How to Clean Up After Dinner

At the end of a long day, sometimes you don’t feel much like cleaning up. But the dishes are dirty, there are crumbs on the floor, and everything’s a mess. Here’s how to tackle it.


First of all, get in the right mood. You are going to transform your house from a state of disarray to a state of, um, array. Your house will be happy. Your spouse will be happy. And dammit, YOU will be happy.

Here are some ways to get in the mood:

  • Clean up with someone else
  • If you’re by yourself, use this time to think deep thoughts
  • Put on some music
  • Appreciate this as a time free of computers and other technology
  • Enjoy the idea that you are using your hands, moving around, and doing something physical
  • Open a beer and drink it as you make progress (my personal favorite)

Start cleaning up as soon as you can. Don’t finish dinner and then go surf the internet for four hours first, all the while trying to ignore the pile of dishes.


You don’t have to do these things in the order I have laid out here. Actually, yes you do.

In my house, the nightly cleanup usually happens after we have put both kids to bed.

Dining Table

I like to start with the dining table, or wherever we ate dinner. Clear off all the plates and put them in the sink or next to the sink to be washed. Wipe down the table surface to remove crumbs and so forth. Sweep or vacuum the floor under the table and make sure you have collected all the food into the trash or compost.

Get everything in the dining area to a point where you are happy with it. The tabletop should be clean, and all food should be swept up.

As things get clean, stop to admire them. Damn, table, you look good.


Now turn your attention to the kitchen. Start by moving ALL of the dirty dishes near the sink.

Ideally, you want to see in a single glance all the items that need to be cleaned. I find it disheartening to clean up everything near the sink, only to find out there’s a whole bunch of other dishes that still need to be washed. That’s why it’s important to move everything to the sink first.

Now put on some dishwashing gloves. OK, you don’t really need to do this, but we have a pair, and I use them. They’re pink. When I put these gloves on, I feel official. Also, my hands don’t get as dry. Next time I give you a handshake, appreciate the suppleness.

If you use a dishwasher, open the dishwasher and pull out the trays so that it’s easy to place stuff in them. If you have a drying rack to let your items air dry, make sure it is set up and cleared off and ready to accept wet dishes. Similarly, if you let stuff dry on a dishtowel, spread it out flat on the counter.

Start by washing whatever is in the sink. Then, go after everything that’s piled up nearby. Methodically go through all the dishes, silverware, pots and pans. Sometimes, I dry the pots and pans with a towel and put them away immediately. Other times, I let them air dry. If you have a pot or pan with some food really caked on it, you may want to let that soak in some water overnight. You’ll have to use your best judgement here.

Keep going until the sink is clean, and then wipe the sink down with a sponge. At this point, all your dishes should be cleaned and put away, or sitting happily in the dishwasher, or perhaps drying on a drying rack or dishtowel, or PERHAPS soaking in the sink.

Now go through and wipe down all the surfaces: countertops, oven range, etc. Just sweep any crumbs and the like onto the floor. Make sure all surfaces are clean and you have removed clutter and put everything away.

Now it’s time for a final sweep of the kitchen. Get out your broom and dustpan again. Pick up any small floormats you might have in the kitchen, and move them out of the way. Sweep the floor clean, and then put the floormats back in place.

Your kitchen is now clean. Stop for a moment and enjoy it. Be grateful that you have a clean kitchen. Take a gulp of beer.

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