The answer to that question lies somewhere in the middle. After all, having your guests socialize among abandoned plates of unfinished food and drinks can be distasteful. But doing serious cleaning while you should be enjoying your guests is rude and defeats the purpose of inviting people to your home. While some people can afford to have butlers handle the messy business of staying tidy during their parties, most people have to deal with the remains of the evening themselves. So here are my tips for keeping ahead of the chaos as you enjoy the company of your guests.
What's Your Comfort Level with Accepting Help?
Begin by deciding whether you'd like your guests to help with cleaning up. During family gatherings, help from family members is often the norm, and everyone settles into a role. Some family members love to pack up the leftovers. Others enjoy loading the dishwasher. Some love to get up to their elbows in soapy water while scrubbing pots. Often some of the best laughs happen as family members pitch in together to keep things tidy. Follow your family's customs and everyone will feel, literally, at home.
On the other hand, you may not feel as comfortable with hands on assistance if you're hosting a business party or group of friends. If that's the case, you'll need to insist that your guests relax and leave the clean-up to you. That may also mean that you ignore most of the serious cleaning in the presence of your friends, despite your inclination to make your rooms neater. Carrying an abandoned plate or glass into the kitchen as you walk around and socialize is fine. Scrubbing pots at the sink is going overboard.
Maybe You Can Afford Paid Help
Although a butler may not fit in your party budget, a teenager may be affordable. Assign him the job of clearing abandoned plates and glasses throughout the evening, and be sure to tell him where to put the dirty ones.
Prepare Your Trash
Put unopened trash bags at the bottom of your trash can under the bag in use. That way, if the bag starts to overflow, anyone who notices can remove it and find a new bag waiting to be put into action.
Use Someone Else's Dishes
If you can afford it, rent your dishes and glasses for the evening. That way the dirty ones can simply be loaded back into the crates in which they arrived, and sent back to the rental company unwashed.
Clear the Decks
Some people swear by disposable plates when hosting a big party. But if you are more inclined to pull out real plates and glasses, designate a specific counter where they can be stacked neatly throughout the party after they've been used. This will be made easier if you do as much pre-party tidying of the bowls, pans and kitchen apparatus used to prepare the food before your guests arrive. Place a shallow rubber tub next to your intended pile-up area so that the utensils can be tossed in without losing any in your garbage disposal or in the trash can.
Don't Run Your Disposal
If the impulse to clear the plates of uneaten food is too strong for you to ignore while guests are still there, it's better to scrape them into your trash can than to run a noisy garbage disposal continuously. And while we're on the subject of your sink, don't create a sink full of dirty dishes soaking in soapy water. It's unattractive and ties up your sink which you may need for another purpose that evening.
Remember the Reason for Your Party
In the end, if you're hosting the kind of casual party where guests will be milling about your home as they eat and socialize, no one is going to expect the dirty dishes and glasses to vanish into thin air. Do what you can within reason to keep most of your rooms tidy throughout the party and you will be forgiven for a few cluttered countertops in the kitchen. Remember, your guests are in your home to spend time with you, not to watch you clean up right under their noses. That would only serve to make them feel guilty for being there and causing you the mess.