Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saving Money: Clothing & Toy Swaps

Shopping is fun, isn't it?  Having endless stores full of racks of stuff to choose from, trying on clothes and finding all sorts of things you like...  but then comes the serious business of narrowing down your "yes" pile to a selection that fits in your budget.  And then the paying for it all, all the while a little voice in the back of your head is reminding you of the bag of things you bought last month, which still sits in your closet, its contents unworn and forgotten in the excitement of an afternoon out at the mall (without the kids, if you're really lucky).  Unfortunately, it always comes back to bite you in the behind - first there are the crowded dresser drawers and closet shelves/rods to contend with, then the realization that while your latest find may be lovely, you do already have almost-identical tops in your closet, and last but not least, the larger-than-life Visa bill that always arrives right after you learn that your car needs repair or some other financial slap in the face comes along.

There's a better way, maybe not for all your shopping needs, but certainly to satisfy the urge to have something "new" to wear instead of the same old same old.  Enter the clothing swap.  Having hosted a few of these myself, I thought I'd share some of my ideas and tips to help you perhaps organize or even host your own.  The basic idea is that you and a group of girlfriends go through your respective closets and sort out anything that's currently too big/too small/unloved by you, and put it aside.  Everyone brings their set-aside piles to the swap, and everyone gets to shop from the selection.  At the end of the event, you get rid of some of the closet clutter that was taking up space in your home, and you get to have some nice new-to-you clothes for the budget-friendly price of FREE (or almost free, if you opt for a sale or auction style swap)

Now there are some considerations, and rules you may want to put in place to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone.  First of all, think about the size ranges for the guests - you don't want to have a bunch of people who have all recently lost weight and are looking to trade in their size 14s for size 8s (unless you also have a bunch of people that have put on a few pounds and are looking to get rid of their too-small size 8's and upgrade to a more comfortably fitting size 12).

You don't need much in the way of supplies, though it helps to have a couple of full length mirrors, and a room or two with doors that guests can use as a fitting room.  There should be enough space for everyone's clothes to be sorted out by size (large storage bins are helpful for this).  If you are sorting clothes by size, make sure to have signs with the size written on it so that people will know where to put the clothes they bring.

You'll need to decide if you want to donate un-swapped clothes to charity or send them back home with the donors (and be able to identify them in case of the latter).  You can opt to do a free swap, where everyone can take as much as they want (assuming they did contribute something of their own to swap), a yard-sale style swap (with a set cost per item/style to keep it simple, money going to charity or the seller) or you can auction off items (after allowing some time for people to browse & try on items), with the money either being taken by the item owners, split by the guests or given to a charity.  Auction style swaps are especially good when there are popular items wanted by more than one person.

When inviting people, be sure to specify if you want to include/exclude outerwear, footwear, sleepwear, or other categories of clothing from the swap.  A successful swap doesn't have to take very long, with 3-5 people you can be in and out within an hour, and that includes unpacking & packing your clothes!

Now I know I've focused on the logistics of adult clothing swaps, however you can easily adapt these ideas to a baby/kids clothing swap, or even a toy swap (it is a great way to clean out the playroom and get rid of the deadwood taking up space!)

If you've attended or hosted a clothing swap in the past, what did you like about it?  Do you have any other suggestions for organizers to try?  Share your wisdom in the comments below!

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