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Tips for cleaning up after your holiday party

The wine bottles are empty. The candles have seen their last flicker. And the last guest has gone home. You want to put your feet up with a big sigh of relief, but wait — there's cleaning up to do.

Doing any type of cleaning when your holiday party is over might not seem like a particularly glamorous way to finish the evening. But taking care of a few housekeeping matters right away will lighten your load when you wake up the next morning. And tidying up actually isn't that hard when you have a game plan.

Clear the mess first

Close Go around the house with two bags — one for trash and one for recyclables — and start clearing all the tables. Toss paper cups and plates, crumpled napkins and food in the bag designated for trash, and place bottles and cans in the recyclables bag. Preventive measures help too: for my holiday parties, I decorate big boxes with wrapping paper and put bows on the front with tags that say "Trash" and "Recycling." Then I line the boxes with big trash bags, so at the end of the evening, most of the work is already done for me.

Round up the dishes

Gather all the real plates, glasses and utensils, take them to the kitchen and place them in the dishwasher immediately. You'll feel better getting them out of sight. Whatever doesn't fit in the dishwasher can be stacked up neatly in the sink for tomorrow.

Spot clean

Arm yourself with paper towels and an all-purpose spray cleaner, and look for any spills and food crumbs. Wiping surfaces clean at night will prevent stains from being bigger problems the next day. Attend to the linens If you've used any tablecloths or cloth napkins, shake them out over your sink or on your porch, and check for stains. Spray wine, food or lipstick marks with a stain remover, and then get the linens in the washing machine as soon as possible so the stains don't set. While you're at it, grab any towels from the bathroom that guests might have used — they need to be washed.

Remove candle wax

I love the mood lighting that candles provide, especially for holiday parties, but I don't like it when the wax drips over everything. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to remove wax from items such as candle holders. Place them in the freezer overnight, and when the wax hardens and become brittle, you can just scrape it off. If you have glass containers like votive holders that have wax in them, pour boiling water into the container. The wax will melt and float to the top. Then, when the water cools, the wax will harden, and you can pour it out (but not into your sink). If candle wax has dripped onto your tablecloth, place the cloth in the freezer as well and scrape off the wax after it hardens. If there's still a wax stain on the cloth, place a paper bag over the stain and iron it on the lowest setting. The residual wax will be absorbed into the bag. Candle wax that has dripped onto a wood table can be removed in a similar fashion. Place some ice cubes in a zip lock bag and run the ice along the wax until it hardens. Use a Scraperite blade to scrape away the wax residue, as it is the perfect tool to limit damage to your furniture.

Store the leftover food

I'm one of those militant food-safety people who won't let food sit out at room temperature for too long. Chances are, you're going to have leftover food, so plan ahead. Have plastic containers ready. Better yet, offer the containers to guests before they leave so they can pack up food and get some of it off your hands. And toss away anything that could have spoiled, such as dips and cheese. Now, with the after-party mess under control, you can get into your jammies, roll into your comfortable bed and have pleasant dreams — about how you're going to outdo yourself for next year's holiday party.

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