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Melissa Schmalenberger, Published April 03 2014

Ms. Simplicity: Tips for hosting an organized graduation party

I am a few months away from my second child’s graduation party, a party that I’ve planned for a couple of years.

Right after his older brother graduated two years ago, I knew right away that I wanted to do the same party again. Plus, I have been going to graduation parties my friends are having for their kids, and I am seeing what I love and seeing what shortcuts would work to make my event simpler.

His scrapbook for elementary school will be done at a scrapbooking retreat I have planned with other moms of seniors in a few weeks. I know who I am hiring to make a video – my husband. I know who I am hiring to cater the meal. The announcements have been ordered. The hard stuff is figured out.

The best decision I made was to relieve myself of the stress by not having the party in my garage. The garage is the last part of our home that needs to be organized. I have left it up until now as we have been busy with home and yard projects.

I have been seeing trends of holding parties elsewhere such as parks, restaurants, churches, community centers, theaters, etc. Another great idea is several families having their parties together. Chances are your child has a close group of friends, and you could all work together and share in the party expenses.

Tips for planning a graduation party:

• Keep it simple. My party may look like it was expensive and took a lot of planning and time, but compared to what I am seeing out there, mine was on the conservative side of things.

• Focus on what you enjoy. For example, if you hate to cook, enlist some friends and family to help, or if the budget allows, hire a caterer.

• If you are stressed about your house not being “picture perfect,” focus on these areas – the kitchen, entryway, guest bathroom and the room in which the party is going to be held.

• Keep the beverages simple – bottled water and maybe two soda choices, one diet and one caffeine-free.

• Have a backup plan in case of inclement weather.

• Ask friends to serve as hosts at the party for you. Put a friend in charge of food, one in charge of drinks and one in charge of garbage. You need to enjoy the party too!

• I have seen a lot of graduation open house invitations on Facebook this year. What a great and easy way to send out the invites to friends. Most family still want a paper invitation. But know that your kid will likely invite their guest list via social media.

Memorabilia Tips:

• Have a framed and matted 8 by 10 photo of the graduate, and have a pen available for the guests to sign the mat. This is a great keepsake for the graduate.

• I used the Dr. Seuss book “Oh The Places You Will Go” as my guestbook.

• Poster board with fun pictures from the life of the graduate are fun to look at. Scan the pictures into a computer or make copies before cropping as some of the photos may be one of a kind.

• Take all of the grade-school pictures and display them in chronological order. It is fun to see the progression of the graduate.

Food Tips:

• People are not looking to be fed a meal. Many have already been to several graduation parties during the day. The majority of the guests are just there to stop in and say hi, drop off a card and leave.

• Don’t serve alcohol. It is just asking for trouble. First, alcohol gets expensive and can add hundreds of dollars to an already stretched budget. Second, alcohol could get into the hands of minors or the relative who really should not have anything to drink.

• Have plenty of bottled water. My green tip is to have recycling bins placed so that it encourages people to recycle the plastic water bottles.

Trendy graduation food:

• Anything that is a finger food and easy to eat.

• Most people come already full to a graduation party. Why not serve desserts or have a make-your-own ice cream sundae bar?

• Cotton candy machine rental? Yes, it can be done. But please remember it is a sticky mess, and if you are the one making the cotton candy, you will be covered in that sugary floss for the day.

• Pick a theme with the food, such as Mexican, and stick with it. For example, have a salsa bar with different kinds of chips and salsa. A walking taco is always a good choice.

• Anything on a stick is always fun to eat. Think fruit kabobs with dip.

• Cupcakes instead of cake. Cupcakes are easier to eat, no cutting required and no utensils.

Please keep in mind, don’t stress and have fun! This is a party for you to have fun at as well. Ask for help and see what you can outsource.

Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger, operates her business as I Did it with Ms. Simplicity. She is a Professional Organizer based out of Fargo. Email her atmelissa@mssimplicity.com.