I like to throw parties. I think that much has been pretty well established here on Borealis.
I also like writing party posts. I write them because I love reading them; I’ve gotten most of my best ideas from others’ blogs. Party posts mean I get to share my cute photos and pay it forward to the next party planner.
But here’s the secret: my parties — whether a sock monkey baby shower, a Valentine’s Day wine tasting, or my born-in-October husband’s Scott’s birthday (aka Scottoberfest) — have much more in common that it might appear. They may look different, but they follow the same formula: Jen’s 10 Party Hacks.
So here they are, my secrets to successful parties. I hope you still want to come to my next one!
Party hack #1: Start with paper
All my party themes start with something paper — the invite, cute patterned scrapbook paper, downloadable images. Paper provides my inspiration, colors, themes, and most of my decor. It is inexpensive, customizable, and disposable/recyclable. For my parties, paper is indispensable.
Party hack #2: Google Search
After paper, my second-most-used party planning tool is Google Search. How to play Quidditch on the ground? Yep. Printable 3D Minecraft block patterns? Yep. List of best Minnesota-brewed beer? Yep. Cheeses to pair with such beers? Potion names? Ordinary Wizarding Levels questions? Yep, yep, and yep.
I get most of my decorating images (especially for kid parties) through Google Search*; plus free, specialized fonts like Harry Potter, Super Mario, Star Wars, Back to the Future, or kindergarten handwriting; instructions for how to turn a photo into a line drawing for coloring pages; images for temporary tattoos or adorable iron-on onesies; and on and on. Of course I love Pinterest, but I’d be lost without Google.
*Be careful that you are only using images meant to be shared and are clearly marked as “free download.” It is probably also safe to print out something that’s super ubiquitous (think the Mario characters or the Batman logo) for your party use only. Personal, one-time use usually fine; selling something you made with an image from Google isn’t.
Party hack #3: Signs, signs, everywhere signs
Once I have my color palette and theme from my pretty paper, some fun new fonts, and fair use images, I’ll start making signs and won’t look back. I put signs on everything! Food labels, activities, play spaces. Signs become decoration, and help your guests make choices too.
Owen’s favorite part of the Star Wars party was “Qui-Gon Jinnger Ale.” He could not stop giggling.
Party hack #4: Always have something to do
Kids parties usually have games, but what about your other parties? There should always be something to do, make, build, try, achieve, or talk about.
I often add making a prop or favor to the kids’ party agenda — they play with the light sabers at a Star Wars party, yes, but first they make them out of plumbing insulation and colorful duct tape. At the back-to-school party we had coloring sheets of the school building and mascot, as well as workbooks. The kids actually did them. One of our Harry Potter activities was taking OWLs that I found online. The group of 10-year-olds sat down and took the tests, and took it all incredibly seriously. Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite kid party games — easy to customize to any theme and age.
Mixed group or adult parties need activities too: wine tasting comment cards, guess which bottle was $30 in a group of $10 wines, a 5K fun run/walk, New Year’s Eve games where you guess whose resolution was whose, make cute little baby onesies, take photos with silly props.
Party hack #5: A backdrop is your best friend
I discovered the power of the backdrop when we wallpapered our dining room in flagstone paper to recreate the Great Hall for the Harry Potter party. The birthday boy breathlessly spun in circles whispering “this. is. so. cool” and if that wasn’t payoff enough, what it did for the boys’ excitement, party atmosphere, and my photos convinced me it was so cool indeed.
All the same house. Except the movie theater, that’s my garage.
I have since created backdrops for my wine-tasting party, Scottoberfest, Super Mario Brothers, and movie night (actually that was more of a floor-and-ceiling draping in red plastic tablecloths, but still, the concept is the same). I use curtains, paper, plastic sheeting, fabric, pretty much anything large in size, inexpensive, and sometimes, disposable.
A backdrop transforms the space and makes it special. The guests feel they have arrived. (Plus it makes your photos amazing!)
Party hack #6: Go 3D
In addition to your backdrop, a few 3D props or decorations takes the whole thing up a notch, and they can be super easy and inexpensive.
Boxes wrapped in yellow or brick-printed paper made light and safe game and free-play props for the Mario Brothers party. A soccer ball piñata spray painted silver and detailed with electrical tape made a great Death Star hanging from the swing set. Paper tube pipes covered in green tape became Mario-themed plumbing homes for Piranha Plants. Emergency flashlights hung from fishing line were light sabers. Empty boxes plus paint creates wearable train cars. A collection of borrowed props made the entrance to the Great Hall not exactly realistic but definitely fun.
Party hack #7: The pennant banner
All my parties now have some form of the pennant banner or garland. I use them for decoration or as signage, but mostly because I love them and they are a great way to use my pretty paper as decor and tie the theme together. It’s fast and easy to make a banner out of paper and either sew it together or string on a ribbon or twine. (Here’s how.)
Party hack #8: Neutral basics always work
I have white linens, inexpensive white ceramic and clear glass serving dishes, and baskets, trays, and napkins in varying shades of taupe, brown, and gray. These neutrals always work with any color scheme or theme I’ve got going, so there’s no thinking, no shopping, and no generating tons of paper and plastic tableware garbage.
Party hack #9: Make some room
Move out some furniture, clear away the clutter, and make some room to party. We usually put the play table from the living room and the large chairs in the dining room bay window in the basement for our parties, clear off the coat rack and hooks, and stash the kitchen clutter-catcher boxes in our bedroom. This makes it easier to move around, easier to clean up, and gives you more serving, playing, and eating room. (I had a party last weekend, and one guest had only been to my house one other time — dropping off her son for a birthday party earlier this year. Both times, the playroom was empty and the bookcases covered with a party backdrop. She asked me if it was always that way!)
When we can be outside, I use that to make space too. A pop-up tent, balloons, or tables and chairs dragged outside create a party space out of nothing more than our backyard.
Back to school kindergarten party in the backyard, making a party space with a popup tent, using the deck as a bar, the bow window in my dining room without its usual furniture plus rental high-top cab tables, and wrapping the garage in plastic party-store table coverings to make a movie theater.
Party hack #10: Play dress up
Costumes make kids feel special and excited about whatever you are doing, even if it is the simplest games. They improve your photos immensely and double as favors. I’ve dressed party kids as pirates, baseball players, train cars, construction workers, and Jedi.
When full costumes aren’t possible, mustaches, hats, or temporary tattoos work the same magic. And for adults, photo props are really temporary costumes, right? Break out some silly props and watch everyone loosen up.
Jedi, pirates, Panther fans, construction, train car, baseball player, and Quidditch players.
That’s my secret formula! Do you have anything to add to this list? Please share!