Honestly, one of the most difficult parts of the wedding planning process was trimming down the guest list (or should I say, “going at it with a machete”?). The list started out gigantic, even for our $2,000 wedding. We knew we had to cut it back because of Goal #5 for our ideal wedding: “We will have real time to spend with guests. We want to be able to spend quality time with our friends and family. We don’t want to follow the traditional pattern of a few wedding ‘events’ where the bride and groom only have time for a ‘meet and greet’: rehearsal dinner, reception, brunch the following morning. We want more of a family and friends reunion.” We knew that the bigger our wedding got, the less opportunity we would have to genuinely connect with our guests.
We had to look at the wedding guest list through an honest lens. I noticed that there were people on the list who were pretty much only there because I had been invited to their weddings (even though we aren’t particularly close friends). I cut those people from the list. I also noticed there were people on the list with whom I wanted to be closer friends. I just wasn’t. Those people got cut, too. Finally, I noticed there were colleagues whom I felt obligated to invite. I applied the following litmus test: “When I move on to my next job, will I still be friends with _____?” If the answer was no, they were off the list, too.
Luckily, we had the primary say over our guest list because we paid for the wedding ourselves. Of course we consulted with our families and made a few adjustments, but we made sure we would only be surrounded by our closest friends and family (none of our dads’ golf buddies, for example, or family friends we hadn’t seen in ten years).
While we were dwindling down the guest list, we were simultaneously scouring the state of Colorado for a suitable location. We didn’t want to get married in Matt’s hometown (Bloomington, IN) or my hometowns (Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA) because we didn’t want the wedding to be dominated by one side. We were living in Denver, and we figured it would be much easier to plan a wedding that was within driving distance of our home.
We quickly realized that finding the perfect location was way more difficult than trimming the guest list. The wedding location determines a lot about the wedding. It’s like the first domino that starts a chain reaction of other falling dominoes. It determines how casual or formal the event feels, what the catering options are, what kinds of fun things your guests can do, how many people can attend, how much decoration will be needed, etc.
Matt and I had a very difficult time selecting our wedding venue. The mountains of Colorado are a hugely popular wedding destination (especially in the summer), which drives up costs everywhere. Our budget kept us out of the more traditional wedding venues in the area, as well as our desire to avoid the “wedding factory” feel. We didn’t want to be “just another wedding on today’s agenda.”
We also knew that we wanted to be able to rent out an entire place because we wanted all of our friends and family to stay together. We were trying to create the feel of a friends and family reunion.
By the time we started planning our wedding in late December, there weren’t a lot of weekends left that had full availability of the entire site. Argh!
Then there was the beauty piece. We wanted a placed that was aesthetically pleasing. And we wanted our guests to be comfortable. And we wanted it to be affordable for them (since they were already paying for plane tickets and rental cars).
In the end, it came down to two choices (which, ironically, had opposite names: Sunshine Mountain Lodge and Shadow Mountain Ranch). Shadow Mountain was more beautiful. The cabins were cuter and the property seemed more situated in the mountains. But, the owner wasn’t as great as Cathy and Cory, the owners at Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
Cathy and Cory were so kind, welcoming, and helpful. We decided that it was better to go with the less aesthetically-pleasing place because relationships matter more to us than photographs or guests’ first impressions.
Originally, we wanted our ceremony and reception at the same site because it’s more environmentally-friendly. But we couldn’t figure out how to make it work at Sunshine. Then we came up with the idea of having the ceremony at a B&B up the road (which we could also use for overflow guests). We managed to find a lovely lake with picnic tables already there. No need to rent chairs! All of the dominoes started to fall in exactly the right way because the initial domino was the right one.
With the guest list and location decided, we were able to breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then it was time to focus on some of the fun details like doling out jobs, making the invitations, and finding rings.