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How to Host a Clothing or Toy Swap Party

Swap parties turn unwanted items into treasure and create a fun reason to gather

Sharon Mead headshot

Published on: November 17, 2023

Three young women are swapping items at a swap party

We all need a little give and take in our lives. And this is true for our unwanted items, too. So, gather friends — and their excess stuff ― and host a give-and-take swap party. Eco-friendly and cost-effective, hosting a swap party is a good reason to clean out your closet and home rather than go through the hassle of a garage sale. Plus, it’s fun!

Swap Party Themes

Start by choosing the type of item you want to swap such as children’s clothes, sporting equipment or books. As the host, you can invite guests who would gravitate toward the theme, like moms from your morning coffee group or families from the soccer league. Guests are invited to bring good or gently used items.  

While there are many possible themes, here are a few ideas for a successful swap party.

Women’s clothing and accessories

This is the perfect opportunity to refresh your closet of things you are no longer interested in wearing. Guests can bring clothes that fit a particular season or just their better items that need a new home. Gather friends from your parents group, neighbors or the PTA from your school to do an all-out swap of women’s clothes, shoes and a variety of accessories. This can be a wonderful opportunity to walk away with a “brand-new” wardrobe.

Baby and children’s clothing and accessories

Of course, babies and children wear clothing for a hot second before it’s on to the next bigger size. A swap of clothes sized from newborn to 2T can be especially beneficial because the clothes have a lot of life left in them. Inviting your moms’ or parents’ groups gives you the chance to clothe other children without having to spend a dime. Blankets, high chairs, baby swings, strollers or pack-and-plays are fair game, if you have the room to include larger items.


Way better than combing through a rummage sale, have guests bring good used toys to swap with other families when kids have grown tired of certain toys or simply outgrown them. You can go as large or small as you like and depending on the space you have to swap. It’s important to bring toys with all the parts included and in good working order.  Toys and games that have seen lots of love and play are probably not the best for this type of party.

Books, DVDs and CDs

Books and music can have an expired shelf life in your home — you’ve read it, listened to it and now it’s time to pass it on. Swapping books is economical and fun to pick up new titles. Grab your book club or neighbors to share the books and music that you no longer want. Swapping means that you can pick up something that sounds like the perfect read for your upcoming vacation or that paperback that you’ve been wanting to read but never seem to get from the library. Music and other items like DVDs work well at this type of party, too. You can sort by genre like country music or rom-com videos to make it easier for people to swap their items successfully and quickly.

Sporting equipment and shoes

Ski equipment, soccer shoes, extra basketballs or baseball gloves that no longer fit are just a few of the items you could swap with friends and teammates. Oftentimes, sports equipment can be upcycled for younger kids or given to families who are interested in starting a new sport. Some sports leagues do a shoe swap each season, so look for opportunities to give your equipment another year of use.

Housewares and kitchen equipment

Whether it be an unused vase or something more hardworking like a food processor, exchanging housewares and kitchen items can be an economical way to find a new home or kitchen accessory. Have your guests bring usable items that would work well in someone else’s home. Why not try having this swap after the holidays when gifts you or your friends received might be better suited for someone else’s house?


Costumes are often worn once by kids before they’re too small or no one wants to wear them again. Gather friends in August or September to swap costumes in time to prepare for Halloween. You can stick to children’s costumes only or open it up to adult sizes, too. Try this instead of searching at the thrift store for something that may or may not fit the bill.


If you want to create a more open opportunity to swap, take the hodgepodge route and allow people to bring used items that are in good working order, but no longer needed. This is similar to a Buy Nothing group where just about anything goes. Be prepared to find a treasure in this swap party, but possibly lots of leftover items, too.

Don’t forget the classic hodgepodge swap party is the White Elephant gift exchange — complete with fun, impractical or even desirable wrapped gifts. You might not end up with something you actually want from this exchange, but the whole process is filled with laughs as guests give or take something totally unexpected.

Let the Guidelines Rule

Once you’ve got your theme selected, give at least three weeks’ notice to allow time for guests to respond and collect items they’d like to swap. Remember that it’s important to be specific about what to bring. For example, say, “Please bring children’s books in good used condition that are suitable for preschool or elementary children. No magazines.” Or for a women’s clothing exchange party, use specific requirements like, “Please bring jeans, work-suitable clothes, shoes, pants or shorts. No t-shirts or yoga pants.” Guidelines like these will help ensure guests will choose to bring their better or more suitable items.

Be sure to choose a swapping strategy that should be explained in your invitation or at the start of the party is important so that everyone has a positive experience. Try using one of these:

  • Take a number. Draw numbers to see who goes first and limit the number of items that can be picked to three. This keeps the swap moving quickly and keeps things fair for everyone.
  • Choose the same amounts. Each guest is allowed to choose the same number of items that they brought to donate. 
  • Use tokens. Hand out a token for each item that a guest donates. The amount of tokens equates to the amount of items the guest can claim.

Be Mindful of Your Display

Displaying items is important to keep the swapping fun, accessible and desirable. In order to have the most success, use these tips:

  • Give guests room to spread out their items. Use long six-foot tables, if available, to create more space for the items to be displayed. Side tables, hanging displays, bins and trunks also can serve as display space.
  • Take items out of bags and boxes whenever possible.
  • Arrange items on tables or other surfaces in an organized and visually pleasing way.
  • Group the items by category, color, size, or theme to make it easier for guests to find what they’re looking for

Make Space for Swapping

Hosting a party at your home can be convenient and cost-effective. However, if you don’t have the space for a swap in your own home, try a co-working space, church, synagogue, school gym, or even a park as other venue ideas. Depending on what your theme is and the number of people who are invited, take into consideration the size of the room, the availability of tables and chairs and any other amenities you will need as the host.

Creating a festive atmosphere is a great way to keep guests entertained and satisfied during the event. You can offer light refreshments like crackers and cheese, hummus dips, fruit, veggies, or cookies, all with wine or appropriate drinks, depending on the venue. Playing background music can add to the “shopping” atmosphere, too.

Trade All in Good Fun

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and relax during your swap party and enjoy spending time with your guests. Swap parties are a fun way to give and take— and socialize—while creating less waste and upcycling items to a new home. So, give what you don’t need or want and take home something “new” to you. Let’s get trading for good!

For the Leftovers

For items that do not find a new home, here are some places you can donate them to help others in need:

  • Goodwill: Most will accept furniture, books, toys or large bags of clothing. Contact your local Goodwill for more info.
  • The Salvation Army: Call 800-728-7825 to find a local branch or pickup service in your area.
  • Westside Baby: Donate gently used items, such as small toys, blankets and clothing. 
  • Ryther Child Center: Accepts books for children ages 6–12. Ryther provides care and assistance for youth and families experiencing (or at risk for) neglect, mental illness or abuse. 206-525-5050.
  • Wellspring Family Services: Accepts books, clothing, and baby gear at 1900 Rainier Ave. S. in Seattle, which provides free items to homeless families. 206-826-3050.
  • The Seattle Public Library: Books, posters, audiobooks, CDs and more are accepted as donations. Drop off at 2025 9th Ave. Seattle or up to three boxes of books may be donated at your neighborhood branch. 206-682-7567.
  • St. Vincent de Paul: Stores accept books, CDs, clothing, and most items. Proceeds help needy families with food, rent assistance and clothes. 206-767-9975.

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