The Highs (and Lows) of Planning a DIY Wedding

When I met Jake, I never would have guessed that we'd eventually become husband and wife. In 2011, we both made the terrifying decision to move to Los Angeles to work for a motivational media company, which required us to speak to hundreds of students every day. When I picked him up at the airport, I was greeted with a half-awake, rather cranky individual.

Later that same day, I heard someone playing my favorite Coldplay song ("The Scientist") on the piano by the girls dorm, and I looked over at my bunkmate and said, "I'm going to marry whoever is playing that!" I was being sarcastic but lo and behold, I found out the musician was that same crabby traveler I had just met. I giggled and didn't think much of it...until I married him two years later on September 21st, 2013 in a very glittery, purple, rustic outdoor wedding.

Once we got engaged, the first thing we did was talk about how we were going to pay for the wedding. It's not the most romantic step in the planning process, but it was necessary nonetheless, especially considering how overworked (and underpaid) Jake and I were. We quickly realized that despite some help from my side of the family, my dream of tying the knot in a steeple-roofed barn filled with cascading florals and 300 of our "closest" friends and families dining on beautiful purple linens just wasn't going to happen. If I wanted my vision to become a reality, I was going to have to make it — literally. 

I'm a Pinterest addict so I began "pinning" inspirational images right away (who are we kidding? I'd been collecting them before I ever even met Jake). I was able to find a lot of wedding pins that I liked — see my inspiration board here — and I remember thinking, oh I can do that. I would make a mock-up of said craft and jot it down on my "to-do" craft list. That list grew rapidly: I was now a budding graphic design artist, a seamstress, a florist, a chalkboard enthusiast and a wedding planner extraordinaire! Although I had helped a few of my friends plan their weddings and I was starting to work in the event planning industry, I still had no idea what the next nine months would entail.

My now-husband, Jake, never doubted my abilities to craft our wedding day (maybe he should have just a tiny bit). His support and hard work, coupled with that of my spectacular Matron of Honor, really got me through the whole process. Even so, I still had a few meltdowns along the way, which was inevitable considering how much I took on: I made and printed all of our invites and programs, cut and fluffed 100 pom-poms, wrapped all of the floral arrangements with twine and lace until my fingers calloused over, chalkboard-painted everything and anything that had a flat surface, and glitter-bombed shoes, wooden cutouts and paper lanterns. 

My favorite DIY project was our centerpieces. Jake and I bought fake flowers (all on sale, mind you) and we only spent $400 on them, saving around $600 in the process. That made us feel really proud. I arranged every bouquet, boutonniere, centerpiece and decorative aspect myself. Between the twine, lace, glitter and flowers, I truly felt that I had created something beautiful. 


The flowers also kept my mind off of other creative hurdles I faced, chief being our DIY invitations. While I adore the way they turned out, the stress of potentially misspelling something and then being stuck with all 150 of them was on my mind 24/7. When we dropped them off at Kinkos to be printed, I literally felt like throwing up until I saw them again. My advice: Unless you're a professional, don't try this at home!

While embracing my creativity was fulfilling, I also struggled with falling out of love with our wedding. As much as I had everything written down, organized, and well-thought out, I still felt a chaotic wind breathing down my neck at every moment of the day. My dear fiancé found me crying in a chair with glitter stuck to my hair on more than one occasion.

While I am pro-Pinterest, I also believe in moderation while planning a wedding. I was inundated with wedding ideas and while that was wonderful, it also caused me to have panic attacks, to the point where I stopped going online and looking at anything wedding-related. I hunkered down and forced myself to finish all of my crafts on my to-do list for a month before browsing yet another "rustic outdoor wedding" blog.

I can't quite pin down (pun intended) a specific incident that caused me to lose my faith in wedding humanity. Everything just accumulated into one big glob of craft overload. Some days, I felt so alone in doing all of it that I would "bride hulk" on friends and family who weren't doing exactly what I needed them to at that specific moment. In a haze of spray glue, I began to realize that not everyone had time to cater to me (nor should they have) and I had to accept what I was given. In the choice words of Tim Gunn on Project Runway, "make it work."

In my day-to-day life, organization is my jam. I am prepared for every possible scenario and outcome. However, nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the week of your wedding. Everyone has advice on how to handle the nerves, jitters and chaos. While I did appreciate their sentiments (i.e. "just enjoy it, it will be over before you know it"), nothing could brace me for the disarray I felt while setting up the ceremony and reception sites, due to all the DIY I had signed up for. 


Thankfully, all of my greatest friends, relatives, and even a lot of Jake's family members pitched in to help pull it all together. And while we may have forgotten to set up a few of those DIY crafts, it never really bothered me. I think back to walking into our reception and seeing all of the details come to life and my heart swooned. Knowing all of the work that we put into everything made it that much sweeter.

I look back at my photos and I love every single one of them. To me, it was all part of the process of making our wedding day exactly what we wanted and within our budget.


If I could do it all over again, I would have toned down the ceremony décor and just let the beauty of our setting speak for itself. I felt like I had to "whimsy" up the place but the sun was setting at the perfect time and everything looked gorgeous without any of my doing. I also would have hired a wedding planner, or at least a day-of coordinator, although our budget didn't allow for it.

In order to take a bit off my fiancé's plate, I should have sent some of my amazing ladies to help finish up a few tasks. That way, he could have spent more time with his friends and family members, instead of having to hustle every moment that day. 


After Operation DIY Wedding, I'd like to bestow some advice that I learned the hard way, in the hopes that it may help other brides who are currently in the planning stages:

DO know your limits.
I didn’t. I wouldn't have had to struggle as much as I did if I had just been honest with my crafty self.

DO hire a planner or ask a really talented friend for help in exchange for something.
I don't recommend that you do this for every aspect of your wedding (especially not with photography or catering), but you might want to consider having a pal pitch in with day-of coordination in exchange for donating your time to help them with a project or baking them delicious cupcakes every time they come over. It might be the best deal you ever make!

DON'T take on the task of making food, drinks or desserts on the day of your wedding.
If you're a pro chef or baker, that's dandy, but the amount of time it would take to fret over when the pot roast is coming out of the oven would be mind-boggling. Please pay someone to take care of that for you. I couldn't have imagined being worried about that and getting all of the other DIY factors taken care of.

DON'T think you're saving money by hiring Uncle Bob to take your photos. 
Jake and I knew from the get-go that we were going to spend 40% of our budget on photography because it's the one thing from our wedding that we'd keep forever. I have personally witnessed far too many women entrust this precious keepsake to their cousin who just bought a brand-new Canon with no knowledge on how to use it. It's heartbreaking when you hear stories of wedding photos gone wrong just to save a buck or two. 

DON'T go overkill on decorations.
Unless you're working with a really bland room, let the details of the venue speak for itself. Not everything needs to be covered in tulle and fabric.

All photos courtesy of Pam Sutton / Leaves of Grass Photography

Tell us: Was your DIY experience also bittersweet? Looking back on your wedding, which projects would you have omitted and which ones were a highlight of your day?

—Rachel Holmberg

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