Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Engineer's Guide to Low Stress Wedding Planning

Mr.ME and I are getting hitched this June is an afternoon steampunk wedding. We also have two friends who are getting married at about the same time. It's been interesting to talk to them, because while they're stressed out, we're very relaxed about the whole thing. We've come up with several tips for planning your wedding without going crazy in the process.

1) Lists
I love lists. They tell me exactly what needs to be done, and how much I have left to do. The key to lists, however, is not to be excessively detailed. When your wedding is still 6 months away, your list does not need to include things like "Tie ribbons around vases for centerpieces". At 6 months out, your list should only have the things you need to get done then. Make a new list as you get closer. Or if you're really ambitious (and geeky) make a Gantt chart for everything, and only focus on the relevant bits at any given time.

2) Prioritize
What about your wedding really matters to you? Do you absolutely have to do the Macarena at your reception? Then make sure that happens. But not every detail needs to be perfect. By deciding which details are important, you can reduce your stress significantly. If you're on a limited budget, prioritizing allows you to figure out where you need to spend money. The key is to talk about your priorities with your significant other, and anyone else with a vested interest in the planning process.

3) "Good Enough"
This may be a big day, but it's still just a day. You cannot make everything perfect in any design. If the chairs have not been aligned with a laser level, but are still in rows, that's good enough. Within spec, to use engineering terminology. Like any good process design, there a certain parts that are more critical than other, as we've hopefully hashed out while prioritizing. Unless your names are William and Kate, the odds are very good that 1) everyone at your wedding is at least vaguely familiar and 2) there will be fewer than 2 billion people watching and 3) roughly zero tabloid magazines covering the event.

4) Design Optimization
Like you cannot design an engine that will never fail, requires no maintenance, and is affordable, you can't plan a wedding that everyone will absolutely love. However, you ultimately wanted everyone to at least somewhat enjoy yourself, so you may have to make some compromises. Even if you don't like dancing, you may know that your grandmother won't consider it a proper wedding unless everyone does the Time Warp. Instead of a DJ, there are some very nice iPod boombox docks, and you can setup playlists with music that you like, and everyone else can stand. If you have a limited budget, try an afternoon appetizer reception instead of a formal sit-down meal.

5) Designate and Delegate Responsibility
The bride (and groom) do not need to plan every single detail. However, someone needs to have final say in all decisions, and it needs to be clear who that is very early on. One of the biggest stressors other people seem to have in wedding planning is conflicting visions from various interested parties. Mr. ME and I were very lucky: my parents had one request, for delicious food. His mother wanted to make sure he invited certain relatives. Other than that, we've had a lot of freedom. On the flip side, we've also delegated a lot to our trained professional (i.e., caterer). She's done dozens of weddings at our venue, and we've told her that we trust her judgement for things like table layouts. For the day of the wedding, we have friends who have agreed to deal with any last minute emergencies, so we don't have to. We may be the managers of this project, but there's ways to distribute the work load.

6) Clear Communication
This ties back to several earlier points. If you have your set of priorities, but can't communicate them effectively, things are more likely to go wrong. If you can clearly tell the florist "I know it may be silly, but it really matters to me that the ribbon is cream, not white", they're more likely to make note of it and do it the way you want. If you have an interfering mother, clearly stating the problem with a proposed solution, like "I know we're from the South and you want pork shoulder barbeque at the wedding, but I'm marrying a Jew, so can we compromise on beef brisket instead?" may minimize the battles.

7) Buffers
Plan for things to go wrong. Have 75 guests and plan on giving out some sort of favor? Have 80. Think you can do your hair and makeup in 30 minutes? Plan for 60. In the end, it's much more pleasant to twiddle your thumbs for half an hour than be panicking. Set your RSVP date at least a week before the caterer/venue need real numbers, so you can hunt down all the non-responders.

Overall, we've been very lucky in planning our wedding, because our families are very relaxed. We also agree on most of the priorities. Most of the disagreements about priorities have been where one of us sees something as an absolute yes/no, and the other just doesn't have a strong opinion. We've also both been involved in planning other, larger, events previously. We still have lots of little things to do, but we're totally on track, with room to spare.


  1. Good luck with the planning and I hope everything runs smoothly. FYI, if you're looking for steampunk figures for the top of your wedding cake, check out . That should add to the steampunk-ness.

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