Pop quiz: What is the job you can assign for your event that will have you breathing sighs of relief (and admiring a little extra shred of intact sanity) that you have probably forgotten?

You have someone to make the key tradeoff with the cranky venue attendant, you’ve hired the limo driver, you know exactly whose hands will be on that expensive champagne, and there is a greeter for each VIP guest at the airport, so you could not have forgotten a thing. Right?

Answer: A cleanup crew.

Oh, wow. The 7 boxes of hand-shredded confetti and 300 votive candles atop what used to be your expansive kitchen table just fell into an ugly light. Pity.

It is easy during planning to stack on detail after detail, obsessing the whole time about the perfect guest experience. We pack in little unexpected touches, plan to transport impossibly unwieldy food and décor, and play our fantasy of the special day in our minds ad nauseum. Rarely, though, does our mental picture point to the end of the soiree. Guests have left and the lights are on, and everyone on the planning team is either MIA or has plopped into plush chairs complaining about their swollen feet. With a little luck, they are probably tipsy too.

If you have been the person in charge of motivating an intoxicated, whiny version of the enthusiastic crew who hours before scattered rose petals on every inch of your venue, you know it is next to impossible. Your team evaporates and yet more stuff seems to precipitate. You have probably pulled the ill-advised all-nighter(s) prior to this moment, so it can feel as if your assistant has actually morphed into a pile of shrimp shells and smashed cake.

I have witnessed each version of this: The wedding party member who has found true love in a visiting cousin, their promises to do anything and everything possible to make your day special forgotten in the romantic aftermath. There’s the non-profit staff, disappearing into their offices to make incredibly important phone calls while you answer awkward questions from the trickling guests. And, of course, there is the bubbling band of socialites whose early attempts to casually direct the afterparty have become a full on passive-aggressive war and is carrying them all out the door in a sequined skirmish.

Meanwhile, you and one or two trusty companions lug load after load to your crammed cars, and it has just dawned on you that you promised the cranky attendant you would vacuum and put the trash out.

This can all be avoided, of course, but you must follow a direct method: Recruit, assign, repeat, multiply.


Recruit a team of reliable folks to be your cleanup crew. Avoid the obvious choices; they are probably already up to their necks in this little adventure. Promise whatever they ask, and ask them to plan to be working for an extra-wide window of time. Ask half of them to recruit a helper. Make sure they each have a car or access to one.


Assign every possible detail. My uncle was the only person in charge of loading our car after my sister’s wedding, and he drunkenly stacked the food on top of her dress, which I had to carefully extract so as not to spill a morsel. Give one person food, one person décor, etc. Keep handlers separate from cleaners; no one wants to fold 300 chairs and then sweep the floor. Arrange the destination for each team member’s part of the breakdown, and make sure that someone has made room in the fridges, planned to drop off items to charity, or whatever needs to be done.


Repeat every step of the way in every fashion you can imagine. Do not worry if you seem micromanaging; they may read your 6Kb email and follow-up texts while they should be working, but that is a much better time for someone to be annoyed with you than at the end of the event.


Secretly recruit a second crew. They can be smaller than your first, but make sure they are the quiet types who like to be needed. I guarantee you will be thanking them.

And if you plan your cleanup crew properly, chances are they will be thanking you as well.


Sarah Harbin has been planning and promoting non-profit fundraisers, art and cultural events for over ten years, and recently began planning personal events.
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