Halloween Party Checklist

Throwing a Halloween party?  Get started early!  Here's a list of things you need to do.  This is based on our experiences with throwing our own parties and helping friends with theirs.  Note that there are a lot more specifics you'll have to add to this to fit with your preferences, but this list is a start.

Three Weeks or More Before

Make invitations (in Photoshop, on Evite, etc.).  Use a picture from last year's party or one of your house decorated.  Add a "who/what/when/where" blurb, and you have a good starting point.  I usually have an email version as well as the printable picture to attach it to as well as a FAQ (see here).

Make invitation list.  You want to start compiling this early so that you can always add to it as you remember any oversights from the first pass.  Go through your address books (e.g., email contact list, who's in your phone, social networking lists, etc.).  Also, don't forget the neighbors, co-workers, etc. who you might not have on your typical social lists.

Send out reminders before the party.  Make a "save the date" sort of announcement.  It's a good idea to let people know in advance that there will be a party and that they will be invited, just so they don't make commitments or think you are forgetting them.  I often start getting inquiries sometime in the first half of September asking about our party.

Make props/decorations.  I tend to do this all year long, off and on.  The weeks leading up to the party are a good time to start thinking about what to make specifically for the party while I have enough lead time in which to throw something together.  It's the countdown that frequently serves as inspiration.

Design/make costumes.  You really want to get this out of the way well in advance of the party if at all possible.  Maybe even have a back-up plan if something doesn't work out (e.g., your had a couple's costume but aren't part of a couple anymore).  The last few weeks before the party ought to be about preparing decorations and putting final touches on your costumes.  Need ideas?  See here.

Make your party playlists.  It's a good time to start thinking about what music to play, and fit your playlist to the occasion and guests.  Is there a theme to the party?  Or are you focusing on a particular style (e.g., film soundtracks, psychobilly, pop songs, etc.)?  Compile songs accordingly.  Some ideas here.

Decorate the front yard.  I start this a couple weeks before the party (and I have my party relatively early in the season).  However, I dole out the decorations slowly, usually only one or two props a day.  The idea is to make a holiday about suspense more suspenseful.  Ideally, it will come together slowly and be completely ready by the day of the party.

Two Weeks Before

Final touches on the costumes.  Get whatever props you need.  Take in the seams to get the proper fit.  Whatever remaining details are left to do on them before the party.  Maybe even take pictures in the costumes before they start to get wear and tear once the season kicks in good.

Email invites.  Two weeks may even be stretching it if you haven't send out the aforementioned "save the date" announcement, but two weeks gives enough lead time that people can start sending their RSVPs.

Put away breakables.  Anything like collectibles, glasswear, or the like ought to be out of the way when the likelihood of accidents goes up (i.e., low lighting, alcohol, and lots of people are a perfect storm).   Most of my guitars are out of reach on the walls, and the ones that aren't are kept out of the way.

Put up extra lights where required.  This may fall under the heading of decorations (which go up next week), but I tend to start putting up things like lanterns or strands of lights on the back porch.  I usually go ahead and do this before I even start decorating.

One Week Before

Collect RSVPs.  Find out who's coming.  Follow up with people who haven't replied.  Some folks are lazy about getting back to you with a committed response one way or the other, but knowing how many are coming is crucial to having enough to eat, drink, seating, etc.

Start making ice cubes.  I usually try to have decorative cubes like skulls, pumpkins/jack o'lanterns, etc., but I only have a few trays for each variety, meaning I have to make them over the course of several days.  I need enough lead time to be sure I have enough to supply the guests.

Get out extra chairs (if necessary).  Even if you have enough, maybe you need to rearrange in order to accommodate the number of expected guests.  Find an arrangement that works with the flow of traffic.

Get groceries.  You probably already have a list of what you're going to make.  Get what you need for that and maybe a little more in case you have a few more last-minute additions.

Clean the house.  Do this before you start decorating.  It saves you the trouble of moving props out of the way once everything is in place, otherwise you're setting it up, moving it to vacuum, then moving it back.  Having it clean also means all the junk is out of the way and you have a clean palate on which to apply your magic.

Decorate inside.  Do every room including the in-between rooms like the laundry room, bathrooms, etc.  Get things set up as early as possibly.  The more time you have before the party, the more freedom you'll have to tinker with it to get the best look.

Decorate the back yard.  This is a great idea if you have a deck or back porch where the smokers are going to congregate.  We always put up some sort of graveyard.

Set up the stereo(s).  Have the wires out of the way of foot traffic if you have speakers set up throughout the house.  Maybe have a smaller stereo (e.g., one of those iPod cubes or whatever you have) outside.

One to Three Days Before

Clean the house.  Yes, again.  You probably need to pick up the mess you made when you set out the decorations.

Empty the garbage cans.  This will save you the trouble of having to empty them and dig out fresh garbage bags in the middle of the party.  You should only have to do that if you need to hide a body.

Set out extra garbage and recycling bins.  You probably want to label these too unless you like sorting the beer bottles manually the day after the party.

Start cooking.  Get any food prepared that will keep.

Day of the Party

Set out your costumes!  Get the costumes laid out at the very least so that you, the kid(s), and the pet(s) will be ready to get dressed by the time the guests start arriving.

Clean the house again.  At least vacuum up the pet hair so you don't get any on your guests' costumes.

Set up the eats.  Set out food, drinks, and all the little skull-shaped ice cubes. 

Take pictures before party starts.  You probably won't have time to do this once the guests start arriving since you'll be socializing.  Get some shots of the funny food since that will be consumed shortly.  Dani and friends always make interesting novelties that I try to get pictures of before everyone digs in.

Lock up the pets.  Well, this is assuming you have any anti-social ones).  I'm lucky.  Ours have always been friendly.  We usually foster pugs, and they're the most social breed ever and will even tolerate costumes.

Turn on the music.  Btw, I recommend keeping the stereo out of reach of the kids since they have a tendency to mess with the volume, hit Shuffle, or whatever else that will mess up your sounds.

Start turning on lights/props.  I have so many props and effects that I always forget something, so here's my list of things to do before the party starts:

Further reading


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