The Busy Person’s Guide to Having People Over

published Nov 20, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Welcome to Easy Untertaining! It’s a term we coined here at Apartment Therapy to describe those get-togethers that just kind of… come together.

Once upon a time, it was probably easy to grab a group of friends for a last-minute dinner at your house. And then, you grew up. Your calendar got full. And suddenly, you didn’t have your loved ones over like you used to. If you’ve felt overwhelmed by a busy schedule and a lack of quality time in your home with the people you love, life doesn’t have to be this way. You might just need a simple mindset shift before opening your doors.

“Before we had a baby, I had people over all the time, but once we had her, I couldn’t figure out how to cook and keep everyone happy and not be stressed myself,” says Melissa Coleman of The Faux Martha. “But that breeds loneliness! I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way about how to entertain when you’re juggling a lot of things.”

The key to incorporating more hang-outs in a busy schedule, Coleman says, is being a one-trick pony—having a go-to “gathering” routine in place. Not only will you probably be up for a last-minute hangout when you’ve got a predictable routine to rely on; you’ll also be way less stressed, which makes for a much more enjoyable hangout for everybody. “It can be overwhelming to run to the store, think of a recipe, and decorate the house. If I can have things in place ahead of time that already feel special, it takes off the pressure,” Coleman says.

If you’re itching to find time for more gatherings with friends and family like Coleman once was, here are some of her best suggestions for making it easier on yourself—and having more fun in the process.

Put your go-to recipes to work

Sure, your friends might be impressed by that complex recipe requiring rare ingredients sourced from Europe. But the truth is, they’re not coming over to your home to be impressed. They’re coming over to hang out with you. Instead of stressing over finding and executing the perfect recipe, Coleman recommends getting really good at a few recipes and keeping a rotating menu. Fajitas or pasta again? No problem, as long as it’s easy!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Prep your food ahead of time 

How do you think restaurants serve incredible meals in a short amount of time? They have prep chefs! If you break apart a recipe like a prep chef would, preparing food for people won’t feel so stressful. If your recipe doesn’t provide easy prep steps, try to think creatively: Start marinating your meat the day before, make your sauce ahead of time and pop it in the fridge, or grab a rotisserie chicken the day of instead of roasting one. “I always look for semi-nimble recipes I can prep in advance,” Coleman says. “That way, I can talk and be present when people are over.”

Keep your home cozy

You could go above and beyond with your space and buy fresh flowers from the farmer’s market, but that just eats up more time (and adds unnecessary stress). Instead of going out of your way to furnish your space, have some “special” things already in place, like candles for your living room or twinkle lights for your backyard in the summer. While lighting can feel special, so can scent: Coleman says her husband keeps Fraser fir diffusers around the house year-round, which adds a special touch. “Every time someone comes over, they comment on it. People just feel warm and thought of,” she says.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Make a playlist in advance

Another easy detail that can add some fun to a gathering? The perfect playlist! Rather than stressing about pulling together all your favorite songs before you have people over, have some go-to themed stations ready on a streaming service like Pandora or Spotify. To make for an extra-special experience, try a themed playlist that correlates with what you’re eating—Coleman says she has one go-to playlist for taco and margarita night, and another one for when she makes (or orders) pizza.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

Don’t be afraid to order out

If a chaotic schedule or stress about cooking are the only things standing in the way between you and your favorite people, then don’t be afraid to order out. Chances are, your friends and family will just be happy you thought of them, no matter what you serve. And Coleman says just biting the bullet and sending the invite is the best remedy for that “I’m too busy to have people at my house” feeling. 

“Just getting people into your home can feel intimidating, but for me, it’s like a gateway drug,” she says. “Once I get people over and realize they don’t want to be entertained, they just want to come hang out, I realize how much I missed that feeling of having people in my home.”