15 Ways to Simplify Your Post-Thanksgiving Cleanup

Photo:  Elena Shashkina (Shutterstock)
Photo: Elena Shashkina (Shutterstock)

Hosting a big Thanksgiving celebration for your friends and family is fun and it’s one of those things you should do at least once. The upside is obvious: You’re in charge of the menu and you get to spend the holiday in the comfort of your own home (kitchen). The downside is also obvious: You have to do a ton of work beforehand— and then clean up afterward. The workload is no joke.

There are a few things you can do to lessen your eventual cleaning load, though. Let’s go through some so you don’t have a meltdown next Thursday.

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Start working well in advance

Photo:  wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)
Photo: wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)

If you have everything organized on the big day, you’ll have an easier time cleaning and keeping things neat as you whip up the best meal of the year. Make a shopping list now and get as much in advance as you can, provided it’ll keep until Thanksgiving. Identify the things that will be messy, like the turkey, and make a plan for how you’ll clean it up in a jiffy. For instance, have a garbage bag on hand that’s just for your big food messes, like your turkey container and bones. Plan your menu carefully, not only based on timing so it all comes together at once, but based on exactly how and when you’ll clean each element. Ideally, you want to clean as you go.

(Last minute, you can also designate an old box to keep nearby as a dumping ground for large, dirty pots, pans, and casserole dishes to easily relocate to an unused room to get them out of the way until you’re ready to dive into a full clean-up.)

Get your oven in order a few days before Thanksgiving

Photo:  Budimir Jevtic (Shutterstock)
Photo: Budimir Jevtic (Shutterstock)

Your oven should be ready for all that cooking before it even starts. Make sure your temperature settings are correct and check for hot spots within the oven to avoid any messy baking mishaps. Clean every part of your oven in advance so it’s performing at top functionality and you have less to clean after your meal is ready.

Sharpen your knives and get your cookware together

Photo:  Nor Gal (Shutterstock)
Photo: Nor Gal (Shutterstock)

Dull knives won’t cut effectively, which is not only annoying, but can make more of a mess than if you’re using sharp ones. Sharpen your knives the day before you start cooking.

Test new recipes the week beforehand

Photo:  Monkey Business Images (Shutterstock)
Photo: Monkey Business Images (Shutterstock)

New recipes are fun, but if you don’t know them well enough, you can make messy mistakes. Test out anything you haven’t made before in advance so you can fine-tune your recipe, prevent a boil- or bake-over situation on the big day, and clean any accidents beforehand.

Make some food in advance

Photo:  Africa Studio (Shutterstock)
Photo: Africa Studio (Shutterstock)

You also want to purge your fridge and freezer of old food and spoiled ingredients that are cluttering it up, as you need your space super organized. Once you’ve done that, make whatever you can safely freeze ahead of the day. Think soups, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pie dough. You’ll clean up your mess from making these long before any guests show up, and then have them conveniently to defrost, heat, and serve when you really need them on Thanksgiving day.

Deep clean the house the week before

Photo:  Rawpixel.com (Shutterstock)
Photo: Rawpixel.com (Shutterstock)

If you wait until just before guests arrive to clean your place up, you’re bound to miss a few areas (you’ll be busy with last-minute cooking emergencies, after all). Go at it early and focus on the areas where everyone will congregate, like the kitchen, dining room, and living room, then freshen your cushions, disinfect your surfaces, and declutter everything you can see.

Plan activities for guests

Photo:  Standret (Shutterstock)
Photo: Standret (Shutterstock)

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings and idle guests are messes waiting to be made. Make sure the TV is on to the football game, there are board games or other sources of entertainment available, and you have places for everyone to sit. Heading off the mess-makers before they get started is an easy way to make sure you don’t have to deal with the chaos they leave behind.

Plan specifically for wine

Photo:  Dima Sobko (Shutterstock)
Photo: Dima Sobko (Shutterstock)

Red wine will likely be flowing on this day, but it doesn’t have to flow onto your couch or carpet. Go through the areas where your guests will sit and clear off any books or decorations from the tables, so there is somewhere for the wine glasses (and juice, chips and dip, whatever) to be placed securely. At the store, pick up some wine glass covers and ask your guests to use them when they’re not actively sipping if they’re prone to knocking over a glass. Get some wine glass coasters, too, to lessen the chances of water rings.

Enlist cleanup partners

Photo:  4 PM production (Shutterstock)
Photo: 4 PM production (Shutterstock)

There is quite a bit of etiquette that goes into being a guest at Thanksgiving; it’s more involved than just going to a friend’s house for regular old dinner, and guests generally know that. Before anyone arrives, ask who might be interested in being on cleanup duty, and let them know they don’t have to bring a dish or wine to the gathering in exchange for their help. You won’t sound entitled; they’re just grateful not to be on cooking duty this year.

Invest in a rolling cart

Photo:  Oksana.Bondar (Shutterstock)
Photo: Oksana.Bondar (Shutterstock)

According to Eat Well 101, the real secret of an easy-to-clean Thanksgiving meal is a rolling cart. Topped with absorbent cloths, this will make taking guests plates from the table to the sink much easier, but it can be used for extra food storage before everyone sits down to eat, too.

Use as much disposable stuff as you can

Photo:  Stephen Barnes (Shutterstock)
Photo: Stephen Barnes (Shutterstock)

Single-use kitchenware is usually an environmental no-no, but on occasions like Thanksgiving, you can use a little. Opt for foil baking pans, for instance, to make cleaning up just a bit easier. One package of plastic plates won’t hurt, as long as you don’t make it a year-long habit.

Make it a Tupperware party

Photo:  Cat Us (Shutterstock)
Photo: Cat Us (Shutterstock)

OK, we don’t mean a literal Tupperware party, but we do think plastic storage containers are a must for Thanksgiving. Not only should you have your own on hand to easily get leftovers into your fridge without the mess and fuss of tinfoil, but you should ask your guests to bring their own, too, according to the New York Times. They can take their leftovers with them instead of cluttering up your fridge and cleaning up will be much faster. (We also suggest stocking up on plastic soup containers or disposable cupcake tins for this purpose.)

Use your bathtub

Photo:  Lungkit (Shutterstock)
Photo: Lungkit (Shutterstock)

You can use your bathtub as a dish-soaking station so your kitchen sink is still usable in the moment, according to the New York Times. Designating specific dish zones is key. If you don’t want to get that rolling cart we mentioned, you should use a folding table somewhere in the kitchen just to hold dirty dishes. Stay on top of your dish load throughout the day, transferring dishes to your soak station, then the rinse station (your sink), and finally, the dishwasher or a drying station on a shift-by-shift schedule.

Plan the dishwashing schedule

Photo:  Makistock (Shutterstock)
Photo: Makistock (Shutterstock)

You can wash some of your dishes, like your wine glasses, the next day, especially if they’re not things you use often or they need an overnight soak. Forks, knives, plates, and things you’ll need for midnight leftovers or Black Friday breakfast should be your top cleaning priority, but in the interest of not getting overwhelmed, remember some stuff can wait. (Just add some water to those wine glasses in the meantime so the wine doesn’t etch the glass.)

Communicate with guests

Photo:  Dean Drobot (Shutterstock)
Photo: Dean Drobot (Shutterstock)

Finally, just let your guests know you’re excited they’re there, but you are definitely feeling the pressure of the big day and would appreciate anything they can do to help you mitigate the post-Thanksgiving disaster. Make sure cleaning supplies like paper towels are readily available to them and they know where they are so if something gets spilled while you’re busy, they can handle it themselves while you put the finishing touches on the holiday meal.

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