Party Cleanup Tips

It’s the holidays! I love everything about this time of year – the family, the food, the parties. Every year, I host an open house party for family and friends on the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the season. Except for, I admit, the mess left in my house after everyone leaves. It used to be a major headache, involving hours of cleanup for Mike and me, but just like the party has become an institution, so has my plan for keeping the mess under control. With a little bit of work ahead of time and some tricks for during and after the festivities, the cleanup is no big deal.



  1. Think about the food and drinks you’ll serve. Try limiting things that can cause major mess and stains. Everyone might enjoy a taco bar, but will you enjoy cleaning up spilled salsa and cheese the next day?
  2. Just because it’s an open house, doesn’t mean the entire house has to be open. Consider where you want your guests to stay during the party and how you’ll keep them there – closing doors or even adding some decorative “roadblocks” in hallways will keep the mess contained and your guests in the best places to mingle and enjoy each other’s company.
  3. If it can hold trash, it can be a trashcan. Time to enlist all of your household cans, plus other things like plastic storage bins, for trash and recyclables. When you’re setting up for the party, place cans throughout the house, not just by the food and drinks but also where people will gather after getting their food. Clearly label what’s recycling and what’s trash, but don’t stress if they get mixed up.
  4. Keep the good china put away. Unless you’re throwing a fancy sit-down dinner, do you want to be worried that an errant gesturing arm will shatter a priceless heirloom? Especially if you’re expecting more than 20 or so people, don’t be afraid to use disposable plates, cups and utensils. I promise, your guests will be having too much fun to care, and you won’t have as many dishes to do.
  5. When it comes to dishes, do as many as you can before your guests arrive. Try to avoid having mess from your food prep hanging around, even if they’re in the dishwasher. Start with a clean slate in your kitchen, and clearly designate where guests can deposit dirty items.
  6. Clear out your precious items. Grandma’s quilt that hangs on the back of your arm chair? The delicate silk throw pillows? Delicate glass treasure from your last vacation? Stash them somewhere where your guests can’t spill or damage them.



  1. Don’t stress! Enjoy your time with your guests. If you’re constantly cleaning up non-emergencies, you won’t be able to enjoy your party. Sure, if you leave your seat to go to the kitchen, grab some things along the way, but try to just let some mess happen.
  2. Speaking of those emergencies, when something does need your attention immediately, try these tricks:
    1. Broken glass? After you pick up the largest pieces and run the vacuum, press a soft piece of bread into the ground around the area. It’ll pick up any dust or tiny pieces your vacuum missed.
    2. Red wine spill? If you have it available, I hear that throwing cat litter immediately over a spill works wonders to soak up the liquid. If you don’t have litter, immediately sprinkle salt over the whole area, then soak with club soda. Both alone are popular remedies, but I find their powers combined help lift the stain more easily.
    3. Smeared chocolate? Dribbled sauce? Make sure your washing machine is empty and standing at the ready before your party starts. That way, you can quickly pretreat any mess on washable fabrics and toss them right in the machine to wait. You can even get a head start on tomorrow’s cleaning by starting the wash cycle before you go to bed.


Immediately After:

When the last guest has left, it can be tempting to immediately turn in for the night and leave the mess to the morning. (If you’re like me, it can also be tempting to stay up all night scrubbing away.) Don’t do it!

  1. Walk through the house with a trash bag, immediately throwing away anything that can be tossed.
  2. Gather all of the glasses, silverware or other dishes that can be washed, and put them in one place. Ideally, this would be in the dishwasher, but if you don’t have one or it’s full, at least bring them all to the kitchen, creating a staging area for tomorrow. You’re giving yourself a head start on both the house cleaning and the dishes and you’ll thank yourself in the morning.
  3. Focus on ease when it comes to storing leftovers. Even if you usually try to go for reusable options, plastic bags can be your friends sometimes! I have also been known to use my Pyrex baking dishes as serving platters, because they have lids I can just pop on at the end of the night.

And that’s it! No matter what, you’ll have some work to do the next day, but if you plan ahead (and enlist the help of your family) you’ll have much less to do and more time to enjoy the season. Do you have any tips from your parties?