Short Answers From Darcy Miller

The celebrations expert (and Martha Stewart’s right hand) shares her best tips for throwing awesome, affordable parties that give guests all the feels.

darcy-miller_short-answers-fromSo this happened: We found a book that will make you want to celebrate everything. A half birthday! A snow day! The last day of school!

Penned by Darcy Miller, (who has worked closely with Martha Stewart for the past 25 years (!!) and is currently Editor at Large of Martha Stewart Weddings), Celebrate Everything is the party-throwing bible for anyone who’s ever struggled with enjoying their own dinner party, throwing a chic Elsa soiree (yup, actually possible), or finding crowd-pleasing party favors for 25 kids.

Every single thing listed on the 275 pages is sourced – from the designer of drool-worthy invites to the Etsy vendor who makes custom photo confetti – making it insanely user-friendly. And unlike those Pinterest rabbit holes, Darcy manages to inspire and seamlessly move you into execution mode (the sign of a total pro).

Read on for the best, most thoughtful party tips guaranteed to take the stress out of every future party/dinner/shower you host. And yes, you will now want to host them all.


Make An Off-The-Shelf Party Feel Special

Pre-planned party packages at places like gyms, bowling alleys, or skating rinks are so easy, and kids love them, but they can lack that special feeling.
 Here’s how to solve that.

  • Make t-shirts for the kids to wear so the kids feel like they’re on a team – they also become a built-in favor (score!). Whether you order online or make them yourself at home with patches or permanent markers, you can get the birthday boy or girl in on the fun and DIT (do it together) ahead of time (or have the kids do it as an activity when they arrive at the party).
  • Pick your kids’ favorite color and bring that into the balloons, cake, or any other party details. If you print out sheets of stickers of anything from photos to what they love, you can stick them on everything from paper cups to favor bags.

Throw A Kid’s Birthday Party At Home (With Money Left Over for College)

It’s all about double-duty:

  • A craft turns into a fun party favor: Beads can be strung on cords for necklaces.
  • Cupcake decorating is more fun and less expensive than buying a cake.
  • For a smaller group, have a pizza-making party where the kids make pizza and then eat it as the meal.

Some of the best games don’t cost anything and keep kids entertained.

  • Do a scavenger hunt based on your child’s favorite color, age, or party theme.
  • Everyone likes freeze tag.
  • Roll out a giant piece of paper on the floor with markers to keep them busy – it makes for a great birthday memento afterwards.

Pick a theme and make it fun without having to spend a lot. Say you’re hosting a rainbow party:

  • Have kids come dressed in different colors.
  • Make Jello in every color (or even layered like a rainbow).
  • Play a game where you say a color and then time people to think of the most things that are that color.
  • Play charades where you have to act out anything in a color (for green you can be anything from grasshopper to a ninja turtle).

Elusive Party Favors

Favors are always optional, and if you choose to have one, they can be very simple. Think about the theme of the party or what the child loves most and find a way to tie that in.

  • One of my favorite ideas is taking a homemade or store-bought sweet, slipping it into a cellophane bag, and making a critter out of it with paper ears and eyes. (Hint: There are templates on my website if you need ideas.)
  • Crafts are always a great activity that turn into a favor. I love getting inexpensive “blank canvasses” like tote bags and setting the kids up with paints, pom poms, markers, glitter, and glue. The crafts can dry during cake time, and if you want to add more to the favor, you can let the kids fill up the bag with candy, temporary tattoos, and stickers.
  • Turn décor into a favor by giving everyone a balloon on their way out. Kids love them, and it saves you one piece of cleanup!
  • Photo booths are also fun. Set up a backdrop, or just hand the kids some props for them to pose with. If you have a polaroid camera or instant printer, kids can decorate inexpensive wood frames (or even paper ones) and take it home with a photo as a favor.


3 Steps To Dinner Party Success

  • Try to plan ahead as much as possible by pretending it’s a few days earlier than it really is. Figure out seating, make place cards, do any baking, and create or choose a playlist. Leave only necessities like cooking and getting flowers for the day of.
  • Don’t feel like you have to prepare everything yourself. If you’re cooking the whole dinner, give yourself a break on dessert. Buy a pie or special baked good from your favorite bakery, or pick up ice cream and toppings and setting up an ice cream bar – all you have to do is scoop!
  • Enlist help. People like to feel useful, so take them up on it. Sometimes potlucks are the most fun. I also love a pie party, where you have everyone bring their favorite pie, savory or sweet.

How To Nail A Toast

Toasting anxiety is real. If you have it but want to give props to a loved one, here’s a great hack:

  • Get guests in on the toasting game by making it more interactive. Set up place cards that have a fill in the blank prompt on the back:
    My favorite memory of ______ is…
    The funniest thing _____  ever said to me was…
    You stand up and lead the charge with your own and have guests go around the room and share what they wrote.

Host/Hostess Gifts

The key is to think about the person you’re buying for. Something personal is the best gift – it doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive to be thoughtful and appreciated.

  • I love finding a good book based on the host’s or hostess’ interest. The Sprinkles Baking Book for the baker, Mad Hungry Family for the parent feeding hungry kids, Rebecca Thuss’s Paper to Petal for the crafter.
  • Along that same vein, a magazine subscription is more out of the box and always a great choice because it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  • If you want to bring something more decorative, an orchid plant is a perfect option as the hostess doesn’t have to immediately put it in water like fresh cut flowers, and it lasts way after the party is over. (Tip: Trader Joe’s usually has great ones for $12.)

Stocking The Bar

I have an alcohol calculator in my book, thanks to my friend caterer Peter Callahan, but it depends on the time of day, day of week, and your guests (some are bigger drinkers than others). I always like a specialty cocktail because it feels thoughtful and fun, and then you don’t have to do a full bar. I also love a champagne bar.

Divide & Conquer

If you’re hosting with someone else, split up the responsibilities – just make sure it’s very clear who’s doing what. Get the music lover on playlist duty, the drink connoisseur on specialty cocktail duty, whoever knows the guests better on the seating chart. Then DIT (do it together) things like menu planning and table setting.

Don’t Break The Bank On Flowers

Sometimes less is more when it comes to flowers.

  • I like individual blooms in small vases, cups, or votives down the table.
  • A few sprigs of greenery can be a nice touch on a napkin or place card.
  • My tables are always packed with a variety of décor – small bowls of candy or nuts, candles, and often some artwork. Doing this means that flowers aren’t the only thing your guests will be seeing when they look at your table, so you don’t have to have as many.

Music Is Everything

Consider the vibe of the party and songs that convey that vibe. It’s about the feel of the song more than what the song itself is saying.

  • My friend DJ Lucy Wrubel put some really great playlists together that you can see in my book, so of course I’d recommend that for a start. 😉
  • I love having guests (kids included) send in a favorite song or two ahead of time to create a playlist, so you know everyone will be happy and get to hear a song they like.
  • Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music are always good go-to’s for playlists.