so you’re engaged?

Hello, newly-engaged couples! So exciting (and yet probably a little terrifying) to be working on something as big and important as a long-term commitment, yet as brief as a one-day celebration to share this love with friends and family. Engagement can be hard. It involves using a skill set that you may have never used before (event planning, decorating, organization, having thick skin, standing up for what’s important to you as a couple, excluding people). While weddings themselves can be some of the best of times, the wedding planning can be some of the hardest. It’s a time where everyone in the family (even those you wouldn’t expect) suddenly have strong opinions; it can be overwhelming to even think about making all of the voices feel heard, respected, or appreciated, while still clinging to the ideas that excite you and your partner.Things have come a long way from our parent’s day–when a bride picked out a dress, had a church ceremony with punch and cake in the basement. Maybe we should go back to those simpler times? Or maybe there are certain traditions which stress the heck out of you and are best left behind? And oh yeah, if every ounce of your being is not wanting to plan a wedding … don’t. They’re wonderful if you want them, but eloping or having a destination wedding can be a great alternative plan that (usually) requires a ton less planning.

Within the last few years, I went from wanting to elope to wanting to share the day with friends and family, after several of the weddings I witnessed had totally rocked, with couples seizing the opportunity to create an experience so out of the ordinary and lined up with their beliefs and priorities in life. A day that screams individuality and has fingerprints of the bride and groom all over it, was what turned me from a cynic to a believer. Some people would call it “fun” letting your creative side out and planning your dream party, then watching it come to fruition, but since most of us haven’t ever planned a wedding before, there isn’t always a roadmap that tells you where to start. There are lots of websites, but you need to be picky with what you believe. Certain sites will make you feel six months to two years behind the day you start planning (and are driven by consumer culture and the wedding industry).

As a former bride and someone who is heavily invested in a wedding business, here are some tips for beginning wedding planning from yours truly.

1. Prioritize. For me, priorities went like this: Date. Venue. Photographer. In most instances, I think it makes more sense for venue to be ahead of date. But knowing in what season you want to be married (or logistically, what works out best to take time away from school/work) and knowing the schedules of important people who will be attending your wedding can be crucial going in to the venue search. I pick venue as the most important aspect in planning because the venue is the backdrop for your party, it’s a really important aspect. Do you want an urban brewery or a farm wedding, do you want everything to happen at one place or will your ceremony be somewhere else? I knew that I really wanted to have a Monday morning wedding on Labor Day (ideally at a summer camp). This fact added some pros and cons. Cons: some of the camps were closed for the holiday. Pros: the venue that I did pick had a special weekday rate. After the venue was booked, I started working on other things: letting people (especially those who would need to travel to be there) know the date, talking to a photographer, and starting to think about rentals, food and invitations. But really, once you have a location/date, everything else falls into place. It’s not really worth it to start talking to a potential caterer/photographer and getting too much into the discussion before you even know if they’re available on your date (and most people don’t know the date until they’ve booked a venue) Disclaimer: you may want to go through your guests list and make an A list, B list, C list. See how much it varies, because number of guests will greatly affect your venue choices.

2. Decide what you want your wedding to FEEL like. Forget about visual styles for a moment–shabby chic, vintage, circus themed, all things purple, or cafe lights strung outside–those things can come into play later … the most important thing is that your wedding FEELS the way you’ve dreamt it. Years before I was engaged, when I learned a wedding planner asked her people to pick 3-4 words to describe the wedding, I ran home and during house night asked my roommates what they’d pick. My words were: woodsy, epic, emotional, and gezellig (a dutch word that’s very special to me, sort of a magical inclusive cozy feeling) another word that came to be was FUN. A friend of mine wanted her wedding to be relational, inclusive, and an experience. It was. Know what you’re going for, and keep that big picture in mind more than the smaller details. Do you want the day to be classic, fancy, upscale, or do you want it to be casual, colorful, or comfortable?
 
3. Don’t be wishy-washy. Once you make a decision, celebrate it, and embrace it with your whole being. Try your best to block off the part of your brain that wants to keep comparing and maybe having buyer’s remorse. Keep your chin up, and be thankful you have a decision made and don’t look back. The sooner these things get decided, the more time you get to enjoy your engagement. You may know the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Don’t let anything steal your joy.
 
4. Bridal party–only have one if you want one! I know some people who can’t imagine their wedding without all fifteen of their closest friends standing next to them, but for some, the idea of having a bridal party stresses them out so much. It’s important to do what you want and not be pushed into something that you’re not completely happy about. Find another way to include friends. For one bride I have this fall, she’ll have her lady friends drinking mimosas and getting ready together, yet only one person will stand in the wedding next to her.  For me, it was having a group of my and Adam’s closest friends (aka the “choir of angels”) sing a few songs during the wedding. For others, the friends in the “bridal party” will join for photos but won’t have to stand up front during the ceremony. Be creative in your thinking of how to include people you love.
5. Have someone else set up the day for you. Obviously, learning to trust and let other people help you is an ongoing life lesson that really benefits both parties. Find someone who is organized, trustworthy, and willing (not too close to the family or else you’ll regret not having them enjoy the night as a guest) to be the person who is the go-to for any questions vendors have during the day. So you created the decorations, take photos of them set up and go through the details with this person, then let him/her set up so you can be a free spirit on your wedding morning.
6. And lastly, this following bucket full of advice is worth it’s weight in gold and comes from a conversation with my friends Michelle & Molly (they just started a business called mstyle, check it out for extra hands to make your wedding a dream). Michelle says, “The parents are going to remember the thank you note that’s on the table. Select a few really individualized, special things for the day and make sure they aren’t overridden–they’re as important as your catering. Give each member of your bridal party a specific task for the day. People do really well when they have tasks, and if they don’t, it will be just like a big friend reunion at the wedding. I gave responsibility based on people’s strengths. The timeline of the day had a job for each person: Molly, your job is to make sure we’re all ready at 1:30, time patrol; Crista’s job is to filter texts/requests/calls from parents, so that I don’t go crazy; Leslie’s job is to make breakfast; Amanda’s job is to make mimosas; David’s job was to make sure the groomsmen were ready on time. (Apparently that was a good choice, I heard later that David was giving countdowns); Fraker was in charge of making sure that the limo snacks and drinks made it to the church from the hotel room. It really worked well to highlight everyone’s strengths and give them one task to make the day run smoothly. Molly’s advice is to make a notebook or spreadsheet your best friend. Keep a list of all deposits, contracts, rules of the venue, etc. in one spot! And the single most important thing, “People want to help you. It’s the biggest day of your life up until now. Let them help you.”
Stay tuned for another post coming soon, tips from your photographer for your wedding day.

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