ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: host a design swap

by Ashley

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I’m a firm believer in the “something in, something out” ethos. In other words, if I pick up a new shirt, I’ll comb my closet for a garment I haven’t worn in some time and get rid of it. If my husband comes home from with a set of (these things happen more often than you might imagine), then I’ll scour the kitchen cabinets for bowls, plates, mugs, or other servingware to replace them. I try to maintain a balance in my home of only keeping items we actually use. This extends to clothing, decor, music and more.

A very dear friend of mine who recently relocated to California used to receive whatever I was swapping out. Whenever I saw her or visited her home, I’d spy some skirt, vase or piece of furniture that I’d passed on to her. Now that she’s gone, I’ve been taking things to the thrift store or holding on to items that I know friends with very specific interests might appreciate (case in point — Hubs and I cleaned out our liquor cabinet this past week and gifted a nearby couple working in the wine and cheese world with extra wine, pint glasses and barware we didn’t need).

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Instead of taking your gently worn provisions to the thrift store, giving them to one particular buddy or even hosting a yard sale, today’s “Small Measures” proposes another idea: what about hosting a design swap? While many of us have heard of clothing swaps, you can also host a get-together with friends to trade out your gently-used-but-no-longer-in-regular-rotation curtains, platters, CDs, DVDs, board games and so much more. For a few hours spent with your favorite people, you could craft a new wardrobe, update your kitchenware or add to your entertainment collection. Furthermore, you save money and cut greenhouse emissions by not buying new.

CLICK HERE for Ashley’s tips on hosting a design swap after the jump!

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If this idea appeals to you, here are suggestions for hosting your own design swap:

1. Send out an e-mail invitation ( is great for this) at least two weeks in advance. If you want to make it clothing specific, indicate that. If you want to make it housewares specific, indicate that. If you decide to focus exclusively on clothing, be sure to invite a similarly sized swapper for each person in attendance. Otherwise, you could end up with all size 6s and 8s and the lone size 12s and 14s will have no one with whom to trade.

2. Ask friends to drop off their goods several days in advance so you have time to sort through everything and group it accordingly.

3. Invite no more than 10 friends. Trading can get hectic with more than 10 people, especially if they start vying for the same items (if you’re going exclusively with clothing and there’s debate over a particular item, consider having the interested parties “model off” the garment with the remaining attendees selecting who wore it best).

4. Ask each person to bring a minimum of 5 items, whether they’re clothing or housewares. Remind them that ANY textiles (clothing, rugs, bedding or beyond) must be recently washed and thoroughly dried.

5. Ask friends to bring empty bags or boxes — depending on whether you’re swapping clothing or housewares — for carrying home their newly acquired goods.

6. Provide some light snacks and beverages. Friends can nibble and imbibe while hashing out who gets what.

7. At the end of the event, have friends help you bag or box remaining items and transport them to the local thrift store for donation.

8. Plan a recurring design swap at another friend’s home to occur several months later (after the holiday season is an especially good time, as folks end up with items that might suit someone else better, to put it tactfully!).

Have you ever hosted a clothing or other design swap? I’d love to hear any tried-and-true tips for success you’ve learned along the way. In the meantime, hang on to your gently used wares and gather a gaggle of friends that will absolutely treasure your trash! —

*While we’re talking about ways to cut carbon emissions and conserve greenhouse gases, I thought I’d mention the “10-10-10” Global Work Parties occurring internationally this coming Sunday. You can read more about it on , but the gist is to become involved in some community project that addresses global warming. A design swap dovetails perfectly with this idea. Use to find events in your area.

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    My friends and I throw swap parties every spring and fall — and we call them “naked lady” parties. It’s always lots of fun, and we meet at someone’s house with all the clothes/shoes/jewelry we don’t wear any more. We drink champagne and model each others’ clothes for an entire afternoon, and donate whatever doesn’t get taken to a local thrift store.

  • This is a great idea! I love the idea of expanding a clothing swap into textiles and home goods. If there are any leftovers, “orphans” that nobody wants to take home, things can be re-purposed for new uses. There’s a great tutorial here:

  • I hosted a swap this past summer and bought everyone a reusable bag from Pier One to take home all of their finds. It wasn’t much $$ and all of the girls have told me how much use they have gotten out of them!

    We also drew names after everyone was there and had 3 girls pick at a time. They were allowed to pick 3 things the first time, 5 the second, etc. so no one person was getting all of the really good stuff :)

  • I LOVE clothing swaps! It’s a fabulous idea to expand the event to be a design swap. In addition to the idea of having a “model off” for items wanted by more than one person, people could flip a coin or roll dice to see who will get to take the exciting thing home. A post-holidays swap seems like GREAT timing for a design swap. Another time might be fall, when a few people have had summer weddings and their wedding gifts have made a bunch of household items redundant. I’m inspired to host a swap right away!

  • This is such a wonderful idea! I can think of several friends whose closets I’d like to swap a few items with :) Thanks for the detailed instructions -very helpful!

  • Just the information I’ve been looking for! I’ve been planning something like this, with a girlfriend, for next month. Neither of us have ever been to one of these, so we’ve been searching all over for tips on how to put it all together. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  • I love this idea! I hadn’t thought of expanding a swap out beyond clothing. Love the idea of board games, textiles, dishes and the like!

    This week I reached a moment of “get this stuff out of here!” and gave away five IKEA storage items (hanging organizers and a shelf unit) and a box of books. The friends who got them were so happy. Imagine how many more friends would be happy with a swap!

    Times are tough. This is a perfect solution for sharing and getting something new for free!

  • My girlfriends host a “naked ladies party” about twice a year (spring and fall seems to work best). Everyone brings the clothes they no longer want, sets them out for display, and then once everyone’s had their fill of snacks, we start going through the clothes! Whatever is left over is taken to a local women’s shelter. The take-away can be hit or miss, but it’s always fun to get together with girlfriends, coupled with food/wine and trying on clothes!

  • Thanks for the tips! I have been planning a swap at my house for a couple of months now {still have yet to actually HOST it} and I love your idea about having girls drop off stuff a couple days before so I can sort through it/organize. Great idea! There is a group here in Sacramento that hosts a clothing swap every Weds at the Radisson Hotel, which I thought of attending, but I would rather try out a party with friends/family first, then take leftovers to that swap I think. This post makes me want to go thru w/ my plans, so thanks! :) I’ll be checking back to get more tips from other commenters.

  • Friends and I do various swaps throughout the year. In January we do beauty supplies (like lotions, candles, shampoo – not used makeup, etc), Spring is housewares and some clothing swap, June is a book swap, end of August is the clothing swap and October is decoration (holidays) swap. The first year had more stuff, but it is surprising how things still manage to need a new home each year.

  • anne-when the copyeditor edited my post, she changed the wording on that sentence, and i can understand your confusion. originally, it read “wine & pint glass and barware we had redundancies on.” it was wine glasses we gave them, not wine.

  • I did host a swap party last spring and it turned great! Even for mens who was here. And for the rest of clothes, its now at the church sale.
    Even after that, i have again some clothes to give away, so it will be in the next swap party.
    For the food, everyone brought a entrée, i made a meal for the entire people here, so enough food for everyone here.

  • We have swap parties all the time with our friends and neighbours – we call them “free stuff” parties.

    We don’t limit what people can bring, or how many people can be invited, we just clear out some space and have boxes and hanging racks and clothes ready for stuff to be displayed on and let the madness begin.

    All the leftovers go to the local charity shops afterwards and we have a tin at the door for people to donate a bit of cash if they don’t bring much to swap but take lots away with them (the cash goes to charity too).

    People are always a bit shy about swapping stuff to start with (it’s really free?? really??) but once they get into it it’s loads of fun :)

  • I hosted a Design Silent Auction at my house – very similar concept – except the proceeds went to the charity of our choice. That evening we had all ladies make checks out to Lukemia and Lymphoma Foundation as 3 women in our group had been affected. Folks brought gently used candlesticks, small antiques, lamps, linens, platters, treasures…) with 20 ladies, wine and cheese and good music… We started the bidding at $5 (next time I would start at $20 given it was for charity!). Everyone walked away with something great for their old 1920’s Baltimore home and we raised $700 for a great cause! It was fun, easy to pull together and now is an annual event. Every year we choose a new charity.

  • Thanks so much for the tips!
    I’ve been considering starting a clothes swap event here in our little town, but was wondering how to go about it.
    Some food for thought!

  • I did a clothes swap with a friend last weekend – it was very rewarding for us both, and a lot of fun. It’s funny to see how different your things look on someone else and vice versa. I think you have to judge it carefully though, we only brought things we thought the other might like and we both have similar quality of clothes…

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