Yesterday’s post was all about how prepare and prioritize for hosting a Thanksgiving celebration that’s low in stress and high in happy. Today’s post is for those of you who will be hosting any kind of Thanksgiving gathering in a small space. Inviting everyone over to your tiny apartment? Planning to cook dinner in a tiny kitchen? This one’s for you.
A month after we first moved into our apartment, we had Brian’s mom, dad, and sisters over for dinner to see our new place. They were our first “official” guests and the first of our families to visit us here. I was so nervous about it, in large part because of how tiny our space is. It’s not the smallest apartment in the world, but it’s pretty darn small. Would we all have enough breathing room? With ten feet between the couch and the kitchen, would everyone be watching me as I cooked dinner? Did I have enough counter space to prepare food for more than two people?
Two months later, we hosted our first Thanksgiving at the apartment for my relatives. The same worries resurfaced, amplified. Would we all have enough breathing room, with double the people and a 400-degree oven toasting up the air? With ten feet between the couch and the kitchen, would everyone be watching me as I cooked Thanksgiving dinner? Did I have enough counter space to prepare this many dishes for this many people?
The confines of a small living space can be frustrating on a daily basis, not to mention when you’re entertaining. But like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, if you frame your space in a positive light, you can see that there are a lot of upsides to hosting Thanksgiving on a small scale. And it’s not all about totally deluding yourself! A tiny Thanksgiving means:
– less physical space to clean and decorate
– a cozy, intimate atmosphere for entertaining
– an excuse to simplify your menu
– a hosting experience that’s easy to manage
Once you’ve starting thinking about your tiny Thanksgiving as something warm and cozy and easy to accomplish, use my tried-and-tested tips below to make the most of hosting in your little space. With three Thanksgivings and countless get-togethers under my belt, I am always keeping these in mind so that hosting is relatively stress-free. This blog – and Thanksgiving, really – is all about being plugged in to what really matters – to the people you’re fortunate to know, the beauty at your fingertips, the electric current of your life. These tips will free up the time and space for you to really plug in to all that beautiful, electric stuff. Big, beautiful Thanksgivings are possible even in the smallest spaces.
Setting up & Decorating
1/ Take advantage of anything in your space that can be multifunctional.
A big obstacle you might run into while preparing your home for Thanksgiving is that of limited counter space, table space, or seating. So, think about what you have that can be flexible or serve the purpose you’re looking for. Wide windowsills, knee walls, stools, benches, and ottomans can all be serving areas or seats if you’re creative.
My own issue is that we have a lack of tabletop space. We have one dining table and that’s it. Since we set it ahead of time to prepare for dinner, there isn’t any space left over for appetizers, napkins and cups, coasters for wine glasses, etc. So I turn anything I can into a little table or serving area. The ottoman that goes with our couch becomes an appetizer display; with a wooden tray on top, it’s a good-sized space for serving snacks. Two big wood-covered speakers on either side of our TV stand make perfect places for stacks of napkins, coasters, or bowls of nuts or treats.
2/ Folding tables and folding chairs. Seriously.
These save us so much trouble every Thanksgiving. What’s great about using folding chairs and tables is that they’re temporary – they are great for when you need them, and easy to remove once you’re done.
If you have limited seating, keep extra folding chairs stacked upright in a corner and pop them open around your table when it’s time for dinner. If you need space to put out beverages or a serve-yourself buffet, set up a small folding table in advance and cover it with a festive tablecloth.
Each year, we set up a folding table in a small empty space next to our couch. It’s a great place to set up appetizers and beverages. Before dinner, we switch it over to a buffet station to keep everyone from clamoring into our claustrophobic kitchen and make sure that kitchen counter space – of which there is little – is dedicated to cooking!
Chances are, someone you know has folding chairs or a folding table and will be willing to lend them to you (thanks Dad); if not, they’re fairly inexpensive. Plus, they fold up flat! Which means that once you’re done entertaining, they’ll take up minimal storage space.
3/ Choose decorations that don’t take up extra or valuable space.
Decorating for the occasion is a great way to make your guests feel festive and welcome once they arrive, but avoid decorations that take up serving space or seating areas. Instead, try wall and window décor.
I like to string white twinkle lights or fairy lights around the windows and archways in our apartment – they make everything more festive, especially when it starts to get dark! Choose ones with decorative bulbs or a white wire for a more expensive, less dorm-y look. I also try to update the photographs in my picture frames to ones that are more seasonal.
If you’re really short on space, try focusing your decorative energies on your Thanksgiving table. Pick a festive tablecloth or napkins, or make your own place cards.
Something Brian really loves to do for Thanksgiving is set up a playlist or Pandora station on our TV and leave it on at a low volume throughout the day. Having constant background music instantly makes everything feel more homey and inviting, and it doesn’t take up any extra room.
4/ Anticipate your guests’ requests!
One of the challenges (for me, anyway) of living in a small space is that everything you own feels like it’s on display. There isn’t a lot of privacy that comes with hosting a holiday in a tiny apartment.
If the thought of people rummaging through your space looking for something makes you anxious, or you want to keep from doing it yourself in front of a group of onlookers (even though you really love them), prepare ahead of time anything you think someone might need. Keep extra napkins and toothpicks out near the dinner table, or put together a little basket in the bathroom with Tylenol, Tums, and tissues. This is something your guests will really appreciate, too, if they’re embarrassed or reticent to ask for something.
Cooking & Serving
5/ Embrace a potluck-style celebration.
Having a tiny kitchen, little counter space, or a small refrigerator makes preparing and preserving a full Thanksgiving meal pretty challenging. An easy way to minimize the amount of food you have to store and cook is to ask each of your guests to bring a component of the meal, from side dishes to desserts to snacks to drinks to appetizers.
Make sure that what you’re asking a guest to bring isn’t actually going to cause you more difficulty in the long run. So, avoid asking for dishes that require a lot of assembly once they’ve made it to your door. Make sure additional prep is kept to a minimum so that your space remains free of chaos.
6/ Send guests home with leftovers.
Leftovers are a major perk of hosting Thanksgiving, but can be a real pain if they’re taking up all of the room in your fridge. If you’ve fed a good-sized crowd and can’t possibly finish – or store – all of the leftovers yourself, send each of your guests home with a package of leftovers.
Buy a package of disposable Tupperware containers or ask your guests to bring their own. When you’re cleaning up after dinner, give each guest a serving of the meal for the next day. It’s something sweet to do for your friends or family and also clears up space in your kitchen and minimizes food waste.
7/ Set up a serve-yourself station or buffet apart from the table.
If you’re living in a small space, you probably don’t have a huge dining room table with lots of room down the middle for serving dishes. So, keep the table clear of clutter so that people can move their arms and have a little breathing room. Set up a folding table – or a clear section of kitchen countertop – with serving dishes and have guests serve themselves and then take their seats at the table.
8/ Keep things cool.
Small spaces, hot ovens, and large groups of people make for seriously stuffy air. Remember that your space is going to be a lot warmer than usual, even if you’re someone like me who is always cold. Keep your thermostat temperature a few degrees lower than usual. Don’t be afraid to lightly crack a window or two, even in November. Trust me – you’ll be happy you did when the sweat on your brow is basting your turkey while you’re hold a meat thermometer in its searing flesh.
9/ Take an after-dinner walk.
Small spaces can get a little bit claustrophobic, for you and for everyone else. After dinner, encourage your guests to take a walk – around your yard if you have one, or around the block or apartment complex – so that they can stretch their legs, get some fresh air, walk off their meals, and get a refreshing change of scenery. It will make everyone feel calmer and less antsy.
This is a great tip for those of you with a case of social anxiety or just a case of needing-a-little-personal-space. 🙂 Encouraging everyone to get outside for a little while will give you and/or your designated helpers time to clean up, use the bathroom, and take a break for a few minutes. A moment or two of calm will really help you remember to appreciate the day.
Once I’ve cleaned up and some of my family has gotten back, I like to go out for a walk too. Our apartment is really cozy, but it can get hot and stuffy fast, especially at the end of a big Thanksgiving dinner. Being outside in the fresh air for even 2-3 minutes does wonders for clearing my head and refreshing my energy.
Let me know in the comments how you’re planning to maximize your small space for Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, or any of the upcoming holidays – or if you’ve got advice for me. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss tomorrow’s post on my favorite dependable Thanksgiving dinner recipes.