Special to The Washington Post
Hosting a party should be about bringing people together to celebrate a special occasion, socialising with friends and family, and just relaxing with some good food and drinks. But, as anyone who has hosted a party recently will tell you, parties of all kinds - for both adults and children - have become much more of a production.
For any event, creating the guest list, deciding on decor and planning the menu are all requirements. What is not required is buying glassware, serving plates and platters, a ton of decorations you'll never use again, new chairs and tables, and enough party favours to gift every member of a small town.
One of the biggest clutter culprits in many of my clients' homes is things they bought for a party that they're sure they'll never use again but that they feel too guilty to give or throw away. Here are some ideas to make your next party a success, without breaking the bank or accumulating a bunch of stuff that is going to be hard to store or get rid of later.
Once you have an idea of how many people will attend your party, take inventory of your serving options. If it's a child's party and you plan to use paper or plastic plates and cups as well as plastic silverware, see what you have before buying more. The same holds true if you're hosting a party for adults. Do a quick accounting of items such as glassware, serving platters and tablecloths before you buy a bunch of new ones. Although it's true that you can fairly cheaply buy two dozen wine glasses and three dozen cocktail plates, that doesn't mean you need to - or should.
Having an ample supply of utensils, glasses and plates for your guests - maybe twice as many as the number of people attending your party - is essential. If you want everything to be uniform, consider renting what you'll need. But it's also totally fine if everything doesn't match perfectly. For instance, if you have two dozen red wine glasses and need 12 more, consider borrowing them from a friend or neighbour. No one at your party will care if everyone's glass is not identical. The same goes for cocktail plates. Get creative! Everything doesn't have to be white or clear. Consider buying a set at a second-hand store or mixing and matching colours and patterns. None of your guests will judge you; they're more interested in the food on the plate, and you're doing what's best for the environment.
Don't buy to extreme excess
Yes, you need to have sufficient glasses, plates and flatware, but you do not need to have three times the number of guests you're expecting. I understand wanting to be prepared in case more people attend than you anticipate or if people use far more of something than you predict. But be realistic. Don't overbuy just because something is inexpensive or on sale, or because you can eventually return what you don't use. Buy a sufficient amount and make do.
When you're considering party decor, think about buying things that you could use for another party or that you would use in your house even when you're not entertaining. For example, do you really need to buy a gumball machine? Maybe you could have gumballs in jars at a child's birthday party. If you're hosting a baby shower, instead of stocking up on a bunch of pink and blue decorating accessories, use clear vases, jars or boxes and get creative. Also, before you invest in some gigantic event-specific item - a popcorn machine, a bouncy house, 30 basketballs - think through where you'll store it after the party. If there is no obvious place to put it, don't buy it.
Focus on quality, not quantity
I always think it's better to do a few things well than to do a bunch of things not very well.
Serve a few select beverages; don't offer everything under the sun. Instead of spending on a bunch of disposable decorations, buy a few beautiful and classic items you can reuse. In terms of kids' parties, less is definitely more. Kids don't attend birthday parties for the elaborate decor. They are there to see their friends and to have some cake, so keep it simple. For kids' party favours, skip the goody bag of plastic junk; the kids don't need it, and the parents don't want it (and you'll have 120 leftover). Alternatively, give something small but useful, such as a paperback book, a nice notebook and pen, or a small game.
Although it's fun to splurge a bit to make any party extra special, entertaining is more about the occasion or the person being celebrated - and the people in attendance - than it is about the fancy serving pieces or decor. Giving some thought to your pre-party purchases will not only save you money, but it will also save space and energy later.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik.