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10 tips for hosting a stress-free holiday party

If the thought of hosting a party this holiday season has you feeling more stressed than excited, it’s time to slow down and simplify. With a little smart planning and a few quick decorating tricks, you can have a bash that looks elegant and still allows you time to actually sit down and enjoy yourself.

Read on for 10 fabulously simple tips that will make your next party a breeze.

3. Dim the lights

If the ambience in your abode feels a little lackluster, adjusting the lighting is an easy fix. Turn off any glaring overhead lights, relying on the softer glow of table lamps and candlelight instead. If you have dimmer switches, lower the light until the space feels warm and cozy. Bonus: Guests feel more at ease in a dimly lit room, so conversation should flow.

4. Plan seating arrangements with fun in mind

If you are hosting a sit-down dinner with eight or more guests, it’s usually a good idea to assign places. Seating couples separately usually inspires more conversation (they do talk to each other all the time, right?), and seating your most charming guest next to a wallflower can help the shy one open up. And if you want to create a livelier atmosphere at your next shindig, reach beyond the usual suspects — invite a new neighbor or recent acquaintance, or ask a friend to bring a guest.

Traditional Dining Room by Andrea Schumacher Interiors

5. Know when to buy and when to DIY

You can save money and time (spent shopping) by creating your own place holders with whatever materials you happen to have on hand.

The ones shown here were made using recycled paint chips, but you could use pretty gift wrap, sections of your child’s artwork, old family photos (originals or photocopies), or plain craft paper tags tied with string.

But if DIYs leave you feeling more stressed than inspired, let yourself off the hook and buy something great instead.

6. Get guests involved in the meal

Break the ice (and ease your workload) by inviting guests to assemble their own crostini, knead pizza dough or shake up cocktails at a DIY bar. Pitching in will help your guests feel at home — and when everyone has a stake in the dinner, you don’t have to feel terrible if something doesn’t come out as planned.

Houzz Photo

7. Try easy, chic updates for your table

If you have a basic set of white dishes, stemless glasses and flatware, you can build nearly any table setting. Add one or more of these ideas to give your table a fresh look:

  • Let nice tea towels stand in as napkins.
  • Use burlap from the garden store as a rustic runner.
  • Float flowers in small bowls; intersperse with tea lights down the center of table.
  • Use cake plates to arrange a display of seasonal fruit and nuts.

8. Set up your kitchen for easy cleaning

Before you start cooking, put a big bowl on the counter for garbage, and fill a dishpan (or the sink) with warm, soapy water to soak dishes as you use them. Line your baking sheets and pans with aluminum foil or baking parchment before using and you’ll hardly need to clean them later. And if someone offers to help, let them!

Contemporary Kitchen by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

9. Play to your strengths

Refuse to volunteer to host a gathering that is just not your style. If formal sit-down dinners stress you out, plan a cocktail party, potluck, brunch or open house instead. Or break with tradition and entertain at a favorite local restaurant!

Traditional Living Room by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design

10. Let guests go with gentle cues

If you’re ready to go to bed but the guests are still going strong, try one (or more) of these friendly (yet clear) signs it’s time to go.

  • Blow out a few candles
  • Turn up the lights a bit
  • Make a pot of coffee
  • Start packing up to-go containers if you’re sharing leftovers
  • Run the dishwasher
  • Say, “Oh my, I should let all of you get home to bed, it’s getting late!”

If your friends tend to stay well past what you consider closing time, tell them in advance it will need to end at a certain time.

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