How do you host a successful swap party?
I first heard about swap parties when a friend invited me to one. It was such a fun way to shop for FREE that I now recommend it frequently, especially if your’e on a tight budget or doing a no spend challenge!
Swap parties are a rare opportunity to trade for stylish goods you often won’t find in store today! The fun part is that you just don’t know what you’ll find!
While the concept is simple, hosting a swap party takes a bit of planning and preparation. Here are important tips (including rules to put in place) so that everyone has a great experience and leaves with a bunch of goodies at your next swap party!
This post will talk about:
- What is a swap party
- Why host a swap party
- Swap party rules
- Swap party invitation
- 12 other tips to host a successful swap party
Let’s get started!
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What is a swap party?
It’s a party where you invite friends to bring their stuff over and trade items.
Chances are you have things you haven’t touched for over a year. Maybe it’s a crepe maker because you’re just not into crepes anymore. Perhaps it’s a new sweater you got as a gift, but just couldn’t make it work with your wardrobe. These things are just taking up valuable space in your home.
A swap party is an opportunity to turn your unused goods into new things you actually need!
Why host a swap party?
It’s a unique way to hang out with friends, clean out your closet and house, and go shopping without spending money!
Since you know where the goods are coming from, you can feel comfortable knowing you’re getting things that have been taken care of and still in good condition!
Not to mention – you’re doing something that’s great for the community and environment.
Swap Party Rules
The trickiest part of organizing a swap party is creating a system that works for everyone.
Here are simple rules you can put in place to make it fair and easy.
You should include these rules in your invite or in an email. You probably also want to mention them again at the beginning of the swap party as a reminder.
- Create a theme. Be clear about what type of goods this swap party is about. You can make it a “bring anything you want” swap party. Or make it specific for kid’s items, clothing, books, Christmas stuff, kitchen tools etc. You could also go really specific with a theme like designer purses or kid’s clothing 0 months to 5 years.
- Be clear about what type of items people should bring. You want everyone to have the same understanding and expectations about what goods should be brought in. You don’t want some people bringing $200 purses while others bring in $5 pantyhose. This makes everyone feel bad! You want people to leave the party feeling like they received what they put into it. A way to do this is to provide examples and state what goods (if any) you don’t want at your swap party. For example, if you’re having a general clothing party, you might want to say, no used undergarments, swim wear etc. Usually this goes without saying, but sometimes it’s good to clarify things anyways. If this party is about women’s clothes only, state it.
- Set a specific number of pieces each person must bring to participate e.g. 5 – no more and no less. This is essential if you’re inviting a lot of guests or you have limited space.
- Set a rule that no excessively large items will be accepted (e.g. items larger than a storage bin). You want to make the whole process manageable for yourself. Unless you own a large truck, you don’t want to be responsible for lugging a lot of huge items to the donation centre afterwards!
- State the expected condition of items to be swapped. For example, only clean goods in excellent condition will be accepted. Nothing that’s stained, expired, smelly, chipped, cracked, scratched, dented, broken, missing key pieces etc. Basically, there should be no damage on the item. If you’re having a high-end goods swap party, you could mention that no fakes will be accepted. Ask guests to bring items on a hanger if they look best that way.
Swap party Invitation
The swap party invitation is a key component to making sure your event has a good attendance rate.
You can use a digital invite like evite.com or a Facebook event. It’s easier to keep track of RSVPs as well as send reminders and updates. It’s also eco-friendly and takes less time because you don’t have to print out invites and send them. The best part is that it’s FREE!
Give guests at least a few weeks notice so they have time to go through their belongings and select appropriate pieces! Make sure all the guests can see who’s coming so they can ensure to not bring gifts from others on the list they never used!
Take your time with the swap party invitation wording. In the invitation, you want to state:
- Event date, time, place, RSVP date
- The rules including how the swap party will work and what guests should bring
- What will happen to the leftovers
Here’s an example of a swap party invitation:
You’re invited to a Swap Party:
How does a swap party work?
Trade in 5 clothes, accessories, or pairs of shoes for some new stylish goods to freshen up your wardrobe for free.
Items traded in must be:
- New or in excellent used condition (no damage)
- Women’s items only
No underwear or swimwear will be accepted.
All leftovers will be donated to <this charity>.
This is a potluck event. Please bring an appetizer to share.
RSVP Deadline: <date>
Send a follow-up reminder a few days before the event.
Tips to host a successful swap party
Here are 12 other tips to ensure your swap party is fun for everyone.
1. Choose your invitees carefully
It might be difficult, but try to Invite people with similar tastes and lifestyles. For example, you might not want to invite people who have pet allergies if you’re inviting people who have pets. Same thing applies to people who have a sensitivity to smoke vs. smokers.
If you’re inviting people with kids and without kids and say you’re having a bring anything event, you’ll want to ensure there are enough people in both groups to benefit.
If you’re having a primarily clothing swap party, you might want to invite people who are a range of sizes ensuring that there are at least a few people who can trade outfits. Alternatively, you can invite people who are only a similar size. Or have a clothing and accessories party so people can trade jewelry, shoes, hats etc. as well.
Bottom line – you don’t want anyone to feel left out and not be able to find anything at the party.
Lastly, think about the number of people you’re inviting. Having more than 5 people ensures there’s a wide variety of pieces. If you invite more than 20, you might want to first think about whether you even have the space to entertain 20 people. If those 20 people bring 5 items each, can you display 100 items?
2. Find a workable space
It’s best to do this in a home. You have everything you need for a party in a house like tables, mirrors, a bathroom etc.
If you don’t have room to do it in your living room, dining room or bedroom, consider renting out a space at a local library, recreational centre or church. If you have a blank space rented, keep in mind you’ll have to bring in tables, chairs and other party essentials.
3. Set the atmosphere
Have some music playing and serve food and drinks. Just simple snacks like crackers, cheese, dips, veggies, cookies etc.
You can do a wine and cheese, desserts, or an English tea sandwiches party. This will keep people entertained while others are shopping. To keep the food and drink budget down, make it a potluck event.
4. Have display areas
Your guests don’t want to feel like they’re going through someone’s attic.
Take the items out of the bags and boxes they came in and display them on tables and other surfaces. You want to get things off the ground and make it easy for people to see what they’re looking at. No one wants to bend their back to reach an item. Make sure you have good lighting. Add a table lamp or 2 if you need it.
If you’re accepting clothing, it’s a good idea to have a clothing rack or a clothes line as well as a full-length mirror available. Ideally, you also want to section off a space for trying on items. You can use a room divider to help.
If this is a food swap, you can use trays, tins and containers. If there are electronic goods, you’ll want to have power outlets within close reach so people can test things out.
You want to make the items look presentable so people almost feel like they’re at a retail location! I know it might seem like a lot of work, but this extra bit of preparation will go a long way towards making people feel comfortable! But don’t stress too much about setting up. Things will get messed up as people look for their new find. Just try to keep things spaced out and off the ground as best you can.
5. Organize the items
Especially if you’re having a large party, you’ll want to organize the items to make them easy to view, comb through and access. For example, sort
- Clothes by color, size, and/or type
- Children’s items by age and/or category
- Books by type e.g. non-fiction, cooking etc.
- General house stuff by the room it’s used in e.g. toasters in the “kitchen” section, blankets in the “bedroom” section etc.
If you’re having a general swap party, you can also have a miscellaneous section for household items like candles, picture frames etc.
To make it easy for people to navigate the space, use poster board, paper and labels to help explain how things are organized.
If you want to make it extra chic, you can get this very affordable pack of 20 mini chalkboard signs. They come with wood easels.
For example, if you’re having a kid’s sale, you can use one to label the 0-6 month baby clothing, 6-12 month baby clothing etc. Your guests will love that you took this extra step. They have limited time in each round and want to be as efficient hunting through items as they can!
There are a few options for HOW to get this space initially organized.
- When people first come to the party, you can grab the items and spend 15 minutes organizing things yourself while guests help themselves to food.
- Or you could ask them to drop off their items in the labeled sections. Ask them to make their items look presentable e.g. put their clothes on hangers or fold their pants and put them in the designated space. You can always do a quick 5 minute final check to make sure everything is well laid out.
If you’re having a large party, you might even want to think about asking guests to drop off their items a few days in advance. Depending on the amount of items, you can select the organization plan that works best for you.
6. Establish a fair shopping system
For example, you can divide people into groups of 1-5 people in group A, B, C etc.
Have each person pull a letter (representing the group letter) out of a hat. Have each group shop for 1-2 items for a maximum of 5-10 minutes to keep people moving quickly.
To avoid having to call out names for every round, you can assign times based on the order.
When everyone’s had a chance to shop once, you can redraw numbers or just continue with the same groups. Having an orderly system minimizes the possibility of catfights over a luxurious silk shirt! There also isn’t one person grabbing every posh item in sight and another person picking through a few leftovers.
7. Use tickets
If you’re allowing people to bring in different quantities of items, you can use tickets (or marbles, buttons, poker chips, clothes pins, toothpicks etc.) as currency for swapping goods. 1 ticket = 1 item to be swapped.
For example, if a guest donates 5 items, give out 5 tickets that can be used to purchase 5 new items. Every time a person or people leave a round, you can take the tickets they used.
Alternatively, you could just tell people that they can’t take home more items than they brought. Your guests are people you know so you can trust they’ll abide by your rule.
8. Have help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can ask a close family member or friend to help with everything for the event from set up to directing guests. If it’s a big party, you’re going to need all the help you can get.
9. Make it easy for people to try on clothes
If you’re having clothes at your swap, you can ask guests to wear tank tops and leggings to make it easy to try on clothes over top.
10. Have extras in case
Even though you want to stipulate that people bring their own shopping bag(s), you should still have bags available in case anyone forgets. Same applies to hangers if you’re doing a display on a clothing rack.
11. Make a plan for items that are not selected
You could donate goods to the Salvation Army or have them taken back by their original owners.
Here’s a happy medium:
At the end of the shopping (before everyone’s gone back into the shopping space to see what’s leftover), you can put all the remaining pieces on one table for donation.
Donating goods avoids the uncomfortable feeling guests might have if they notice a lot of their goods weren’t taken. With everything on one small table, people can’t see as easily what was and wasn’t taken.
At this point, you can give guests the option of having a final look to see if they want to grab any last pieces or take back their original pieces (if they’re remaining). You can also ask them to grab the hangers they brought with them.
If you plan to donate items, make sure you check to see if there is a pickup service in the area to save yourself the trip. Also ask your guests if they know of any families who could use the donation.
12. Offer guests tips on how to declutter
This is a bit of an above and beyond the call of duty, but if you want to help people find items to declutter, you can tell your guests about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It focuses on only keeping possessions that “spark joy”. You might find tips in her book to help yourself find those 5-10 items you want to get rid of!
One nugget in the book is her clothes organizing method of folding clothes so they STAND UP in a drawer and are not on top of each other. This allows you to see all of your clothes when you open the drawer. It’s so much more productive this way!
Another optional add-on: when your guests have found their swappables, you can ask them to write a quick one-sentence on how they used it, what they recommend about it etc. Again this is totally unnecessary, but it just adds that personalized touch that’ll help people when they’re searching for their take-home items.
Final Thoughts on Organizing a Swap Party
Don’t forget to relax and have fun at your swap event. You earned it! Swap parties can be a lot of work, but they’re events people will remember! Have some food and swap away! Don’t forget to take photos so you can look back on your swapping soiree.
Resources for Saving Money
Looking for other ideas to save money?
Here are my favorite money saving resources:
Rakuten (formerly Ebates) is great because you can get up to 40% back for shopping online at over 2500 stores – many of which you would normally shop at like Amazon, eBay, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Walmart etc. It’s FREE to sign up.
For U.S. residents, Rakuten will give you a welcome bonus of $10 after making your first online purchase of $25 or more. For Canadians, it’s a $5 welcome bonus for signing up. You can read more about how to use Rakuten here!
Checkout51 is an app that gives you cash back for your groceries!
If you purchase any groceries on their list (which sometimes includes everyday essentials like bananas), you can snap a picture of your receipt on your app (they make it super easy). The approval takes roughly a few days and then cha-ching – you’ll get money in your Checkout51 account!
If you spend hours meal planning every week only to stress out some days and eat out, you might be interested in the $5 meal plan. For $5/month, they send you a weekly meal plan where every meal will cost approximately $2/person! They save you time and money so that you can focus on doing things you enjoy like hanging with your kid!
They offer a 14 day FREE trial (approximately 40 recipes) – regular or gluten-free – that you can cancel at any time with no questions asked.
This membership has 2 great benefits: free 2 day shipping and free access to movies, TV shows, music and books. You no longer have to worry about last minute items. You can cancel your other movie, music and book subscription services. You can also get 20% off diapers and baby food when you have more than 5 subscriptions.
Get the Amazon 30 day FREE trial here. You can cancel at anytime. No questions asked.
Related money saving articles
- No Spend Challenge: How to Not Spend Money for 30 days or More
- Honey Review: How to get the Best Prices Available
- Rakuten (formerly Ebates) Review: How to Make and Save Money Fast
- Best Money Saving Tips to Save You $1000’s
- What to Stop Buying to Save Money Every Day – My Personal Experience
- 11 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries
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