Why I Adopted My Sicilian Grandmother’s “Party First, Clean Later” Philosophy

published Nov 22, 2021
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Credit: Kristin Teig

Every Saturday evening growing up, my family and I gathered around my Sicilian grandmother’s long, cherry dining table for homemade pizza, crunchy calamari, sausages ribboned with grains of fennel, and salad with generous portions of cheese and salami. She would leave bowls of olives on each end of the table, too. My cousins and I put them on our fingertips and waved to each other across the table before eating them. There were loud conversations, gossip, and games with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and second cousins. I loved these nights. 

It was always special to spend the night at my grandmother’s house after one of these gatherings. I would beg to do it alone, without one of my three siblings. My grandmother would ignore the mess of plates, the half-filled glasses, and the pizza crumbs that littered the kitchen floor and the hallways mysteriously, too. She set up a bed for me on the floor of her bedroom, both of us reading until our eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. 

The next morning we woke up, ate cinnamon toast, and got to work. She would dedicate the morning to cleaning after each family party the night before. Some of my earliest memories include her rolling out the big vacuum, shaped like a metal elephant with a flexible-necked extension, down the long hall. She’d wipe the counters and mop the kitchen while I got to dust the table with the ostrich feathers. And we’d crush the cans together. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

As I’ve entered my thirties and begun hosting friends of my own, I have adopted my grandmother’s cleaning method. I’ll never clean the night of the party or a gathering. I can’t. My childhood muscle memory won’t let me. My mind absolutely forbids it — only allowing a stack of dirty dishes next to the sink to form after I’ve hugged my guests goodbye and locked the gate. Then I crawl into bed with my partner and our cats, marinating in the night of good conversation, connection, and joy. 

I don’t choose to clean later out of laziness but as a way to absorb the memories of the night, without the dishwasher getting in the way. If you brush away the counters too quickly, the bruschetta crumbs can’t  serve as a sweet reminder of the care it was prepared with the night before. On Sunday mornings now, I roll out the Dyson, do the dishes, and blast some music. It’s soothing. It makes me feel productive. It’s self-care. 

This is the type cleaning that’s just for me — the kind meant to ground and absorb the conversations and events of the night. I’m convinced it solidifies the memories of the good times, too. And this is a time where we could all use a little more relaxing, a little more tenderness, a little more soaking in the jubilance of an evening before we’re so quick to whisk it away. A little more partying first and cleaning later. I urge you to try it sometime!