Swap parties are a fun way to trade the things that you don’t like for goods you would actually love. The fun part is that you don’t know what you’ll find!
While the concept of a swap party is simple, hosting it will take a bit of preparation and planning. It’s different from hosting a simple party where all you need to prepare is decorations, food, and activities – this party would need a little bit more prep on your part.
Here are some helpful things that would help you host a successful swap party:
Pick a theme.
Be clear about what types of goods the swap party is about. You can make it a “bring anything you want” swap party. Or make it specific for kid’s items, books, clothes, kitchen tools, Christmas stuff, and the like. You can also go really specific with your themes, like jewelry, designer purses, or babies’ clothing. Here are some themes you’d like to choose:
- Clothing – Set up a garment rack with hangers or string up a clothesline. Prop up a full-length mirror, and make sure you have space where people can try out the clothes. Sort fashions by type, size, season, or even by personality. If you can’t offer dressing areas, remind guests to wear tights or modest underwear on the day of the party to make try-ons less awkward.
- Children’s items – Children and babies outgrow clothes, toys, and other stuff easily, so it makes a great item category for swapping. Make it easy for parents to find what they want by grouping items by age. From there, sort the items into categories: clothes, games, toys, books, costumes, and more. Make sure that the people attending have kids of different ages. You don’t want to get stuck in a room full of baby monitors and bouncy seats when everybody’s kids have already moved on to talking and walking.
- Books – Separate novels and other books by genre. You can also mix them up in sections, such as classics, mainstream hits, cult favorites, and more. Lay the books flat if you’ve got the space, but you can always put them sideways in bins, so the spines are readable. Ask guests to write one-sentence recommendations on sticky notes and attach them to the covers.
- Homeware – This includes anything for the home – appliances, kitchen tools, vases, electronics, and so on. Organize them according to what room they belong in. So, colanders, cookie cutters, and blenders go to a section for the kitchen; vases and artwork go into the living room; and so on. You can even make it more specific, like cooking ware, if you prefer. This theme gives you a guilt-free form of re-gifting. There’s bound to be someone who has a still-in-the-box cotton candy maker or a never-been-used scented candle or lotion set. Just make sure that if you’re giving something that has an expiration date, don’t give something that’s already past the expiration date or only has a few weeks left to live. Also, make sure that the person who gave the gift to you isn’t on the guest list.
- Anything goes – If you host a party where anything and everything is allowed for swapping, you want to keep it from looking like a junk sale. Label and designate areas of the room as different departments, like in a store. Use bins and tables to keep it tidy. For this theme to work, limit the number of things people can bring. Or, you can also limit in terms of sizes, like no one should bring anything larger than a standard garbage can. People can go overboard when they’re cleaning out their garages or attics, so setting up limiting rules can help.
Choose your invitees carefully.
To make the swapping party successful, you have to invite people with similar tastes and lifestyles. For instance, if you’re having a “bring anything” event and there is a bookworm ready to swap, you want to make sure that there is someone who’d probably want books as well. If you’re inviting people with kids, assume that they may be willing to give out something that their kids are not using anymore, and make sure that other guests may get interested in those kinds of things. This kind of dilemma is a big reason why it’s best to establish a more specific theme – but of course, it still depends on the people you would invite. There are some who’d be happy to donate anything and take home anything that they may fancy.
If you’re having a clothing swap party, you might want to invite people who are in the same range of sizes to ensure that there are at least a few people who can trade outfits. Alternatively, you can invite people who are only the same size. Or better yet, have a clothing and accessories party so people can trade bags, wallets, shoes, hats, and jewelry as well.
The bottom line is that you don’t want anyone to feel left out and not find anything at the party.
The number of people you’re inviting is crucial, too. Having more than five people will ensure that there’s a wide variety of pieces. If you invite more than 20, you may want to think first about whether you have the space to entertain 20 people, plus have space for their items. Suppose you make a rule that each person should only bring five items – can you display 100 items? As a general tip, it’s better to host this party for 5-10 people.
Give your invitees a long enough heads-up.
Your invitees need a long enough heads-up to clean out their cabinets, closets, basements, attics, and garages. Make sure you don’t invite them just a week before. Send an invitation with the party’s date and time and a list of what is considered swap-worthy.
Be clear about what’s swap-worthy.
Ask friends to bring gently used and clean goods in good condition, so there should not be ratty gym shorts, used pantyhose, or a Scrabble set with a missing letter. Let everyone have the same understanding and expectations about what goods can be brought in for swapping. You don’t want someone bringing in $200 purses while the others bring a used $5 shirt. This will make everyone feel bad. You’d prefer people to leave the party feeling like they received what they have put into it.
Set specific rules about what to bring.
A good way to let everyone go home happy is to provide examples of what goods you want or don’t want for your swap party. Set up some rules to make sure things will go fair and square. Set a specific number of pieces each person should bring to participate, like, for instance, only five items – no more, no less.
Set a rule that no large items will be accepted, like items larger than a storage bin. You would want the whole swap process manageable for yourself and for everyone. Unless you own a large truck, you also don’t want to be the person responsible for lugging lots of huge items to the donation center afterward.
State the expected condition of items to be swapped. For instance, only clean goods in excellent condition should be brought. There should be no damage, stains, smells, cracks, dents, missing pieces, etc. It also shouldn’t be expired or broken.
It helps to be specific. For instance, if you’re having a clothing swap party, you may want to say no used swimwear, undergarments, etc. This usually goes without saying, but it’s better to clarify things anyways. If this party is about women’s clothes only, tell it to them before someone brings her husband’s all-red suit. If you have a high-end goods swap party, you can mention that you won’t accept fakes.
Find a workable space.
It’s always best to do a swap party in a home. You will have everything you need – tables, mirrors, a bathroom, bedrooms for privacy when trying on clothes, etc. If you don’t have the room to do it in your house, consider renting out a space.
Establish a system.
To make the swapping process fair for everyone, establish a system. Use tickets or tokens for everyone. For every item, a guest brings, give them one ticket or one poker chip – anything you can use. If a person brings five items, she gets five tokens to exchange for the new five items she can bring home. Alternatively, you can just tell people that they can’t take home more items than they brought. Your guests are people you know, so you can probably trust them to abide by your rule.
To decide who gets to choose from the items first, divide your attendees into groups of 2-5 people each. If you have five or fewer people, you don’t need to group them.
Have each person pull a number or letter (representing the groups) out of a hat. Then, have each group shop for 1-2 items for 5-10 minutes, then let the second group enter. To avoid having to call out names for every round, assign times based on the order. When everyone already had the chance to shop once, you can redraw numbers or continue with the same groups.
Setting up rules and having an orderly system minimizes the possibility of catfights over a Dutch oven or a luxurious silk shirt! With a system, no one person would grab every posh item in sight and another choosing from leftovers.
Set the tone.
Don’t forget to set the atmosphere for your party. You don’t want your guests to feel like they’re going through someone’s attic or a yard sale. Decorate with minimal decorations to set the party atmosphere. Have some music playing, and serve food and drinks. Simple snacks like crackers, chips, dips, veggies, and cookies would be nice. You can also serve wine and cheese or host an English tea sandwiches party.
Make sure you have enough display areas.
Get the items out of the bags and boxes they came in and display them on tables and other surfaces. Get them off the ground to make it easy for people to check them out. Make sure that you also have ample lighting.
Use side tables or long tables if you’re having a large party. Also, use some storage bins and trunks to elevate some items. If you’re doing a clothing swap, it’s a good idea to have a moving clothes rack or a clothesline and a full-length mirror.
If you’re hosting a food swap, use trays, tins, and containers to display food better. If you’re having an electronic goods swap, make sure there are power outlets within close reach so people can test things out.
The goal is to make items look as presentable as possible so people would almost feel like they’re at a real store. However, you don’t need to stress yourself out about setting it up.
Gather your supplies.
Yes, you would need to supply enough food and drinks. But more than that, you also need to prepare some items that can make the swap go seamlessly. You need some sticky notes, stickers, or tags that your guests can use to claim the items you want to take home. Get some tables, racks, trays, and hangers to display items. Poster boards for signage may also come in handy.
Even though your guests probably brought their own shopping bags (or the bags they used to bring their items with), you can also provide an extra variety of bags and boxes in case anyone forgets.
You will want to organize the items to make them easy to comb through, view, try on, or access. For instance, you can sort clothes by color, size, or type. You can sort books by type or genre like non-fiction, cookbooks, novels, etc. You can categorize household stuff by the room it’s used in, like food containers in the “kitchen” section, blankets in the “bedroom” section, etc. Use poster boards with labels to make it easier for people to navigate the space.
Before your friends arrive, set up your display areas for whatever you plan to swap. Designate a bathroom or bedroom where friends can try on some clothes, plus a separate space where guests can pack up their steals that won’t be in the way of other swappers. Get organized so that when your guests arrive, the only thing they need to do is to drop their items, pick up their labels, and shop!
To do this, you may want to ask people to come earlier and grab their items. Spend about 15 minutes organizing things yourself while guests help themselves with food and drinks. You may also ask them to drop off the items they brought in the prepared, labeled sections. If you’re having a large party, you may want to ask guests to drop off their items a few days in advance, so when the day of the party arrives, everything is laid out, sorted out, and categorized.
Make a plan for items not selected.
Once everyone has been given equal chances to shop, give guests the option of having a final look to see if they want to grab the items left or if they want to take back their original pieces. Also, ask them to grab the hangers or bins or any display materials they brought.
Ask ahead of time who will be willing to stick around post-party to drop off the remaining items for donation. After all, you don’t want to be stuck with people’s undesirables or force your guests to bring home things they were hoping to give away. Donating the goods will avoid the awkward, uncomfortable feeling that your guests might have if they notice that lots of their goods were not taken. Make a plan to drop off the remaining items to local branches of donation organizations near you.