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How do you deal with the Thanksgiving Mess

Each year my husband and I host both our families. We love it with the exception of the leftover mess. How do you deal with it?

Each year I keep a written journal of what worked etc. This last year I vowed not to have as many messes. I always start the day off with a clean kitchen, make as many dishes ahead of time etc. How do you enlist help? There are just some (okay, they are men) who just don't help wtih clean up. Do you assign it along with dishes or just put people on the spot? I vow this year will be less clean up on just me, my husband and one or two others.

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  1. Turkey clean up takes place as the turkey is carved and moved to the table. I carve the bird completely, put the remains of the carcass in a large pot of water and start a slow boil. By the end of the day I have the beginning of the soup I will make from that. At the end of dinner I have only to package up any left over meat and put it in the fridge. The bird (or other meat) needs to rest before carving so I use that time to clean up and put away all (or nearly all) of the pots, pans and utensils used in preparing the meal.
    Just before serving dinner the sink is filled with very hot water. Everything used in cooking that remains unwashed is scraped clean and put to soak in the hot water. After dinner, before clearing the table, those items go into the dishwasher. When the table is cleared the dirty dishes go into a second hot water bath while we enjoy dessert. The final phase is rinsing all dishes and putting in the dishwasher. Items that won't or can't go into the dishwasher are simply washed by hand and put away.
    I've found that too little help in the kitchen is better than too much. I limit my help to one, sometimes two. The others go into another part of the house and visit. If I make assignments for the helpers I make sure that they don't get assignments that interfere with one another. I hate chaos.
    Even though I happen to be the man of the house, I don't include other male members of the family in the cleanup. They're not good at it (mostly from lack of experience) and they are happier leaving the table and watching the game on TV. My primary helper is my wonderful little wife ... she can do anything.

    2 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Sounds like you've got a great system. We have a small apartment/kitchen and never host more than 6 people, but the dishes do pile up anyway. For me the most important thing is to make sure the dishwasher is empty and that all dishes that have been used in cooking are washed and put away. I have a two sided sink and there is definitely a temptation to leave dishes to drip dry in the smaller half, but this just results in not having any place to do last-minute tasks like washing greens, etc. I also put away any countertop appliances that aren't going to be used that day to make sure that I have as much work space as humanly possible.

      My husband is a bit OCD about stacking so his job is always to gather plates and such - he brings them to me in a manageable way, so that all I have to do is stick them in the dishwasher. I also run the dishwasher at least three times that day, even if it's not 100% full - it's so much better to empty it a couple of times than to come in with a new load of dishes and find that there's only room for one plate and glass.

      1. re: biondanonima

        Looks like your husband and I are on the same team; OCD. I make no apology for it, I just live with it and keep it under control. I like your idea for cycling the dishwasher through several loads rather than waiting until it's bulging with dirty dishes to run it. Thanks for that. I will add it to my own routine.

    2. I get mad about it every year. This year I bought paper dessert plates to eliminate one round of dishes, and plan to take a long "pause" between dinner and dessert, so we can at least get started and enlist those folks who say they want to help.

      1. My cousin, bless her heart, hosts extended family every year, sometimes as many as 45 people. The rule is and has always been, whoever is new to the gathering does clean-up. If there is no one new that year, whoever is the most recent joinee does it. My parents and I were on the spot 3 years in a row before we get new blood in. She does no clean-up and quite right too. OTOH, she is very relaxed and un-territorial, I am not sure I could set people loose in my kitchen to do clean-up the way she does. I love her Thanksgivings and wish I was not 3000 miles away.

        1 Reply
        1. re: GretchenS

          "... whoever is new to the gathering does clean-up"
          So be sure to bring a different friend each year ;>)

        2. I do it, and we don't have a dishwasher. If I host, I expect to do the cleanup. It's only once a year, so I don't mind.

          1. Galley kitchen, so maximum on clean-up can be 2. I rarely host more than 4 people, but I make a lot of food using lots of pots and pans and dishes. I'm usually at the sink, Mom helps with stacking the dishwasher. Last year, I had to shoo the (now ex-) BF out of the kitchen, as he was just getting in the way.. *If* my sister and BIL join us, my BIL is the one who takes on the cleaning job. He knows I'm particular as to what goes into the dishwasher, so we'll do that together, but otherwise, anything that doesn't go in gets washed by him and either Mom or I dry.

            I cannot even imagine more than 10 people, much less 45!

            1. I sometimes host a faux thanksgiving. I have been contemplating getting a plastic tub (like storage tub) for things that can't go in the dishwasher to sit in, stacked in it. I tend to do much washing as i go, leave dishwasher open and ready to go etc, but it would be nice to have a place to "dump" things into and tackle them in batches. I actually love cleanup but it would be nice to have things a bit more sorted out that way with a clear area to work, set things out to dry etc.

              I find that one thing that helps is to serve in things that you are fine with putting back into the fridge. Corningware that has lids for example. No, there really is no reason to place everything into smaller containers. Just slap a lid on and when it is actually empty later on in a couple of days you can wash the dish out then. Putting some plastic wrap over something instead of transferring it. Doesn't mean you have to do this for everything, just some things helps tremendously.

              Last, I do occasionally for big events use a few things that can be tossed. If the mashed potatoes and the stuffing will be cooking/hanging out in crockpots, I will use slowcooker liner.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Astur

                Having a second fridge in my garage helps IMMENSELY with the food-putting-away scenario. :-)

              2. I invite my Uncle who loves to clean! And he makes turkey jook as he cleans.

                1. It can help to cut back on the number of dishes served, particularly those that need same day work. But I think it comes down to how compelled the host/s are (for whatever reason) to have everything cleaned up before the day is over. For me, the dirty pans can spend the night in the now cooled down oven-out of sight out of mind until the next day. I also serve as many items as possible in dishes that can just be covered and popped in the frig until next day. Toward that end I get as much out of my frig as possible--condiments, flours, soda--that can be put into shopping bags and stored elsewhere for a couple of days thus giving me room to easily stash things in the frig. Like most people, I assume, I start with an empty dishwasher, fill it after first/main course and turn that on once everybody is gone. The rest gets scraped and piled for next morning. As you can see, I'm pretty laissez-faire about it but that certainly keeps the stress level down.

                  1. This year I am hosting 26. I have as much clean up as possible done before dinner. But, with a big crowd, the dishwasher needs to be filled at least twiice. We have a system that seems to work. the men and the kids take turn washing what needs washing, and loading the dishwasher. I strip the two birds. I also make up the doggie bags for everyone. They let me know what they want, and I package them up. Then I put the rest of the leftovers in the fridge.
                    My dining room only has the dining room and the kitchen table to fit the crowd. The rests of the dining room furniture is in the front hall. The teenage boys move the furniture back, and one of my SIL's usually vaccums before that! Then we get out all of the desserts, and begin to make another mess!!! We love it!!

                    1. My parents and my mother in law are dishwashing *machines*. No matter how much I protest, before I know it, they're elbow deep in sudsy water (sometimes, even before the meal is served).

                      Our biggest messes are the serving dishes and the stemware (of which there is a ton). The kitchen elves go to work right after dinner, the guests help themselves to leftovers (we always buy a stash of Glad food containers for carry out), and a handful of folks grab a dishtowel and start drying. By the end of the evening, everything is clean and we just need to put it away the next day.

                      Conversely, whenever I'm a guest at my parents' or IL's, I'm the chief kitchen elf.

                      1. I'm in strong agreement with todao about too much vs. too little: I can deal with a mess better if people will just stay the heck out of the way. I do have a phobia about dirty plates being stacked on top of each other, but I just have to let that one go because nobody else gets it.

                        Except for the basic problem of dealing with a larger bird than usual, there's nothing particularly daunting about Thanksgiving relative to the usual dinner party chez Owen. For one thing, there are fewer people than our usual 8-10, the meal is earlier in the day than most, and they don't drink as much! Furthermore, I know exactly what everyone will or won't eat without my having to ask. The only real mess I must take care of comes before the Big Day: clean out the refrigerator! Both of them, in fact, since so much Kitchen Fridge overflow has taken permanent refugee status in the Garage Fridge, and all of it needs to be dealt with before I can even shop for TG Day.