There may have been a time when stopping at the Seven-Eleven for a six-pack of Bud, a bag of Fritos, and some rolling papers was all the prep a party required. Good times, yes, but many of us have matured a tad since then, so coming up with a pre-gala timetable, (consult this version at DotComWomen for specifics), will help you arrange a more complex gathering with a minimum of agita. Once you've got your game plan plotted, be sure to add a few minutes to the stretch just before the gang piles through the door to allow you to get your head together. Taking a cleansing breath, chanting a quick mantra, and giving yourself props for what you've already accomplished are all fine ways to prepare yourself for the fun to come.
There may be one or two of you out there who can afford to book the country club and hire a caterer to whip up lobster tails with sides of white truffle risotto, but even if you're serving weenies and tater salad in the backyard, creating a budget for your party is as essential as a beaded headband at a Jimi Hendrix concert. The thing to remember is that the amount you want to spend on your shindig should determine your party choices, not the other way around. Come up with a total-party-cost amount and select food, location, decoration, and entertainment options that fit into that figure. Be sure to add a "miscellaneous" category to your cost calculations so you'll have a few bucks to cover unexpected expenses.
Getting your guests psyched for a competition to see if anyone can actually decipher the lyrics to "Louie, Louie" only to find that the needed CD has disappeared is a party downer. To avoid this sort of festivity faux pas, make a checklist to insure that all elements of your bash will go off without a hitch. The list should always include assigning a designated driver for alcohol-inclusive fetes, making sure that you have enough seating, and stockpiling suitable amounts of beverages and grub for the entire celebratory congregation.
Sadly, other than death and taxes, the one thing in life, and in party throwing, that you can expect is the unexpected. Having a back-up location for an outdoor gathering in case the skies open up with a vengeance is the most obvious example of planning for all eventualities, but don't forget smaller precautions as well. You're not being an alarmist if you have a stash of Band-Aids, candles, an ice pack, and a sewing kit on hand. And keeping numbers for car or cab services by the phone and having an inexpensive umbrella or two to loan to departing rain-dodgers may make you seem like a fuddy-duddy, but even the wildest child can't refuse such level-headed assistance.
It's the little things that party guests appreciate, like not throwing a Spamboree during Ramadan, or taking into account the fact that the vegan couple from work may not appreciate an all-meat menu. Generally speaking we were a thoughtful generation, so let your neighbors know if you plan to rock-out past midnight, and be considerate of party attendee intestinal tracts by remembering that non-refrigerated picnic foods should not contain mayo. Ask guests about food preferences and allergies in advance, and don't assume that you can get down in a public park or light a bonfire for your clambake on the beach without a permit. Even the best blasts aren't worth a trip to the pokey.
Or at least don't invite total strangers and expect them to groove on each other without help from the host or hostess. Make sure that you know enough about your party compadres to help them interact. Saying, "John, this is Lucy. Lucy is also a Gemini" is a start, but if you don't help newly introduced celebrants find more substantial common ground they may choose to exit before the bean dip is served. And keep an eye out for wallflowers. Believe it or not, there were some members of our generation who didn't want to go to Woodstock. Blame not these shyer, less-party-prone beings. Rather extend to them additional personal attention and draw them forth into the fun with kind words and perhaps a second glass of Chardonnay.
Your living room isn't the only place to hatch a hullabaloo. Consider the great outdoors. The backyard is a prime option, but local parks, festivals, and the beach also beckon. And don't let un-summery conditions put the kibosh on an al fresco fete. Apple-picking, tobogganing, and outdoor Christmas tree trimming parties are blasts from our pasts whose fun-factors have yet to wane. These days a door-to-door scavenger hunt might precipitate a call to the cops, but a museum version where teams of guests are given lists of artifacts or elements in artwork to track down is a uniquely amusing use for a rarified realm. And bowling alleys, miniature golf courses, and ice skating rinks need not be singularly kid-party venues. Acting deeply immature has kept us young. Why stop now?
Working so hard on party prep that you're too pooped to enjoy your own happening is the biggest and baddest of all party don'ts. Not only will you be cheating yourself out of the fun, but odds are that the deeply intuitive members of our generation attending your do will sense that you're having a bad trip, and we all know what that can do to a good buzz. Attention to detail is great, but perfection, Grasshopper, is impossible. With good planning, a sane schedule, and a rollicking sense of the absurd you should be able to have a blast at your blast. Just relax and go with the flow...