The Secret to Hosting a Gathering (Hint – You’re Probably Doing Too Much)

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The Secret to Hosting a Gathering - Hint - You're probably doing too much -- Episode 6 of the Friendship IRL podcast

Podcast Description

My secret to hosting and gathering people together? I don’t do it all. 

For a while I tried to “do it all” as a hostess, but it honestly was stressful and not very fun. People said, “Oh, it looked so beautiful, the food was so good,” but in reality, they felt uncomfortable the entire time. Doing it all is not the answer.

I have been hosting my entire life. There’s a photo of me as a kid somewhere, wearing a cute apron and serving my grandma and her friends for a party. For 10 years, I was also a professional wedding and event planner.

So, since it’s the holiday season, I want to share my insight on what matters and what doesn’t when it comes to gathering people together – and how doing LESS can ultimately help us spend more time with the people we care about.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • The six jobs of hosting – the initiator, the organizer, the food role, the cleaner, the decorator, the day-of host
  • How to not do it all (split out the roles, narrow down the event, meet somewhere in a public place, keep things more casual & set limits)
  • How to do less when it comes to cleaning – i.e., you don’t have to scrub your baseboards, and you can just shut a door to a room
  • How day-of hosting often gets ignored, but this is make-or-break
  • Setting precedents for future events and turning things into traditions
  • The business term MVP – minimally viable product – and how it relates to friendship gatherings

Reflection Question:

What – if anything – prevents you from hosting gatherings?

Notable Quotes from Alex:

“Entertaining, to me, is a bad word. I don’t like it. It’s like you’re putting on a show. We’re not here for dinner and a show. However, gathering, getting people together, hosting, inviting people into your home – to me, that is the goal. We’re just trying to get people together. Because entertaining has so many barriers. It’s so much work to entertain. And we need to cut the barriers back. We need less reasons to not get people together.”

“I used to try and ‘do it all.’ I would cook all the food, I’d clean the house. I would have a perfectly set table. And while it looked like I was doing it all, I was missing out on a couple of the key roles. I had no time to talk to anyone. I created a panicked environment where everyone was frantically trying to help me but I couldn’t delegate. So why was I doing all this work? Why was I putting so much work into something I wasn’t enjoying, and honestly, probably wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been for all the people that were there?”

Resources & Links

One book I adore and strongly recommend about hosting: The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, which helps us understand the purpose of gathering.

For a list of the roles and a bigger description of what each entails (and how to not do everything) visit my website.

Like what you hear? Visit my website, leave me a voicemail, and follow me on Instagram

Want to take this conversation a step further? Send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting and use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out!


Leave Alex a voicemail!


@itsalexalexander

Think of your “closest friends.” Memories of friends in HS and college might appear. Want to know how you got so close? YOU LIVED LIFE TOGETHER. Grocery store, laundry, cooking. FYI- You can still do that.

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Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro  00:02

All right, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers.

Podcast Intro  00:18

Hello, hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends, they would tell you I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you too.

Alex Alexander  00:50

Hello, hello, hello. I am sneaking in this recording. We have some friends coming over for Friendsgiving. You know, like the next half hour. Probably about the time I finished recording this episode. And that’s just to show what I’m about to talk about, which is hosting and gathering people. That gives so many people anxiety. And yet, I’m just squeezing in a podcast recording. And the secret is not because I’m really great at hosting or entertaining. It’s because I just don’t do it all. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Alex Alexander  01:32

Now, I did not plan to record this episode so soon. I figured I would talk about it eventually, but I figured, I don’t know, maybe next year. I have a lot of other important topics. But then if I back up and think about it, this is actually a pretty important topic. I can talk about texting people, making time for phone calls, getting together. But how are we getting together? How are we doing this? And how are we doing this in a way that feels sustainable and enjoyable not just another to-do list item? I, personally, have been hosting and entertaining my entire life.

Alex Alexander  02:19

There is this really cute photo of me somewhere. I’m gonna have to find it. I hope I can find it. I am about five, I think, four or five. I’m wearing a cute little apron, and I am walking around in my grandma’s house. I don’t know, she was hosting something for her friends. And she had hired my mom, because my mom owned a catering company. Now, I didn’t normally perform free child labor for my mom, but you know, my mom, my grandma thought it would be cute for me to be there. So, I walked around with a tray and served for my grandma and her friends. All to say, I have been hosting my entire life. Today is Friendsgiving. This might be the 20th turkey I’ve cooked. It’s pretty second nature at this point. So I’ve been doing this in my personal life, but I also was a professional event and wedding planner for about 10 years. And again, I think that leads a lot of people to assume that I just have some secret. And do you want to know what that secret is?

Alex Alexander  03:24

The secret is I know what not to do. I know what doesn’t matter, won’t make an impact. And I can quickly cut those things out because they don’t matter. It makes me look at these get-togethers in a different way in our home. Because when I was planning professionally, people hired me as the planner. And then I would find them a florist to do decor. I would find them a catering company to cook. I would find a rental company to set up the tables and chairs. The catering company cleaned the venue, cleaned before and after. Everybody had their role. So when I’m entertaining at home, I think about it the similar way. There are different roles and we are not a team of 20 professionals when we’re entertaining in our home. We’re just one person. So we either need to ask for help, or we need to cut back on what we’re doing. 

Alex Alexander  04:31

Because if we are trying to do all the roles, we are trying to, I call it entertain, let’s just get that clear. Entertaining to me, is a bad word. I don’t like it. It’s like you’re putting on a show. We’re not here for dinner and a show. However, gathering, getting people together, hosting, inviting people into your home, to me, that is the goal. We’re just trying to get people together. Because entertaining has so many barriers. It’s so much work to entertain. And we need to cut the barriers back. We need less reasons to not get people together. Because otherwise, we’re gonna have spent our whole life never wanting anyone in our home because it wasn’t perfectly clean, and have missed out on dozens if not hundreds, of possible times connect with people you love. Now, I want to tell you, I was not always in this do less mindset. I used to try and quote unquote, “Do it all”. I would cook all the food, I’ve cleaned the house, I would have like a perfectly set table. And well, it looked like I was doing it all. I was missing out on a couple of the key roles. I had no time to talk to anyone. I created a panicked environment where everyone was frantically trying to help me, but I couldn’t delegate. 

Alex Alexander  06:05

So, why was I doing all this work? Why was I putting so much work into something I wasn’t enjoying? And honestly probably wasn’t as enjoyable as it could have been for all the people that were there. See, even though it looked like I was doing all the roles, I was not because I was not hosting, I was not doing a very good job of organizing and communicating, but we can get away with people saying, “Oh, it looked so beautiful, the food was so good.” When in reality, they felt uncomfortable the entire time. So, we’re gonna try not to do that anymore. 

Alex Alexander  06:42

One other thing I want to note about gathering people is that this is care work. Now, I think personally, this is the fun magical care work, but it’s care work. This is similar to, you know, making sure little kids have clean clothes, to doing the laundry, to feeding your family dinner every night. Gathering people, getting them together reminds everybody that they belong, they have a place to go, people care. But this is also the stuff that can be really fun. These are like the big memories we look back on. When the… the little day to day care work falls to the wayside, you know, the birthdays, or the Friendsgivings, the vacations, those are the big memories. So, these ones can really turn out to be the fun care work. But it is work. You do have to put in some work. But today, we’re going to talk about how you can do less, which actually probably create a better get together. 

Alex Alexander  07:47

So, I want to tell you about the six jobs of hosting. And then after I tell you what the six jobs are, I’m going to tell you how to not do all of them, and how to pick which ones. So, the first job. First job is what’s called the initiator. There is a mental labor to saying out loud. Michael did this. “Do you want to host Friendsgiving this year?” About a month ago, he asked me that question. Now, I had thought about it, but I had not said it out loud. I had not had a conversation about it, I had not discussed the amount of work it would be to do it and whether we can handle it right now. This is the same as the friend who out loud will say, “You know, we’ve always talked about taking that trip together. Do you think we should do it?” The initiator. That is the initiator. There is value to being this person. Even if you don’t organize and do all the things, there is value to being this person because somebody else might be willing to take on some of the work or split it with you or do their part. But if nobody says it out loud, it’s never gonna happen.

Alex Alexander  08:58

But being the initiator requires you to think ahead to say, “Oh, you know, last year, we were really disappointed we didn’t do anything with our friends for the holidays. I’d really like to do that this year.” And I think a lot of a stop before we say it out loud, because we think then that we have to do all the work. So, it never happens. And I’m going to talk today about how you could just maybe be the initiator. Now, you might decide not to move forward. That’s okay, too. That’s part of being the initiator. It may not work out. But maybe this year it doesn’t work and maybe next year when you say, “We’ve been really wanting to make traditions with our friends.” Maybe somebody will think, you know, I really regret we didn’t do that last year and they will get the ball rolling. So, being the initiator is valuable. 

Alex Alexander  09:49

Second role, being the organizer. This is the person who decides who, what, when where, why. This is the person that sends the invite, picks the timing, the location, and then they follow through with the organizing all the way through. So they’re the person, when you picked the time that the guests might message and say, “Can I show up 30 minutes early?” The organizer would probably collect dietary restrictions, pass that on to the food world, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. Though the person might send the address or help people find parking, they might pick activities that happen at the event. And then they would source all the stuff necessary for the activities. That’s the organizer role. 

Alex Alexander  10:44

The next role is the food role. So, this could mean one person creating a menu, buying all the items, cooking everything. But it could also just mean this person sets up a Google spreadsheet, decides how many dishes we need for a potluck and sends it out. And then ensures we’ve kind of covered all the food groups, that everything is going to make its way here and possibly has to either make a dish or two extra, or ask somebody else to make a dish or two extra for missing something. This person is also the one who, when you learn about the dietary restrictions, is kind of looking at the menu to make sure everybody has something to eat. And then the food person is probably the one that the night of, is in the kitchen making sure everything’s there, warming things up if they need to be, asking people if they need serving dishes or utensils, things like that. So, it could be anything from conceptualizing the entire menu to cooking it to serving it. Or it could just be organizing the menu. Also, hold on, hold on. Let’s start with food one more second. It could also just be ordering pizza. That could be it. We’ll talk about how to not do the food role, if that one gives you stress. We’ll talk about how to not do it in a little bit. 

Alex Alexander  12:08

Okay, number three. Cleaning. So this is possibly cleaning before people get there. But it’s also paying attention, well, the gathering is happening. Is there a bunch of trash around? Do some dishes need to be put in the sink? And then cleaning up after everybody’s left. Now, you can split this one out a few ways. One, you can do less when it comes to cleaning before people get there. As in, you cannot scrub your baseboards. You can just shut the door to a room. Nobody needs to go in there. You could leave your stuff around. I truly think we all think everybody’s running around, judging how clean the space is. Well, probably not. We just want some general cleanliness. Normally, if I’m having people over, especially the last minute, I set a five-minute timer and whatever gross things Michael and I’ve been living with, I clean up in that five minutes. 

Alex Alexander  13:08

Quite often, that’s like a sink or the bathroom a little bit. Maybe it’s some clothes on the floor. But I try and limit it. So, I am not cleaning our entire house frantically. And you can outsource this one. I mean beforehand if you are able to do that. But during the event, this is a great one. If somebody isn’t a cook or hasn’t partaken or they ask if they can help, you could say, “Hey, can you just keep your eye out and if there’s a bunch of random glasses lying around? Can you put them in the sink?” Or “If the trash is overflowing, can you let me know?” Or “Extra trash bags are here. Feel free to to set it outside the back door.” It’s also great to ask somebody to help you at the end of the night.  Somebody says, “Oh, I’m way too busy to figure out any food to bring to the potluck. But is there another way I help?” And you could just say, “Yeah, could you stick around for 20 minutes at the end of the night and help me get that first load in the dishwasher?” So, you can split this out too… this role. 

Alex Alexander  14:09

The fourth role is decorations. So, this could be anything from, you know, maybe baby shower or bridal shower, a wedding, doing, you know, these bigger decorations, theming everything. If you’re in charge of decor, this could either mean you’re maybe working with a food person and talking about ways you could add the theme to the food. But it could also just be as simple as putting out paper towels and plates. This doesn’t need to be a big thing. But if you love decor, go for it. If you can’t tell, this is the first thing I cut, which might surprise you, because I was a wedding and event planner. But I don’t care about the decor. I really don’t. I would say 90% of the time, I think this doesn’t make an impact personally. But if you love it, do it and have fun with it. Why not? This is also a great one to outsource. I do this all the time. I have friends that don’t love to cook, and I’ll say, “You are more than welcome to just do some fun stuff on the table. If you do the decor, all worth it.” And they love that that is an option for them. And that they don’t get assigned some dish they don’t want to make anyways. 

Alex Alexander  15:32

Final role is day-of hosting. So this is the person that greets everybody, that opens the door, that says “Hello”, tells people where they can put their jacket, takes their dish, gets them a drink. But most importantly, this is the person that’s kind of watching the room. If somebody has wandered off by themselves in the corner, the day-of host is going to walk over and say, “How are you doing?” Maybe make some introductions. And not just, “Oh, this is Jay. He works as a mechanic.” Now, give better introductions. Please give better introductions. “This is Jay. He also loves chess. I know you’ve been learning chess.” Give them something they’re actually interested in or excited in to talk about. Day-of hosting often gets ignored. But I really think, especially for gathering where certain people don’t know each other, this is like make or break. 

Alex Alexander  16:37

We all think, you know, oh, we want a pretty party. The day-of hosting, you could do not a single decor item but do a really good job at this and it will be so memorable for people. Now, I said earlier when I was doing all the things, when I was, you know, cooking all the food and hosting back in the day before I started doing less, this one always got ignored. I was not good at this. So now, I make it way more of a priority. Now that I’ve told you the six roles of hosting, let me give you some examples of how to not do them all. 

Alex Alexander  17:18

So, one way to not do them all is to just split them out. So, I mentioned we’re having Friendsgiving here in just a few minutes. Michael was the initiator. He was the organizer. We kind of split the cleaning, but we didn’t do a ton of it. I did the food. There’s pretty much no decorating. And because I should be good and not working in the kitchen the whole time, because I’ve kept the food simple, we’ll split the day-of hosting. Way more sustainable to do it that way. Another way is to get creative and like constrain the event a little bit, narrow it down. So, we often think of hosting as bringing people to our house. But it doesn’t have to be here. I have hosted at friend’s houses before. They had been the initiator and the organizer. And then they’ve said, “Hey, I really don’t want to deal with the food.” And then I’ve done the food at their house. It could also just be not at anybody’s house in general. You could say you want to get friends together and you could decide to do a picnic in the park where everybody brings their own food. So you’re the initiator, you’re the organizer, but you are not doing food, decor, cleaning. Oh well, you probably are day-of hosting hopefully, but you’ve just knocked out three big roles. 

Alex Alexander  18:40

You could also plan a trip. So, maybe you’re initiating, organizing, you ask a friend to do the food. People probably know each other, maybe they don’t. So, you’re doing a little bit the hosting. You don’t need to clean, you don’t need to do decorations. Another idea is to keep things more casual. So the holiday season is coming up part of the reason I’m offering up this episode, but let’s say you want to get people together but it just feels really unsustainable to do a holiday party this year. Maybe instead, you do a gift-wrapping day. So, you send out a message. You say, “Hey, no need to RSVP. I am just hosting an open house wrapping party. Show up between 10:00 and 2:00. I will have scissors and tape and some wrapping paper, but you might want to bring a roller to and bring whatever you want to wrap. I’ll have coffee on and some other beverages. But that’s it.” 

Alex Alexander  19:42

So now, you’ve limited yourself. You don’t have to collect RSVPs, you don’t have to deal with any more of the organizing, you’ve offered up a very specific invite of when and that basically they can just show up when they want. You are going to do coffee and some La Croix for the food part. You made it clear that you’re not providing anything else. Sure, you might have to clean up your house a little bit maybe, and you’re gonna have to clean up afterwards with all those paper scraps and stuff. Probably have to do some hosting, because this might be an eclectic group, it might not. And you don’t even need any decor. But you are hosting, you are getting people together without having to do the whole Christmas party shebang. And once you have gotten this open house thing under your belt and you feel comfortable, maybe in a few years, you work up to more of a party. Maybe do a brunch, and then you do a party. Another way to do this would be to do an adoptive family for the holiday season. So if you have friends, whether they live close or far, instead of doing a holiday party, maybe you organize and initiate and adopt a family. there’s no need to do food, there’s no need to decorate, there’s no need to clean. You just have to facilitate this way for everybody to come together. And the other thing is that this organizing and initiating role, this could be a one-time thing. Something I love to suggest is turning these things into traditions. So the wrapping paper, you could say, “On the second Sunday of every December, I host a wrapping day. Come on over.” And people know to anticipate it. So, you just have to send a message. But you don’t have to do all the initiating and the organizing. It’s just in the calendar for people. 

Alex Alexander  21:37

Same with the adoptive family. If you get a group together, you set all the precedents. The next year, somebody just needs to send out a message saying, “Hey, this is the family we picked. Let’s do this.” And the reason I’m offering all of these options is because I think the anxiety of hosting and gathering people is so much for so many people, they just put it off. Because we’ve been told that we have to do the whole thing or what’s the point? But you could spend the next 10 years saying you want to host a holiday party or you could just host a hot cocoa night for the next 8, 10, 15, 20. But at least you’re doing something. You’re working your way towards that goal of the holiday party versus just hoping that one year, you will wake up and this will fit into your schedule. And that’s 5, 8, 10, 15 memories of a hot cocoa night that you wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Alex Alexander  22:40

Now, if you want to take this a step further, there is a book called ‘The Art of Gathering’ by a woman named Priya Parker. I adore this book. The roles are not from her. The roles are my own brain. I came up with that. But her book helps us all understand the purpose of gatherings. Why are we hosting these gatherings? Because we all know the feeling of the meeting that shouldn’t have been a meeting, a meeting as a gathering by the way. Or the holiday party that has run its course and should not be something people are doing anymore. Maybe they should still have a party, but maybe they need to pivot the party and turn it into something else. It’s run its course. It doesn’t feel right. 

Want to learn more about how we are connected with friends? Read about my Roots Framework.

Alex Alexander  23:30

So she tries to take these gatherings, especially the ones that have formulas. A baby shower is a great gathering as a formula. You know, you go, there’s some food, there’s some snacks. It’s generally in the afternoon. You give a gift and a note. And then you all go home. But why? Why did we get together? What was the point? Was the point for the new parents to know they have a great support system? Was it for them to gain some wisdom? Was it to have fun and laugh? And then you can design your event around the goal, around the purpose of the gathering, so that people leave feeling like it was a good use of their time, and they’ve achieved some sort of collective goal together. 

Alex Alexander  24:26

Now, I love Priya’s book. It’s maybe a little more advanced. So if gathering gives you anxiety, just start with the roles. Look at the roles and think about what you don’t want to do. You can either delegate those or design gatherings around not doing certain things. So if you don’t like to cook, start designing gatherings where maybe people are going out to dinner, and then you’re inviting them back to your house just to hang out. No food, or I don’t know, maybe about your chips, if you really want to be kind. If food is not your thing during the picnic, hosting the wrapping party where you provide coffee, and that’s it. If organizing is not your thing, talking to your partner, your family, your friends, and maybe being the initiator and doing the food and the decor, but asking somebody else to be the organizer.

Alex Alexander  25:22

If we start to look at these as different roles, we can do what our strength is, ask for help in the areas that are not our strength, or delegate them. And we can actually start to fit more of these into our life, so that we can spend time with the people we care about instead of waiting for everything to be perfect and Pinterest ready and how it quote unquote “should be”. But when we’re waiting for those perfect moments, we’re missing out on all the moments we could be having that are pretty darn great. To close, I want to offer this concept to you. There’s a business concept called an MVP, a minimally viable product. And because I read everything and 95% of it relates back to community in friendship for me, I read about this business term, and immediately thought about it in relation to friendship. Now, I probably should have thought about it in relation to my own business. And I have done that, but it always comes back to friendship for me. 

Alex Alexander  26:28

Start thinking about hosting MVP gatherings. Let me explain. If you want to be the person that hosts the holiday party, instead of spending an entire month trying to get the perfect menu, the perfect decorations, decorating your house cleaning, sending an invite list, like there’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of work. You don’t know if anybody’s going to come yet. Instead, throw an MVP get-together. So, that might mean just throwing the hot cocoa night. Send a message that says, “Hey, I know we are all really busy this holiday season. I am opening my house up this Saturday night. I’ll have hot cocoa and some other beverages. Please come in whatever is comfortable. And I’d just love to see you.” Maybe you do that for a year or two years, and you have a group of people who love this every year. And then you amp it up, and maybe you add some more decorations or you turn it into a potluck. 

Alex Alexander  27:36

Maybe you lean into the decor, maybe you make custom playlists. I don’t know. Whatever you want to do to amp it up to that perfect vision of the holiday party you want to throw, just start with the MVP. Just start with the simple thing. Because then if only one person, two people, no people, I’ve had no people show up before. If nobody shows up, you didn’t spend a month of your life planning this thing that nobody came to. And you can go back to the drawing board. You can say, okay, was it because this is a bad weekend? People are too busy on this weekend. Was it because a brunch or breakfast, a daytime thing is easier for people than night-time? Was it because we live so far away? Whatever it is, you can start asking questions and then adjust accordingly versus spending all your time upfront on something that maybe isn’t going to play out.

Alex Alexander  28:36

If you are somebody who is anxious about getting people together, send me a DM or a voice message. I’ve done this for a few people now, where they’ve sent me, you know, how they wanted to host a birthday party or a holiday gathering and what they feel comfortable and not comfortable doing. And I’ve helped them design something that feels attainable. And I’m happy to do that for you. I would say it’s a hidden talent, but it used to be my profession. Maybe it’s not such a hidden talent. But seriously, send me a DM or a message. 

Alex Alexander  29:11

With that, I gotta close this out because I gotta go, enjoy Friendsgiving. If you’ve made it this far, I am going to post the roles with like a bigger description, kind of a list of all the different ways, and some ideas of how to not do certain roles. You can find out on my website at friendshipirl.com/hosting to get that download. With that, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrate. If not, I hope everybody has a lovely holiday season. I know I’m looking forward to it. Have a great rest of your day. 

Alex Alexander  29:50

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I obsessively think about friendship and community. You see... these are the relationships I hold most dear. Let's talk! I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Alex Alexander, a blonde hair female wearing leggings and a white sweater, is sitting on a large white sofa in front of big windows.

Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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