Before you go to bed, you absolutely must clean up any leftover food. Even if you aren't interested in reheating today's tilapia tomorrow, the last thing you want to wake up to is a plate full of stinky, gross fish bits. Likewise, you'll want to dispose of any bottles, cans, and half-filled plastic cups, lest you be the target of an early morning ant attack.
As you survey the mess in your kitchen and backyard, try not to feel discouraged. Put on a soothing (or invigorating!) CD and take things one step at a time. You'll clean up that mess in no time, and be off to bed, having dealt with the bare minimum before your head hits the pillow.
Safely Storing Leftovers
Begin your cleanup efforts with the food. Earlier in the evening, you were to have brought in anything that wasn't consumed during the buffet and stored it in the fridge if it needed to be kept cold. It's likely that everything else is moldering on your once-clean serving platters, looking bulky and unmanageable.
Grab a serving tray and head out to the yard, piling on the tray any serving dishes still remaining on the buffet. Empty the tray and hit the living room or any other area in which you laid out food or drink. After you've relocated all your serving dishes, platters, bowls, pitchers, and utensils to the kitchen, you are ready to begin storing the food.
Start your food cleanup by throwing away anything that has spoiled or isn't worth saving. Grab a trash bag, and toss chips that have become stale, dips that have sat out too long, any meat or dairy products that didn't make it to the fridge, or anything that was used as an ashtray. Shake uneaten food off the paper plates and into the garbage, and pour unfinished drinks down the drain. As you get rid of your uneaten inedibles, stack the serving dishes and utensils in the sink. Anything made of paper, plastic, or aluminum should be thrown in a separate bag for recyclingjust make sure your recyclables are free of food and drink.
Next, tackle the food you want to save. Because you've thrown out everything that won't live to see another day, whatever is left will need to be safely stored:
- Uneaten and still-good meat, fish, and dips should go into plastic storage containers, covered with lids and stuck back in the fridge. A good rule of thumb is to discard any perishables that have been sitting outside for more than two hours.
- Use Ziploc bags for leftover chips and garnishes.
- Cover leftover brownies with aluminum foil.
- If any serving bowls are still mostly full, just cover them with plastic wrap and stow them in the fridge.
Before you leave the kitchen, put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher or stack them neatly in the sink, remembering to run water over them. You won't want to deal with any dried-on food crusts tomorrow, when you'll actually wash the dishes.
Doing Only What's Necessary
Take a quick look around your house, beginning with the backyard and taking with you two empty trash bags and a bucket. As you encounter any empty bottles, cans, cups, plates, plastic utensils, paper napkins, or other garbage, toss it immediately. Food and garbage go in one bag, and recyclables go into another. If you find half-empty glasses, bottles, or cans, dump the contents into the bucket, and toss the containers into the recycling bag.
As you fill up bags, carry them to the garbage cans and dispose of them. You might be tempted to leave the bags in a pile by your fence, but please take a moment to dispose of them properly. Ants, roaches, and rodents love nothing more than a bag of tasty-smelling garbage, so to prevent further cleanup in the morning, take the time to trash the bags tonight. As you find the bucket filling up (gross!), empty it down the drain.
Before you leave the yard, make sure you pick up anything that might become damaged if left out overnight. Dew, air, or critters could harm some of your décor, so be sure to pick up these items and stash them in the houseyou can put them away tomorrow.
After the yard is clean, take a quick tour of the house, beginning with the living room and stopping in every room, including those that you hadn't planned to open to guests. Look for burning candles (blow them out!), trash, food, or anything else that doesn't belong. Toss these items into the appropriate bag or bucket, and keep moving. After you've hit every room in your housedon't forget the front porch!toss the last of the trash and recycling, empty the bucket one last time, and pat yourself on the back. You have now done the bare minimum of cleanup, and you are free to go to bed (or polish off the last of the premium tequila).