10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party

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I’m delighted to share 10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party because I LOVE theme parties and I know they can be overwhelming for others. Over the years I’ve found they all have the same basic structure, just changing according to themes. 10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party

With the 10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party, you’ll find what I’ve learned from 10+ years of throwing parties for my kids and friends. I originally shared this post as part of a Birthday Celebration Week around my birthday.  I LOVE throwing parties, and I get all excited to figure out a theme, and exercise my creative juices to pull it all together.  I don’t profess to be a professional party planner, but I’ve now hosted a handful, and feel like I have a general list in my head of what I need to do, so I’m sharing it with you! {Originally posted July 2014, updated June 2017}

I was originally going to title this post as “budget friendly”, but I realize that term is quite variable. I actually conducted a little Facebook survey to see what most people budget for parties, and got answers all over the board.

Let me say that for my kids birthdays, I save money by:

  1. Not buying them any presents from mom and dad. This is tricky for me because I love gifts, but I see the party as my gift to them, and when they have friends bringing gifts, they don’t really care anyway.
  2. Saving all my past party stuff, so there is a bit of an investment as we go, but I use some staples over and over.

I used to give myself a $100 budget, sometimes that stretches to $200 though, but these tips can be modified to any budget, it’s just a helpful way to plan. I normally feed my party go-ers LOTS of food, and food/treats are part of my decoration as well. The ideas below can be catered to any budget, so pick and choose the elements that are best for you.

I LOVE parties, and I love to decorate for them.  I generally focus first on one main table, and then if I have extra elements, I’ll pull out a few other small tables.  Below are the ten steps in my thinking process as I plan.  Just as a reference, you can see all the Parties I’ve planned, (on that link) but I’ll be linking and sharing to specific ideas within this post.

Without further adieu…

10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party 

  1. Pick a theme. There are ENDLESS ideas for themes. I think for kids, it’s typical for them to pick their favorite TV character, but I try to think outside the box a little with thinking about something they love. My daughter wanted to be a ballerina (patterned after Angelina Ballerina) but instead of featuring the TV character, I spun it into everything Ballerina.theme birthday party ideaI try to involve the kids as much as possible, but I also tend to steer them into a certain direction as well. If you are completely stumped on themes, look online for ideas. I like to look at the Pinterest pages from Kara’s Party Ideas and TomKat Studio as my favorites, I’ve also got a Party Pinterest board that I save party element Ideas I like. I tried to talk one of my kids into a Cookies & Milk party, once, so fun!
  2. Select Colors. These don’t have to be conventional according to your theme. Just because it’s Batman, doesn’t have to mean it’s yellow and black. It’s fun to add that element of surprise and make it different. Think outside the box, or of course you can also go traditional. Sometimes it can be hard to narrow down colors if the theme doesn’t necessarily help you you. Ask the guest of honor for color suggests, look around online to see what colors go great together. Below are the colors we chose for the Rockstar Birthday Party. I have a Pinterest board completely dedicated to color boards.color scheme
  3. Choose a venue. Home or Away?  This is a tough call for me, because I like to have parties at home. However, in all the frenzy of party prep, it also means I have to have my home immaculate decently clean by the time the attendee’s arrive.  I also like that I don’t have to transport everything to the new location, and I will generally start setting up a day or two before the event. However, the few times I’ve had the party away, it’s been nice to not have to worry about the cleaning part, and just focus on the party. But I’ve had to transport things, and of course will have forgotten something. For my daughter’s Neon Skate Party, we had it at our neighborhood clubhouse (which was free, but I had to put down a deposit for incidentals) and I forgot the candles. I was able to run home and get them, but it was a bit annoying. No matter where you have it, there will be frenzy, for sure. At the Neon party, the girls “shopped” the main table for their take home gift, and it was fun to have it all on the table. It was both decoration, eating, and gift all rolled into one!birthday party idea
  4. Gather textiles in your colors and staple dishes.  I like to grab: fabric, paper, ribbon, paint, washi tape, paper straws, paper plates/napkins, plastic tablecloths, and paper products from places that I can return if I get too much. Fabric is the only one that won’t return so easily, so be thoughtful about that one. With dishes, you can either start a collection, or borrow, but having clear or white dishes, vases, and stands will help you for many parties to come. I pull all of mine out as I am setting up the table, and depending on what I’ve got to display, I will use different pieces.  If you look around at my party pictures, you will see a lot of the same dishes repeated. I may or may not have spray painted some things I had to match the theme, too. Last year, her favorite color was purple, so we planned a Pretty PURPLE party, which was probably one of the funnest for me to plan because I just gathered everything purple.  Color parties are really fun!  You’ll see clear mason jars, a white cake plate, and several other clear/white dishes below.birthday theme
  5. Decide on a backdrop.  Every party table needs a great background to anchor the rest of the decorations. I generally like to think this out, and set it up ahead of time, then I plan everything else on the table around it. I’ve used a GIANT canvas, a fabric banner, an old crib spring, paper pinwheels, or a vintage window with fabric behind it. I will PIN great backgrounds I see onto my Party Pinterest board, and it’s a creative challenge for me with each party, how I will make my background just a little bit different.  You can see in the Mary Had a Little Lamb party below, the vintage window I used with just a piece of fabric in the background.  You can also check out these photo booth background ideas and apply them to a party table.mary had a little lamb table set up
  6. Local shopping. I never really know how much stuff I’ll use until I’m home working, so I will get WAY too much. My favorite spots to find party supplies are:  Party City, Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and Target. All of those stores have REALLY stepped it up a notch in the party section the past year. Once I’ve scoured the stores, I know what I can’t find locally, and will go check out my online options. I will often buy quite a bit locally, knowing I can easily return them later (keep receipts in a safe spot).  In the Breakfast in PJ’s party picture below, I just used a scrap of fabric run down the center, and it added a great pop of color.birthday idea
  7. Shop online. I generally know my theme and colors a good month in advance. Once I have those set, I like to look around online for things that might be more difficult to find. For my skate party, I got a Wilton skate candy mold, I also got some NEON accessories that might be tricky to track down. I got a ballet shoe piñata that wasn’t sold in stores. I love: Amazon, Oriental Trading, Etsy, and Birthday Express. Fun and unique party favors often found there (I got a ballerina necklace for $1.50 each at Birthday Express). You can find lots of birthday printables on Etsy or from fabulous bloggers like Love the Day (she helped with my soccer and purple party printables, making them custom).printables
  8. Trade services with friends: I am a BIG fan of trading services. I do have something that is easier for me to trade (photography) but get creative. If you have a friend that makes cakes or cute cookies, ask if they are up for a trade, and offer a suggestion of a few things you can do for them. Maybe they have young kids, and you can offer to watch them a handful of times so they can relax.  Maybe you teach a class or can sew really well.  You don’t have to do it all at your parties, even having a good friend make a few simple recipes in exchange for help with something for them, will help relieve a lot of stress for you on the day of the party. I traded services along with a discount for my amazing friend at Topsy Turvy Cakes to make this cake for our Mason Jar 90th party for my grandparents (read over there why we chose that theme).mason-jar-party-cake
  9. Collect staples items. I’ve got a few staple items besides clear and white dishes that I pull out for every party I am working on. I got a really cute chalkboard banner that can be erased and changed for any occasion. I also have some circle hole punches, glue gun, painters tape, and I keep a collection of varying colors of paper lanterns (featured below at the Pink Lemonade party)birthday activity
  10. Plan activities and games. For young kids, I like to have a gathering activity such as bouncing the balloon in the air. Once they have all arrived, I like to have a book on hand that will calm them down a bit, and introduce them to the theme. I’ll have a photo booth of sorts on hand, with plans to also play a few outdoor games. My husband and older kids are really good and rallying the troops this way, so this allows me to relax a bit and focus on the eating portion. Once games are complete, we will often have the food, and my kids love to open their gifts with their friends there. The games don’t even have to do anything with the theme, below, at the Lalaloopsey Party, they were playing tag . I generally have a party last an hour and a half for younger kids, longer as they get older and there is more of an activity involved (swimming or video gaming). birthday activity


***A little side note. It took me a few parties to get my groove at arranging things on a table. It’s all about varying height, a great background, and elements to match your theme. Look online for ideas, then put your own spin on things. It’s one of the most fun and creative projects I like to work on! Some might say I go “overboard” but I enjoy the process, and it’s my only gift to my kids.  If pictures mean something to you, look at where the light is good, and have parties during daylight hours.

Do you have any birthday party planning tips?? I hope these 10 tips for Throwing a DIY theme party helped you!

To see all of the parties I mentioned in this post, plus more, click on the PARTY TAB (here or above later).

Did you miss any of the other Birthday posts I shared as part of my Birthday Celebration Week? You must check them out!  I’ve got a Birthday Photo Booth, Yearly Free Printable Calendar, 101+ Gift Ideas for Friends, The Birthday Plate, and so much more!

birthday gift ideas

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Join The Discussion



  1. What a great list! While reading through it, I realize that I go through some of the exact same steps. I love your takeaway about colors: just because it’s Batman… I tend to get caught up in that and realize now that I have wasted quite a bit of time!

    Thanks for sharing this great list!

  2. This is a great post, Kristen! You definitely have a talent for creating fun, beautiful parties! I can’t wait to refer to it again next year when Gracie turns 5.

  3. Oh, birthday parties… They cause me some stress, and I know they shouldn’t! We do family parties with the cousins until the kids turn 6. Then once they turn 6, they can invite friends. We’ve done easy themes (like baseball and ladybugs). We did a fun monkey theme once (loved the cupcakes we did for that one!), and even had an ice cream social for another – the easiest one and one of my all-time faves! And those were just for family parties. I wouldn’t say my parties are pinterest-worthy, but the kids have enjoyed them.

    I’ve loved your themes – and they all turned out great. Looking forward to more from you!

  4. Great tips!! Thanks so much!!

  5. What great tips! And your parties are simply picture-perfect!

  6. The caliber of information that you’re offering is merely wonderful. You have saved me! Thanks!

  7. Great tips. Gonna think of them the next time i plan a party. Really helpful. Probably took you a long time and a lot of parties planned to figure them all out right? lol. Great article. Thanks. Bookmark!

  8. To avoid complications on events and formal gatherings a good event planner is needed.

  9. Creatively beautiful Kristen! I can surely use some of these designs and suggest it to the event planner for upcoming parties. Thank you so much for these tips! 🙂

    • Make Your Own Cake. The last time I purchased a birthday cake it was well over $30. Grab a box of cake mix, this delicious buttercream frosting recipe and make cupcakes! One box feeds 24 people and everyone loves cupcakes. If you are making cupcakes for a child with peanut allergies, be sure to check out these coloring gels that are peanut free.

  10. I don’t have the party planning gene, but even I could work on a party using your helpful tips!

  11. Any of these parties would be perfect! this is so fun and what a way to share love and joy with others!

  12. birthday planning tips? since we don’t have kids we need to plan on lots of booze 😉

  13. Such terrific tips! Next family birthday is at the end of the month!

  14. Great tips!

  15. These parties look amazing! Hopefully with your tips I can pull off a beautiful birthday party for my daughter.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thank you so much! You really have to train your brain a bit, so don’t get frustrated on your first one or two, it becomes more natural!

  16. I love how you explain things so simple and easy! I should totally go through everything one more time when I want to have a party!

  17. You had me at purple party. 🙂

  18. such great themes!
    And great tips too!

  19. A themed party, I think could be really exciting to arrange. I love your idea of picking one theme to go all out in, and make it cute and creative. Your advice on how to through a party effectively are helpful, especially your tip of getting a backdrop!

  20. Hey Kristen,

    These are some excellent tips for throwing a party.

    Excellent post as always, keep up the good work!



  21. Having a party at home or at a local venue is really great. If you want to have a night your guests will remember it for all the right reasons and as a host it will be your responsibility to ensure your guests are safe too.

  22. I am always so lost on where to begin when it comes to a party, I get stuck on colors and matching themes that I often forget to have fun with party planning and to keep it simple for the best outcomes. THanks so much for sharing all of the wonderful tips and advice, it is definitely useful and hopefully they will help me keep my head from spinning when the time comes to create my own little get together.

  23. Some great tips for our next party

  24. how many wonderful tips in a single article, loved …
    your blog is very beautiful .. saved in favorites. thanks!

  25. Wow! I love all of your party tables. These are all great tips! Shopping online can be such a time-saver!

  26. Loves to make children’s birthdays, always inventing some theme, and always research on the internet new themes, his ideas are fantastic. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Great tips!! Thanks so much!!

  28. I make booties for baby, so the craft is my passion. I’m loving the ideas, congratulations to the work!

  29. Great post! These are some great tips for planning a themed party. For me, the most important part of planning any party is picking the right venue.

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  31. Hi Kristen, With these tips my next party will be so much better. I also like to party at home.

  32. Your blog is beautiful, I really liked it!

  33. Well, I’d have to say this is one the better posts I have seen on this subject. The insight and perspective that you have shared has truly made a great impact on me. In the future, I hope to see what more I can learn here, as I don’t think there are many sites like this.

  34. Thank you for your help, I always had this doubt, I finally found the answer

  35. Great post! I agree that picking the right theme and venue are very important to having a great party. Thanks for sharing these awesome tips.

  36. This is a great post, Kristen! You definitely have a talent for creating fun, beautiful parties! I can’t wait to refer to it again next year when Gracie turns 5.

  37. Well, I’d have to say this is one the better posts I have seen on this subject. The insight and perspective that you have shared has truly made a great impact on me. In the future, I hope to see what more I can learn here, as I don’t think there are many sites like this.

  38. Making a birthday party is the wish of many people but the costs sometimes end up preventing, and these tips really are quite useful

  39. A birthday party is the wish of many people, but often the budget for this prevents all possibilities. However, these tips are pretty cool.

  40. I really love these themes, especially the everything ballerina! The decor and party favors are just adorable. I also like that you suggest using different colors even if it’s a character-driven party, it really does change up the pace a little!

  41. Thank you for your help, I always had this doubt, I finally found the answer

  42. Your information is usefulll
    thanks alot…..

  43. Great post Kristen! Great tips! I´ll bookmark. Thank You

  44. Hi Kristen, thanks for sharing these tips. I like so much!

  45. Really a gret post! These are some useful tips for throwing a party.

    Thank You!

  46. Hey Kristen, these tips are pretty cool for birthday party.

    Very useful.


  47. Planning a themed party is very difficult.

    You have made this task easy.


  48. Hi Kristen, this images are nice and beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing with us

  49. Amazing tips and post!


  50. To make a birthday party is very expensive but with these tips With these tips I can save money!

    Thanks Kristen!

  51. I liked your tips. Thanks for sharing

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  53. Interesting post! This is really helpful for me. I like it! Thanks for sharing!

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  56. I did and it was amazing. I loved the result. Thanks for sharing, I love your blog.

  57. I did in my b-day party and was AWSOME. Thank you!

  58. Hi Kristen, your blog is very beautiful!


  59. Great post!

    I love your photos

    Thank you

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  63. Great tips you shared with us. So stunning pics of birthday party. Awesome list.

  64. Really enjoyed. You’re doing a great job with your blog. Congratulations!

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  72. Fantastic, This is a great post

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  74. Nice themes! Thanks for sharing!
    I am going to have party and it was very helpful 🙂

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