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Ms. Simplicity: How to plan an organized graduation party

Melissa Schmalenberger, Ms Simplicity columnist

Sadly, this is the last year I am writing about having an organized graduation party. My baby is graduating this spring, and I am unofficially retiring this topic.

The invites have been designed and placed in the mail. I am now up to the nitty gritty party planning mode, the stage that often derails me. Having completed two previous graduation parties, I think I have the perfect formula down.

1. Don't have it in your home. Yes, there are people who do this and do this successfully, but I am one of those people who needs to replace the carpet in the entire home and remodel the kitchen before I could host this party. I admit my flaws, and this is a big one of mine. I know I am happier (and so is my marriage) by hosting it elsewhere.

2. Team up. Don't think you need to go it alone. Ask for help. Not good at the decorating? Ask a friend. If you are having the party in your home, make sure that you have someone in charge of refilling the food and drinks and clearing the garbage. This person should not be you. I repeat, this person should not be you. You need to enjoy the party and mingle with your child's friends and your family.

3. Have the food match the graduate. My youngest son loves soup, so you guessed it, we are serving soup. We are even having a morning party. Soup for breakfast? Why not. We served meatballs at my oldest son's brunch because he loved meatballs. I focus on the graduate not what people would think.

4. Stick to your budget. This party does not need to break the family bank. Figure out where you want your money to go and focus on that. Don't get distracted by details that add to the budget but do not add to the experience. This is hard to stick to because we can get distracted by shiny objects, but just stop and keep that budget in mind.

5. Keep the decorations simple. I always look at what we already have. I met with a creative friend this week who gave me a ton of great ideas. I had to stop her and tell her my budget was $0 for decorations. She then came up with ideas that cost very little money. I can get behind that. One simple decoration: Spend $12 at the dollar store on 5 -by-7 frames for all the school photos and place them on a table.

6. You are not expected to serve a full meal. Most people are stopping for 30 minutes or less. Sure, there will be the occasional family members who are there for the whole party and may expect something more, but those are rare. I think back to my graduation party where cake and coffee was served and everyone left happy.

7. Have a guestbook to sign. I always struggle with this as it seems like an odd thing. I had a guest book at my wedding, and I have never looked at it. What I do instead is buy a fun children's book and have people sign that.

8. Enjoy the day. This goes back to all of my points. Keep it simple and focus on the graduate. Don't try to do it all by yourself, and most of all, don't stress yourself financially.

Ms. Simplicity, also known as Melissa Schmalenberger is a professional organizer based out of Fargo and author of "Organizing in Simplicity: Kitchens." Email her at