Whether it’s during spring cleaning or a back-to-school blitz, there comes a time when you realize that you have too much stuff. Your issue could be your designer shoe collection, old craft supplies gathering dust or perfectly good furniture that no longer suits your style. If you have items lying around your house that no longer “spark joy” or feel useful to you, it’s time to find them a new home.

One of the reasons people have trouble getting rid of their old belongings is that they feel guilty for getting rid of perfectly good things. When there’s no problem with an item other than that your tastes and interests have changed, it just feels wrong to throw it away — especially if you’re trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle in your community. But if you have great gear lying around your home, you can give it all a second life instead. Get your community together for a swap party and find a new owner for your idle items. It’s fun, easy and free — and you can even go home with something new and exciting for yourself! Here’s how to organize this type of event for your whole community.

Get Focused

The best swap parties are fairly intimate affairs that limits the number of guests to about 20. This makes it easier to keep things orderly and friendly so your gathering feels fun instead of competitive. It’s also a good idea to choose a theme for your swap so the donated items are of interest to the group you invite — a pile of fancy handbags won’t really appeal to hardcore snow boarders looking to trade equipment. Consider these themes for swaps that will appeal to your neighbors:

  • Books, videos and music
  • Clothing, shoes and accessories
  • Home decor and furnishings
  • Housewares, tools and useful items
  • Sports equipment
  • Toys and other kids’ gear

If you’d like to appeal to the widest possible range of participants, you can host a different theme every few months so that people can choose what they’d like to attend. You can always go for one big swap, but this will take some extra organization to make it a success. If you want everyone to come out at the same time to maximize the number of items to choose from, select a large area and divide your swap party into different categories. This way attendees will know where to drop off their old things — and where to look for great new items.

Decide on the Rules

A very small swap party may not need rules, but if you have more than five people, it’s a good idea to decide on some basic guidelines so that everyone has a chance to “shop” for items they want. To make things fair, you may wish to hand out a token or coupon for each item someone donates; each ticket would then be exchanged for a new item at the swap. This easy tallying system ensures that no one leaves with twice as much as they brought to the table. (Of course, at the end of the night you may wish to open up the tables to encourage people to pick up those last few items!)

It’s also a good idea to come up with a system of taking turns so that your guests have an equal number of chances to claim items. You could draw numbers from a hat to assign a randomized shopping order and allow guests to choose one to three items on their turns. For the second round, consider going in the reverse order of your original assignments.

To keep things moving, schedule a browsing hour at the beginning of the swap so your guests can look around, take measurements and try things on. This will save time during the portion of the event when people are claiming items.

Finally, you’ll want to make it clear what will happen to the items when the swap party ends. Are guests responsible for taking home un-chosen items, or will the party organizers donate leftovers? The Salvation Army and Goodwill accept a wide range of gently used items, including clothing, furnishings and other household goods. You could also try to sell items on eBay or at an upcoming community yard sale and donate the profits to a local charity.

Make it Fun

Don’t forget that a swap party is a party! You’ll get more people to come if you go the extra mile to make it a notable event. You definitely want to serve food and drinks to keep people happy, so plan ahead to make your buffet table a success. If you have an event budget for your neighborhood association already, you’ll be able to provide a range of snacks easily. If you’re looking to keep costs down, try making the “admission price” to your event a potluck dish to share. You could also have an online sign-up for things like cups, plates, drinks and snacks as part of your RSVP instructions.

If you’re thinking about hosting a large swap, you may need some additional supplies to help organize items. Think about asking for help with the following:

  • Rolling clothes hangers or wardrobe carts
  • Extra hangers
  • Large folding tables
  • Folding chairs or other seating
  • Signage
  • Labels, nametags and pens to claim items
  • Coolers with ice for drinks
  • Trash cans for the food area
  • Takeout containers for sending home leftover food
  • A sound system with a microphone for music and announcements
  • Clothesline, clothes pins and sheets to create a changing area
  • Full-length mirrors

Promote Your Event

Once you’ve completed all of your planning, it’s time to get the word out about your community swap party. If you’ve already got a neighborhood association or HOA in place where you live, see if you can place a short article in the next newsletter or get access to the email list for community announcements. These direct marketing outlets are perfect for getting attention on your swap, and they give you a way to explain how your event will work if it’s a new type of gathering in your area.

If you’re looking to target a large audience, consider making flyers to post around your community and to hand out to residents, either near the mailboxes, on cars, under doors — or whatever works where you live (just make sure that you’re not breaking any rules!). It’s also a good idea to create a Facebook event page about the swap, since this lets you keep track of RSVPs and provide up-to-the-minute information about your event to potential guests. You can allow residents to invite others to join, too, which can help spread the word quickly. If you want to keep your swap small, just post your event with private settings.

A community swap party is a great way to get neighbors together and to find new homes for your old stuff. Just add friends, food and fun, and soon you’ll say goodbye to your old items and hello to a great time.

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