How-To: Throw a Wildly Amazing Birthday Party

It seems like overnight my one-day-old infant became a one-year-old boy. A total bruiser. He’s a one-year-old in a 2-year-olds clothing. Literally!

Cole turning one had me feeling a whole slew of emotions. I vividly remember the one overwhelming feeling I had when he was born.


The fear that I wouldn’t know what to do next. The fear that I was going to fail. The fear of losing the most precious thing I’ve ever held in my arms. Combined with indescribable physical pain.

The story behind my birth experience is one for another post, but let’s just say that I was eager to make up to Cole what I couldn’t give him in that moment.

My everything.

So on the anniversary of his birth, I wanted to go all out (but within reason)! Here’s how I combined easy-to-do, affordable and thoughtful projects into an unforgettable day, even for a one-year-old!

Note: In this post I apply these tips to a “Wild One” theme for Cole’s party. If you love it, feel free to steal the idea! Or, you can apply these tips to your very own theme. 

1. Pick a theme and personalize it.

For me, this was an easy step. After a quick Pinterest search, I decided “Wild One” was the way to go. Cole is my little wild child, and the adorable woodland/animal decor options are endless. The rustic/outdoor vibe was also fitting for a late November birthday. The trick is to personalize the theme as much as possible. Print out photos, customize decor with your child’s name on it (great to reuse for room decor later) and have at least one activity to correspond. I chose to create a time capsule for people to write letters to Cole to open on his 16th birthday, because I’m overly sentimental like that.

2. Recruit help.

Don’t be ashamed to ask friends and family for a little assistance. Sometimes, it takes an army … and odds are they’re more than willing to pitch in for the sake of your little one! Make sure you’re specific and organized in your requests, and play to each person’s strengths. For example, I asked my very crafty cousin to make the adorable “Wild One” wooden sign, all I had to do was supply the photos. My cooking-pro Dad was in charge of making the birthday cake (his mouth-watering banana cake recipe!), and my Mom and I were on decor organization and set-up.

3. Create a warm welcome.

A super cute way to welcome everyone into your party while you’re running around is with a simple door sign and balloons. I searched Etsy for themed printables, found the perfect match, printed two 20×30 posters at Office Depot, and taped them up. It’s a simple way to make it look like you went the extra mile, and guests will appreciate the special welcome!

4. Have a statement piece.

Having a “wow” focal point to your party helps bring it all together. And it can be as simple and cheap as using balloons!

I came across a photo of a DIY balloon arch made for a wedding event, and just had to replicate it. Depending on the size of your party space, this task can be simple or time-consuming. The entryway to my parent’s house is spacious and open, so I had to create a 150-balloon arch. Now had we had the party at my house, the arch would have been much smaller! Here’s the step-by-step guide I followed in order to create our grand arch. Only 5 supplies needed: Fishing string, command hooks, scissors, a needle, and lots of balloons (we didn’t use the glue gun or fresh floral, but you can!).

5. Plan a flow of events.

So you have all this beautiful, thoughtful decor … but now what? Nothing sucks the life out of a party like people standing around, forced into awkward small talk. We planned a noon lunch party, and my friends and family always arrive ready to eat. Dedicate the first hour of the party for arrivals, appetizers/food and welcoming conversation. Then, move into your activities once people are fed (maybe slightly boozed) and settled in. Once activities wind down, it’s everyone’s favorite time — singing happy birthday and dessert (don’t forget to take lots of photos of this moment)! The last event is present opening so people can ohh-and-ahh over what they bought.

Finally, it’s “see ya later”! I’ve got an overtired toddler who needs a quiet nap.

6. Homemake what you can.

Nothing beats the personal touch of serving something homemade, except for when you’re strapped for time and trying to feed an entire army of people! Pick a few manageable items you can either make the night before or the morning of, but don’t feel like you need to be the Pioneer Woman and make a delicious spread from scratch. No one will care if the dip is store-bought, and you’ll grow a few less gray hairs that day.

7. Pick an item to splurge on.

I’m no pastry chef, and my poor Dad was already maxed out baking the birthday cake and grilling the food. I may have teetered on the edge of obsessive compulsive when it came to having a “picture perfect” dessert display, but I have my reasons. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING about my day-to-day life is glamorous or easy, but damnit if I wasn’t determined to have this one thing look and taste flawless.

So I outsourced. I reached out to a local bakery, Two Fat Cookies, and they brought my dessert vision to life! If you know what you want and you’re specific (provide photos whenever possible), odds are there’s someone who can create it for you. The desserts had everyone at the party talking, people couldn’t wait to dig in to this gourmet treat.

8. Printables are your best friend.

I love printables for so many reasons. They’re usually either free, or very low cost. They also add a custom touch to an otherwise boring display. I didn’t just serve mini Babybel cheese, I served “ladybugs”, or so my printable tent card indicated. My Kit Kats were “sticks”, and my Hershey Kisses were “Bear Poop”. You can go as far as the limits of your imagination with printables, and pay next to nothing!

9. Make a video.

This may sound daunting and impossible. But wait, it really isn’t. If you have an iPhone and take videos of your child, this is possible for you!

This was by far the most personalized touch I created for the party. I did a short video chronicling Cole’s life from 0-12 months that had people feeling all the feels.

There’s an iMovie app already on your phone that makes stringing together all of your videos extremely simply. I recommend opening the app up and playing around to get the hang of it, and also reading Apple’s guide on how to create a video.

10. Thoughtful takeaways.

Having a small, themed to-go bag for your guests is the icing to a perfectly executed party. Now, usually I’m anti-party favors. I’m not a fan of spending a lot of money on little trinkets that likely end up in the trash. So if you don’t think it through, it’s better not to do it at all.

So how do you combine affordable, themed, cute and not-likely-to-get-tossed into one item? Chocolate! Specifically, Hershey’s chocolate in a themed wrapper. There are so many options for customizing a wrapper, and it’s as simple as selecting one, printing it, and wrapping your chocolate bar. I was beyond happy with how my “Thank you Beary Much” chocolate bars came out (see photos and link to purchase below). I paired the chocolate bars with a bag of Target-brand trail mix that I scooped into a cellophane baggie and tied with twine. Happy trails!

This formula works not just for birthdays, but for other parties as well! I’m in the process of planning my friend’s engagement party using the same ideas, just applying a different theme. I’ll let you know how that goes!

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