Sunday, June 9, 2013

10 Basic Tips for a DIY Wedding

As I mentioned  previously, our wedding was a DIY. I designed and printed our programs, save-the-dates, and invitations. All of our decorations were either thrifted or handmade. Our cake was made by a family friend, and all our food was prepared by my amazing aunts--an unstoppable force known as "The Sisters" (they also helped a ton with decorations, too). Our favors--made those. Our cake topper--made that too. (You can see some of the details here.) Pretty sure if I thought I could actually sew a wedding dress, I would have tried. I honestly loved having all those details, knowing the heart and hard work that had gone into them. It was definitely a learning process!

Photo by Sarah Beckmann
Since I never wanted to get married,  I didn't really pay that much attention when I went to weddings. I had NO idea what I was doing when I started planning my own--I didn't know what I wanted, how to go about making it happen, or even all the parts of a ceremony. I was starting from scratch. There were (many many many) times when I was so overwhelmed that I just begged Tyler to elope. I was so stressed, and it felt like so much responsibility. I had no idea if what I was doing would match what I envisioned, or if it would be one giant handmade disaster--and if it WAS a disaster, everyone would know that it was my fault. (I'm seriously having flashbacks right now just thinking about it!)

In the end, it turned out beautifully, but the process was several months of pure stress and wedding-related breakdowns. If you're planning your own, here are ten general tips to (hopefully) save you tears & panic attacks (I had lots of those, too).

1) Get organized. Do your research. Print off pictures. Pin things to a Pinterest wedding board. Whatever your best method of organization is, use it! I do better when things are on paper, rather than virtual, so I made a binder. I'm the worst about forgetting things, so this was a life-saver. I had tabs for budget, venue, food, dress, guests, decorations, etc. Within decorations, I also had tabs for each area that needed decorating, and what I wanted there. (More about this in number 5!).

I also had an Excel spreadsheet for guests, including name, address, RSVP status, and number of guests attending. This was also super handy when it came time for thank-you cards, because I added a tab for gifts and typed them in as we opened them. That made it easy to personalize our cards, and the addresses were right there too!

2) Take a ton of pictures. Once you have your venue reserved, take pictures of every area you plan on using. This will ensure that you don't neglect an area and that you're able to decorate and help you use the space most effectively. I literally took pictures of everything--even our beverage station. Not joking. Our venue was 3 hours from where I was living at the time, so running by to have a look every so often wasn't an option (plus, it would probably have been really annoying for the owners). It helped me immensely to be able to reference these and realize when an idea wouldn't work for the space, or come up with new ideas based on what the venue had to offer. It's also great to be able to show your helpers so they can get an idea of your vision ahead of time and help you brainstorm if you're stuck. Seriously. Take a ton of pictures.

3) Budget. Oh boy. Nobody likes to talk about this, but it's so necessary. When we started planning, Tyler and I were both grad students, my father was deceased, and my mom was a schoolteacher. There was no getting around having to budget! My mom generously paid for most of our wedding, but there was still a sizable chunk that Tyler and I took on. Because of the theme of our wedding, we were able to find most things on the cheap at flea markets & antique stores, or have them donated or loaned by friends or family. We were so lucky in that respect, but we still had to be careful. It's easy to walk away from the big purchases, like spending $200 on an old church pew or an antique quilt (both things I seriously considered. Wedding brain, I tell you). The problem is, it's all the little trinkets and things that add up! We spent about $1 apiece for our floating lanterns, which was a great deal. But when you consider that we invited 150 can see how easy it is to rack up the dollars. Budgeting helps you be mindful of the small things as well as the large, and can help you prioritize your spending so you make sure you have the most important things first.

4) Recruit some good help! I hate (hate hate hate) asking people for help. I would rather do everything myself than inconvenience other people. I even had a hard time asking Tyler to do things, and he was offering! I was lucky that four of my stepdad's five sisters lived within an hour and a half of me....and that they loooooooooove weddings! They were so excited from the get-go that I didn't feel like a burden at all. I probably couldn't have asked otherwise, and I literally couldn't have done it without them. I can say with all honestly now, that if anyone on the planet needed help with wedding-related things, I would help in a flash. (Seriously, though, if you have managed to pull off a DIY wedding for about 150 people with zero help from anyone, I want to meet you and shake your hand, because I'm pretty sure you're a superhero.)

5) Sketch & list! Nobody is going to understand your vision exactly, or see things the same way you have it in your head, no matter how you try to explain it. There were times my mom thought I was crazy when I started describing my ideas. I'm no artist, but sometimes it helps me to have a visual layout of a space and how things will be set up. My mom is the same way, so sketching out a basic plan helped communicate my vision much more clearly than I could describe it to her. For myself, I also made checklists from the sketches of everything that I wanted in an area and the materials I would need to make it, if it was a handmade element. I checked them off as they were found or finished, and they went into a box labeled with the area.

For the day of the wedding, I had lists made with all of the items that I wanted specifically in each area and a basic idea of how I envisioned them arranged. I know this makes me sound like a little bit of a control freak, but bear with me. There were a few things in each area that had to be there, and a lot of other things that were just extra discretionary props (which weren't on the list. I left those up to my helpers' creativity & awesome decorating skills). We had to set up the morning of the wedding (because there was another wedding the night before), and I had zero time to help do it. These lists were one of the best things I did, because I wasn't trying to field a million questions, my helpers weren't worried about getting everything the way I wanted it on their own, and I wasn't stressed about things not being where they needed to be. My mom was less stressed, too, because she didn't have to try to remember all of our plans!

6) Stay true to your vision. You know what your dream wedding looks like, right? Do that. Go with your vision. Sometimes it's hard, because nobody gets it quite like you, but stay true to it anyway. I'm not saying to ignore all advice, but you have to find the balance between being a bridezilla and being railroaded by well-meaning folks around you. There were times during wedding planning that someone said, "I don't think that will work," and I looked at it and said, "Yeah.....I think you might be right." But there were other times when the same was said and I said, "You know, this is really important, and I'll make it work." Other people are worth listening to, but ultimately, this is your and your fiance's day. They will be your pictures, your moments, your memories to look back on for the rest of your life. You are the ones who get to decide what's important.

7) Start making things early. If you know for certain that you want a particular element in your wedding (like pennant garland or a particular cake topper), get it, or get the stuff to make it and go to town. I could have saved so much stress if I would have just gotten started sooner. I'm a planner, but I thought I had to have all my planning done before I could start with the doing. UNTRUE. Get moving on the things that are already decided. If you have your guest book table idea solidified, but you're still dreaming up ceremony decor ideas, start working on that guestbook table! Plan AND do. You will get more sleep in the long run, trust me.

8) Work it like a job. There are two parts to every job--the part where you work, and the part where you take a break. You have to have both to get things done and not go insane while you're doing it. There were weeks where I came home every day and worked on wedding stuff until I went to bed. I also took weekend trips to Springfield and St. Louis. I went to concerts, went swimming, drank pink lemonade at the park, and read books in fields. Sometimes it was a concentrated effort not to think and obsess over wedding stuff 24/7, but it was healthy. Make a schedule and be disciplined. Work when you're scheduled to work, and play when you're scheduled to play.

9) Know when enough is enough. I was still finding new projects to tackle the week before our wedding. I'm not even slightly joking here. Do yourself a favor, and stop scouring wedding blogs at least a month before your big day. There will always be more projects to take on, more things you wish you would have seen sooner, ideas you didn't think of. Unless you realize that you forgot something important, just work on tying up the loose ends and finishing projects you've already started. Don't try to tack on 50 extra (probably unnecessary) things last minute.

10) (Try to) enjoy it! It sounds crazy, and I never would have believed it when I was doing wedding planning myself, but I actually miss it a little. It was hard, crazy, and stressful, but it was also exciting! It stretched me creatively and gave me confidence to take on large projects and creative endeavors in the future. I basically had an excuse to thrift and craft for months and months. For the days that were monotonous "assembly line" days, my mom, aunts, and I made food and listened to 70's music the whole time. We made it fun and laughed a lot.

You will have panicky moments and stress-filled days (and probably a breakdown or two), but you will also have moments you look back on with pride and maybe even a little longing. Enjoy those moments, and let them carry you through.

Photo by: Colby Moore
Happy wedding!

If you have questions, want advice, or just need to vent about wedding-related things,feel free to drop me a line via the comments section, email, or by clicking here


  1. Okay, I absolutely love all of your wedding posts! Your wedding was gorgeous, and looks like it was so much fun! We did a lot of things ourselves for our wedding definitely do have to work it like a job haha.

  2. Lovely post! So happy you stopped by my blog and shared. Brilliant tips, particularly knowing when enough is enough, I've got so many DIY ideas and much like you, if I felt like I could sew a wedding dress, I probably would try (thankfully I can't). Beautiful blog as well! :) x

    1. Thank you! So glad it was helpful. Like I said, I felt a little weird posting a link to my own blog, but I just know how totally overwhelmed I was when I started wedding planning! :)


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