6 Ways to Stick to a Small Guest List (Even If You Come From a Big Family)

You can still have the intimate wedding you want—even with a huge clan.

Updated 12/05/19

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Every bride dreads the idea of trimming loved ones off the wedding guest list. It becomes even more impossible seeming if you both come from large families and are blessed to have a big group of friends. But if you and your partner dream of having a small, intimate wedding, it's an essential part of the planning process. So how do you ultimately decide who get's an invite and who gets crossed off the list? And how do you deal with an upset family member who realizes they won't be coming to the party?

Here, Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, shares her tips on how to stick to a small guest list, even when it seems totally out of the question.

Only Invite the A-Listers

Most couples start plotting their guest list by divvying family and friends into A, B, and C tiers. For a small wedding, stick solely to the A group to ensure just those you'd really love at your celebration receive an invitation. "A good rule of thumb is if they're not on your holiday card list, you should not feel guilty about omitting them," Gottsman says. "Don't worry that they're going to see it on Facebook. It is what it is. People understand."

Throw Expectations Out the Window

It may sound harsh, but you're really not obligated to invite anyone, Gottsman says. Not your college roommate you haven't spoken to since graduation or your second cousin who invited you to her wedding a few years back.

Set Boundaries Early

Though it may be news to you, your parents and future in-laws probably have an idea of whom they'd like to invite to the big day. And if they're contributing to the wedding budget, you may feel the need to oblige. But if you'd rather not utter your vows in front of friends of your parents that you barely know, set the expectation early and give each set of parents a predetermined number of invitations available to them. "That doesn't mean you have to come across as punitive," Gottsman says. "You need to say to your parents—or step-parents, or whoever it might be—you get to choose 10 guests or 50 guests, whatever the comfortable number for you is." Stick to that number, and you won't feel that added pressure to invite people you're not close to. "It's not about their celebration," Gottsman says. "It's your celebration."

Consider a Destination Wedding

The foolproof way to keep your guest list down? Jet set. "It does tend to minimize the guest list a little bit, to filter it out," Gottsman says. Simply taking the wedding out of town will increase the financial and time commitment of your guests, which will ensure just those closest to you take the plunge. Still, be sure to only invite those you truly want to be there, Gottsman advises. Don't bank on people declining the invitation—there's always a chance they'll RSVP yes.

Limit Children and Plus-Ones

A good way to keep the guest list from exploding is to set a threshold for who gets an invite, say only adults over the age of 18. "Some parents will be offended if their children aren't invited," Gottsman says. "But in this case, on this afternoon or night or morning, it's not about the parents." If there's room for your many cousins but not enough room to give the young ones a plus-one, consider only allowing plus-ones for long-term relationships.

Ensure No One's Feelings Are Hurt

Once invitations are out, word may trickle in that a family member is upset they didn't find an invite in the mail. Be ready to deal with those who feel snubbed. "Pick up the phone and say, 'I hear through uncle so-and-so that you're unhappy because you didn't get invited, but I just wanted you to know it was a really tough decision, and we just needed to keep our numbers low. Please don't take it personally,'" Gottsman suggests. If a distant aunt who wasn't invited still sends a gift, send a gracious thank-you note but don't feel pressured to add her to your perfectly edited guest list.

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