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.


  1. says

    This is a general “long term” party tip we got from our babysitter’s parents. To keep our daughter from getting out of control with birthday parties we did as they suggested – they have a birthday party every other year. On the off years they do something simple as a family. If you start out right away the expectations are clear for everyone. We had a nice but small party for her 1st bday, just hung out on her 2nd bday and had a birthday party (this past weekend for her 3rd). I think this will keep everyone in check – extended family, the teenage years.

    On a side note – we just hosted 7 kids around my daughter’s age. I only invited my friends with kids similar in age, and it ended up being a nice introduction for some new playdates. We had an ice breaker craft and the rest of the time just played with her toys. And we set a time start and time end. We are happy to say some kids had so much fun, they left kicking and screaming!

  2. Marie says

    We have people over all the time for planned and unplanned parties/sports/etc. Three rules:

    1. The bathroom is clean.

    2. Guests are fed and watered with something. Some times the best you can do on short notice is delivery pizza. Just do it quickly so it shows up and not everyone is standing around hungry and hoping.

    3. Be good company and whatever you do for #2 will just be a footnote. Not doing #1 will be remembered though.

  3. elaine K says

    My recommendation for kid’s parties is to hire a teenager to help you out with looking out for the kids and/or serving them.

  4. Jennifer says

    Terrific party tips. I used to get so wrapped up in the food and when everything needed to be put out. Now I try to keep it as simple (but still yummy!) as possible so I have time to mingle.

    I also try to hand off my camera to a family member or friend so that they can capture some of the fun while I am busy with any hostess responsibilities.

  5. says

    I am an overthinker! When it comes to party I plan wayyy too much instead of keeping it fun and simple so that I can enjoy the party too.

    Great tips! Hopefully our housewarming will be a blast by following some of them!

    Have a good day.

  6. Nicole says

    I love hosting parties – my mom was a fantastic hostess and used to throw parties for hundreds of people. There are a lot of great tips that I could offer based on observing her, but I think the most valuable thing I learned is:

    Treat all your guests as if their arrival is one of the most exciting events of the party and their departure is one of the most disappointing.

    Oh and keep the booze flowing. lol.

  7. says

    Great tips! Most people run late but we always have one or two guests arrive right on time (or early). I try include them with the last minute party setup things like putting chips in bowl or plates out. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems people like to help out.

  8. says

    Good party tips! Here is one more that may seem obvious to some people, but was a wonderful revelation to me:

    Get some nice cheeses, crackers, and grapes, plop the cheese on a plate, put out some cheese knives, and let people cut the cheese themselves. I remember spending hours cutting many blocks of cheese for my mom when I was young (we entertained a lot). I knew of no other way until I went to my future in-laws house for a party. My mom still cuts or buys perfect little cubes of cheese for parties, it drives me bonkers.

  9. says

    I really like all of the ideas.

    1. Plan the post party. Nothing worse than ending the birthday party and saying, “Now. What’s for dinner??” I’m a big believer in the whole pizza-wine-movie wind down after a big day.

    2. 7-year-old boys will think you are the coolest thing EVER if you send them on a good scavenger hunt, let them pull all the tissues from a box (with one hand, timed) and then let them smash eggs on a big rock.

    3. Tradition. We use mostly the same decorations, same cake recipes (I have a fantastic chocolate frosting recipe and a great brownie-ice cream cake recipe), same ideas from year-to-year. It makes it fair for the kids and simple for the adults.

  10. says

    Geez, now I had to watch the Clara birthday video (again) and start tearing up at my desk (again)! Thank goodness I can shut the office door! :)

    I love parties, I love hostessing in general. We had an at-home party this past Friday for my oldest (turning 7) with just family and it was great! I’ve started taking people up on the “can I bring anything” line even if they’re just being polite – just another thing I can cross off my list as done. My only beef with his party were the mosquitos! They were out in full-force! UGH!!

  11. verucaamish says

    I looooove that your advice about limiting the entertaining areas. Unless you have nosy guests, most guest stay where you want them to especially when food is involved. I always “mark” the areas where I want people to be with food. If I want them in the living room there’s at least a bowl of nuts and chips on the coffee table. One piece of advice I have on top of your great insights are:

    Always have a few convenient tasks for the early arrivers to do. Setting the table type of things that will be helpful but not necessary. Those include:

    Filling up a bowl of ice
    Getting napkins and laying them out
    Arranging flowers

  12. Laura J says

    Thanks for the tips! I am a nervous hostess who feels everyone has to be entertained at all times. LOL

    What kind of sodas are in the glass bottles? I haven’t ever seen them.

  13. Clarissa says

    Since this post was also used as “note to self” so you can remember what you did in the past, it reminded me of fun site that also does just that but with a neat twist:

    I think this site is such a great idea and perhaps a new way to show updates on your future DIY projects? Still love looking at the fun table-scape that you had for Clara’s party! So fun and colorful.

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