I love throwing birthday parties. I love planning them, picking a theme, finding an invitation, collecting and crafting the decorations, preparing the menu, coming up with the perfect goody bags — all of it. The part I don't love? The monster I become the few days before and the day of while trying to perfectly execute all the plans I've had in my head for weeks (sometimes months).
When the day of the party rolls around, I'm usually one big ball of stress running around the house making sure not a thing is out of place. After my daughter's first few birthday parties, I realized that I tend to go overboard, and at what cost? I never let loose and enjoy the party, and even if I did, it's not worth barking orders at family for tasks I end up doing myself and last-minute errands to pick up ice and forgotten ingredients for a side dish.
Along with this realization came another: I wasn't just stressing myself out, I was also making it pretty unenjoyable for those around me, mainly my husband, who incurred the wrath of my stress. So for my son's camp-themed first birthday, I decided to take it down a few notches, but I wanted to still put a Pinterest-worthy twist on things.
1. Plan Ahead
To do this, I had to start planning early. I had an idea of what I wanted to do and had been saving internet searches and photos for months. When I decided that "go big or go home" wasn't my thing anymore, the first thing I did was go through my lists and prioritize. I took invitations out of the equation. People lose them or look at them once and trash them, so how did I spread the word? A text message. That's right, I created a digital invitation to match the camp theme and didn't even go the extra mile to email it. I took a screenshot and texted it to our family and friends. It actually felt amazing to have all the info out there and know people received it and could easily text me back an RSVP.
2. Prioritize What You Really Want
Next, I narrowed down my decoration ideas and combined this category with gifts for partygoers. Instead of putting together a goody bag, I purchased small camping lanterns, magnifying glasses, handheld personal fans, and bubble wands. I put them all out as decorations on the snack table and around the yard and put the kids' names on them so they would know they could take them home. This decoration/party favor combo saved me so much time and hassle.
While doing this, I also knocked off all the games I thought would be fun for small kids and instead set out a few activities they could do themselves like water balloons, squirt guns, and bubble wands. This allowed me to spend time mingling and chatting with guests rather than facilitating a sponge water relay race.
3. Make What's Easy, Not Impressive
Next came the food. Since it was a camp theme, I had tons of supercute camp-themed snacks I wanted to create. After looking through all my pictures and notes, I decided to keep only a few of the easy ones. Individual pieces of corn on the cob on their own stick would be great, but necessary? Not even a little bit. So I cut up watermelon and canned the corn idea entirely. I decided the menu would be simple: burgers, hot dogs, and toppings with a few easy and delicious side dishes. This took away a ton of hassle, because most of the dishes taste better after being marinated overnight, so I leisurely made them all the day before.
4. Have Someone Else Bake the Cake
One part that was a little more difficult for me to give up as a DIY was the cake, because I really enjoy baking and decorating them. But it's a huge time suck. Instead, I outsourced the first birthday smash cake to a bakery and ended up making s'mores cupcakes and s'mores on a stick for the rest of the guests (which I also used as part of the decor). I put trail mix in little containers and set out chips and dips in serving bowls I bought at Dollar Tree.
5. Make Time For DIY Decorations
The one thing I didn't give up entirely was my crafting of decorations. I scaled back and only made a few but completed some pretty intricate tasks by starting about three weeks before the party. I had a craft area set up and would sit and work on it during any free time I found in the weeks leading up to the party. I made the visions I had come to life with a wooden camp sign, a twine string with wood slices holding his monthly pictures, and matching t-shirts for the birthday boy and family.
All in all, the party turned out amazing, both my husband and I enjoyed ourselves, and I felt zero stress the day of. Toning down the party prep was the best thing I could have done. It was the best of both worlds — I got to create a Pinterest-worthy party and be stress-free!