Throwing a Party without Losing Your Mind (or breaking the bank…)

I love birthdays.

Ask anyone who knows me, and it will likely come up.

I begin counting down to my own birthday on the first day of my birthday month (October), and I fully embrace celebration for the ENTIRE month.

So naturally, when my daughter’s birthday rolls around, I am all in. Bring on the balloons and streamers and cutesy pinterest cakes!

Throwing an awesome birthday party doesn’t have to be an enormous undertaking though, and it doesn’t have to drive you crazy.

Here are my top five tips for throwing a party without losing your mind:

  1. Know how many guests you can handle.
    Our rule for kid parties is that my daughter can invite as many friends as she is years old. So, for her fifth birthday party she was allowed to invite five friends.For adults, think in terms of what the person the party is for will enjoy most. I’m a hyper extrovert, so when I throw a party I want to invite everyone (literally). My husband is more of an introvert though, so he would rather have just a person or two over for something more low-key. There’s not a right or wrong way to celebrate, so don’t feel pressure to have a huge guest list if that’s not what actually feels celebratory to the person you’re celebrating.
  2. Think in terms of creating a memory, not planning activities to fill time.
    For kid parties especially there is a temptation to plan every second and shuffle kids from game to game, or activity to activity. But think back to when you were a kid. What do you remember from your birthday parties?Most of my memories are from when I was eating cake with my friends, goofing off around the table. Sometimes the moments we leave unstructured leave the most space for memories to be made.The same is true for adults. Are the momentous occasions really what you remember most? Or is the half hour you spend talking and laughing in the parking lot after the event?

    I tend to plan a few activities to break the ice and create a welcoming environment, but leave ample space for guests to just hang out as well.

    For example, at my daughter’s party this year, as guests arrived they were invited to decorate an apron and chef’s hat to wear while they decorated cupcakes, but then there was almost an hour of unstructured play time.


  3. If you will throw it away within a week, you probably don’t need to include it in the first place.
    Bags of fun (but cheap) themed favors and trinkets? No thanks. Exorbitant decorations? Nope.Rule of thumb for me is that if it will go in the garbage as soon as the party is over, why worry about it in the first place?  You can create a welcoming, festive space without a ton of theme-specific crap.I use the same tablecloths, birthday signs, and buntings for every occasion. They’re neutral enough to go with pretty much anything.  When the party is over, I pack them away in a tote until they’re needed next.


    In terms of favors, I instead opt for a craft or project that the guests will be able to take home with them and (hopefully) enjoy for more than a week – like the aprons and chef hats we made at my daughter’s party this year.

  4. If your party has a theme, use simple but well placed decorations to highlight the theme.
    That said, using a few, high-impact themed decorations is a great way to set the theme or mood for a party – even if they’re disposable.This year, for my daughter’s cupcake themed party I made cupcake liner garlands (which can at least be repurposed to be used for baking now that the party is done!)
    and picked up balloon bouquet, which she enjoyed playing with for the week after the party. We also used cupcake liners to hold stickers, sprinkles and other craft supplies. Inexpensive, easy, and yet everywhere you turned there was a reminder that we were all about cupcakes!


    Think outside the box too! Invite your guests to participate in the theme with their party attire. Last year, for her fairy themed party guests were encouraged to dress up to help set the mood!


  5. Define success by the person the party is for, not by if it will look good on Instagram.
    I cannot stress this enough. What matters at the end of the day is not whether your pictures look amazing and everything is cohesive and awesome, what matters is if the person you’re celebrating had fun and felt honored. I’ve thrown parties and not taken a single picture for this exact reason.With the rise of social media the temptation is to invest more time, effort and energy in curating an image than in creating actual memories. 

    Which isn’t to say social media is bad, I’m a big fan of it if I’m being honest, it’s important to be mindful of how and why we’re using it though…and how the way we use social media platforms affects the way we live our lives.

    I had a dozen ideas for cute cupcake ideas pinned, but my daughter wanted a blueberry cake with Princess Ariel on it. It didn’t fit the theme – and it tasted kind of weird – but that’s how she wanted to celebrate so that’s what we did.

Parties are meant to be fun, but they can quickly turn into a series of hoops to jump through and endless lists of things to do. At the end of the day though, gathering people you love to celebrate doesn’t have to be that complicated and you get to decide how much work you want to put in to it. What matters is that you choose to be present to those moments of celebration, even if things don’t meet your version of “perfect.”

Shauna Niequist has re-shaped my view of hospitality and entertaining more than anyone else. In her book Present Over Perfect she writes:

“I want things to be spectacular, epic, over the top, exciting and dramatic. But in order to force that beauty and drama into otherwise ordinary moment, you have to push and tap dance and hustle, hustle, hustle…

I could either wrestle my life and my kids and my house and our Christmas [or birthday, or graduation, or…] into something fantastic, something perfect…or I could plunk myself down right in the middle of the mess and realize that the mess is actually my life, the only one I’ll ever get, the one I’m in danger of missing completely, waiting around for fantastic.”

I’ve spent enough parties running around frantically, barely speaking to guests and stressed out about my daughter’s behavior.  I’m over it. I don’t want to miss my life – and especially not the moments of celebration in it! I choose present over perfect.



Megan Westra is on the pastoral staff at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She also blogs regularly at Megan lives with her husband Ben, and her daughter, Cadence Grace in the inner city of Milwaukee as part of an intentional relocation movement within her church.  Megan recently began studying at Northern Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity.  She loves to read, run, practice yoga and she’s an unapologetic coffee snob.


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