From The Outside In

by Laura on August 2, 2009

in Blog

aka The Zen of Cleanup

by Greg Everage

Life sometimes develops a groove and we accept these grooves because they seem to work for the family and the flow of the day. One of my “grooves” is the cleanup after a meal. Laura cleans up her fair share, but I tend to do most meal cleanup, and sometimes that happens three times a day.  I know, cleanup as a topic on a blog, you ask? Sure, when you think about it, cleanup is just as important as meal prep and cooking the actual meal. Not as glamorous, mind you, but important nonetheless. Important in that it not only keeps the kitchen clean but it also sets up the workspace to catch the next onslaught of food preparation. Being that we feed six people, three meals a day, along with snacks, the constant flow of food that comes out of our kitchen makes cleanup an essential part to keeping the rhythm, or the groove, in our household. Get behind, or don’t cleanup after a meal, and you will find yourself staring at a filthy kitchen wanting to open a bottle of wine at 11:00 AM. When walking into a dirty kitchen to prepare a meal, you either try and clean it up first before you begin to cook or you cook around the dirty kitchen. Either way you are loosing time and the frame of mind to focus on the timing of your meal and hot plates hitting the table all at once. You loose the “groove”.

Much is written about the magic of cooking, the discoveries of food shopping and the ingredients, that when combined, create an unforgettable event. But the Cinderella of the kitchen is cleanup. In fact, people tend to shy away from home cooked meals due to the inevitable cleanup that needs to take place each and every time one sets out to prepare a meal.  Keep in mind that cooking could not happen without cleanup and cleanup is all about cooking.

Through living the process and with the right frame of mind, I have discovered that cleaning up the kitchen can actually be therapeutic. So, with that in mind, here is my method of having a truly clean kitchen while saving time, footsteps and my mind. I call it “From the Outside In”.

First, I get everyone out of the kitchen. Laura and I tend to include the “gang of four” in most everything – planning, purchasing, preparing and consuming. But with cleanup, I tend to move fast and with as much precision as possible. Little ones at your feet will get bumped around if they are they’re trying to learn or help. Believe me, once our kids get to a certain age they will be spending a large amount of time in the kitchen cleaning up, much more time than Laura and I will. So, their time for learning, helping and complaining is coming.

Second, I first try and relax.  Empty my mind of everything and just focus on the task at hand.  A clean up “Zen” if you will.  Then I begin, I start at the outer perimeter of the dining room and begin to move everything into the kitchen. Everything. It tends to stack up, but for me, having everything back into the kitchen reduces the amount of steps that you take during the cleanup process. With the kitchen counters stacked with everything from the dining room, you can accomplish most of the following steps standing in one place (of course, depending on how large your kitchen is), making it easier to tackle the cleanup while anticipating the inevitable interruptions and needs of the kids.

Third, once everything has been deposited in the kitchen, I don’t touch anything until the dinning room is completely cleaned. Placemats, table, rug and floor. I remove all placemats and check to see if any of the napkins need to be laundered and replaced. Shake the mats onto the table, and then wipe down the placemats and the table. Place the mats and napkins back on the table (basically setting the table for the next meal) and wipe down chairs and benches (a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and two, 2 ½-year-olds leak food). Then the rug and floor get a good vacuuming.

Fourth, now to the kitchen, I then locate all food and pack it away in the frig or freezer. Put away all ingredients used during cooking and then I set out to separate all that will be going into the dishwasher and what will be hand washed.

Fifth, load up the dishwasher, hand wash cutting knives, pots, pans and certain pieces that Laura has deemed not to be run through the dishwasher. As the dishwasher is humming, I dry and put away all that has been hand washed. Leaving nothing on the counter or in the dry rack. This leaves the counters wide open for the big push.

Sixth, make the first pass at all the food bits and run-off left on the counters and stove. Make a second pass, washing the counter tops and then buff it all out on the third pass with a dishrag.

Lastly, each step has been heading in the direction of the last place I clean. The sink. All food that is left from the counters is grinded away in the disposal, then the sink and surrounding area gets a good cleaning and all “shiny stuff” gets buffed. Hang the dishtowels, step back, pour another glass of wine and admire the beauty of a clean kitchen. Knowing it will only be a few hours before it is hit with another meal. But at least it is ready, ready and waiting to make our life easier in feeding our family healthy, tasty and nurturing meals.

Cleanup is not at all glamorous but is crucial and when you move from the “Outside In” you will save steps, time and energy to then get to all of the other tasks that await you in your busy life. Most importantly, have fun and love what you are doing and what you are doing is living a healthy life.

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