10 Steps to an Organized Party
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.
The Binder System
This is the last in the series about getting control of your paper. Step one is to have a system to capture and regularly process your paper; step two is to purge your files; and step three is to create an easy-to-maintain filing system.
After my paper purge came the fun part - buying new office supplies! I purchased five binders, a box of hanging folders, a box of file folders, a few packages of dividers, and a box of page protectors. I got most of these supplies at Staples after a glorious hour of browsing all of my options! I decided on 5 categories and color coded them. Financial is green; Property is yellow; Health is red; Personal is blue; and Fun is purple. The binders, hanging folders, and file folders all came in these five colors. I also purchased a few color coordinated zippered pencil pouches with three ring binder holes for smaller papers.
During the purge, I had identified paper I needed to keep but would only need to access rarely. I divided those papers into file folders based on the category. For instance each year’s tax documents went into a separate green file folder labelled with the year. Several of those file folders fit into a green hanging folder labelled ‘Taxes’ and got hung in a plastic file box with a lid. Other documents in my archive system are mortgage information, owner's manuals (both in yellow folders for property), full life insurance policies (in red folders for health), family history information and old coursework from college or high school (both in blue for personal.) I rarely need to get into the archive storage that I keep in the basement, but if I do, it’s very easy to find things because of the color system and the fact that there isn’t too much in each file.
The heart of the system, though, is the binders! I got the idea from the Organize 365 podcast and tweaked it to fit my needs. I took each binder and inserted the dividers to create sections, and then within each divided section, I used page protectors to neatly store my paper. I used my label maker to create labels for each divider and also created some labels to put on the outer corner of page protectors that needed some explanation.
I'll tell you in detail how I organized my binders, but the best part about the system is that it's completely customizable - you could have as many or as few binders and dividers and page protectors per binder as you need or want. I am not providing financial, tax, or legal advice, so please contact the appropriate professional to determine what is best for you.
Finance Binder - Green
Health Binder - Red
Property Binder - Yellow
Personal Binder - Blue
Fun Binder - Purple
All of that fits nicely in ONE small drawer in my desk. It's easy to access, easy to maintain, and best of all easy to find what I'm looking for or explain to my husband how to find something. For example, when he called me after a 'vehicular incident' he had at home one day, I was able to say, "Go to the bottom desk drawer, grab the yellow binder, flip to the auto insurance section, and there's a page protector with our policy to see what the deductible is and an insurance card with our agent's name and number." There's already enough stressful things in life, finding the paper you need doesn't have to be one of them!
What do you think? Do you have a different system or other tips that you'd like to share? Please comment on the post. I'd love to get more input on the best way stay in control of our paper!
Woodruff, Lisa. Organize 365. https://organize365.com/.
When our oldest child was about 2 years old, my husband and I started planning our master bathroom. This would entail blocking off the opening of the then-nursery to the hallway and tearing down the wall at the back of our bedroom closet and installing a sink, shower, toilet and closet in the tiny room. This couldn’t happen until we were done having kids and they were all old enough to to move their bedrooms upstairs. Fast forward about 6 years and we were moving our second (and last) baby to his big boy room upstairs. Demolition and construction started soon thereafter. It was a slow and steady process to get a toilet, a closet and a functioning shower installed - - and then we kind of stalled out. A year into the project, we placed the vanity in the bathroom. The sink still wasn't plumbed, there was still rough wiring for a future light and exhaust fan, and quite a bit of missing drywall. I was really getting frustrated with the incomplete project, so we hired a handyman to finish it. He apparently had bigger fish to fry because, though he said he’d come work on it between bigger jobs, we never saw him again.
I was tired of feeling frustrated, disappointed, and even mad about this bathroom, which, in the scheme of things, really isn’t that big of a deal. So, short of learning how to drywall, my only option was to start thinking about it differently which led to this top ten list of what I loved about my unfinished bathroom.
10. It’s full of possibility. When it’s finished, I get to pick out paint colors, and I’ve got this great picture frame to hang.
9. The bathroom and the attached bedroom both have doors so I can hide the construction zone from guests if I want to.
8. I don’t worry about washing the walls - mainly because many of them don’t have drywall or paint.
7. My organized closet really sticks out against the rest of the room’s “under-construction” decor. I’ve become more aware of keeping things orderly because of the general state of disorder in the room.
6. It’s taught me to adapt. I hung a handheld mirror in the unfinished drywall just at the right height to do my makeup and hair since there’s no mirror or light above the vanity.
5. Small steps are exciting, and I appreciate every tiny improvement so much more than if the bathroom were completed all at once.
4. The exposed, rough wiring reminds me of all the work my husband has put into the room and that he can do pretty much anything.
3. I’m VERY confident that the shower won’t leak because the plumbing has been exposed for months
2. The glow in the dark stars still on the ceiling from when it was a nursery make me smile when I get up in the middle of the night.
And the NUMBER ONE REASON I love my unfinished bathroom:
The two things that work in the room are the most important to me - I have TWO toilets and TWO methods of bathing in one house! Gone are the days of all four of us stuffed into our main bathroom with a kid in the tub, someone using the toilet and the remainder of us brushing our teeth or using the mirror.
This exercise of thinking about my bathroom differently helped me realize I do have the power to change how I feel. I'm not a victim of my circumstance. I control my thoughts and, in turn, my feelings. This can be applied to other areas in my life including relationships, work and volunteer situations, and even weight loss. (Hmm - maybe I should make a top 10 list about why I love my fluffy body…). Give it a try - take something that makes you mad, frustrated or even just a little annoyed, and take control - and change - the way you think about it. If your experience is anything like mine, it won’t take long until your “unfinished bathroom” isn’t quite so annoying!
UPDATE: My bathroom has been finished for a while now, and I love and appreciate it so much! Home improvements are hard especially when you do all or part of it yourself. We did finally hire someone to finish the drywall, and that was the push we needed to actually get it the rest of it done on our own. I'm not a great painter, but hey, it looks a lot better than before!
Since this picture, I've added a couple of towel racks, but still don't have the drawer and door handles on...what an amazing day it will be when I can open those drawers by pulling the cute brushed nickel handles that have been in the closet for 2 years!
I have so much respect for any of you doing major remodeling to your homes. Hang in there and take pride in your work and try thinking about what you DO like about your work-in-progress!
Getting Better at Time
My husband has a superpower - his awareness of time. He can be away from anything that would give him a clue to what time of day it is for hours, and still, if someone asked him what time it was, he’d be correct within 10 minutes. Always - I’ve never seen him fail at this - seriously. He also has an uncanny ability to estimate correctly how long it’s going to take to drive somewhere or complete a task. I’m so envious because time is my nemesis! I regularly underestimate how long it takes to do things and sometimes get lost in a task and lose track of how much time has passed. I live 5 minutes away from a different time zone, so you'd think I would have become an expert by now at converting time, but I honestly still often Google time zone conversions. And my brain nearly exploded back when Indiana adopted Daylight Savings Time. Since we "fell back" last night, my time deficiency reared it's ugly head again. I literally made a chart to figure out how it would work!
It really bothers me that I struggle with time awareness - especially since I pride myself in being organized and a planner. For the past couple of years, I have chosen a word or two to focus on for the year. This year, I chose “time.” After contemplating what I wanted to improve on and how I could do that, I realized something. My natural inability to be aware of or estimate time has actually been what has improved my organizational, planning and time management skills. I think because I crave control over time, and can’t do it naturally, I’ve had to come up with systems to do so. This allows me to complete a project by a deadline, fit a lot of tasks into one day, develop plans to assure all bases are covered when I have multiple projects going on at once.
One way I’ve started improving on time awareness is so simple - just a little mantra I’ve started saying to myself. When I see something that needs done, instead of storing it in my head, I say to myself, “take the time” and just do it right then. This clears my head, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and helps me to be aware of how much (or little) time that task actually takes. I do this for picking up a piece of paper off the floor, putting away my jewelry as I take it off, writing down something I need from the store right when I think of it, cutting out a coupon and putting it away instead of stacking the entire ad somewhere for later, and the list goes on and on.
"Take the time."
Another tool I’ve been using is the stopwatch feature on my phone. By timing myself, I found that it takes way less time to empty the dishwasher than I thought it did (6 minutes -- who knew?!?) and way more time to empty my inbox every morning! This helped me to start fitting in tasks that only take a few minutes into the small pockets of time I have throughout the day as well as to plan better for the tasks that take longer. I used to allow only 15-30 minutes to get settled in at the office, process my email inbox, process any paper on my desk, review my tasks for the day and choose my must dos. I rarely, if ever, accomplished all of that in the allotted time because it just wasn’t possible. This would cause me to either do the tasks poorly, skip steps and/or feel like a failure every day for not meeting my goal. After I timed myself for a few days, I found that to do these things well and completely, I needed an hour, on average, each morning. Setting a realistic expectation for myself helps me not get discouraged and actually be more productive in that hour.
I now use a timer to help me stay on task and not get so consumed in one task that I forget to work on other priorities. I also use the Pomodoro technique for intense projects that might not be my favorites. That is where you set a timer and work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break and repeat until the task or project is completed. There will be a whole post about how this has worked for me coming up soon.
I used to sometimes lose track of time and be late for a meeting. It wasn’t that I was spacey, it was that I was getting some deep work done! I started setting an alarm that makes some sort of funny noise that I couldn’t ignore. The typical 15 minutes before a meeting alarm was too far in advance. I’d see that I had a FULL quarter of an hour left and would try to get just one more thing done - then I’d end up being late anyway. Now I do 10 minutes which is enough time to finish whatever thought I was on, gather my materials, go to the restroom and walk to the meeting, but not long enough to start any new tasks.
I’m still not “good” at time, but I’m becoming more aware of it and using tools to make time work for me instead of against me. I think getting a handle on our time automatically helps us feel in control of our lives and equates to a sense of order. Have you used any of these tips or have others that you could share with us?
My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt
Sometimes you just have to laugh (or else you would cry!) One thing I try to do a lot of is laugh at myself. It is such a good stress reliever and gives you perspective on how much of life can be experienced differently if we'd just laugh about it. I often record myself talking while I'm commuting - to help me work through difficult issues, document a great idea, or talk through the steps of a project. Sometimes during those talks with myself, I crack myself up! Listening back to myself laughing (at my own expense) is such a mood booster, so I thought I'd share some of My Life in Laughter with you. I'm going to make this a special feature of the blog during the first week of every month in addition to the regular weekly posts. If you have a recording of yourself telling a funny story and laughing, send it to me via the contact page's upload section. I'd love to share your laughter with everyone!
In today's episode of My Life in Laughter, I tell the story of my "Cozy Shirt." I scoured my basement to see if I had saved the shirt, but unfortunately, the '"Cozy Shirt" is likely in a thrift store somewhere... I did find a few pictures online to give you an idea of the quality of this early 1990's cat sweatshirt! Click play below and enjoy (remember I was in the car, so there's some road noise and the clicking of the turn signal!) After you listen, I've got to know, am I the only one who had a cozy shirt??