How to Clean After Thanksgiving

Tomorrow I’ll do a lot of things. I’ll cook, snack on homemade party mix, and watch football. I’ll drink beer, … Continued

Tomorrow I’ll do a lot of things. I’ll cook, snack on homemade party mix, and watch football. I’ll drink beer, sneak in a nap if I’m lucky, and feast on turkey and potatoes and all the good stuff that comes with Thanksgiving. I’ll turn on a holiday movie, eat pie, and play a board game. I might smoke a cigar. I’ll probably have more pie. And I’ll definitely do the dishes, gladly.

Before I make myself out to be a some kitchen martyr–the patron saint of dish soap and sponges–I should point out that there won’t be a ton to clean up because there’ll only be four of us at Thanksgiving: my fiancee, her sister and her boyfriend, and me. As long as we clean up throughout the day as we cook, it should be a pretty simple chore at the end of the meal, which is more than I can say about the inevitable post-meal mess at my Mom’s house back home in St. Louis.

I can just imagine the disaster zone: dozens of plates, platters, and bowls deserted everywhere; forks with oyster stuffing caked between the prongs; almost-empty wine glasses stained red. A lot of it will be destined for the dishwasher, but some stuff–the nice china, the heritage silverware–will need to be hand-washed. Leftovers will have to be stored, and scraps will be pitched or fed to the dog. The cleanup will be a huge job. I just hope my Mom and aunt don’t get stuck with it after they’ve spent all day cooking. I hope someone else helps.

I’ll be doing the dishes because I don’t mind doing the dishes. I love to cook as much as I love to eat, and for me cleaning up afterward is part of the cooking process: A meal isn’t over until the kitchen is spotless. But I’ll also be doing the dishes because I won’t be doing much of the cooking. I’ll handle the pumpkin pie and assist with whatever needs chopping or peeling, but that’s about it. My fiancee and her sister will have pretty everything under control. I’ll eat their food, so the least I can do is clean the kitchen.

If, like me, you’ll be more of an eater than a chef tomorrow, then I encourage you to volunteer for cleanup duty, too. But before you fill the sink with warm, soapy water, I’d like to share a few tips:

• Don’t draw attention to yourself when you leave the table to start cleaning. No announcements that you’re taking one for the team. Remember, you didn’t cook, so the spotlight shouldn’t be yours to share. Just politely excuse yourself and get to work.

• Play waiter for the rest of the family. Periodically step back into the room to refill peoples’ coffee or wine or pie plates–and slyly clear the table as you leave. This’ll keep everyone at his or her seats longer, so you can continue with your job without distraction.

• The cook will be the first to see what you’re up to. She’ll ask you “just what in the heck do you think you’re doing” and tell you go back and sit down with the others. “I’ll finish this,” she’ll say. Do not take the bait. She’s exhausted and won’t put up much of a fight. Tell her you’re almost finished and that you’ll be in shortly. Pour her a glass of wine and plead her to sit down and relax. Thank her for a wonderful meal. Then get back to your job.

• If the group moves into the kitchen after dinner, join in the conversation and laughter. Don’t give them the impression that you’re hard at work while they’re having fun. This’ll just make them feel bad–or make you look like a jerk. If someone asks to help, say something like, “Sure, you can help by grabbing me another beer.” Have someone turn on some Christmas carols, or, if there’s a TV in the kitchen, the football game. There’s no rule that says you can have fun while you work.

• If someone else insists in helping you, let him. Chances are, he’s seen what you’re doing and just wants to pitch in, too. Give him a job: Finish clearing the table… Start wrapping the leftovers… You rinse, I’ll dry… Work as a team. You’ll get finished much faster.

• When you’re all finished–the dishes done, the leftovers stored, the counters wiped down–join the others and enjoy the rest of the evening. They’ll be glad to see you.

• The cook will be the first to see what a great job you’ve done and how much work you’ve save her. When she thanks you for cleaning, just say: “You’re welcome. Thank you.”