Dishwashing, the B-side to Thanksgiving cooking, can be as satisfying as preparing the feast. There’s a certainty to the outcome, a calm that comes with cleanliness and a definitive end to all the work for the holiday.
To make it less stressful, it’s important to first acknowledge that stubborn grease stains aren’t the only hard part of cleaning. Navigating housekeeping standards, feelings of overwhelm and guests who want to help — or don’t — can be tough, too.
KC Davis, a licensed therapist in Houston and the author of “How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing,” prioritizes managing expectations and communicating for Thanksgiving. Following practical kitchen tips and her advice will make cleaning — before, during and after the meal — manageable in execution and emotion.
Examine and Set Expectations for Yourself
There’s a lot of pot scrubbing that comes with making a dozen dishes from scratch. If you love to cook, by all means, make everything you want, recognizing that the more you prepare, the more you have to wash.
But if you’re putting on an elaborate feast only because you think it’s expected of you or “normal,” Ms. Davis encourages challenging that notion and figuring out the scope you can and want to handle. It’s even OK to not clean at all. This is true for everyone, but particularly for those with disabilities. Cleaning should not come “at the expense of your body,” Ms. Davis said, and using paper plates, foil pans and other disposable serving and cookware can be an important tool for maintaining physical and mental health, even if doing so upends expectations.
Communicate Early and Often With Guests
“We need to be done with the era of women cooking and cleaning while men watch football,” Ms. Davis said. Everyone who can should help out unless you truly want to do everything yourself. (In which case, you don’t get to complain about it.)
When sharing planning details like arrival times with guests, let them know that everyone will be helping and ask what they would like to do. “It’s important to establish before how is everyone going to participate,” Ms. Davis said. Once people arrive, give clear instructions as to where and when you need them.
Clean Early and Often
For Ms. Davis, too much mess overwhelms. “I go frozen,” she said. “It’s easier for me to focus and figure things out if I clean up as I go.” This holds true for anyone cooking. An integral part of culinary training in restaurants is teaching cooks to consistently clear and wipe down their stations. Not only is this for hygiene, but it also helps cooks concentrate and work faster and smarter.
It applies to Thanksgiving, too. Keeping up with dishwashing helps the cook stay clear-minded and efficient. And it actually isn’t faster to let everything pile up in the sink. Each time the sink is about half full, clear it, then continue cooking. To keep your counters uncluttered, set up a bowl for trash next to your cutting board or a trash can right next to where you’re standing.
Preparing as much as possible ahead of time drastically cuts down on cleaning the day of the feast. Store prepped ingredients in disposable paper or plastic containers and refrigerate finished dishes like cranberry sauce or casseroles in their serving ware if possible.
Find a Good Cook-Clean Rhythm
Pausing in the middle of chopping to scrub a blender can make you lose your place in a recipe or, worse, your happy cooking zone. Don’t try to multitask and rapidly soap up the colander between peeling potatoes. It’s easier to break for dishwashing at defined stop points, like when the turkey goes in the oven or the salad dressing in the refrigerator.
Spending time mindlessly washing those dishes also gives you a chance to take deep breaths and think calmly about what you have to do next. By the time you dry your hands, you’ll feel refreshed for the steps ahead.
Minimize Kitchen Traffic
Remember those great helpers you assigned to dishwashing? You don’t want them all in the kitchen at the same time. You also don’t want someone rinsing salad greens while someone else washes raw turkey juice off their hands.
Tell your guests that you’ll let them know when they need to join the action. That’ll ensure you don’t have too many cooks — or dishwashers — in the kitchen.
Maximize Clearing Before Eating
Try to get all of the cookware cleaned and put away ahead of the meal. That may seem daunting, but it can be possible with a team of helpers working in alternating shifts. Don’t hesitate to fill and run the dishwasher at this — or any — stage.
Set Up Cleaning Systems Post-Feast
Take a cue from caterers and private chefs who replicate the dishwashing efficiency of restaurants in home kitchens by creating systems. Rather than haphazardly wash, dry or load whatever is nearby, clean by dish type in stages.
Start by putting away leftovers and then scrape all the scraps off plates. Fill an empty casserole dish or serving bowl with hot soapy water and put all of the utensils in there. Next, stack or line up dirty dishes, bowls and glasses by type. If space is tight, bring items into the kitchen by category.
Load the dishwasher by dish type, then hand-wash in groups, too. Set up an assembly line from soaping and scrubbing to rinsing to drying. Stack or align all of the dried, clean wares on the counter if there’s room. Finally, put everything away and relish in the satisfaction of getting it all done.