Updated: Apr 5
Choosing to have a small, intimate wedding when you come from a big family can be kind of daunting. Planning a wedding is stressful no matter who you are or the kind of wedding you are planning, but figuring out how to have a small wedding with a big family is a special kind of stress because it comes with a sense of guilt that couples planning big weddings don't deal with.
"We could just elope..."
Yeah, you could. Full disclosure, that's what I'll be doing if and when my partner and I decide to get married. We've come to that decision over the course of a couple of years having all the "what if" conversations about our wedding and determined that eloping is the right course for us. But that's not the case for everyone.
So how do you know a small, intimate wedding is right for you?
The idea of a big wedding is just downright unappealing to you. This one is kind of a no-brainer. If the thought of having your wedding in a huge ballroom with a dozen or so tables with 8-10 guests each sound like a logistical nightmare that sends your introvert heart into an anxiety attack, a small intimate wedding is the right way to go for you.
You want the focus of the wedding to be more about interpersonal connections. This one is a less tangible thing, but small weddings are less about where the wedding day was held, what the food was like, or what all the decorations looked like. Instead the focus becomes more about the couple's love for each other and the connections between them and the select guests they've chosen to include in their wedding day.
You want more flexibility with your wedding budget. When you have a big wedding, a huge chunk of your budget gets eaten up by the venue+catering to accommodate the dinner reception for all of your guests. That means you might be under-budgeting for other aspects of your wedding that you would rather be more spendy on. With an intimate wedding, you get to have more flexibility with your budget and it allows you to be more spendy in some areas if you want, or be more thrifty overall if you choose.
You want a bespoke wedding experience. Every couple should feel like their wedding day was created just for them, but with big weddings it's hard to feel like the experience is really unique after you've been to more than one, especially once a guests starts comparing how your wedding is "just like so-and-so's wedding." With a small wedding, you get to have more freedom with the venue you choose and because the guest list is so small you have more freedom to set the events and schedule for the day, creating a truly different wedding day experience.
Now that you know you're in the intimate wedding camp, you're probably wondering how to plan one since you have a huge family. Don't worry! I've got some tips for you to help you navigate you and your family's feelings and feel confident with planning the small wedding of your dreams!
Tips to plan a small wedding with a big family
Set Expectations Early. I have not been quiet about the fact that one day we're eloping, that way no one can be claiming to have hurt feelings when they didn't get an invite to my wedding. You should be the same way about your intimate wedding. Once you make the decision to keep it small, start spreading the word so that everyone in your circle has an expectation of not being invited. That way if and when someone does get the invite they feel really special.
Be Intentional with Your Guest List. When you choose to have an intimate wedding, every guest should be someone that you cannot imagine having your wedding day without. Just because you really like Cousin Becky and have a great time when you get together doesn't necessarily mean she's a must-have guest at your wedding. It's okay to reflect on these relationships and really consider who you absolutely want to have be there to witness one of the most significant and meaningful moments of your life in a very personal and vulnerable way. Julie Noelle Weddings has really great advice on creating a guest list.
Guest Intentions Part 2. What you do for one, you should do for all - and I say this not to be a rule, but to be more of a guide to avoid some hurt feeling among your friends and family. Because your guest list is so small, it will be very noticeable if one of you got to have a guest that "shouldn't" have been there, so to speak. For example, if you and your partner decide that your guest list should be parents and siblings, but Partner A has two parents and one sibling while Partner B has two parents, two step parents, three blood siblings and 2 steps siblings, that doesn't necessarily mean you should open the door for Partner A to start inviting a whole bunch of extra people just to even out the guest count.
Boundaries - Set Them and Hold Them. It's an unfortunate truth that many couples who have a small wedding experience push back or pressure to go bigger with their wedding. Maybe it's from parents, maybe it's from friends, and maybe it's completely unintentional on the part of the source. But if this is something you experience, it's important for you to set your boundaries with people about the fact that this is the wedding you've chosen and that you would appreciate their support over their criticism. And definitely don't be afraid to call on your vendors (like me or your wedding planner) for support and to help you articulate your feelings.
Kid Policy. I bet you really like your nieces and nephews, but maybe they aren't your wedding guests. Or maybe they are? Kid policy is definitely something you need to discuss together and decide which children, if any, get to be on your small wedding's VIP list of guests. Kids require babysitters, and that's one way to lose a valuable guest if the kids aren't allowed to come to the wedding. Or to ruin a relationship if your sister can't bring her kids but your best friend can.
Consider How You Can Include The Un-Invited. There are many ways you can consider included those that were not invited to your wedding and include them in your big day after the fact. Some people host backyard barbeque parties with those who would have been on a big wedding guest list. Other send very nice post-wedding announcements with a link to an online gallery of images so that people can still share in the day's events through photos. Maybe you can livestream the ceremony, or record a video to share later. Or something else entirely - it's up to you and what's on your heart.
Some People Won't Get It - And That's Okay. If you encounter a family member or friend who keeps questioning why you won't expand your guest list so they can get an invite, just stay firm with your boundaries and remind yourself that their persistence is about them and not you. If they keep wanting to know why they aren't on the guest list, honesty is the best policy. Remind them that you're trying to keep your wedding small and that means that not everyone can be invited and you would love to celebrate with them at another time.
For more intimate wedding planning tips and inspiration, check out the blog links below.