Depending on your type, planning a party is either stressful or the most fun thing to do ever. And depending on your type, you’ll have a party that fits you and your style of doing things (i.e., Classic Structures may begin planning weeks in advance for a catered dinner party, Fun Freedoms may start calling or texting people a few days beforehand for a laid-back gathering). These are generalizations, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they’re pretty accurate, and that every other type falls in between these two categories.
First off, we need to emphasize, and question, our (and by ‘our’ we mean every one of us) tendency to apologize for the state of our house when having guests over, whether it be for a gathering or one-on-one cup of tea. Eliminate that urge, people. No shame, no blame! Chances are, your living space is a reflection of the way you live your life best. And that is in nobody’s interest— particularly a friend — to judge! Let go of that shame, and start prepping to get down, no matter what that looks like for you.
Deciding What Kind of Party to Throw
As mentioned above, there are several ways to throw a great party. If you want something formal, you’ll need to plan more elaborately and carefully, leaving yourself plenty of time to get the details nailed down. If you want your party catered, this will determine the date of the party, and will give you a broad structure from which to plan everything else. If you’re thinking about a more casual get-together, it still might be stressful to plan (Organic Freedoms) but at least the pressure of doing something really formal will be off your shoulders.
If you do decide you want something fancy and formal, you’ll need caterers, plenty of seating and standing space, a place to put all of the coats (an upstairs bedroom usually suffices), flowers, a sophisticated playlist, cocktail napkins, a fully-stocked bar, and (if you’re a Classic Structure) every single extraneous item out of sight (your eight-year-old’s shoes, for example).
Seeking a more laid-back vibe? Still pick up the shoes, and still send out a cute invite, but make your playlist a bit more rock n’roll, and serve beer and wine instead of hard liquor or champagne. No matter what, having a party — any kind of party — involves planning ahead. So watch out, Freedoms. Or hire a party planner.
Making the To Do List
For the more structured types, this will be fairly simple. Even if you’re the type to make mental to do lists, if your party is going to be elaborate, do yourself a favor and sit down with a pen and notepad to jot down your ideas.
Depending on the type of shindig, here is a brief, general list of essential prepwork to do pre-party:
- Create an invite list: You want a big party? Include friends, acquaintances, workmates, and neighbors. It’ll be an all-inclusive bash. Thinking smaller? Just invite your favorite and most entertaining friends. Imagine who might click with whom. Or maybe your friends all know each other, in which case the vibe will probably be more casual. Do this as far in advance as possible so you have a head count to either bring to a caterer or for yourself when shopping for appetizers and alcohol.
- Decide on a theme: If you are staying small, a theme could look silly. But if everyone’s a friend and the boss isn’t coming, why not? Think Tiki bar, think prohibition/flapper, think… well, the sky’s the limit! There are two types of people: those who think planning a themed party is an amazing creative opportunity, and those who would rather die than do so. Just be you. The company and food (and drinks) will be the most important things in the end.
- Send out invitations: This is actually a crucial thing. Nowadays, we hear horror stories of potential guests not bothering to RSVP for something like, say, a WEDDING (GASP!) but let’s just assume that we are all conscientious adults and that everyone will RSVP. These RSVPs will be your roadmap to planning the rest of the party in terms of how much food and alcohol to buy and how much seating to create, etc.
Depending on whether or not your event is themed or casual/formal, have fun with picking out an invitation that reflects this. Write them out yourself if the event is casual. Use bright, fun colors. If the event is formal, consider going to a stationery store and having them printed out.
- Create your menu: This could mean hiring a caterer, or, if it’s a friendly gathering, going potluck. (This creates a lot less work for the host.) If you are theming it up, offer things like mini hawaiian pizzas for the Tiki bar, etc. Get creative!
- Solicit help: If you do decide to go big, hire help to pass around apps and pour drinks. If it’s a more laid back but medium-sized party, ask your eighth-grader and his best friend to wear their button-downs and help pass things around and take coats, etc. Buy them a video game or a ticket to the next pro baseball game to compensate them for their hard work.
- Make a playlist: Like many of these things, this is a heavenly task for some and a horrid one for others. Find someone who really likes to curate music, and give them that opportunity. For music lovers, there is often no better way of spending a few hours than to put together a thoughtfully combined music playlist. (Or, as we called them in the 80s and 90s, ‘mix tapes’.)
- Clean: As we all know by now, this could mean different things to different types. However, a few things are non-negotiable. Clean your bathroom. Clean your living and dining room and foyer. This does NOT mean ‘organize’ things. Not the time. This just means, wipe up dirt and dust and put things away.
- Buy some fresh flowers: These brighten up any gathering, big or small. Get some daisies for a prohibition party (as a nod to Daisy Buchanan from the Great Gatsby) or some bright, exotic blooms for your Tiki party. If it’s not themed, wildflowers or stargazer lilies are always beautiful and imbue a room with fragrance.
Do all of these things, and you’ll have a night to remember. But remember! The company is really what makes the party. So make sure to stay true to you and your style and invite people who bring out the best in you, whether those people are close friends or new acquaintances. And when all is said and done? Parties are not for STRESS. Maybe a bit beforehand, but during? Let go, relax, have a few drinks and try not to fall prey to the ‘prisoner host’ phenom. You’ve got your eighth-grader and his best friend to monitor things, after all.