Kimberly Fusaro says; woe get it: Knickknacks, plastic toys and your kids’ art projects multiply while you’re sleeping. But the more serene your home is, the more serene your guests will feel. So use your party as an opportunity to clear out the extras. Stow toys in a room with a closed door, and tuck two-thirds of your tchotchkes (especially the breakable ones) in a box. Cut down the number of framed photos on the mantel to one or two. “Wedding portraits isn’t a proper home decor theme,” points out Stephanie. And pare down the fridge door decorations: Permission slips, rec center schedules and your kids’ last three report cards can be moved to a drawer for the night.
3. Dress up your home. Cleaning up is part one of creating ambiance. Part two: making your home as special as you want the evening to be. So it should look nicer than it does when, say, your best friend swings by to pick up your kids for soccer practice. Try switching off the overhead lights and setting out lots of unscented votive candles across mantels and down the center of tables, suggests Madhu Puri, entertaining editor for shopping site One Kings Lane and their online magazine Live.Love.Home. Add pops of color with unfussy floral arrangements: Choose a single variety—poppies, carnations, even baby’s breath—and cut the stems at varying heights for a stress-free display.
4. Do another sweep through your bathroom. This is one private space that all your guests will have access to, so make sure it’s pristine. “I don’t need to see your fluffy bathrobe or know what type of birth control you’re on,” says Elizabeth from Portland, OR. After you’ve cleared out personal items and swept the floor, make your loo guest-friendly with a scented candle, clean hand towels and extra rolls of toilet paper.
5. Stick with a menu of familiar, easy-to-cook foods. This isn’t the night to test those high-effort vegan Slovakian recipes you clipped from a magazine. The point of a party is for everyone—including you!—to mix and mingle, so make sure your party-day to-do list is minimal. “Your guests are there to spend time with you,” says Elizabeth, “so please don’t attempt something you’ve never cooked before or take on more than you have time for.” Pick crowd-pleasing dishes you can prep beforehand and finish quickly when guests arrive.
6. Have no-cook snacks at the ready. In spite of your careful planning, don’t count on dishes being done when guests show up—and don’t make anyone starve! “I make sure my guests can graze while I finish cooking,” says Puri. Nuts, cheeses, cured meats and chips can be set out in seconds, and they’re the perfect small bites for guests to nibble on while they wait for cooked food to be served.
7. Set up your bar and glassware ahead of time. Rather than rushing to get each new guest a drink, encourage everyone to help themselves. You don’t need to put out a full bar; just arrange a few bottles of wine and a small tub of iced beers—and don’t forget a pitcher of water and plenty of glasses. “Your guests will be thirsty when they arrive,” says Puri. “Think ahead and you’ll save yourself time spent getting every guest a glass of water.”
8. Choose your playlist in advance. Music should already be playing when your first guests arrive. That way, you don’t get stuck fumbling with the stereo while they stand around in awkward silence. “You want your home to feel inviting,” says Puri. “And music creates instant atmosphere.” If you don’t have time to pick individual songs from your music library, check out Pandora.com, where you can type in an artist or genre, and the site will churn out a nonstop selection of fitting tunes.
9. Make cleanup easy for everyone. Right after your guests reach for an hors d’oeuvre, they’ll look for somewhere to wipe their hands. “If you’re serving finger food, put out cocktail napkins,” says Puri. Similarly, have small bowls for discarded toothpicks and olive pits on hand. To keep buffet tables from getting overrun with used plates and napkins, set out a few small, discreet trash bins, and leave a tray for empty glasses just outside the kitchen.
10. Don’t apologize! Once the party’s going, avoid pointing out flaws, like that the floors need re-finishing or your sofa’s outdated. “Stop apologizing for your house!” says Stephanie. “Your home is lovely and you should feel confident about it.” To that end, also bite your tongue if you’re worried the food is sub-par. “Explaining why the risotto didn’t turn out well only makes it less appealing for your guests,” says Elizabeth, “and it forces them to work overtime to assure you how well everything turned out.”