Having fun at your own party is all about preparation. I still do the spontaneous dinner or brunch at my place and throw it together at the last minute, but for anything a bit more formal, I've found that a little planing goes a long way towards actually enjoying being in my home with people I love, tasting the food I've made.
• Simplify: I learned after a while that it was perfectionism that would get me harried and behind. Either I was trying to fit too many people in, cook too much food, make too many elaborate dishes or try to cater to each guest, I was taking too much on. Now I simplify either the guest list or the menu and keep the menu to things that can be made ahead of time or can be pulled out of the oven when it's time to eat.
• Make Decisions Upfront: Decide what kind of a party it is: Potluck? Buffet? Make Your Own Pizza? Formal 8 course dinner? And how many people you can comfortably (!) host. Emphasis on comfortably. You might be able to fit 16 people in your home but can you really do a sit down dinner? Once you know who's coming and what you're eating, stick to it.
• Pick the Drink: Wine? Ask people to bring a bottle. Gonna make a fancy cocktail? Stick to one or 2 and make sure the bar is stocked. Don't fall into the trap of trying to provide every possible kind of beverage. One or 2 cocktail choices or wine and some sparkling water or juice. Keep it simple. And if the cocktail is involved, enlist a friend to help as barkeep.
• Plan Way Ahead and make a list: You will need twice the amount of time that you think you do, plan accordingly. Write it down. This leads to:
• Cleaning + Shopping + Preparing: Get your place 'company ready' at least 3 days before, do your grocery shopping at least a day before and shop from a list. Consider how you want to decorate the table and buy or gather your supplies.
• Day Of: Your house is clean, the groceries are in the fridge. All you have to do today is put it all together. For larger parties I like to give myself the whole day to get ready (obviously you wouldn't need that much time for an informal potluck on a tuesday night). I start with setting the table or the buffet area and decorating it. This puts me, and the house, in a party mood and I don't have to take care of any of those details at the last minute. And because I really enjoy the setting the mood, this is the most fun. I switch out lightbulbs for lower watt ones, it's more flattering and I don't have dimmers. I push the furniture back to create more space for socializing. I arrange flowers. I determine where coats and purses will go: whether clearing space on my landing strip, making sure there's room in the coat closet, or making sure the bed is made. Now the house is ready and all that is left is the cooking!
• Hour Before: Light candles, make sure the music is playing (check out maxwell's top 30 songs for a dinner party), that it's warm enough in the house and get into party clothes. Take care of any last minute clutter spots you might notice, and do a double check that the bathroom is in working order. I like to add a candle to the bathroom so that people don't have to switch on the light. It keeps the mood going.
• 5-10 Minutes Before: Pour a drink, sit down. Enjoy that this is your home. Your friends are about to come over. Your house is probably feeling pretty nice, looking good, smelling good. Take this opportunity to soak it up and enjoy. Now you are free to just enjoy your own party.