July 10, 2014

Everything I Know About Being a Hostess

Realistic tricks for hosting parties stress-free


I love having people over to my house.

In the ten and a half months we lived in our house in North Carolina, we had dozens of people over for dinner, hosted a couple of MBA team brunches, threw several birthday parties, had both sets of parents to stay for several days, and had all sorts of get-togethers like couples bookclub, this Pampers Party, Pi Day, and our s'mores farewell party.

And it's not like I have the nicest house (most of my furniture is IKEA, Goodwill or IKEA FROM Goodwill) or the best yard or am the greatest cook of all time. And we had a boatload of parties in our little, filthy-carpeted apartment in Texas, squeezing in up to 30 people into our tiny living area.

I am also 100% certain I am not the most fun person you know. In fact, I'm probably one of the least fun people you know. My idea of a good time is reading a book in bed with a bowl of ice cream. (Happily, I married someone way more fun than me, so he can be charming while I make cookies).

But despite all that, I feel like Bart and I have really gotten a good system down for having people over, where it's low-stress for both of us, and we're still speaking to each other by the time people arrive.

Here's what I know:
  1. Just Invite People Over. Your house might not be perfect. You might not have enough chairs for everyone. Your bathroom might be ugly or boring or involve a toilet that has that have the handle jiggled juuuuust so to work. I guarantee you that 99% of people enjoy being invited to something with people they like and don't care about what your house looks like or if they have to sit in a kitchen chair or on the floor (and if they do care, well, who wants to invite them over anyway?).
  2. Don't Make it So Complicated You Never Do It Again. Order takeout for dinner. Use Evite. Don't bother mopping the floor. Whatever it is that makes entertaining less stressful for you, feel free to do it. I pretty much promise no one else will notice. 
  3. Food. Pretty much everyone likes food. No matter what kind event you're hosting (unless it's a, you know, hunger strike), include some food. Even if it's just a bag of chips in a bowl. Or in the bag. I love chips in a bag.
  4. Do one thing well, and cut yourself slack on everything else. I know every Pinterest party has one trillion amazing details. Who cares? I usually pick one thing to focus on, whether it's food (like at our s'mores party), decorations (like at the Pampers party), or activities (like the Mission Impossible party). And then make everything else easy (big activity? easy food. Serious decorations? No activities). Don't kill yourself trying to make everything amazing. 
  5. Use Paper Products. The environmentalist in me cringes, and Pinterest users everywhere probably are gasping in horror, but when the entire party is cleaned up five minutes after the last guest leaves? I feel happy. Plus, there are so many pretty paper products available. 
  6. Focus on the Big Impact Items. No one is looking at your baseboards. I prioritize vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom (aka making Bart clean the bathroom), because those are the most noticeable, and then I don't worry about the rest of the cleaning much at all. I do one or two great food items, and then fill in with low-key items (water, chips and dip, fruit, etc). You'll never have the time or money or energy to do every single thing, so don't waste it on the the things no one notices.
  7. A Few Small Details Make a Big Difference. Some cute paper straws, a bouquet of flowers, or some balloons go a long way and are all inexpensive (hello, clearance floral at Krogers), plus it looks like you went to some effort. I feel like this year in particular, I've really gotten the hang of setting up a party so it looks quite nice without taking a lot of time, effort, or expense. 
  8. Crank up the AC. There is nothing worse than realizing you're slowly melting into the carpet at a party. We always turn our AC down about four degrees lower than normal. In the winter, we often crack a window or two to keep it from feeling like an oven. 
  9. Invite the Right People. We've learned not to invite everyone we know to a single party. Bart and I hate being personally responsible for making sure everyone has someone to talk to. And if you have quiet friends who don't like competition, maybe they aren't the right ones to invite to Minute to Win It. Save their names for a dinner party instead. 
  10. Let Other People Help. If people offer to bring a side dish or to arrive with a large stack of paper plates, take them up on it. You might feel stupid at the time, but when it's three minutes until arrival, you'll be glad to have time to vacuum rather than frantically chopping tomatoes for a salad. And people like to feel useful.
  11. Set Expectations. I hate going to a "party" that ends up being a bunch of people sitting around talking. Likewise, I don't like arriving at what I think will be a quiet night talking to friends, only to find out I'll be expected to put on a costume and make up an interpretive dance to a Disney song. Make it clear what's going to take place at the party.
  12. Account for Children. If you're going to have kids around, make sure there is somewhere for them to sit (you DON'T want them balancing a bowl of soup on their laps) or that there are activities for them. If you don't want kids to attend, make that clear in the invitation. I feel like a jerk when I put that in invitations, but I'd rather that then be annoyed when people show up with their children or when I show up at a party with my child, only to discover I should have gotten a babysitter.
  13. Remember that People Just Like to Be Together. A few years ago, Ralphie hosted a Christmas Movie Girls' Night. There was hot chocolate and popcorn and everyone came in their pajamas and we were going to watch some classic Christmas movie. But then everyone got talking and visiting and it was clear no one really wanted to stop chatting to watch the movie, and Ralphie just let it slide. Everyone stayed until one a.m. talking and the movie was never turned on. Similarly, my ideal baby shower is one with zero dumb games. I don't need to guess the name of various animal babies nor do I need to stick my face in a diaper with a melted candy bar. I feel like too often, the activities get in the way of people having a good time. Feel free to skip them! (Unless it's a themed party where the activity is the whole point, we almost never have games or activities). 
  14. Do Something Out of the Ordinary. An ugly sweater party? (PASS! I know it's so unhip of me to hate on ugly sweater parties, but seriously. I loathe them). Everyone is having Christmas parties and it's just another thing to squeeze in. I love having a Pi Day party because meeting on a weeknight to gorge on pie is just so outside the normal routine of regular life. A Friday morning where you get a bunch of food and free diapers? Definitely exciting (at least to people like me. . . ). Don't feel like you need a big holiday or reason to have a party. I think it's extra fun to have an event when there's no real reason for it. 
  15. Put the Food where You Want People to Be. If you put the food in the kitchen, EVERYONE WILL BE IN THE KITCHEN. My Grannie, who is the world's best hostess, always puts the appetizers in the living room so people will gather there. And I think she's brilliant. 
  16. Once People Arrive, Just Enjoy the Party. Don't apologize about the lack of decorations or mention that you MEANT to have three desserts, but only had time for two, or point out that your floor could have used a sweeping or five. No one wants to feel like the party or dinner or event is stressing you out. Make people feel like you're glad to have them there. 
And. . . . isn't it easy to write this all when I'm a complete homeless person who won't be hosting anything bigger than a game of Uno for the next eight months? Yes, yes it is. 

15 comments:

  1. #15 is so true! Our kitchen and living room are connected, so I try to put the food on the counter in the middle but people still stand in the kitchen…maybe it's time to put our coffee table to use for something other than holding books :)

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  2. Aw, this made me remember how much I love hosting things, and how sad it is that I haven't hosted anything more than a game night with one set of couple friends in the past few months.

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  3. I love your blog. Your writing always makes me laugh. Now I want to host a party! Which is saying a lot because at 8 mo pregnant I haven't wanted to do anything lately but sit on the couch and read :)

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  4. I can't help but feel like I am the inspiration behind #11 ;) "Hey Bart and Janssen, do you want to come over and play games?!" usually turned in to, come over and hold the game you brought on your lap while we chat the night away. Ha ha. Miss those good ol' days.

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  5. Should have waited to post my comment till I read #13 ;)

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  6. That baby diaper game grosses me out. SO disgusting. My mom and I threw my SIL a shower a few years ago and she was insistent I come up with games. So I bought a few packages of plain white gerber onesies and a pack of fabric paint and the guests all decorated one. SIL chose her favorite and that person got a prize and she got to keep all the shirts when they were dry. I think we might have done one other quickie game. Mostly everyone wanted to chat and eat.

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  7. We host brunches and potlucks for 10-12 friends about once a month. Our living room opens to the dining room which opens to the kitchen....so I try to put all the food on the massive dining room table and then people can hang out wherever. We never do paper products -- loading a dishwasher and throwing the cloth napkins in with the wash is cheaper and just as easy as paper, but mostly I'm too cheap and lazy to buy paper products. :)
    Any tips on getting people to leave by a certain time? We are the only friends that have a kid so far and when wine is still being poured close to 10 pm, it's hard to say "okay! thanks for coming, now get out!" :)

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  8. Great suggestions. You've just motivated me to host a gathering here even though I know approximately three people.

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  9. Thank you for this! We are moving in less than two weeks and I'm determined to invite people over. (although I'm really not a "fun" person either and my husband is even less ... we'll see how that goes)

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  10. seeing those , I think I can become a good host


    http://www.zdress.com

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  11. Great reminder! I'll never forget some people from church inviting me over in my early 20's. I showed up to find none of their silverware matched, there weren't quite enough seats, and only 2/3rds of the meal came together. I didn't care at all- I was so thrilled to be there! It made me realize people just want to come to things, and not everything has to be perfect.
    I'm feeling inspired to host something again, and remind myself not to over do it!

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  12. This is such a great list. I love to have people over, but dig myself into a hole of wanting everything to be perfect and just so and when I realize I'm actually not having very much fun (and neither are my guests), it's too late. And I vow to do better next time. I think the host telling themselves "really, WHO CARES?" and just relaxing is what makes for a good get together 99% of the time.

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  13. Oh boy, am I ever with you on the baby shower games thing. How I loathe those.

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