Have you ever looked at pictures of a party on Pinterest and thought, I could never do that? Well, I’m here to tell you that you can. And I don’t mean that in a “you can do anything you put your mind to” kind of way. Well, maybe a little. But mostly I mean that you can pull it off without sacrificing your sanity, your work-life balance, or your savings.
Over the years, I’ve shared with you many of the parties I’ve done for my kids. I’ve thrown themed parties for each birthday my kids have had. And in that time, I’ve learned a few things about how to do it in a way that doesn’t make me want to swear off parties forever.
Let me share with you my 5 key tips.
1. Plan Ahead
I start dreaming about parties months in advance. It’s actually my favorite part of parties! I’m such a dreamer. I start off by asking my kids to think about what kind of party they might like to have. Don’t be afraid if they have unusual ideas– it’s a great way to let your creativity shine and create a really memorable party! If they don’t have any ideas off the top of their head, I give them suggestions.
Can’t think of themes on your own? Head over to Pinterest! (Give me a follow while you’re there!) Use search terms like “Kids birthday party ideas” to find lots of themes.
After I’ve settled on a theme, I search all over Pinterest for ideas and make a new board just for saving ideas to. You can see my board for Bean’s alphabet party above. I pin all sorts of things, most of which I don’t actually use. It gives me a lot of inspiration to draw from and gives me options in case my first ideas don’t pan out.
After you’ve gotten your Pinterest board going, keep an eye out for deals while you’re out shopping (or shopping online) that might work for your party. This way if you find something for a great price, you can jump on it and save yourself money in the long run. For the alphabet party, I happened to come across fun banners, wall stickers, and clothespins in the dollar section at Target. I thought the colors were cute (and easy enough to match) so I bought several matching things for only a few bucks. That set my colors for the whole party, and then it was easy to look for things to match later. Then I used my Silhouette machine to cut out letters to pin on the banners.
A note about theme packages you can buy: Often you can find whole party decoration packages at places like Party City or Amazon. Sometimes these can be good deals, but often I find that just a few key pieces mixed with more basic solid-colored items are cheaper and look just as good.
2. Make Ahead
This applies to both decorations and food. Make as much ahead of time as possible. Make foods you can freeze for a week or two and thaw out the night before. Cakes can be baked two days ahead and frosted the day before. If there are decorations or props you want that can be made ahead, do it. Take a Saturday before the party to focus on this, or split it up over a few evenings.
The main way to keep yourself sane on the day of the party is to have as little to do that day as is possible. Of course, there will be a few things that have to be done the day of the party, but make sure you don’t leave more than necessary, or you’ll hate yourself for it. Trust me on this one.
3. Pick Your Focus
Put your effort into one main thing for each area: decorations, food, and activities. If you wow your guests with a few key details, they won’t notice the other things that aren’t as spectacular. Decorate one area, but decorate it really well. I like to have some type of backdrop behind a table where I’ve staged the food, but depending on the party it may make sense to put your decor elsewhere. Use items of differing heights to create visual interest on your table. Creating visual layers is key!
The photos above depict the “Curious George Makes Pancakes” party we had for LM’s 4th birthday. I made 4 types of appetizer pancakes, pancakes on lollipop sticks and bacon on sticks, just to start. Then I made blueberry pancakes on the griddle. To end it, we had a crepe cake. It was too much food, too many kinds of food, and I killed myself to make it happen, completely unnecessarily.
Pick one food that will dazzle your guests. If you aren’t much of a baker, put more of your money into a really great cake and keep the other snacks basic. And if you can, find recipes that look impressive but take little time & skill to make. I usually mix homemade foods & store-bought that all fit my theme.
As far as activities, it’s important to a.) know your guests and b.) pick whether you want the party to have a specific agenda or just be free-flowing. I’ve found that the younger the kids, the less they’re interested in any really organized activities. We have a play area in our back yard and I’ve just accepted that the younger ones will want to spend almost the entire party there.
For Bean’s last party, the alphabet one, I had 2 optional activities. One was a letter scavenger hunt, and the other was a paint-to-find-letters activity. I knew there was a chance that the kids wouldn’t be very interested at all, but I just left it open for any who wanted to. I learned from a different party (where I had spent a lot of time creating games for kids that they weren’t all that interested in) not to invest a lot of time into this for 3 year olds.
For parties that have an active theme, such as LM’s spy party or science party, I suggest planning the flow of the party well and having specific things for the kids to do immediately when they arrive so you don’t have to stop them from playing something else when it’s time to start.
4. Use What You Have
Think about ways you can repurpose items you already have in order to decorate your area. In the photo above, the vases you see are some glass bottles (that otherwise would’ve gone into the recycling) that I turned into vases with some ribbon and craft flowers. The desk it’s on is one I borrowed from my mom. The lace overly is a thrift-store find. I love thrift stores, the dollar store, or the dollar section at Target for finding decor items to fill in after I’ve used what I have.
Invest in some key pieces if you think you’ll use them often. I’ve used those apothecary jars and rectangular vases for several parties, making the cost-per-use quite low. I’ve also used my cupcake tower and cake stands more times than I can count. Another thing I’ve done is to place tiny clear Command hooks in a few strategic places on my ceiling. You don’t notice them when nothing’s hanging from them, but they make it way easier to decorate for parties or holidays.
What’s another thing you have? Your skills! Put your particular talents to work for you, and outsource the rest.
In general, the more you can do yourself, the cheaper the party will be. However, it will also take the most time. It’s good to decide which you have more of to spare, money or time, and budget accordingly for both. That’s right, budget your time as much as your money! Overextending yourself in either area will not make you happy to throw your party. I’ll be completely honest and say this is the one area I struggle with most!
5. Keep It Simple!
Maybe you don’t need this tip. Maybe you’re the type who is great at keeping things simple. But if you’re like me and love Grand Ideas and get overly optimistic about what you can actually accomplish, this one will spare you the most headache of all.
This tip ties into tip number three about picking your focus. Pick your focus, put your budget (both time & money) into it, and then keep everything else as simple as humanly possible. You don’t need to have three kinds of cupcakes. You don’t need every food item to be artisan. You don’t need to decorate every area of your house that your guests will see. Go through your Pinterest board you made, and figure out which things will be the least work for the biggest impact, and ditch the rest.
Get help! There’s no shame in asking for a little bit of help to pull off a party. Ask close friends or family members to come over a little early to help you decorate, or to make a favorite recipe you can serve (or play a character in your spy party!) The worst that can happen is they say no. Then after they’ve helped you with your party, you can return the favor and do the same for them.
I hope this list has made you feel like you can conquer parties and make them beautiful and fun for everyone involved. I’m definitely going to reread this post the next time I have to do a party, because I always need the reminder! This year LM wanted to do a party at a trampoline park, so I’m off the hook until spring!
What about you? Do you have any tips on throwing a party?