It's party day, I have 30 people coming over, and I want to have my whole house sparkling. For some reason, I think it's a great idea to also do my entire week's worth of laundry because I'm feeling like a superstar hostess. A couple hours before the party, I realize that I forgot to clean the toilet, we need to set up all the tables, I'm a sweaty mess and still need to take a shower, AND I have a mountain of clean laundry all over my living room. I begin barking orders at my son and snapping at my husband to do what I think is important instead of whatever silly thing they thought they should be doing. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law arrive earlier than I expected, and as the minutes tick down to party time, I throw all my notions of appearing to have it all together out the window as I frantically reveal to my sister-in-law all the places in my bedroom where clean laundry can be stuffed out of sight! I finally jump in the shower and emerge from the bathroom with wet hair and no makeup as the rest of the guests arrive. True story - Labor Day party 2010(ish).
A very similar version of this story would happen almost every time we had friends and family over for the next several years. I love to host parties at our house, and we have several a year. I started getting tired of being a grouch (or even mean) during party prep, feeling unprepared, and rushing around at the last second. As the years have gone by things have improved, and at this summer's 10th Annual Labor Day party, my whole family was laying around resting a couple hours before guests were supposed to arrive. I started thinking about what was different this year so I could recreate the calm and prepared feeling I had! Here are the 10 steps I came up with for planning an organized party! We just got through Thanksgiving, and though I didn't host this year, we still did plenty of cooking and planning, and these steps did not fail me - it was a great and relaxing day!
1. Set realistic pre-party project goals and prioritize them!
The reason we started our Labor Day party tradition was because we had several large outdoor projects we wanted to get done and thought if we had a firm deadline like a party at our house, we'd be more likely to actually complete them. It worked, but it was a ton of work and very stressful! That year we rebuilt walls on an outbuilding, put on siding, installed an overhead door, painted some doors, stained our deck, built a fire pit, and did some landscaping. I'm tired even writing all of that!
In the years since, I've learned to set smaller, more realistic project goals and to determine up front which ones must get done and which ones would be nice to get done. Of the optional projects, it's important to prioritize them so you don't start them all and finish none! It's also necessary for my husband and I to discuss the priorities together because we don't typically agree on what should be done first (maybe we're unique, but I don't think so.) You want the projects that don't get done to be the ones you care about the least and/or the ones people won't even notice aren't complete.
2. Lower your standards.
You have to cut yourself some slack to stay sane (and not yell at everyone in your path.) There are some things that aren't going to get done, and honestly, no one is going to notice. In the past, I wanted to have potted flowers on the steps by the door. Since I'm terrible at keeping plants alive, if I have an event that I want flowers for, I have to buy them just a day or two ahead to make sure they live long enough. For my last party, I forgot to buy flowers ahead of time, so a couple hours before the party, I looked at the existing dead flowers in the pots, considered driving to the store to get fresh, living flowers, but then just decided to stick the pots with dead plants in the garage. No one would know that I had even intended to have potted flowers.
I've also had several parties where I didn't mop my floors (gasp!) Mopping is one of those jobs that no only do I hate, but it holds up progress for everything else because no one can walk on the floor while it dries. If anyone noticed my unmopped kitchen, they didn't mention it, and I don't think I lost any friends over it.
I gave up the idea that I had to make everything I serve. I'm now ok with buying prepared foods if it's quicker, easier and tastes just as good.
3. Start preparations early and keep running lists.
The first part of party prep is to pick a date and send out invitations. I think the sweet spot for sending invitations is about a month in advance. It's long enough to get on people's calendars and allow you time to get ready, but not so long that it gets lost in the someday syndrome (someday I'll plan that/do that/go there - - and then it never happens.)
Once the party is on the calendar, it's time to start a few lists. They don't have to be fancy, you can use good old paper or if you prefer an electronic version, my choices would be Google Sheets or Evernote. Depending on the type of party, your lists may vary, but I usually have the following:
4. Ask people to bring things
Just as I discussed in one of my very first posts, asking for help is one of the key ways to really live a life in order. I used to want to do everything myself to give the illusion that I was the proverbial "hostess with the mostest," but after a few of the clean-laundry-stuffing-into-the-closet incidents, I realized that doing it all myself, while still working full time, being a decent mom and wife, and maintaining my sanity, just wasn't possible. Now, I almost always ask guests to bring food, drinks, supplies, chairs, tables, or even come a little early to help with final preparations. I've never had someone say no or not come because I asked for their help, so I will keep it up!
5. Do as much the day before as possible.
The less you have to do on party day, the better! Having your lists made will help you to identify what can possibly be done ahead of time like cooking, cleaning, and set up. We used to get up really early on the day of a party and start cooking only to be exhausted by the time guests arrived. My husband, who does most of the cooking, decided one year to try smoking the pork the day ahead and then warm it in the oven the day of. We both had reservations about how it would taste, but it turned out just as good and as a bonus our house didn't smell like a BBQ pit!
I used to think that I couldn't clean ahead of time because it would just get dirty again, so I'd wait til the day of to dust, vacuum, clean the bathrooms, and mop. I'd often run out of time and either do the cleaning half way or not at all. It's better to do it ahead of time and risk a little dust settling rather than not do it at all (unless not doing it at all is good enough - - see lower your standards above!)
This gives us plenty of time, even if some guests are early, and it makes me feel in control of the day!
6. Get yourself (and your family) ready before you think you should.
As I would scurry around and yell at my family while getting the house ready, I would more often than not forget to get myself ready. I finally realized that I could handle some house details while people were still arriving, but it was really rude to be completely MIA because I was showering and getting dressed and ready. Now, I set an alarm at least 2 hours before the start of the party to stop everything and make sure the whole family is presentable. This gives us plenty of time, even if some guests are early, and it makes me feel in control of the day!
7. Have specific jobs for your kids.
My kids get really excited when we have a party, and they usually actually WANT to help. They have certain things they like to do more than others, but if I give them small, manageable jobs, they are much more likely not to whine and complain than if I say things like "clean your room." That is overwhelming and doesn't give them a specific task to accomplish. Encouraging the kids to help with getting ready for parties is how a little game we call "Fun Things and Jobs" was invented. I'll talk about this system detail in a future post!
8. Remember a later start gives you more time.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Consider having an evening party instead of an afternoon one or if you already had it planned for evening, start at 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. - voilà - a free hour!
9. Don't cook any meals on party day except for what you're serving at the party.
Don't add to your stress by trying to cook anything additional on the day of a party. Either plan for take out or very simple meals like cereal or cold meat sandwiches. McDonald's drive-through is always my favorite option on days like these - no prep and very easy cleanup!
10. Have at least one room that you can close off if needed.
No matter how much planning has taken place or how organized you are, life happens, and there are going to be things that may not get done (like laundry..) Choose a room in your house with a door that you can toss items into if needed and close the door - out of sight out of mind!
I hope these tips will help as you prepare for your upcoming Holiday parties. Keep in mind that what you and your guests will remember is the company and the conversation, not how clean or perfect your house looked! Share any other tips you have for an organized party in the comments.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!