05 July 2013

How to Throw a Party Without Losing Your Mind

We need more parties, more opportunities to get together with old friends, to meet new friends, to deepen fledgling friendships. We need more time together. Or, more selfishly, I want to go to more parties. And I want to host more parties, and I sometimes forget that it’s not really hard. So this is advice for me, and maybe it will be useful to someone else, too. 

Just dive in and do it.

First things first, decide if you’re feeding a meal or just snacks, choose the time accordingly. Even a wedding reception can be just punch and cake if it’s at two in the afternoon. Choose an end time. If the party is focused around an event, like a big game or watching the fireworks, then the end time is built in. If you’re just having people over to hang out, then put an ending time on the invitation. Unless you think it would be awesome if everyone hung around all night talking, in which case leave it open. Mostly I want people to go home when the party is over because I want to decompress and go to bed. 

Then decide if you want to cook all the food yourself or have a potluck. If you decide to cook all the food yourself, know that someone will bring something that won’t fit in with the menu you planned. Take a breath, let it go. If you decide on a potluck, relieve yourself of all menu planning authority beyond the main course. If people ask what you need say “Just bring whatever you want.” Deny any and all knowledge of what any guest might be bringing. Accept that your guests might all bring watermelons. It will be hilarious. (Your guests will probably not all bring watermelons.) 

Figure out how many people your location can hold, and how many people you’re willing to feed. Invite the lesser of those two numbers of people. You will forget someone. You will have to leave someone off the list. It will be okay. Someone will not be able to come. There will be room for someone else. You will run into the person you forgot at the grocery store. Invite that person. Give up on keeping an exact total. Somebody will show up with their in-laws in tow, somebody will get sick and cancel on the day of, somebody will show up late having already eaten. No one will starve.

Figure out a way to be part of the party. Choose a menu that won’t stress you out. Have a small enough group that everyone can hang in the kitchen. Put the grill near the seating area. Make everything ahead. You are the host, not the housekeeper. Your friends are coming to hang out, not be served.

Make a list of things you need to do before the party. Plan a schedule so you can do a little bit each day instead of running around like a headless chicken on the day of the party.

Ignore the schedule.

On the day of the party, run around like a headless chicken. Always invite at least one person who will text you the day of the party and say “I’m going to do some errands, do you need anything?” If you don’t have friends like that, get some. Always be a friend like that. 

Your friends are coming to hang out, not to judge you.

Clean your bathroom. (I’m pretty sure Maud wrote that about me, because it was posted the day after she was at my house for a play-date. I've been paranoid about my bathrooms ever since, but she’s completely correct.)

Once your guests start arriving, stop running around like a headless chicken. There’s a lovely prayer for the end of the day in the New Zealand prayer book that includes the line “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be.” The beginning of a party is not the same as the end of the day, but the principle still stands. Let the beginning of the party be the end of the party prep. Your friends have come to hang out with you. Let it be.

The day after the party, make some notes about what to do differently next time. My list might say
  • Set the freezer to quick ice / buy a bag of ice
  • buy more sausages, maybe also grill some chicken
  • set up a soaking bucket for utensils

Be prepared to eat leftovers for a day or so. I always make too much food. You probably will too.

(Photos from this guy, who is a great co-host in addition to being a great photographer.)


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