My family and I are entering what is my insanely busy season at work. I have to say: I truly, deeply dread this season every year. I know that one day, not too far in the future, I’ll be in tears, convinced that I won’t be able to pull it all off.
This also is the time of year when our daughters’ schedules are ramping up — this fall with softball and gymnastics, maybe guitar lessons, and definitely Girl Scouts. It’s back to school. And it’s all the things we could be doing in the fall: the train ride to the mountains, apple picking, Halloween parties, costume making, the corn maze, hay rides, pumpkin picking — the list goes on. Then the race is on to Christmas. It tends to feel like a season of “should’s” and “haven’t done’s” more so than a time when I feel like I can honestly put aside everything and be fully present for my kids.

I’m sure that even if fall isn’t your own crazy busy season, you have one too. Or maybe you just feel that way all the time. And it’s in these moments that it can be really hard to find the time to plan a party. Maybe it’s a birthday party that you need to host, or a baby shower, or maybe it’s a party that you just WANT to host. Back to school, tailgating, pre-trick-or-treating — you name it. So, how do you plan a party when you’re so busy? I’ve got some solutions for you.

Let’s assume that even though you’re busy, you don’t want to downscale the party. Cool? You could decide to invite over one special friend and have a blow-out at some place that does the work for you, but you don’t want to. That means we have to make the time to party when the time does not exist.

Ready for the secret?

You are going to plan this party the same way I want you to plan every other party. My way makes sure that party planning isn’t painful. You’re going to plan one week at a time. (Jump to the bottom of the post to sign up for my free Week-by-Week Party Planner.)

Week by Week Party Planner by The Party Teacher_Page_1

What if you’ve waited too long to plan your party? I have a post for that. Check it out here.

But here’s the deal: you know when these parties need to happen, yes? You know when your child’s birthday is. In fact, every year you have a year’s notice of when the next birthday party should be. {wink} Same goes with seasonal parties. We know when Halloween is, when tailgating season starts, when back to school comes around. And that means you can plan a week in advance for any party.

(Now if you seriously can’t pull that off, I’ll share my four-week party planner in another post. But it is not the right choice for the super-busy mom. Honestly: one task a week is the way to go.)

Here’s your weekly to-do list.

Just answer these questions, and your party will be all planned. If your kids are old enough to contribute, have them help you make the party planning decisions.

Week 1: What is the theme or jumping off point for your party?

Week 2: What is your party budget?

Week 3: What day and time will you host your party? This, of course, tells you how many weeks you really have to plan your party and if you need to double up on a few of these steps. Choosing a time of day will help you decide on a menu. (Tip: If you don’t want to serve a full meal, choose an “off” time like 2 p.m.)

Week 4: Where will you host your party (home or away)?

If you answered “home,” let’s dig a little deeper:

  • Which room or rooms? Or, which outside spaces?
  • What is required to make your space party-ready?
  • Will you need to remove furniture from your space? Will you need to protect furniture or a TV? Work on those plans now.
  • Will you need folding tables or rental chairs?
  • If you need to mark any areas off limits, how will you do that?
  • If you need to declutter, start now, do a little every day, and it won’t seem like such a chore.

If you answered “away,” then it’s time to start researching:

  • Do they have your party date available? If not, can you flex on the date and/or time?
  • What is the rental fee? Is it within your party budget?
  • Do you have to buy food/drinks through the facility or can you bring in your own?
  • How much setup and tear-down time will you have or do you need to book extra time for that?
  • What rules do they have about hanging decorations?

Week 5: Who is on the guest list for your party? How many adults, how many kids? Will the parents stay or drop off? Boys only? Girls only? A mix? Start writing down the names, addresses and phone numbers. (Remember, you don’t have to invite the entire class.)

Week 6: What is the color palette for your party? Two main colors and one accent color is usually a good balance. (If you’re open or seeking inspiration about colors, then skip to Week 7.)

Week 7: Which invitation and party printables will you use? It’s time to go shopping. If your party date, time and location are firm, then order now. If not, bookmark the invite for later. (If you didn’t choose a color palette in Week 6, pull the colors from your invitation.)

Week 8: Pick out envelopes and custom stamps for your invitations. I usually turn to Zazzle.com, although you also can find envelopes from PaperSource.com or Amazon.

Week 9: It’s time to plan your menus. Will you have a dessert table? If you need a list of dessert table menu ideas, check out this post. Six or so items will fill out your dessert table just fine. Will you serve any other food, like brunch, lunch or dinner? What about beverages? List those as well.

For recommendations of some of my favorite vendors, sign up for my Dessert Tables 101 Planning & Shopping Checklist at the bottom of this post.

Go ahead and order desserts now. Sometimes Etsy dessert makers book out quite far in advance, and you don’t want to wait too long and then miss out on their availability.

Week 10: Now that you know what you want to serve on your dessert table, you can plan the arrangement of your dessert table. For my tips, and ideas about must-have serving pieces, read this post. While you’re at it, think about how you want to style your dessert table.

Week 11: We’ll call this backdrop week. Start with this post for everything you need to know to choose how to build your backdrop. Your mission for the week is to buy your supplies, fabric, and order any extras — like extra large printables or vinyl decals or die cut wood. (Try Ten23 Designs for decals and die cuts.)

Week 12: Choose and order your party favors. For ideas about favors and favor packaging, check out my Party Favors Pinterest board.

Week 13: This is ordering week.

  • Do you need to rent tables and chairs? Call your local vendor and get it done.
  • Do you need tablecloths and napkins? Order them from TableClothFactory.com or LinenTablecloth.com.
  • Want a balloon display? Call a local vendor.
  • Or, if you want Party City to fill balloons for you, call and place your order. They have a limited selection of the 36″ round balloons, and it’s definitely easier to have them filled then to do it yourself. Transporting them home is a bit of a pain, but do-able.
  • Do you need to rent something like a bounce house or hire an entertainer? Call your local vendor and get it done.
  • Do you need decorations like tissue fans? Order now from a source like Bird’s Party Shop. (Click through her ad in my sidebar and get a 10% discount.)

Week 14: Last week, you decided if you needed to rental tables and chairs, so you should know where your guests are going to eat. And that makes this place settings week.

This may mean a trip to Party City, if you are okay with paper and plastic utensils, napkins and plates. Most of you know that I’m usually not a fan of paper or plastic, though I used them both. If you follow my Place Settings Pinterest board, and you like to dress it all up a bit, then think about if you have enough chargers, plates, napkins, forks and glasses (or mason jars or milk bottles, etc.) for all your guests. No? Hit the dollar store or Goodwill or Cost Plus World Market — they have divine utensils and don’t have to buy a full set of silverware.

Do your chairs need to be dressed up? I’ve got a chair decorations Pinterest board with ideas for you.

Week 15: Choose your party games and activities. I’d plan on at least three games and/or activities total. The number depends on the age and number of your guests, as well as how quickly the activities go. You may be able to order any supplies you need from Amazon or another online resource. You’ll also want to decide if opening presents will be one of your activities. I always say, “yes.” It doesn’t take too long, and it teaches gratitude.

You’re getting close to your party date, so this is where your schedule gets more intense. If you have more time, you can spread out these steps more. But my experience is that it’s easier to devote one Saturday to errand running and get it all done at once. Likewise, it’s easier to do any crafting at one time, while all your supplies are out.

Week 16: This is errand running week. You’ll be going to WalMart and Party City.

  • If you didn’t order party favors and instead are buying them locally, pick them up.
  • If your balloons will be DIY, pick up balloons and a helium tank. WalMart usually has the best prices on tanks.
  • While you’re at WalMart, pick up 3/8″ grosgrain ribbon for your printable banners and 7/8″ ribbon for tying on apothecary jars.
  • You also may want to stock up on double-sided tape, safety pins, 3M Command Strip party products and Aleene’s Thick Tacky Glue — note: the 3M and Aleene’s links are Amazon affiliate links. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. This program helps support my business, and allows me to continue bringing you free content.)
  • From WalMart or your local craft store, get prepared for next week. You’ll want a paper trimmer and a 2″ round circle punch for trimming printables.
  • Mailing a lot of invitations? Send an image file to WalMart and have them printed as matte photos. The trimming’s done for you!
  • If you didn’t order supplies for your activities or games, buy them locally.

Week 17: It’s printables week! Send the printables that you ordered back in Week 7 to an Office Depot-type location to be printed on photo paper or card stock. Office Depot also can trim any printables with straight lines, if you want to pay extra. Otherwise, pick up your printables, trim them, and string your banners on ribbon. (If you don’t want to print and trim your own printables, contact Print & Cut Your Printables on Etsy or Paper + Pop.)

Week 18: Do you have any crafting to do? Are you making buntings, assembling party favors, or making other party decorations? This is the week to whip out your glue gun and get busy crafting.

Week 19: This is set-up week.

  • Iron your tablecloths and any fabric you may be using on your dessert or other tables.
  • Put up your backdrop structure.
  • Set your dessert table with your backdrop, tablecloth, serving pieces and any other decorations.
  • Set your party dinning table.
  • Set up your party favor table.

Two Days Before Your Party:

  • Clean the party floor of your house (or have cleaned).
  • Sweep your front stoop and wipe down your front door.
  • Grocery shop.
  • Buy and arrange flowers.

The Day Before Your Party:

  • Bake any food you will provide.
  • Pick up any baked goods previously ordered (if ordered locally). If your party is on a Sunday, your cake bakery may not be open. It also may not be open all day on Saturday. When you order your cake, confirm the pick up hours so you are not disappointed.
  • Charge your camera and video camera batteries.

The Morning of Your Party:

  • You may not be able to pick up rentals until the morning of the party. If that is the case, assign someone to pick the rentals as early as possible so you aren’t setting the tables at the last minute.
  • Get yourself ready early; don’t leave this to the last minute or you’ll cheat yourself on time.
  • Make any last-minute food.
  • At lunchtime, feed your kids a snack and dress them in their party outfits.
  • Set out chilled drinks.
  • Attach balloons to your mailbox for guests who may be unfamiliar with your home.
  • Set out food that doesn’t require refrigeration.

And remember: you can get this list in my hand-dandy Week-by-Week Party Planning Guide by signing up below. Time to get busy on your Week 1 party planning homework!

So here’s your homework. Let me know in the comments section what party you’re planning next?


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