Thanksgiving cleanup advice sought

MKOctober 20, 2013

I would love to start a tradition so everyone knows to pitch in with cleanup but am at a lack to know how to get it started!!

My husband and I host Thanksgiving and we do love it. We have 15+ family plus those who need somewhere to go. We also have our 3 grown kids stay with us. My motto is the more the merrier. I love the planning, table setting and cooking and of course time together, but Lord, not the cleanup! This is what I dread every year is tackling the mounds of dishes, food and glass wear! Perhaps it's telling that I'm already fretting about this! .

Some will offer to help clean up after the meal but what I'd really like is a cleanup committee!! Normally I don't allow guests to help with cleanup but this one holiday vexes me. Now I don't mean that the kitchen should be spotless before anyone can go home, but just to help with the majority so I, my husband and 1 or two others don't get stuck with it after everyone goes home year after year. If you're still reading this, I'd love your thoughtful suggestions. Advice to switch up locations each year among people doesn't work as no other in-town family offers!

I always send out an email several weeks prior starting the ball rolling with who wants to bring what. Is it too much to ask for cleanup volunteers? Or, how does your family deftly handle things? I wouldn't mind people volunteering to clean in lieu of bringing a dish.

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Personally, I find having the guests try to help to be more trouble than help. It's especially a mess when people are trying to be helpful by bringing dirty dishes into the kitchen in a multi-course meal. I have the kitchen all arranged with a clear area so that I can prep the next course, and of course they plunk down the dirty dish right in the middle of it. Even at the end of the meal, everyone has their own way to clean up, and when people bring things in and put them all over the place, it just slows me down at the end. Sometimes the next day I find the odd dirty plate across the room on the toaster oven or something!

Finally, we decided that for very large groups, which is usually only at Passover, we hire a helper to help in between courses and to do the dishes at the end of the night. It is nice to have the help, but the REAL benefit is that it keeps the guests in the dining room! Without a helper, no matter how many times you ask people not to "help," some of them simply insist and come in and plunk that dirty dish down. But when there is a helper, they cooperate.

Maybe that would work for you, too. It is an expense, but it sounds like this problem has you so frazzled, and you aren't getting the help from your guests anyway. So maybe consider treating yourself one time and see if you find it's worth it. You can hire a teenager for not too much money.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 11:53PM
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I would assign the hot side dishes to family members and you do the turkey or whatever meat you are having, someone to bring desserts and salads. Have your tables set or buffet set up ahead of time. Cleanup crew will not have much trouble in cleaning the kitchen for you. I also have the clean sink ready with hot sudsy water. I know the words sound easier than getting the job done but it has worked for me. Now as my family is smaller we eliminate many of the elaborate dishes we used to have. Even throw away dishes are nice sometimes. I also keep on hand many plastic containers for putting left overs in the refrigerator or for others to take home. I also like your idea of knowing ahead of time who will do what.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 11:16AM
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I have a tiny kitchen and it really causes me more problems and takes much longer when people try to "help" me with the cleanup!

You're lucky to have the help of people bringing dishes to serve; that is help that I'm seldom offered. If I were in your situation, I'd consider using as many disposable baking and serving items as possible -- like foil baking pans, paper/plastic plates, utensils, cups, and napkins. It does make cleanup easy!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 9:55AM
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Well, if you have three grown kids spending the weekend, then I think you have your cleaning committee.

Sit them down and explain that the clean-up is getting to be too much, in addition to all the cooking and serving. Inform them, nicely, that you are calling on them, as the adults they are now, to step up and help out.

The advantages to having your kids help you out with the clean-up is that they already know where things go in the kitchen, they know how you like things done and they will be more help and less bother than having people who don't know your systems trying to help.

Or you could do what my aunt, who has a huge house and therefore ends up hosting many family special occasions, does. She does the cooking, the cleaning and the setting up. As the younger generation arrives, she informs them of their task for the day--helping to get dishes on the buffet table, going around and filling people's drinks, washing dishes, walking around picking up used dishes and utensils, taking trash out, etc.

You say that some people do offer to help out. What is it about their offer of help that isn't enough? Or do you just feel that everyone should pitch in and help clean up?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2013 at 9:35AM
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Dobieone, you say that normally you do not allow guests to help with clean-up, Could that be why they don't offer on Thanksgiving? They may think they will be in your way.
I think it would be fine to include an option to volunteer for a clean up committee in your e-mail. Just make sure to have storage containers readily available for leftovers so they know exactly what to put where. (I think putting away the leftovers is the worst part). And as camlan suggested, have someone on the committee who knows their way around your kitchen and how you like things. Also don't expect perfection, everyone will not do things exactly as you would, you can always rearrange things the next day, after you've rested up.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:41PM
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I have hosted Thanksgiving where NO one helped with the clean up. Wonder why they are not invited anymore.
When we have family, they help with the clean up. My SIL and BIL usually jump in. Problem is, last year we had a large group. SIL and BIL were working on clean up. We left on vacation for December and things were fine. In January we were entertaining, and I got deeper into the dishes and glassware than our normal daily use. They were DIRTY. The plates and bowls were not clean. The bulk glassware is stored up high in the cabinets, and the glass ware was filmy. I had to rewash everything. Should have just done it myself to start with. A cousin did the silverware and pots and pans. He did a GREAT job. We will be on vacation early this year so no Thanksgiving here.
Dale P

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 12:59PM
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Thanks all for the advice based on your experiences. The consensus is do it yourself, I guess I'll just keep with the status quo. As I said,we do love hosting it, so my attitude will be one of Giving without complaints.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 1:41PM
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"we hire a helper"
"Cleanup crew will not have much trouble in cleaning the kitchen for you"
"you have your cleaning committee"
"include an option to volunteer for a clean up committee in your e-mail."

I don't see the consensus as saying doing it by yourself. One person has too small a kitchen and the other dissenter didn't like the way things were done by others. The majority say to have help.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 2:00PM
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Thanks for pointing out those comments.To be clear, I don't do it all myself, no, no, no. But the overall impression from others was that most "help" came with a lot of re-do later. My grown children (plus 1 yr old grandbaby) come from 400 miles+ away and they help a lot with making dishes, setting table etc., and they do help with clean up too. I just don't want it to be non-stop work for them too! It would seem that a festive day for 20 could be spread out so it's not so hard on a few. Maybe I'll rethink cleanup committee wording in email.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 3:15PM
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For your family and friends I think it would be fine if you included a line in your email about helping with clean up. Be honest with them. Let them know that it would be a help to you if could have a few people on a clean up committee. Then direct them as to what you would like them to do when the time comes. They would be more then welling to help out I'm sure. The rules at our gatherings is "the ladies do the cooking, so the men clean up". They do it willing and with fun. (if something happens during one of the many football games that are on, the kitchen cleaners empty the room and run to the tv. they always come back to finish the My sister or mom always hosts Thanksgiving at their home. We 6 kids bring something for the dinner. Older brother brings the turkey, we bring the desserts, mom makes the mashed potatoes, etc. Don't let the clean up part make the day a chore. You have more then enough help. Put them to work! ;0) NancyLouise

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 7:22AM
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Choice 1: Let people help, but accept the reality that they will NOT do it the way you do it, and probably not as well. But it still might be easier to redo some later at a convenient time. Or instead of making a big committee out of it, ask one person you like to work with to help you.

Choice 2: Treat yourself and hire help. It's only once a year, and as I said, it has the added benefit of keeping people out of the kitchen.

Choice 3: Do it yourself. But if you do, don't do it with resentment, martyrdom, or self-congratulation.

It doesn't take THAT long to clean up even a big Thanksgiving banquet. You cooked for them without resentment. If you couldn't, then you shouldn't have done it -- either let someone else host, or bring in prepare food, or whatever would get the job done. Well, cleaning is part of hosting, too. Either do it graciously, or don't do it at all.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 1:58PM
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I admit I'm puzzled. You say that your three children help out. And this line from the OP, "Some will offer to help clean up after the meal but what I'd really like is a cleanup committee!!" indicates that some other people volunteer to help clean up. But it also implies that there's still a problem.

Is there someone specific that you resent isn't helping?

Do you resent the fact that some people wander off to watch TV while a few of you are hard at work cleaning up?

Do you just feel that at Thanksgiving, every guest ought to volunteer to help?

Or is there some other reason that is making you feel this way? Because clearly you are unhappy with the situation, but I think it's more than just wanting some help, because you do have *some* help. But for some reason, it's not the help you really want/need.

There's nothing wrong with telling a guest, "Hey, come help me wrap up the leftovers. You can tell me about Jimmy's latest hockey game while we do that." There's nothing wrong with announcing the TV won't be turned on until the kitchen is clean.

But I think you have to figure out what is really bugging you first, and then work on a solution for that.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 6:34PM
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Are you opposed to using disposable dishes, tins etc to lessen the dishes that have to be washed? Even with a dishwasher, it still become load after endless load.

I hear what you are saying. Something has possibly changed in your energy level and it is just getting too much for you to do it all like you once did.

I think if you say it in this manner, people will be more than happy to help.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 9:55PM
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Actually, she didn't say that she was getting stuck doing the cleanup alone. She said she wishes people would automatically volunteer to clean up, perhaps instead of helping cook, "so I, my husband and 1 or two others don't get stuck with it after everyone goes home year after year."

I agree with Camlan. I don't think that dishes are the real problem.

It's not that there aren't enough people to clean up (how many could you even have washing dishes at one time, anyway?). I think it is that, unlike setting the table and cooking, it's not a fun or praise-inducing task. And it happens when you're tired.

But realistically, would you and your husband and kids all go to bed or go watch TV while the committee you envision cleans your kitchen?

And I also think that she feels somewhat resentful that she always is the host, which is a natural way to feel.

But I still don't think a committee would work well, and if the real problem is that she feels that the guests should volunteer to be such a committee without her having to ask, that's a whole different issue.

OP, ask yourself if you would be fine with it if your husband and kids did the cleanup without you. (That's what we usually do here, if I did all or most of the cooking myself.) Your answer to yourself will reveal whether it's really dishes that are bothering you.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 5:07PM
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I would love to start a tradition so everyone knows to pitch in with cleanup but am at a lack to know how to get it started!!

Here's how to get it started. *Plant* a couple of ringers in the group. Tell a couple of your grown children, your best friend, your husband, whoever you think might be receptive and handle it well about your dilemma. Ask them after everyone is about finished eating but is still gathered at the table to say to you loudly where all/most of the guests will hear, "Mom(honey, whatever your name is?), would you like some help cleaning or would you prefer to do it yourself?"

Then say loudly, confidently, laughing, "Honey, I would LOVE some helping cleaning up. I know I don't usually ask for it, but for Thanksgiving I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to have help." Say whatever feels natural and comfortable for you, but is absolutely clear to others that you'd welcome help.

Then, when people say, "What can I do to help?", tell them.

When it's over or winding down and people start going home, reinforce how much you appreciated the help. Thank the people who helped in whatever way feels comfortable for you. If it were me, I'd make comments like, "You're my new Thanksgiving hero. I loved all that help!"

I have a small kitchen and I hate to have my things put up in the wrong place. It's twice as much work to find them as it is to just put everything up myself. So what works best for me is to supervise. I wouldn't be the one to wash the dishes or dry them. Basically I'm the kitchen general.

I imagine everyone who entertains enough has horror stories about people helping them clean up. If you want help, you may have to experiment a few years before you find what works for you.

There is one particular person in my life who makes cleaning after party meals particularly touchy. She's a wonderful and nice person who is only trying to help, but it gets frustrating and complicated sometimes when she's there. So I understand completely why some people would rather just clean up themselves than deal with the complications that come with help. Sometimes I take that route myself. When she comes, for me it's a matter of picking my poison. Would I rather do all the work myself or handle the aggravation of having help? I love her, I'm glad she's there, I want her to come, but it's just easier to do it all myself rather than gnash my teeth and get aggravated.

But when it's a group of friends, usually many people pitch in and it works out great to have help.

If you want help, you should have help. Good luck whatever you decide.

This post was edited by daisyinga on Tue, Nov 12, 13 at 0:04

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 11:52PM
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I probably should have added this. I personally would not assign a committee or send an email asking for help, or anything like that. In my experience, the people who offer to help first or who get up and start helping without being asked are usually the best helpers. I am tired after the Thanksgiving meal. I have been cooking, cleaning, and doing yardwork for days and I am tired by that time. I want someone who is naturally helpful and good at helping, not someone who had to be drafted.

But if you'd rather send an email or draft a committee, do it that way if you like. If you're gracious enough to host the meal, people should be happy to help you whether they've been drafted or they volunteered. Not only that, but people should be willing to help bring food AND clean up.

This post was edited by daisyinga on Tue, Nov 12, 13 at 0:07

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 11:57PM
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At family gatherings, my SIL, while saying grace before the meal, would ask for a special blessing for those who cleaned up - LOl - there were lots of volunteers!
Volunteers would clean up while those who prepared the meal relaxed and visited.......

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 7:29PM
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That's a terrific solution, serendipity_ont.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 11:32PM
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