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5 Steps to Organizing a Successful Swap Party

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Upcycle clothes, toys, books and more with an easy-to-plan swap. Here’s how, in 5 simple steps.

One (wo)man’s trash is another’s treasure, goes the saying. And it’s true: That skirt that doesn’t match a thing in your closet, the book that you finished, the toy that your kid outgrew all might be worthless to you, but useful to a friend or neighbor.

When I find that there’s a lot of stuff piling up around my house that’s still decent quality, but that I’m not using as much as I should be, I know it’s time to organize a swap. I’ll pick a theme, invite some friends, and we’ll all get the chance to enjoy a shopping spree without spending a cent!

If you want to organize your own swap, these instructions should get you on your way to a successful event.

1. Pick what you’ll swap. You could invite the girlfriends over to swap clothing and accessories. A group of moms might want to trade kids’ clothes or toys. Avid readers could exchange books. Music lovers could trade CDs or records. Hardly anything is off the table, but choose one theme to run with.

2. Invite your swappers. If you’re exchanging kids’ or adults’ clothing, make sure that the participants are in a similar size range so that there will be something for everyone. For other themes, just make sure that the participants have at least some of the necessary things in common (taste in books or music, age range, etc) to ensure that everyone will get the chance to find some treasures, or the chance to realistically discover something new. Use an online invitation or email to spread the word and help keep track of guests.

3. Set some ground rules. Determine how much, and in what condition, each person should bring, and how much they’ll be able to come away with. For instance, for a clothing swap you might say that each participant needs to bring at least 10 items, and can take that many away. Chances are, most people will welcome the chance to upcycle their things, and will bring even more than requested. You’ll also want to specify a certain quality level: Clothing should be unstained and in good repair, toys need to work and have all their pieces.

4. Arrange the swap. For a small, informal swap, guests can simply arrive with their things, and a few helpers can set it out on tables or sort it quickly while people mingle or eat refreshments. For larger swaps, it’s wise to ask people to drop off their swap items a day beforehand so they can be sorted and arranged. You’ll need to decide how the swap works — will people take turns “shopping,” and if so, how will you decide in what order (drawing numbers is always a fair solution)? As everyone chooses their quota of items, the structure can relax a little and you can invite guests to choose a few more things if there’s enough. Be sure to ask participants to bring their own reusable bags to tote home their treasures.

5. Donate the rest. You’re likely to have leftovers even after all the swap participants have chosen their fill. Before the swap, decide where you might want to donate any unwanted goods (make sure that your participants don’t want to simply take their own unchosen items back). Pack everything up after guests leave, and take it to a charitable organization that runs a thrift shop or could donate the items to someone in need. You can search online or a local donation center.

Have you ever participated in a swap? Share your best and worst swap experiences and ideas in the comments below!

Jessica Harlan

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Every Monday, I'll be here to share one, two, three… sometimes even ten! eco-friendly ideas at a time, so we can all do a little bit to save the Earth.

When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

  • Lucy T. 29 days ago
    Join and use Freecycle - a yahoo group, neighborhood-based.
  • Charlotte R. 4 years ago
    I would like to try this with unwanted kitchen items. I have a bunch of baking stones that I no longer use.
  • Alan S. 4 years ago
    I think I'll try a book swap!
  • Stella L. 4 years ago
    I pledge.
  • Rick P. 4 years ago
    Even broken toys or unusable items can be put on a swap or rummage sale.

    You can take apart toys, wash the good parts, and put in small bags and title them, "matchbox wheels and other small wheels", "motors", "battery holders"
    "misc battery covers", "craft parts" or whatever.

    You can take apart toys, keyboards, and games missing letters or numbers, and exchange or sell these for crafts. Metal parts, cords, and electronic pieces can be recycled at many places.

    Look at all the ideas on this site, think creatively when getting rid of things. Recycling includes re-purposing things. It also can give your kids some useful things to do where they can make money too!
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