The Stress-Free Way to Have People Over Tonight (or Any Night)

updated May 3, 2023
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(Image credit: Bridget Pizzo)

How much do you love having your home filled with friends and laughter and drinks and food? But how stressful is it to plan a party? What will they eat, what kind of batched craft cocktail should you make? Can you get the house clean in time? Never mind, let’s just get everyone to meet at a wine bar.

There’s always, always a reason to not have a party. And it is approximately as likely that you will discover a wrinkle in the time-space continuum as it is that you can catch even a couple, let alone a party’s worth, of your busy friends free all on the same night.

So it was that my husband and I had moved into a house made for gatherings, a rambling old Victorian, and — other than the “before” party we hosted the day after move-in (a whole other story!) — we’d not had a proper party in the year-and-a-half-plus since.

That Time I Woke Up and Decided to Throw a Party That Night

One Saturday earlier this summer I woke up and realized: We were not currently in the midst of any massive home renovations. Our Airbnb project on the third floor was finished with bookings rolling in, but nobody there that night. The house was reasonably clean. We had no plans. I had a stash of very pungent cheese from Paris that I very much needed to be gone. Also, I wanted to!

I rolled over and nudged my pretending-to-still-be-asleep husband. “Let’s have a party tonight!” I said. He’s used to my announcing large-scale undertakings early on weekend mornings, so wasn’t terribly taken aback. “Okay,” he agreed. And we were off.

5 Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Party

With such a short time to plan, there was no planning. And no fretting. And that is the genius of the last-minute party. Here’s how to do it.

1. Post an event page on Facebook.

Keep the message simple. You do not have to be Shakespeare. Here’s what I wrote: A very low key and last-minute gathering … tonight!

2. Tell people what to bring.

I’m always torn about asking people to bring things, but when it comes to a day-of affair, honesty is the best policy. I wrapped up the event description with: Bring a beverage and/or a snack if you like. I’d sure love to put out a feast and proper bar but: house poor.

Nobody I like enough to invite over is going to take offense at that, I figured, and it was the difference in being able to throw this little impromptu shindig and not.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

3. Serve cheap (but good!) drinks.

Rather than spending a stressful day cleaning and cooking like one might ahead of most parties, we went about our usual Saturday. For drinks, we picked up some Zima (because Zima’s back, you guys!) and my favorite cheap house party bourbon.

4. Hit up Trader Joe’s for snacks.

On our Trader Joe’s run we grabbed a few nibbles, and back at home set out random snacks (including that overpowering cheese), assorted disposable plates, and some cheap beers recent Airbnb-ers had left in our fridge.

5. Don’t forget the music.

I popped a Zima, found a playlist on Spotify, and the party was on!

We’d done it open-house-style, so friends from all corners of our lives came and went throughout the evening. People made new friends, our dogs had an absolute blast with some friends’ kids, we gave tours of our house and newly renovated top floor living space, drank bourbon, ate stinky cheese and yummy snacks people brought, and in general had an absolutely fantastic Saturday night.

Many days our house feels overwhelming for just the two of us. But having music and laughter and kids and dogs running and bourbon flowing felt exactly right for the home. It’s what it was made for. It’s what people were made for.

And guess what? Nobody cared that I didn’t have a perfectly set table, homemade snacks, or artisan anything. The Trader Joe’s Sriracha chips were the hit of the night and even the cheap beer was enjoyed. Even if the house had been dusty or cluttered, nobody would have cared. And I’m super glad to have learned that.

Since that success, we’ve made it a new practice to make more plans on the fly. I’ve learned the best time to have any kind of gathering is … right now.

More on Low-Stress Parties

  • 5 Rules for Hosting a Crappy Dinner Party (and Seeing Your Friends More Often)
  • What Guests Actually Care About at Dinner Parties
  • The 5 Things You Should Never Clean Before a Dinner Party