Remember that adorable black-and-white sweater I was wearing back on the 13th? (Click here to see that post.) I promised I’d tell you the story of how I’d acquired it.
A couple of years ago, it became very chic for women to host swap meets with their girlfriends. The recession had been hammering down upon the whole country for so long, the recovery slow. In a strong environmental push, some of the people who suddenly had little (or less than they’d had before) were finally realizing the intelligence of reduce, reuse, and recycle. And women’s magazines began featuring articles about Swap Meets.
The concept is simple: you bring the things you don’t want or need anymore and give them to others who can make use of them, and you take home their stuff you can make use of that they can’t. (The generally-accepted rules for how to host your own party are below.) Parents of small children have been enjoying this principle with other young families forever: how many of us wore hand-me-downs?
There’s new terminology for it now, too, to give the whole concept a little flair and to encourage everyone to feel good about it all. “Recycle” has become “upcycle,” “hand-me-downs” have become “hand-me-ups.” Euphemisms aside, though, it’s a concept that, if performed thoughtfully, frequently works.
So after reading about Swap Meets enough times — and yes, I do occasionally read certain women’s magazines, don’t judge — I decided I wanted to try it out. I emailed all my girlfriends to explain the concept (as if they didn’t know) and to ask, who might be up for it?
As it turned out, the answer was most of them.
We’ve had a few Swap Meets over the last couple of years. Not everyone can make it to every one, but usually between eight and ten can, which is a really good number. This is the sort of activity that works well once or twice a year, because inevitably the group is a little different each time, and it seems like, in our cluttered lives, cleaning out the closets is always a good idea. If you’re like me, your closet isn’t quite big enough to hold all your clothes and wardrobe accessories, so every spring and every fall, when it’s clear the weather has really turned the corner, I switch out about half my clothes for the appropriate season. And while I recognize that in the early 1990s the style etiquette mavens decreed that white was perfectly fine to wear in the winter in warm-weather climates, I still like to keep the bright whites, the dainty florals, and the pale flowy garments separate from the heavy colors, heavy fabrics, and heavy mood of the glorious colder months. So twice a year I’m compelled to make an inventory of my wardrobe and clear stuff out.
It’s an exercise in streamlining that may one day, hopefully, evolve into the ability to handle all the cluttered details in my life, and I know this, and I’m okay with that.
Now, if you really want to clear stuff out of your house — because, let’s be honest, that feels good — the trick of the Swap Meet is to take and give away a whole lot more than you bring back home. At our last one, I took about a carload of goodies and brought home four new things, one of which was that delightful sweater, and another of which was a pair of incredibly hot vintage-inspired black velvet heels which my friend Marcie wore once and then decided were too tall for her to walk around her campus in every day. Score! I’ll be wearing them tonight to a fancy fundraiser at my school.
So by now, no doubt, you’re ready to host one of these parties yourself, aren’t you? Well, there are a few rules. Not many, and they’re largely common sense, but they do matter just to make sure everything goes smoothly, that there’s no confusion or mismanaged expectations.
THE RULES FOR A SUCCESSFUL SWAP MEET
1. First of all, contribute to the Swap Meet only those items which are in good condition. Avoid bringing anything you’ve decided to discard because it’s worn out or stained or in need of mending you don’t have the time or expertise for. The general thought is that if it could be sold at a consignment shop, then it’s probably a good candidate.
2. This is for (insert category here) only. That means, just the ladies, or just the guys (if they’re interested), or just children’s clothes, or just home furnishings, etc. Keep it simple so everyone knows what they’re getting into, and if they’re not interested, they won’t show up and then be bored or disappointed. (A side note: necktie swaps for men have shown some promise at some workplaces, but I’m not sure they’ve truly caught on yet.)
3. Turn your living room (or wherever you’re hosting it) into a boutique. Lay out the clothes nicely: hang them up, fold them neatly on a table, stack the shoes and purses artfully as if you were preparing a window or shop display. The idea is to make the overall environment cute and appealing rather than making it look like a picked-over garage sale. This may sound intimidating, but it’s not so difficult once you start, and if you’re not as confident as you could be about your ability to do this, enlist a friend with good design sense (think, a well-ordered or nicely decorated home) to help you.
4. Everyone who comes to the party must bring something to give away. (Again, this isn’t a garage sale.) Even if you bring only one or two items, don’t show up empty-handed. And remember that a variety of sizes for a variety of guests is a good thing! Often what we purge from our closets is what, heartbreakingly, doesn’t fit anymore. It’s fun to share that favorite blouse you’ll never wear again with one of your good friends on whom it would look fabulous.
5. In order to get everything set up before people begin browsing your displays, ask that everyone give you their items before the day of the Swap Meet — or else come over an hour early to help set up. Also have a defined time for when things begin and when they end. For example, we usually say the party will be from 1:00 to 3:00, and that no one may begin swapping or claiming items until 1:00. Anyone who’s late understands the consequences of that. Anyone who shows up at noon to help set up will get a sneak preview of what’s being offered. (Reminding your friends of this can sometimes actually result in more people coming to help set up.)
6. No money changes hands for anything. This is non-negotiable, or it ceases to be a Swap Meet and becomes something else.
7. Lay out some treats for the party: light finger-foods, a little dessert, some wine or punch or whatever. Remember that it’s not a typical meal-time, and that people are going to be trying on clothes — bedrooms and bathrooms usually work well as fitting rooms — and that probably no one wants to eat anything heavy. Keep the menu simple, light, and festive, and don’t forget the small plates and napkins. One successful menu I’ve used which resulted in very little waste and general yumminess all around:
- hummus and pita bread triangles
- simple antipasti tray: cubes of three different kinds of cheese, sliced pepperoni, mild olives (Some gently-herbed flatbread crackers make a lovely companion to this.)
- sliced vegetables with Love Dip or some other festive spread rather than just the same old Ranch (Remember, we’re not kids anymore and can try other interesting flavors.)
- bite-size cream puffs (You can find them in the frozen section of the grocery store. Just get one box, though! Or if you’re extra health-conscious, go for a fruit salad or tray of already-cut fruit, which people will often be more likely to nosh on than whole fruits like bananas, apples, and even clementines that haven’t been peeled or cut.)
- a light white wine if people are interested, assorted individual teas, bottled water, maybe a ginger ale punch
8. When your party comes to an end, make sure everything left over gets either boxed up to store for the next Swap Meet or else donated. This is very important if your goal is (at least in part) to clear the clutter out of your house. No one should repay the hostess for her hospitality by leaving all the unclaimed stuff in her living room! Make a plan before the party to take what’s left over to a nearby charity or donation center, if you like, thereby doing something really good for other people in need. Just be sure everyone knows from the outset that they must either take their leftover items back home with them or else have an immediate/same-day plan for getting them out of your house.
And ta-da! It’s a party with little clean-up, you’ve had fun with your girlfriends, and your closet has been cleaned out.
Swap Meets for the win!