Hosting A House Party: What The Heck We Learned

Paneling = oy. Update tomorrow. But while we’re here…

Can you believe that Clara’s b-day bash was the largest party (weighing in at 25 attendees) that we’ve thrown since our backyard wedding almost four years ago? How lame of us. And I know, it’s been over a month – enough already about the party. But since a lot of our posts are actually just notes to self (how else would we remember what color we painted our old bedroom?) we figured we better record what we lizz-earned now (or forever hold our peace forget it all).

1. Keep the focus on a few carefully selected rooms (and don’t put stuff for guests to peruse in other rooms or they won’t stay where you want ’em). This seems obvious, right? We had such a hard time with it! At first we were going to keep all the fabric letter magnets on the fridge in the kitchen (for the kids) and have photos of Clara looping on John’s laptop in the office (just in case anyone wandered in there). Finally it dawned on us that if we wanted our guests to hang out in the living room, sunroom, side patio, backyard, and carport… we shouldn’t put stuff for kids or adults in any other space. Duh. Talk about sending mixed signals.

2. Simplify the menu whenever possible. At first we worried that serving only pizza, veggie sticks, chips & salsa, spice cookies, and cupcakes (along with lemonade, limeade, and a few soda choices) might be a little… um… boring. But everyone seemed to enjoy the fare (including a few vegetarians) and not having fifty bowls and platters to dispense and refill allowed us to pay attention to the friends and family surrounding us – and really enjoy our day with the bean.

3. But don’t underbuy those key items. At the end of the day we had eight remaining slices of pizza, a bowl of chips, about ten cookies, and around 15 cupcakes leftover (along with a few bottles of soda/lemonade). So we sent people home with stuff and enjoyed some delicious leftover pizza for the rest of the weekend. Sure beats worrying that things might run out and guests might go hungry.

4. Have things for little ones to play with to keep ’em busy (and from trashing the place). We had a lot of giant balloons, a big rubber ball, a bubble blowing bug that scooted around outside (they loved chasing it), sidewalk chalk for the patio, some wooden puzzles and toys in a big basket in the living room, and small bubble containers for each kid with their names written on them (which also served as their party favors).

5. Rearranging furniture isn’t as intense as it sounds. At first when we started tossing around the idea of moving the kitchen table into the sunroom to serve food in there it sounded kind of complicated. But the sunroom is a nice airy room right off of the new patio (as opposed to a dark paneled kitchen that we didn’t envision as “the perfect backdrop” for Clara’s big day). So the night before the party we decided to go for it. It took five minutes to drag the table in there and stash the chairs in the playroom since they looked weird in the table-less kitchen (we didn’t need additional chairs thanks to the big sectional in the living room, the daybed in the sunroom, and all the patio chairs we had out). It was SO worth it. And now all of our b-day pictures don’t have the dastardly paneling that’s currently torturing us in the background. Priceless.

6. Have a few keep-the-party-going “activities” (but keep it loose). We didn’t have a regimented schedule or anything, but the “flow” of the party went a little something like this:

  • everyone arrived and we snapped some photos of guests posing in front of Clara’s fabric
  • we served pizza and other snacks in the sunroom
  • people started venturing outside to blow bubbles, bounce balls around, and eat/drink/chat
  • since everyone was outside already we decided it was piñata time
  • we brought Clara’s highchair outside to watch her demolish her smash cake
  • cupcake time
  • we all watched Clara’s video to cap off the par-tay

It was nice to have a few things planned like the homemade piñata and the video just to keep people from feeling “stagnant.”

7. Remember the point of the par-tay. We wanted to make sure we weren’t so busy running around that we forgot to honor Clara and revel in every is-she-really-one-already moment. So we asked our brother in law to snap photos (he’s a pro photographer, which is remarkably handy and we’re forever grateful). Beforehand I also recruited my mom to help make the food-to-cupcake switch when it was time for dessert so it wasn’t something John or I would have to do all by our lonesome. Little beforehand arrangements like this made it possible for us to soak up every last cake-in-our-hair moment that made the day so special in the first place.

So whoop, there it is. Party hosting learnings from over a month ago. One thing we took away from the whole shebang was that we love hosting things at our house (so we have no idea why it took us four years to do it again). Sure home-hosted gatherings can be more work than a park or a restaurant but it feels so good to have everyone gathered around having fun in your stomping ground. And a house never feels so much like home as when it’s full of people, balloons, and paper poms poms.

Do you guys have other party tips that you reference when you’re tossing together an at-home bash? Have you made any epic party mistakes that were only funny a few years later (but were mortifying at the time?). Feel free to share your what-I-learned hosting tips (we still have a lot to learn).

Psst- Check out more of the party play-by-play in this original Clara b-day post of yore.


    • Melo says

      Yay! I AM first! So, now that THAT is out fo the way…

      Great tips! I love hosting at home too, but need to work a bit more on tip #2 (Simplify the menu whenever possible).

  1. says

    Love it! I think sometimes people go over-the-top with decor, planning meals, etc, that they forget the real intent of the par-tay! Here are a few things I picked up as well in my days of hosting:

    1) Clean the house a week before the party and then do a quick vacuum and sweep job 30 minutes before people show up. Nobody’s gonna notice water spots on your kitchen floor and it’s just gonna get dirty again with all of the in-n-out traffic.

    2) Don’t put out your best china. Just the everyday stuff will do. Who wants to clean a mountain of dishes after-the-fact? No thanks!

    3) If people say, “How can I help?” TAKE THEM UP ON IT! nobody hosts all by themselves. And even if people are willing to bring something to the party (side dish, drinks, etc), it’s perfectly acceptable to ask.

    Great hosting tips! Keep it up!

  2. RachelSD says

    You have such a beautiful home– you should throw parties more often to show it off!! Thanks for the advice. :)

  3. Sam says

    #3 on keeping the focus on a few selected rooms caught my eye. We are having a reception after my daughter’s baptism in a few weeks, and I was wondering how I can, politely, keep guests from tromping all over our upstairs. We have some personal financial files and things in our office that we’d rather not allow free access to. I know it’s family, but… (There is really no reason, other than nosiness, for them to be up there. LOL)

    How would you handle this in a tactful way? I’m not thinking that just closing the baby gate will be enough to deter curious minds.

    • says

      Really? I would think that a closed baby gate would be more than enough of a signal! Maybe just our family sticks close to the food and the decorated rooms (so other spaces wouldn’t be meant for roaming). Anyone have ideas beyond the gate? Maybe a sweet note that says “Party Time! This way —>” with an arrow away from the stairs would work?


    • says

      hmmmm…..i would just keep the doors closed. Who knows though, if people are intending to snoop then they will snoop.

      I tend to always go through all the rooms at the last minute and make sure that all that stuff is hidden or in a drawer and then keep that door closed!

    • Nicole says

      How about a sign that says

      “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here”

      or “Beyond Here Lies Oblivion”

      Actually, with my friends, they would probably consider it an invitation.

    • Reenie says

      Maybe a cute lil sign ~ hung up with streamers ~ across the stairway saying something like “Let’s keep the party to the downstairs ~ thank you”

    • Chrissy Henry says

      If you are really concerned with the privacy of your office then maybe it would be a good idea to invest in a key lock door knob? They are really not that expensive and it will ensure that your private things stay private. We run our own business and many of our financial files are stored at home for both ourselves and our clients. We always lock the office door when we have guests. Better safe than sorry!

    • Caitlin says

      I really struggle with this. Even when I put the dog gate across the stairs, one or two guests always hop over it to go use the restroom upstairs. I guess it’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice to not have to clean that room as another part of party prep. The first few times it happened, I was shocked and not a little annoyed. I guess it’s nice our friends are so comfortable in our home? Maybe I’ll try the sign like you suggest, Sherry.

    • says

      For my nephew’s birthday, my sis-in-law strung a blue crepe paper streamer across the steps (from banister to wall) and no one went upstairs. They’d tried the baby gate before, and it didn’t work…something about that simple streamer hung at hip height seemed to be more “official.” :)

    • sophie says

      we just keep doors closed when we don’t want people to enter. It would be pretty rude if they decided to enter anyway.

      this is also our solution to parties that may involve many smaller children (leaving my slightly older boys fearful about their lego creations, for example). The boys put them away in their closet, shut the closet and shut the door.

      We’ve never had a problem.

      With files, I’d either lock the filing cabinet or put the specific files high in a closet, shut the closet door and shut the bedrom door. And then rearrange when it’s all over.

    • Lola says

      My husband and I boobie-trap forbidden areas of the house. Nothing startles a nosy family member quite like strategically placed marbles falling off the shelves as they open the medicine cabinet. :)

  4. April says

    Thanks so much for this post! My son’s first b-day party is July 21st and will be at our home too! Just like yours we plan to have it outdoors (even in mid-July) because we have a carport and pool. I am planning to just shut off the rooms we don’t want people in. One neat thing I learned from a friend’s b-day party was to buy those individual ice cream cups from Wally World instead of scooping it out of a big tub!!

  5. Sarah says

    #7 is always my downfall when hosting. I play host and forget to enjoy! It takes a lot of foresight to plan.

    Best of luck with that dastardly panneling. You know we’ll be glad to see the end of it (or at least its outdated color)! I’m rooting for ya!

  6. Ashley Watson says

    My husband thinks i spend wayyyy too much time on your page.. i am always coming home with new ideas and things that i want to do to the house.. i get so stressed thinking about everything i want/need to do! how do you keep from stressing out about it.. i mean isnt the point to work towards a goal to enjoy it afterwards.. thats a part of making a home a home! I love these tips for the party beacuse i do over work myself at our little shin digs, i get all flustered and i realize i never got a chance to sit back and enjoy the day! wow. im rambling. also our den and mudroom/laundry room/whatever room is paneling.. im ready to tackle it.. but super nervous.. i read your tutorial i hope it works out for me!

  7. says

    Great tips! I love the simpleness of the food! The decorations were beautiful!

    I guess one tip I waffle on is:
    Do you let the kids open up the gifts at the party or not? It can be quite boring for the other kids to sit threw gift opening and sometimes they get jealous but then again it is nice for the child (if old enough) to say thank you to the person right there at the party….what do you think?


    • says

      We decided that our audience (7 kids under 6 and quite a few older kids) didn’t have that sort of attention span so we decided to spare them (and the parents) of sitting any longer than just watching the Clara video. But the grandparents did stay late to see the presents get opened, which was a nice compromise.


    • Michelle says

      This was my question too. I personally can’t stand this part (when attending or hosting). Did anyone seem to mind that they didn’t get to see their gift opened?

    • says

      Nope, I think everyone was grateful! We had a great time but everyone was kind of melting down at the end, so it was a good time for departures.


    • sophie says

      we don’t even do present opening now that our kids are 6 and 9 (unless there’s a bit of extra time). Generally, the kids pay attention for about 5 minutes and then it’s a free for all. Just easier to do it all when it’s quiet and then write some thank you cards afterwards.

    • says

      Hmm, I think we would have forced everyone to pose in front of the Clara fabric (we intended to get everyone’s portrait there so we could make Clara an album of all her “fans” but it got away from us and we only got a few folks to actually pose).


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