I’m definitely the planner in my social circle. When there’s something to celebrate (birthdays, holidays, important life events, etc.) or when people just want to get together, nine times out of ten I’m coordinating, and often hosting. Gatherings with friends and family create some of my very best memories.
However, a few years ago, while I was organizing holiday events, I came to a disturbing realization: It wasn’t fun anymore. Somewhere along the line, I had reached the point where I felt like the pressure was outweighing the positive. So I decided I needed to figure out how to put the fun back into the functions.
As the holiday season is gaining momentum, this feels like the perfect time to share what’s worked for me, both general advice and specific suggestions.
1. Don’t put pressure on yourself
Repeat after me, “My friends and family love me even when I’m not perfect. We all value the time we spend together way more than a brilliantly executed party.”
For a long time, I was all about hosting the perfect events, from the menu to the decorations to the music. I spent hours planning, shopping, cooking, creating custom playlists, and so on. The result? Hours or days of caffeine-fueled mania culminating in parties where I found it almost impossible to relax and have fun.
The first time I scaled it back, I was nervous that my guests would be disappointed, but I should have had more faith in them, because we all had a great time, and no one seemed to care that I had bought a cake at the bakery and only had one appetizer. On a few occasions, I’ve bought everything I needed premade from the grocery store, and my guests have enjoyed it just as much.
If going all out is something you enjoy, then go for it. However, if it’s stressing you out, dial it back. It’s about the experience, not the expectations.
2. Don’t be afraid to accept help
When I show up for someone else’s party, the first words out of my mouth are “What can I do?” It took way too long to realize that I’m not the only person in the world who likes to help others. I’d had this idea that guests should never do anything, and that was just silly. Nobody leaves my house and says, “That was a great party until Amanda let me load the dishwasher. The nerve!”
Once I started accepting help, people started offering even more. It makes things so much easier when I can ask someone to stop at the store on the way over, or give me a hand with some last minute preparations. Now, I always have one or two people who come over early to help set up, and one or two who stay after to help clean up. Not only does it lower my workload, but it allows for some personal time with these special people to bookend the larger event.
You can take this a step further and…
3. Make it a team effort
My mother is a world champion entertainer, and her dinners, parties, showers, etc. are always amazing. When I thought about how Mom gets things done, I remembered that she’s constantly asking, “Can you bring XYZ?” or “Is there something you’d like to bring?” At our Thanksgiving dinner this week, Mom only made three of the dishes. The rest of us had happily provided the rest, and together we had assembled everything we needed to end the day in a food coma.
So I’ve fallen in love with the potluck. It saves me tons of time and money, and my friends actually get excited about contributing their favorite dishes. My absolute favorite method is:
The Crock Pot Potluck
One of my co-workers organized what she called a “Crockluck” four or five years ago, and it was the best! A dozen of us brought in our slow cookers, filled with a variety of our favorite recipes, and plugged them in first thing in the morning. By lunchtime, we had an awesome selection of soup, chili, meat, vegetables, and even dessert.
The idea was too good not to steal. At work we used the cooking time for, well, work, but outside of work we use it for social time or activities. At my most recent Crockluck, we gathered at my house, plugged everything in, caught up on each other’s lives, and then piled into a couple of cars and went to the movies. When we got back, dinner was ready and we were all in a great mood. A few guests who weren’t able to make a day of it cooked their contributions at home and brought them in time to enjoy the evening with the rest of us.
One of the coolest things about Crock Pots is that you can use them to make anything from appetizers to desserts. Here are a few great recipes and resources:
- I made Sandie and Kim’s chicken cacciatore this weekend, and it was a hit!
- Slow Cooker Gourmet is full of great recipes. The salted caramel brownies are one of my personal faves.
- Diane is my newest kitchen guru, and her chicken and stuffing recipe is fantastic.
I’ve discovered crock pot recipes for everything from coffee cake to vegetarian lasagna, and chances are that your friends and family already have some favorites of their own.
4. Go out!
Not every gathering has to be at someone’s home. Activities can be a great way to spend time with important people without having any pressure to cook, clean, and entertain. In the future, I’ll be posting about some of my favorites, but for now, here’s a quick list of things to consider:
- Plays and musicals (like this great experience)
- Cooking classes (more on those here)
- Craft classes (here’s a great option)
- Holiday light tours (like this one)
- Escape rooms (more on those here)
Most importantly, HAVE FUN, and focus on creating memories!
What’s your favorite way to plan or host a gathering? How do you keep the fun in your functions? Share your ideas in the comments!