I’ve been hosting community dinners long enough to anticipate the rhythmic ebb and flow of our guests. Every winter the number of people sitting around our table shrinks to an intimate size as we approach the busyness of the holidays. And then grows exponentially in January as everyone is eager to renew commitments to things that matter.
This rapid increase always requires me to adjust how I organize my time, as well as my tasks.
I love to love people with food. Cooking by myself is enjoyable when I can single-handedly manage the preparation required without getting frazzled. However, I definitely have a limit and, once I cross it, cooking becomes stressful if I don’t ask for help.
I typically feel overwhelmed when providing enough food requires more than simply doubling recipes. Tripling and quadrupling recipes – as well as the set up and clean up necessary for a group of that size – requires assistance. Everyone who is a part of our community dinners is willing to provide relief. I just need to be honest with myself and others that I need help. And ask.
But how I ask matters.
If I have to give everyone constant direction, then I’m merely doing different work rather than less work.
I have learned that when I’m organizing a community of people with varying personalities, kitchen experience, and work initiative three things are necessary in order for my request for help to actually result in reduced work for me:
- I must be specific about what I need. A general call for help doesn’t really result in a lot of assistance, even if guests are well-intentioned. My requests need to be clear and directed at individual people. “(Insert name) can you please set 12 glasses on the table.” “(Different name) can you please put 12 plates on the table.” Etc.
- I need to invite people to rummage through my cupboards and drawers, and know where things are. I want the community that I cook for to feel at home in my kitchen and around my table. I want them to know where things are and feel confident finding and grabbing what they need without having to ask me. But many people will not give themselves permission to do this. I need to invite them.
- People need to have the freedom to do things their own way. I don’t care if the napkins are on the right or left or middle of the plate. I don’t care how my dishwasher is loaded as long as nothing will break and everything is dishwasher safe. Micro-managing does not save me any time or energy, and it does not make people eager to help next time. I will not create community in my home by doing everything for my guests. A significant contributor to community development is affirming how our guests add value to the effort of running my home by their unique creativity, competence, and usefulness.
When the numbers for Monday night dinners are big, I ask three ladies to help me cook every week. I circulate a sign-up sheet every Monday night so that no more than three people plan to come early the following week to help prepare dinner. (More than three is too much help and I get over-whelmed with organizing the assistance.) And then as additional ladies arrive, they check the large wipe board in my kitchen to find out how they can help. I’ve written out every job that needs to be done:
Each week I fill in what we are having for dinner, how may people are coming, and what is needed on the table for the meal (plates or bowls, forks and/or spoons). As the ladies arrive in the hectic minutes just before meal time, they can check the board for what still needs to be done and then initial what task they will complete. This system frees me up to chat with the ladies while I cook, rather than constantly giving out the same instructions – which I find exhausting.
(The N/A’s indicate that it’s too cold to eat outside, and so the things we do to prep the patio table aren’t necessary.)
Your boundary where you need help to enjoy nourishing community may be different than mine. But the important thing to realize is that we all have a limit. Be honest with yourself and your community about where your limit is, asking for help when you get to that point, and develop a system that works for you that actually makes help helpful.
And you don’t need a white board in your kitchen – a large chalkboard that you purchase from a discount store will work just as well. However, if you’d like to create a white board on a pantry door in your kitchen, you can purchase a roll of white board material online that that can be cut and adhered to a door face.
What organizing ideas have worked well for you when you need help in the kitchen?