The Perfectionists Guide to Imperfect Entertaining

5 Tips From a Seasoned Pro (and Real Life Mom)

I have a confession. I’m a perfectionist. I am also a control freak, type A, overly sensitive, clean freak, people pleaser. This makes me both a great hostess, as well as a ball of hot stress. I simply love entertaining – or maybe just the idea of it. I love the way a dining room table looks when it’s all set with china and crystal and no stains on the linens from last year’s event. (not that that ever happens)

I love entertaining so much, I spent years in event planning. I prided myself on creative, fun, spectacular events on a teeny tiny budget. This made me wildly popular with my bosses, but it also developed in me mad skills in the DIY department and creative budgeting.

When I met my husband I had a dream of hosting every Thanksgiving, an annual dessert party, fabulous birthday parties for every single kid every single year, cookouts in the summer, and block parties for all the neighbors.

Then life happened.

stress less entertaining hospitality Seven kids later, I often find myself guilty of minimizing a child’s birthday party, skipping my own altogether, and stressing out to an insane level right before a major event like our Annual Dessert Party, or even Passover. Yes, my control freakish, perfectionist-ish, people pleaser-ish personality comes bolting out like a terrifying sideshow act in my marriage.

Thankfully, my husband has learned how to deal with me and calm me down, and I have also learned a few tricks to get it all done and still relax during whatever event it is.

Are you ready for my mind-blowing hospitality tips?

Tip #1 – I am not perfect…

Say it with me: I am not perfect, and neither is my mother, my sister, or _____________ (fill in the blank with the name of the person with that drool-worthy Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest account). Say it out loud. Yes, now!

My first (and most important) tip is to remember that none of us have it all together, and those of us who appear to, are sideshow freaks just like me. The only way to get past this is to STOP COMPARISON! Don’t try to be as good a hostess as your Sunday School teacher or that mom at coop who had the awesome cookie-swap! You’re not her. Be you! Comparison will kill you, steal all your entertaining joy and ruin your own party for you!

Tip #2 – Plan ahead – waaaay ahead!

When I am preparing for my annual dessert party, which consists of more than 25 amazing desserts all made by yours truly, to feed upwards of 100 guests, I start strategizing that sucker months in advance. All the best party planners do! (wink)

I make a list of all the desserts and figure out which ones I can make ahead and freeze. Then I list all the ones that must be made days in advance, followed by the ones that last well if made days in advance, and finally wrap up the list with all my last minute baking, decorating, frosting and prepping. I list all the cleaning jobs in the same list and as I go from top to bottom I make sure I accomplish everything in the most efficient order.

Tip #3 – Enlist helpers.

Don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself. Even when I was planning events corporately, I had a team of people who just enjoyed planning parties or wanted to learn the skill and I enlisted them as my very own committee. Sure, there were times I had to reign in some of their ideas, but I also always listened because as I’ve found the best ideas surface when ideas bounce around like popcorn.

This year, my daughter has requested to make the dessert menu and I am letting her. Not only is it a super fun job for a 12-year-old girl, it will also teach her some excellent event planning skills, such as planning something for everyone, budgeting, and list making.

When it comes to cleaning and setting up, your committee will already be well invested and want the event to succeed as much as you do! So, enlist your team of helpers early! Tell your four-year-old that the very success of your upcoming cookie swap is hinging on his ideas and assistance. Beyond just showing value for his ideas, a few cookies and the potential play dates that get scheduled during your party are reward enough!

Tip #4 – Parties aren’t meant to be Perfect

Remember this: Entertaining, whether a huge gala, a casual kid’s party, a play date at your house, or a family holiday meal, isn’t meant to be perfect. Your guests are not there to see a picture-perfect house. They aren’t going to check your baseboards or look for a stray cobweb. They aren’t going to meticulously critique your buffet spread or your table linens. While those things are nice, they aren’t necessary. What is necessary is a happy and present Y-O-U!

After last year’s dessert party, some friends from out of town stayed to sleep over, and, as the mom and I chit-chatted until 2:00 am, she inadvertently gave me the best compliment of my event planning life. She said, “I love your home. It’s clean, but not overly so, it’s neat but not overly so, and it just feels so warm and welcoming.” Perhaps she saw the dust I left on the upper shelves that evening or a misplaced toy among schoolbooks that remained on their shelves. I wasn’t hiding our stuff (ahem, much), but the very presence of a little mess made it comfortable for my guest.

Tip #5 – Graciousness

When we think of the times when we, ourselves, were hosted well, we often think of the host’s graciousness. Graciousness is defined as courteousness, kindness and pleasantness. But I also like to factor in the root word grace. Grace, itself, as a Biblical virtue, is showing unmerited favor. And that is how I like to look at hosting anyone for anything. I like to keep my focus on how I can allow unmerited favor to permeate my event.

For the dessert party, I think 25+ fabulous desserts is showing unmerited favor, but I never stop there. I tablescape that buffet, placing items at different heights, using different color and texture and flavor to send off neural firecrackers in my guests’ minds. I interweave lights and candles and mirrors and shiny things to add more depth to the overall look. I play appropriate music so as to add to the atmosphere without overpowering conversations.

Each year, we build a palm tree from pineapples and plaster it with berries, even though it is incredibly time-consuming and is devoured within 20 minutes. I don’t do it to show off, and if I did, it would be a source of stress, but rather I do it to show that kind of unmerited favor to my friends, once a year.

And then I sit down and enjoy the party. I may check on the punch bowl or refresh the coffee, but mostly I behave like a guest at my own party. I engage and enjoy my friends and stop fussing.

For you, it could be hosting a missionary or a family for the holidays. Step into their shoes a moment and consider what would make them feel most at home. A tidy home with little dust and clutter certainly adds to the welcoming feel, but what else? Is it privacy? Is it a welcome gift? Is it mints on the bed pillows? Is it a home cooked meal ready for their arrival or the coffee maker set to auto-brew for the time they like to rise?

There are so many ways to show love and care for our guests. I encourage you to show unmerited favor to yours as you welcome others into your home, and love them with the love of Messiah, even if it means making 25 or more desserts in a week.



  1. Lisa says

    This is a great post! So many women struggle with perfectionism especially during holiday entertaining season. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nina Daugherty says

    Wow that many desserts..what a blessing and how fun! My daughter would love to help at your house because she loves baking..thank you for these tips!

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