Why You Need a Clean Up Plan for Your Wedding Day

Without fail, my clients always forget one very important detail as they plan their weddings: Who’s taking all of their sh*t at the end of the night?

You’d think this would be an easy question to answer but, in my experience, it’s often one of the hardest. Once, I asked a bride only to end up on two separate phone calls with her dad and her stepmom discussing the square footage of their respective cars in relation to the number of people they were responsible for shuttling home at the end of the night. Mind you, we were talking about transporting a few cardboard boxes of customized Koozies. 

People often forget the question of what happens after the wedding because they’re so focused on even getting to the blasted thing. But no matter how hellish planning your wedding has been (and I know it’s been bad), your wedding day will eventually end. 

And unfortunately, unless you’re having your wedding on a rich friend’s private property and plan to clean up in the morning, chances are good that wherever you’re getting married will not be OK with you leaving your stuff overnight. (Note: This is true even if you offer to pay more money. For all the things that wedding venues are willing to do for a little extra cash, being liable for your wedding stuff isn’t one of them.)

Below I offer my recommendations as you plan your exit strategy. I start with one of the most cumbersome parts of cleaning up — flowers — and then offer suggestions for everything else. This may feel like yet one more thing to do when it comes to planning your wedding but trust me: It’s easier to have these questions now than at midnight on your wedding day.

Don’t Ask Your Guests to Take Your Flowers 

Nine times out of ten, flowers’ final destination is the dumpster (a situation that always makes my stomach turn). People think they can avoid this outcome by deploying something that I call the “give our drunk guests our leftover flowers” strategy but I’ll tell you right now: It does not work.

If there’s a mother of the bride, she’s usually the one who initiates this option. About halfway through the reception, she’ll start collecting vases to hand off to departing guests. Sometimes, she’ll ask the DJ to make an announcement. The result is always the same: A slightly tipsy mom who grows increasingly desperate as she tries to pawn off overflowing vases to even tipsier wedding guests.

This is not her fault. She’s probably spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 on these damn flowers. The last thing she wants is to see them trashed but she also knows she sure as hell doesn’t have room in her car to take them home (and honestly, she’s probably not even driving tonight).

Why don’t people want your beautiful flowers? People love flowers, right? Yes, they do but not when they’re four glasses of white wine in and just spent the last two hours grinding to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” 

Plus, many of your guests likely traveled to join us here today. That means that they’re staying at a hotel or an Airbnb and probably have a flight way too early the next morning. Even if they wanted to cart your flowers home at the end of a very long day, they can’t exactly take them on the plane.

Three Ways to Make Sure Your Wedding Flowers Aren’t Wasted

Thankfully, there’s hope. 

1. Gift Your Flowers to Your Vendors

Give whomever is cleaning up your stuff the OK to dole out the remaining flowers to your vendors. I’ve handed off more than one centerpiece to a hardworking waiter who knows his partner will love waking up to a beautiful bouquet the next morning. Just know that flowers do not replace a tip. They’re simply that little extra “thank you” that also saves you some trouble.

2. Donate Your Flowers

Designate a philanthropically-minded guest to take the flowers home and donate them to a hospital or senior center the next day. If you hire a wedding coordinator who sticks around through teardown, they might even do this for you for at no extra fee.

3. Ask the Venue If They Want to Keep Them

One of the best ways I ever saw leftover flowers handled was when the bride arranged to leave all of the centerpieces and bouquets in a fridge at the venue so that the couple getting married there the next morning could use them. Talk about good karma.

Have a Cleanup Plan for Your Other Decorations, Food, and Gifts

Now that we’ve got flowers handled, what about the decorations, gifts, food, etc.? First and most importantly, acknowledge that “Well, I guess I’ll do it myself” is not the answer. You have one job on your wedding day and it is NOT to hitch up your wedding outfit and pack cardboard boxes. 

Next, call in those favors. Often, a couple has a surplus of people who volunteer to help with their wedding day. Usually, couples politely dismiss these requests. They just want their guests to “have a good time.” Well, guess what? Your guests want to help. In fact, they crave it. 

You are their very special friend and they want to do everything in their power to make sure that you enjoy your wedding. It’s not a big deal for one or two of them to stay sober enough to pack up their car and drive your decorations back to their place. They were headed home anyway. Plus, now they get to feel important. The newlyweds need them!

What’s key here is giving people notice so that they can plan accordingly. Thankfully, you read this article so now you have plenty of time to figure out who’s doing what. That matters because on your wedding day, you only have one job: get married, have fun. Clean-up not required.


Elisabeth Kramer is a day-of wedding coordinator and writer based in Portland, Oregon. Learn more about her work at elisabethkramer.com.