if most of the dishes have already been taken care of. Take any remaining dishes, cups, and serving utensils into the kitchen (you'll deal with them in the next step). Then gather up the tablecloth or cloths, and shake crumbs over the kitchen sink or garbage can, or just take a step out your back door and toss the crumbs in the yard or nearest flower bed. Carry all the table linens to the washing machine. Fill it with warm water, add detergent, and leave the items to soak overnight (if you have a spare second, scan the fabrics for stains — red wine, gravy — and pre-treat before soaking); you can finish the cycle in the morning.
2. Deal with leftovers. Food that you would normally refrigerate shouldn't sit out at room temperature for more than a couple of hours. So, toss anything that's been out longer, like appetiser dips, salads, veggie platters, or cheese. Cover any leftovers you plan to keep with foil or plastic wrap before refrigerating (though most baked goods can stay out once covered or wrapped); if needed, transfer food to different, smaller containers the next day when you have more time. If there's room in the kitchen trash can, scrape dishes as well as cooled grease or unwanted gravy from pans into it — it's faster than emptying the sink to get at your garbage disposal, and better for your pipes, too. Seal up the bag; set by the back door. With any luck, someone else may get inspired to take it out. Or else you can haul it to the outdoor garbage can in the morning.
3. Conquer the counters. Last, tackle what's left in and around the sink. Squirt grimy pots and pans with dishwashing liquid, and fill with very hot water. Set them aside on the counter or cooktop overnight — this extended soak will make them much easier to hand-wash later. Fill empty space in the dishwasher with dirty plates, glasses, flatware, and anything that fits, but don't bother to pre-rinse, because the machine will do the work for you (yes, really). Add the detergent and start the cycle. With any remaining dinnerware items, rinse and stack neatly in the sink. They'll get their turn at the dishwasher tomorrow.
Make It Easier Next Time
- Double- or triple-line the trash can, so you already have a clean bag in place when a full bag is removed.
- Have your kids or hubby unload the dishwasher before the guests arrive, so you'll have an empty machine ready to go for the after-dinner cleanup.
- Line broiling or roasting pans with foil before using, so baked-on bits, grease, and drippings are easily tossed away.