How to Clean Up After a Party

Two party planners offer their go-to strategies.

Photo: Kate Mathis

Everyone enjoys a party, especially when the weather is warm. Whether you're planning a summertime soirée, backyard barbeque, dinner party, or baby shower, you want your guests to enjoy the décor, the food, and the friendship. Much time and effort has gone into creating the perfect atmosphere for your party. At the end of the day, the cleanup should not ruin the merriment for you. Smaller parties might not leave behind as much of a mess as a larger get-together would, but any party that you plan is going to need some level of cleanup.

For the first-time host, it may seem daunting to tackle the post-party mess. Even those of us who have planned many parties over the years rarely look forward to the cleanup. Our guests go home, and all we can see is the aftermath of the fun that everyone had. We have to put away decorations, take out the trash and recycling, put back the furniture, and more. To ease the task, we talked to two party planners to get their tips on how to clean up after a party swiftly and seamlessly.

Start with a Plan

Before guests ever arrive, consider a few options: keeping the party relegated to one or two rooms, choosing decorations that do double-duty as party favors, and gathering used dishware as you go. Don't wait until the party is over. "Starting with a plan is key," says Colin Cowie, celebrity wedding planner and founder of Colin Cowie Lifestyle. "For every event, you should determine what goes where before arriving on site and what happens afterwards." Having an action plan removes the guesswork about how to handle the post-party cleanup and makes it more efficient.

Assign or Delegate Tasks

If you have secured some volunteered help from a guest or two (and we recommend that you do), you can delegate or assign tasks to the people on your cleanup crew. "If it is properly communicated which items are being tossed, which are being reused, and which are donated, then cleaning up can be swift and easy with no mistakes," explains Teal Nicholson, creative director for LLG Events. And those who finish their assigned task early can assist with other parts of the cleanup as needed.

Clean Up During the Party

While the majority of the cleanup is going to happen after all the guests leave, you don't need to wait until the very end to do some of the cleanup. "Immediately begin a breakdown and pack out as soon as guests are done with an area," Cowie says. "[This way] you aren't left with the entire party to clean up at the end of the night." So, when guests leave the table, go ahead and have someone clear the dishes or wipe down the space. Tackle the smaller cleanup tasks throughout the night, and you won't have a huge mess at the end of the party.

Mark Bins for Packing Up

Place a few trash cans and recycle bins throughout the venue for guests to take care of their own party leftovers. But you also want to make it easier for you to pack up after the party. Nicholson suggests getting bins for the items that you plan to reuse or donate. "It's important to have properly marked bins set aside for [those items] to be packed and shipped accordingly," she says. You can quickly organize and pack up everything you need once all the guests have left and the post-party cleanup begins.

Appoint a Helping Hand

While you may have a group of people who help with the cleanup, Cowie recommends also having someone who is in charge of the whole process. "Having one person, who is extremely organized, oversee the pack-out process makes a world of difference," he says. This person focuses on the cleanup and pack up process from start to finish. With someone in charge of it all, you can concentrate on other aspects of the party all night long.

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