Hosting lessons I've learned from seven years of throwing an annual party

By on Aug 10th
lounging in the meadow

Friends chillin' at our annual anniversary party. Photo by Megan Finley

After our wedding in 2004, Andreas and I decided that camping with our friends in the forest of my mom's property was so much fun that we wanted to do it every single year. This last weekend marked our 7th wedding anniversary, and therefore our sixth annual camp-out, which somewhere along the line became known as Meadowfabulous.

Ariel roasting a hot dog

I'm Ariel and I'm here to roast some weenies and spread some knowledge.

The annual event has morphed over the years (simply stated: more babies, less inebriation), but every year things just get easier and easier in part because I'm getting my systems (yes: I have systems!) better settled and smoothed out. The first couple years of Meadowfab, I spent most of the weekend running around in a white-hot panic of logistical terror and social anxiety. Once I made a few tweaks with the format and processes, things got way easier.

Here are the biggest lessons I've learned from seven years of hosting this weekend event, most of which are applicable to all sorts of parties:

Keep it to a manageable size

As a hostess, my goal at first was MOAR PEOPLE! More friends! More fun! More dancing! I am a promoter at heart, and for a couple years our camp-out got bigger and bigger every year, as our friends brought their friends, who brought their friends. In 2007, some random couple I'd never met before showed up at 3am and set up their tent up practically on top of Dre's and mine. I had a dark moment in my sleeping bag, thinking to myself "Who the fuck even ARE these people!?" and from that point on, I decided the camp-out needed to be smaller.

I love meeting new people, but when the camp-out got to the point where I didn't recognize whole clusters of guests, and couldn't even figure out who I should ask to introduce us, I knew it was time to scale things waaay back. No one was disrespectful, but I realized that I didn't want to play hostess for 50 of my friends' friends. I wanted to see 30 or so of OUR friends. Resist the urge to get sucked into feeling like the size of your party is tied to some sort of middle-school concept of popularity. Quality over quantity when it comes to hosting.

Maybe you don't want to host the alternate reality


Dude, I'm so wasted right now — you know what I really want to do?!

Earlier in its history, Meadowfab definitely had a lot more inebriation of all sorts. Our friends like to party, and initially our goal was to provide the most awesome gorgeous setting for them to get their psychonaut/shamanic journey on. After a couple years, it became very clear to me that I couldn't handle the liability issues — and I mean that both literally (what if someone had hurt themselves?) and figuratively.

Taking care of high/drunk people can be a huge burden, and I spent a lot of time fretting over the pack of girls who'd turned a dirt-floored shed into a VIP lounge, or the friend of a friend who got high and wanted to do some wood chopping, or the guy who asked me if he could take a large crystal into the woods for a while. The amount of bottles to recycle after the weekend filled several wheel-barrows. I started feeling resentful about people being so hungover that they couldn't help with clean-up on the final day of the camp-out.

If you change things, give it a couple years to shake out

We made the big shift in 2008 when we decided to stop setting up a full sound system. There was some outcry at first — what would the party be without dancing? How would it work if the focus wasn't on staying up all night on Saturday? Can I still bring my 10 friends?

It was a little rough that first year to say there will be NO MUSIC, sorry. NO you probably shouldn't bring all your friends (and their friends). YES it'll still be fun, just in a different way. That first year felt a little odd as people adjusted to the new format. But by the following year, the folks looking to get REALLY fucked up just prioritized other parties over ours. Dre and I were just fine with that.

Do not over-engineer

cienna and ariel

Ok, so first I was thinking we could do a scavenger hunt, THEN the pancakes, then we can play corn-hole and have the campsite decorating contest, and THEN we can — wait, why are you looking like that?

I'm a pretty hands-on hostess, and I have all these great ideas for how our camp-out could be SO AWESOME. Scavenger hunts? Welcome bags? Making pancakes for everyone in the morning?! But after years of spending the entire weekend running around engineering and spending NO TIME actually enjoying myself, I realized I needed to stop it. I could spend three hours making pancakes … or I could just sit back, let folks serve themselves from a buffet of food, and actually have the time to shoot the shit with my friends. Amazing!

This also extends to social engineering. I used to feel like every single guest's social comfort was my responsibility, and so I spent a lot of time dashing around introducing people, trying to engage the shy folks, putting the busy-bodies to work helping with various tasks, etc etc. Ultimately, I learned to just pick my guests carefully, and let them work their own magic.

Cultivate your guestlist carefully

Oh man, this is important. For me, I like our camp-out to be a way to get friends who may not have met each other to mingle and see why we think they're all awesome. Each year, there are people who've never been, who know no-one. Each year there are guests from out of town. It's pivotal that everyone invited be one of those folks who can plop down on a camp-chair next to a campfire and say "Hey, I'm so-n-so — who are you?" You need a good mix of single and coupled friends. You need people who blend. You need people who don't want to get high and play with an axe.

When you're really thoughtful about your guestlist, you don't have to do as much social engineering because your guests know how to introduce themselves, help clean up, or spread information through the party. When you pick your guests carefully, the party almost throws itself.

Take notes for the following year at the party

Half-way through the weekend I remembered that last year we'd had this issue where our breakfast/lunch food options felt WAY too focused on bready/starchy food … but when I'd assembled our annual Costco shopping list, I'd gotten all the exact same carb-tastic things. I started a little note to myself: next year, more protein. Next year, do the talent show a little earlier. Next year, consider a forest-wear fashion show. I put all the notes into a Google Calendar item that'll pop up next July, so that I can remember all this stuff when I'm actually planning next year. Perfecto!

In summary, annual parties are a little different than one-off parties because you have the weight of expectations and get a chance to tweak things as the years go by. But the core issues are the same: getting just the right people together, and letting them do their thing.

Any of you throw annual parties? Any great tips to share?