When our children were younger, Dave and I quickly realized it was much easier to host a party at our house than load up everything we needed for all the kids, and then deal with crabby kids who weren’t able to nap in a new location or didn’t get to bed on time.
This eventually led to us hosting the majority of our family parties over the year.
And while it does take some extra effort to host a gathering (even if you try to keep things simple) we generally enjoy having others over — especially during the holiday season.
If you are entertaining this holiday season, here are 10 simple tips that should help things go a bit smoother — and allow you to actually enjoy your time with family and friends!
1. Only clean what the guests see.
I’m not encouraging you to stuff things in your back closet or under your bed, but I AM telling you not to waste time cleaning every nook and cranny of your home before your guests arrive.
Not only will they NOT notice if your upstairs hall closet is perfectly organized or if the baseboard behind your couch is dust-free; but they also won’t care (or at least they shouldn’t).
My mantra is that the house should be clean enough for my family and guests to feel comfortable… but not to the point where I have to spend days cleaning and organizing beforehand.
Personally, I make sure the bathrooms and kitchen are clean, the living room and entryways are decluttered, and the floors are vacuumed/swept.
This is good enough for me… and I can do it all in under an hour.
2. Designate a spot for coats, shoes, bags, etc.
We didn’t have a mudroom (or even an entryway closet) when we first moved into our farmhouse, so it was important to have a space designated for coats, shoes, bags, etc.
Now, thanks to our mudroom addition, we have a fantastic spot for everyone to dump their gear. It’s completely out of the way (and mostly out of sight) but still very accessible if anyone needs to head out to their car, get something from our garage, or wants to hang out in our outbuilding.
If you don’t have a mudroom (and you don’t want everyone dropping their shoes and bags directly in front of your door) I’d suggest taking people’s coats and bags when they arrive and laying them on your bed. Then have extra rugs or towels available for shoes. Make sure these rugs are close enough to your door to be easily accessible, but not too close that they hinder traffic flow when guests arrive.
3. Spread out the food and drinks.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider our house small — it’s a great size for our family. However, it starts to feel pretty crowded when 25 people are all huddled around the food on the kitchen table or island.
Since I don’t like feeling crowded, I usually try to spread the food throughout the main living areas of the house.
For example, I set up a drinks station next to the refrigerator with cups, ice, water, pop, and anything else we’re offering. I set up an appetizer station on the kitchen island with plates, napkins, and all the savory foods. I often put the desserts and coffee in the office (which is open to the living room) and provide more plates, napkins, cups, etc.
It doesn’t take much additional work on my part, and it forces my guests to spread out and mingle instead of hovering over the tiny food table in the kitchen.
4. Use paper and plastic.
I know it’s not exactly “green” but it makes clean-up SO much faster and easier.
Unless you’re having a formal sit-down dinner, I highly encourage you to use paper and plastic plates, napkins, cups, and maybe even utensils.
I usually set out Sharpie markers so everyone can label their cups (especially if kids are involved). I also set out several trash cans and recycling bags so it’s obvious where the trash needs to go… and so I (hopefully) don’t end up with piles and piles of cups and plates on my counter!
If you’re not comfortable using paper and plastic, I’d suggest scouring local thrift stores for light-weight, stackable, white plates (I like the Corelle brand as they don’t break easily) and extra sets of cutlery so you have plenty of dishes to go around.
5. Triple-line all trash cans.
Speaking of trash and clean up… save yourself a bit of mess and put two or three trash bags in every single trash can.
Not only does this help protect against a ripped bag that leaks gross stuff all over your trash can, it also makes it really easy to take out the trash when it gets full. You don’t have to mess with putting another bag in… just remove the old bag and you’re ready to go.
6. Always have extra food.
There are times when I host a party and make all the food, but there are plenty of other times when I ask everyone to bring a dish to pass. I usually give some helpful suggestions as to the recipes or types of food I’m looking for (appetizers, desserts, vegetables, salads, etc.).
However, I’ve never hosted a party where every single person showed up and brought what they said they were going to bring. This used to bug me (a lot), but now, instead of getting annoyed, I just plan ahead and make a few extra items that can go in the freezer if we don’t end up needing them.
For example, I always have this super quick appetizer on hand and I’ll usually make a few extra desserts or snacks just in case. If we don’t need them, I put them in the freezer for later — but if we run out of food, I can quickly grab a tray of bars or cookies, a variety of crackers and cheese, chips and salsa, veggies and hummus, or even a store-bought pound cake.
7. Have your recipes ready.
Whenever I go to someone else’s home, I’m always interested in the recipes they make. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to email someone one of my recipes, only to forget once I get home.
Now, I often print off a few copies of each recipe I make so I’m ready when anyone asks (or I just direct them to my blog if the recipes are posted here).
This is also helpful if anyone at your party has allergies or dietary restrictions. Just show them your recipe card and they’ll know if they can or can not eat your dish.
8. Provide disposable containers for leftovers.
I don’t always do this, but depending on the situation, I’ll set out a big pile of yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, and Cool-Whip containers for their own leftovers. That way, we can wash all the dishes and send everyone home with clean plates and bowls.
This certainly isn’t necessary but people really appreciate it — especially if it’s an all-day event when unwashed dishes can get smelly and baked food gets crusted on.
9. Have a cleaning kit ready.
It’s almost inevitable that someone will spill something over the course of the party. And if your house is furnished in mostly white (like ours is) it’s probably a good idea to have some cleaning supplies easily accessible.
I usually keep a basket in our laundry room (which is right off the kitchen) filled with several rags, carpet cleaner, and upholstery spot treatment. If the situation arises, I calmly pull out a rag and cleaner and clean up the spill — no frantically looking for my cleaning supplies!
10. Don’t be a helicopter host.
While I think it’s totally acceptable to quickly clean up a large spill or potential stain, I DO NOT think it’s appropriate to “hover” around (like a helicopter) picking up trash, wiping down counters, fluffing pillows, and being “busy” all night long.
Once everyone has their food and drink, load up your plate and then sit and relax!
Don’t worry if the kitchen looks like a disaster or if there’s trash everywhere. I’ve found that guests often feel uneasy when the host is a busybody all night long.
Wait until everyone is gone and then race against the clock to see how quickly you can pick everything up (Dave and I do this and it’s crazy how fast cleanup actually goes!)
If you’re hosting any type of event this holiday season (or any time of year), I’m confident these 10 tips will help you to simplify and de-stress he whole process — and hopefully, even enjoy your party a little bit more!