A swap can easily get out of hand when there’s four-ply cashmere or a Le Creuset Dutch oven up for grabs. Here’s how to maintain order.
Be clear about what’s swap-worthy. Ask friends to bring clean goods in gently used condition (that is, no ratty gym shorts or a Scrabble set missing the letter Q). Guests should also come with an extra tote bag for carting home their finds.
Stock up on supplies. Guests can claim desired items using color-coded stickers. Hangers and poster board (for signage) may also come in handy.
Establish a system. Choose one of the following swapping strategies, which should be explained in your Evite or at the start of the party.
Take turns shopping. Draw straws to pick who shops first. Limit the number of items to three per turn to keep it fair and moving fast.
Use tokens. The host hands out a poker chip for every item a guest donates. If a person brings 10 items, she gets 10 tokens with which she can purchase 10 new items.
Keep the numbers even. Everybody goes home with the same number of items that they donated.
Tip: Give guests room to spread out their items by clearing off surfaces, such as dining and side tables, and using bins and trunks to serve as display space.
4 of 9Ellen Silverman
Swap Option: Clothing and Accessories
How to organize: Set up a garment rack with hangers, or string up a clothesline, then prop up a full-length mirror. Make signs, and sort fashions by size, type, season, or even personality. (Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, anyone?)
What to consider: You may want to invite people who are roughly in the same size range (though anyone can trade bags, jewelry, and scarves). Remind guests to wear tights or modest underwear the day of, which will make try-ons less awkward.
5 of 9 Ellen Silverman
Swap Option: Children's Items
How to organize: Make it easy for parents to find what they need; group items by age (baby, toddler, 5 to 7, 8 to 11). From there, sort into categories―clothing, games, books, crafts, toys, dress-up costumes.
What to consider: Be sure the people in the group have children of different ages. You don’t want to get stuck with a room full of bouncy seats and baby monitors when everyone’s kids have already moved on to walking and talking.
6 of 9 Ellen Silverman
Swap Option: Books, CDs, and DVDs
How to organize: Separate novels, music, and movies by genre. Or mix them up in sections, such as classics, cult favorites, new and notable, and mainstream hits. Lay them flat if you’ve got the space or sideways in bins so the spines are readable.
What to consider: Nothing is better than a personal recommendation: Ask guests to write one-sentence summaries on sticky notes and attach them to the covers. Member of a book club? Refresh your library by organizing a swap with another book club.
7 of 9Ellen Silverman
Swap Option: Housewares
How to organize: Anything for the home―appliances, electronics, vases―can be organized according to what room it belongs in. So blenders and colanders go to a section for the kitchen; artwork and throw pillows, the living room; and so on.
What to consider: Think of the party as a guilt-free form of regifting. There’s bound to be someone in the market for a still-in-the-box ice cream maker or a never-been-lit scented candle. Just make sure the person who gave it to you isn’t on the guest list.
8 of 9Ellen Silverman
Swap Option: A Hodgepodge
How to organize: Since anything and everything is allowed, you want to keep the swap from looking like a junk sale. Designate and label areas of the room as different departments, as in a store (housewares, gardening). Use bins to keep it tidy.
What to consider: People can go overboard when cleaning out their garages, so think about how much space you can dedicate to the swap. You may want to suggest that guests limit the number of items or their size (in other words, nothing bigger than a bread box).
9 of 9Ellen Silverman
Where to Send Leftover Goods
After the party, make sure the remains of the day go to a good home.
To donate clothing and housewares:
Goodwill: Most Goodwill branches will pick up furniture or large bags of clothing. Contact your local Goodwill to find out whether pickup service is available in your area (800-664-577), or go to goodwill.org.
The Salvation Army: Call 800-728-7825 or go to satruck.org to find a local branch or to see if there is pickup service in your area.
Dress for Success: This organization accepts women’s interview-appropriate attire. Drop off items at one of its locations (in 46 states), or mail donations. To find a location near you, go to dressforsuccess.org.
To donate children’s items:
Newborns in Need: Donate gently used items, such as small toys, rattles, blankets, and clothing. Go to newbornsinneed.org for locations.
Project Night Night: Send “like new” blankets, books, and stuffed animals to children living in homeless shelters. Go to projectnightnight.org for details.
To donate books, CDs, or DVDs:
Books for Soldiers: Ship a care package of books, CDs, and DVDs to a soldier. Sign up at booksforsoldiers.com.
Reader to Reader: Stock needy school libraries with books. Go to readertoreader.org for details.