If the mere thought of hosting a party (especially as a busy parent with little ones running around) is enough to cause you to break out in a nervous sweat, don’t worry … you’re not alone.
Planning the food, decor, and entertainment can seem overwhelming to say the least and let’s not even get started on the expense and the disastrous post-party mess. It’s enough to cause anyone to lose their sanity. That said, there are definitely some things you can do to make things run a whole lot smoother. As someone who LOVES party hosting (you can see a few of my favorites here, here, here and here) but who also doesn’t want to spend an obscene amount of time (or money!) on DIY projects, I’m here to share all of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over time!
1. Start with a plan.
When I’ve hosted parties in the past without much of a plan, it rarely ended well. I was always spending too much money collecting items that might work instead of focusing in on what I really needed. Now when I host parties, I like to make myself a rough layout and list of what the party will look like and what I’ll need. I break it down into categories: food, decor, and activities and make a list of what I want to do for each. It keeps me focused as I am want to head down rabbit trails at times when it comes to party planning and design.
2. Use what you’ve got.
Before I purchase a single item for a party I’m planning, I make a list of what I already have on hand and try to see what I can whip up out of things in my home. If my party has a color scheme, I’ll walk through all of the rooms in my house and collect items that would work as decor within that scheme. Sometimes I’ll clear off a couple of shelves and stage them with items relevant to my party’s theme.
For a ballet birthday party I hosted for my daughter a couple of years ago, I brought some of her pink throw pillows and bedroom decor out to the living room to play up the ballerina pink theme and it made a big statement. I’ll pull tablecloths, or group books in my color scheme or use a collection of vases and glasses and other assorted vessels that are already in my cupboards to work into my decor. Using what you have as a jumping off point will save you a ton of time and money.
3. Think multi-purpose.
In addition to pulling decor from around my home to do double-duty as decor, I also make my food do the same. For a ballerina party I hosted I incorporated pink and red foods to go with the theme as much as possible — strawberries, pink yogurt covered raisins, etc. — Doing this will really tie together a theme without costing you a ton of extra money!
4. Keep messes to a minimum.
This may just be one of my best mom hacks ever, but I have a secret. Whenever I host kid parties, I hide all the toys. OK, not all … but some. The thing is, kids love to dump. It doesn’t really matter whether or not they’re actually interested in the contents of that toy basket in your living room, they just want to dump it out because it’s in their nature. Before kids come over though, I stash the majority of the toy baskets in my garage or in closets. I leave out just enough to keep them busy, but not so much that my house ends up a disaster at the end of the party.
This also keeps the party from feeling overwhelming. I’ve found that when toys are scattered everywhere it affects the overall mood and I feel like when it looks chaotic, the mood of the children becomes chaotic.
Another helpful hint is to host the party outdoors if the weather is nice. I’ve found that kids tend to want to come back inside and just dump toys or explore all the rooms of the house anyway, so in an attempt to encourage them to stay outdoors I lock the bedroom doors, because post-party messes in every room are uncool.
5. Buy the cake/cupcakes from the store.
I am unequivocally NOT a baker. I absolutely loathe it and always end up spending far too much time and money making cakes that end up not only looking wonky, but also taste sub-par. I always thought store-bought cakes only had lame iced flowers or superheroes on them, but recently I discovered that grocery stores can make custom cakes and I am literally NEVER making another birthday cake for the rest of my life.
I had a custom cake and cupcakes made for my daughter’s emoji birthday party this year and it was the best choice I ever made. For $24 they made a 3-layered cake and a dozen cupcakes. So, SO easy.
6. Vinyl table cloths and baking trays are your BFF.
Even just the thought of letting kids craft at my house makes me anxious. Think of all the messes! I can’t even. Thankfully vinyl table cloths and baking trays exist for such a time as this. I lay a vinyl table cloth over my dining room table and the kids can get to work without destroying my table. I place crafting supplies in baking trays lined with tin foil to help keep things contained as well. I mean, as much as glitter can possibly be contained anyway.
7. Don’t get too elaborate with activities.
In the end, kids tend to just want to run off and play their own way, so I’ve learned to go easy on the activities. Setting up a couple of simple stations where kids can explore activities on their own is usually plenty. Most of the time they end up in a bedroom playing with toys or jumping on beds, so no need to spend a ton of time or money on activities. Also, if you can have the kids help make their own food/snacks as an activity go for it!
At my daughter’s last birthday party the little guests made their own mini pizzas. They loved customizing them with their favorite toppings, but better yet, it saved me the time and effort of doing it myself! A win/win for all.
8. Keep it simple.
It can be difficult to avoid in our culture of over-the-top soirees, but keeping your party simple is step one for making it feel fun and not like an overwhelming burden. It’s easy to focus on too many things — too much variety with food, too many decorations, too many guests — just too much overall. Choose a few things to focus on — perhaps a really eye catching centerpiece, a few really delicious dishes, or a really fun activity, and hone in on it. If something isn’t going to have much impact then ditch it.
For example, many people feel the need to give favors at parties, but often it ends up just being a bunch of little junk that kids end up losing or that parents end up tossing out once they get home. Save yourself the hassle and skip them altogether or find favors that play double duty as decor (think: gifting plant centerpieces to guests or passing off those extra balloons to your daughter’s friends).