Pinterest has made us all think we have to have elaborate set-ups and picture-perfect meals in order to invite some friends over for dinner. It's great for inspiring our creativity, but it can cause us to drown in comparison and feeling like we're not enough just because we don't have the mental energy to make everything follow a theme or plate your dishes like you're competing on Iron Chef.
I'm giving us all permission right here and now to set our expectations lower, to focus on the things that are truly important for our get-togethers and let the rest go.
I'm all about focusing on what's most important, and while that differs for everyone, I know there are some key parts to consider when planning a party, barbecue, dinner party, girls' night, or other gathering.
1. THE PEOPLE
The most important thing about any get-together is the people. Our guests come to spend time with us and each other, not to be impressed by an immaculately clean house or fancy table setting.
When choosing who to invite, there are a few things I like to keep in mind.
Including people who can initiate and carry conversations. Unless holding a conversation isn't crucial to the gathering (think movie night), it's important to have people there who are good conversationalists. They take some of the burden of making everything go smoothly and making the get-together fun off our shoulders.
I also try to make sure that everyone I invite knows at least two other people besides me. It makes it easier to know that guests will be more comfortable, more engaged, and more relaxed in an environment with people they already know. And it means I don't have to feel the need to "babysit" anyone who's the odd one out.
2. THE FOOD
I love making new recipes, but it can be really stressful and time-consuming to try new recipes for a get-together. When I want to simplify things and reduce my stress before a party or big dinner, I try to stick to known dishes or slight variations on them. Because I've made them before, I know that I can make them again, and I have a better idea of what will go over well with my guests.
The food doesn't have to be complicated. I might throw together a simple salad and make some pasta to go with it. Or pull together the ingredients for tacos (always a winner). Earlier this week, I hosted a sort of Thanksgiving-esque dinner with my family, and I eliminated many of the side dishes I could have made in the name of simplicity. I cooked the turkey, roasted some potatoes, and put together a green bean dish. It was delicious and pretty easy!
I also try to prep the food as much as I can ahead of time (step 5).
3. THE ENTERTAINMENT
I like to have some entertainment options thought out when I'm having people over. The reason for the get-together usually dictates my choices pretty easily.
If I'm having people over for a movie night, I'll pull out a few ideas so my guests don't spend twenty minutes discussing what everyone wants to watch. It saves time and mental energy to reduce the options to a select few (while still giving everyone the opportunity to contribute their opinion and find something they'll like).
When I'm having people over for a game night, I might also pull out a few suggestions, or at least have them in the back of my mind. Sometimes my guests are shy or reluctant to give their opinion, so sometimes I have to be willing to make the call or suggest a couple games to get the ball rolling.
And if I'm having people over for dinner, or a birthday party, or a game night, or just about any other kind of get-together, I'll turn on some music. It's much more relaxing to have some music playing in the background than to have complete silence whenever people aren't actively conversing with one another, and it makes the breaks in conversation less obvious. If we're getting pumped up for a louder, more active party, I'll start a playlist with more upbeat songs. If it's going to be a quieter night of chatting with a few friends, I'm more likely to play a more "chill" playlist.
4. THE CLEANING
My guests probably aren't going to be spending time in every room of my house. Even if I give a tour of my home, I don't have to deep-clean every space. I can just focus on the ones that will make the biggest impact.
The bathroom needs to be cleaned, of course. It gets a lot of use during the week, and it's going to get used by my guests. I typically clean the mirror, wipe down the sink and the toilet, clean inside the toilet bowl, and clean the floors. Nobody cares about the bath or shower, so as long as there are shower doors or a curtain, I'm golden there!
The kitchen. Assuming that my guests and I be spending at least some time in my kitchen when I'm prepping food, welcoming the guests, serving food, or refilling dishes, my kitchen is going to be involved, so it should be at least presentable. Because I'm making food for my get-together, it doesn't have to be spotless. I promise everyone will understands when I have dishes in the sink or extra food on the counter. But that doesn't mean that I can't make my job a little easier by having the dishwasher or dish drying rack emptied before the party to streamline the post-party dishwashing process!
My living room, dining room, patio, or other entertaining space. I ask myself: Where are my guests and I going to be spending most of our time? Where do I plan to sit? That space ought to be tidied and at least not embarrassingly dirty. I dust anything that's obviously dusty (but don't worry about what's out of sight, like ceiling fan blades or the top of six-foot tall bookcases). I sweep or vacuum. I move clutter out of the room. That's it. It doesn't have to take five hours or stress me out. I just tidy up and clean a little and call it good.
5. THE PREP
My favorite way to prep for parties is to spread the work out, and I do that in a couple different ways.
I get as much work done early as possible. I prep food earlier in the day or the day before when possible. I clean a day or two in advance. If I'm being fancy and decorating for the party, I do it the night before or earlier in the day. Doing so allows me to have time for rest in between completing party prep tasks. It saves me from running around like a chicken with my head cut off as I try to get everything done in the couple hours before people are due to show up. And it keeps me calm and relaxed as I prep because I know I have ample time to do everything.
I also accept (and sometimes request) help from others! People often offer to bring something, and it can be hard sometimes to accept because I want to do it all myself, but it's so much easier when I let other people help out! Not only does it take some of the weight off my shoulders, but it also gives my guests something to contribute, which many of them will appreciate because they don't like coming empty-handed. If I have everything you need, I let guests help me prep the food, set the table, or wash the dishes. That way, I get an extra set of hands and can spend more time together. It's a win-win!
That's it. You can go fancy and keep everything on a theme if you want. You can make elaborate dishes or try new recipes if that's what your little heart desires. But something tells me you might just appreciate some permission to pare down your hosting this summer in the name of slowing things down, savoring the season, and saving your sanity! I know I do!
I'd love to know what you thought of these tips! Drop a comment below or reach out to chat more about simplifying every area of your life, home, and/or business!