How to host a toy swap or toy exchange (with swap invite wording)
Got kids? Then you probably have toys. And if you’re like a lot of families, your kids have a lot of toys even if you try to be mindful of how many come in.
Did you know that research shows that less toys are actually more beneficial for kids (and let’s face it, parents and/or guardian’s mental health?)
According to an Infant and Behavior Development study, fewer toys creates fewer distractions, which equals better learning. And since we know kids learn through play, this is important information.
Related post: How to declutter toys for good (plus save money and reduce waste)
The goal here isn’t to get rid of all the toys – just to have a certain number (that looks different for each person and family).
I know, I know. But what about the toys that kids stop playing with after a month? Or the toys that they grow out of after four months (AKA, the toy clutter that builds up)?
It can be kind of a pain in the butt to keep up staying on top of decluttering the toys and either selling them, giving them away, or donating. And if you don’t keep up, they end up sitting around contributing to clutter in your living spaces or in a closet or garage somewhere.
So what is a good solution?
A toy swap, or, as they are also called, a toy exchange.
What is a toy swap or toy exchange?
A toy swap is as simple as it sounds. You gather friends, family, neighbors, or your local community and swap used toys with each other!
Benefits of a toy swap or toy exchange
There are a ton of benefits to having a toy swap. Here are some of my favorite ones:
Save money: toys can be so expensive. By hosting a swap, you’re not spending a penny on any new toys! And if you’re on a budget, that can relieve some financial stress and anxiety. A win-win in my book!
Connect with community: As much as we may not like to admit, we are creatures that belong in a community. I personally believe that connecting with others is not only good for our mental and overall well being, but it also is a major factor in tackling the climate crisis.
Provide access to those who may not be able to buy gifts: Some people, even in your inner circle, may be struggling financially. Hosting a swap provides accessibility for those who may need a little boost.
Save on waste: Could toy manufacturers come up with any more obnoxious packaging for toys? Not only that, but if you have items delivered to your home, then you also have to deal with the shipping materials. Hosting a toy swap is a great way to avoid all that packaging.
Get rid of unused items: As I mentioned above, kids can grow out of toys so fast (or lose interest super quickly.) Toy clutter is something I know I struggle with, and I know others do as well. A toy swap can be a great outlet for those toys!
Less toys for kids: Again, from above…kids benefit from less toys. A toy swap can be a great place to bring unused toys and only take 1 – 2 back home – thus reducing the amount of toys in your home.
Related post: 30 Shows, Movies, and Documentaries for Young Kids about Earth
Tips for planning a toy swap
The following tips work for whether you’re hosting a small, in home toy swap or a larger community event.
If this is your first time hosting a toy swap, you may want to start off by gauging interest within your family, friend group, or community. When I first proposed the idea to my friends, I had no idea if anyone would even be interested, and I didn’t want to go through the work of planning something that no one would show up to.
Luckily, the idea received wonderful feedback, and I was able to move ahead with planning the actual event.
Gauging interest ahead of time can also potentially help you determine logistics such as where to host the event, etc.
Community tip: Start by asking around local moms groups, in community Facebook pages, Nextdoor, and with family, friends, and neighbors to gauge interest. You may even get some great feedback on locations and other tips to help you coordinate logistics.
Next, you’ll need to pick a location! I just hosted at my house because I was hosting friends, but maybe you’re looking at a bigger group and want to rent a local location. Pick a location that will allow enough room for the toys, room for people to mingle, room for snacks, and room for people to move around.
Community tip: Many large room rentals cost money. If you’re not able or willing to front the cost yourself, consider charging a small fee for the event (see further down). Otherwise, talk with local businesses or your local community center to see if there are any rooms you can rent for free or at a highly discounted price.
Another thing to consider is proximity to public transportation. One way to make the event as accessible as possible for everyone is to pick somewhere that is on a bus line, in a central location of your town – basically anywhere that most people can get to.
Wherever you rent, be sure to pick a date and rent far enough in advance so you have time to get the remaining logistics in order.
Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone! Even though I hosted at my house and did the main planning pieces, I asked for help along the way.
First, I asked family members if I could borrow some party tables where I planned to set all of the toys and books up.
Second, I asked attendees to bring a snack to share.
Third, I asked my husband to take my son out of the house for a couple of hours so I could host the event. Which leads me to the next one…
Community tip: Remember when you put out feelers to your local community to gauge interest? I’m going to guess you may be able to follow up and find some helpers!
The larger the event, the more help you’ll want. Setup, take down, managing things during the event, snack stations, etc. are all things you’ll want help with.
Kids or no kids?
It is 100% up to you whether or not you invite the kids along. I personally opted not to, for a couple of reasons. Here are some things to consider:
The age of the kids. The group I was inviting all have similarly-aged kids, which is 5 and under. I felt like it might be too overwhelming for the kids AND parents for various reasons.
Gifts? The exchange I hosted was right before the December holidays, and I ‘advertised’ it as a great way to obtain a gift or two for the holiday season. I also think it would be fun to do one at the beginning of the year in prep for birthday gifts throughout the year, etc.
Parents night out? I thought the toy swap would be a fun excuse to get together with friends, have some snacks and beverages, and have some time away from the kids. The downside to this is that not everyone may be able to get away or hire a babysitter, so that could limit some attendees.
Offer childcare: The thought did cross my mind to either invite the partners AND kids, and let them have their own space downstairs. Or, have my husband watch the kids as well. You could weigh different options for your event!
I enjoyed having some time away from the kids at my event, but I’ve heard of people hosting events with the kids and those going well too. It’s really up to you and what you think would work best for your guests.
Community tip: If you’re hosting at a community location and want to allow kids, set up a special kids corner with toys and maybe some crafts to occupy the kids while the parents/guardians are swapping. You could put feelers out for a couple of local babysitters or nannies (and allow them to advertise their services) in exchange for a couple of hours of childcare.
Related post: What is a fiver party and how to throw one (includes a party invitation wording guide)
Come up with a guest list! I invited mom-friends, and current and past moms from my local moms group. There really isn’t a lot to advise around the guest list except this: I would recommend being mindful of the ages of kids most of the attendees have. If you have a large mix or similar ages that works best. For example, you wouldn’t want ⅔ of the attendees to have kids 5 and under and one or two to have kids 8 and older. The attendees with kids 8 and older may not find a lot to exchange with. If you want to invite them, I would recommend letting them know ahead of time so they can determine whether or not they would like to attend.
Community tip: If you’re hosting a big enough group, you likely don’t have to worry too much about evening out age ranges. The bigger thing here is being mindful of capacity of the location.
Pick a date
After you’ve figured out some of the logistics, it’s time to get settled on a day/time. If you’re hosting friends/family/neighbors, you could survey them to gauge the best day of the week and time for most people to attend. You could send out a Doodle survey – a tool to help with this.
Community tip: If you’re hosting a large community event, you’re obviously not going to find a time that works for everyone.
Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Any big community events already planned – you don’t want to compete with anything
- During the day? Parents/guardians that work a 9-5 job may not be able to attend.
- During the summer? You may be competing with lots of vacation times
- In the evening? Depending on the kiddos ages, you may be competing with bedtime
I’m not sharing this to discourage or be frustrating – simply to remind you to be mindful of your audience and select the time you think will work best.
To charge or not to charge
As I mentioned above, if you’re fronting any money for this event (specifically if you’re hosting a large community swap), you may want to consider charging to recoup your costs. You can do this a couple of ways.
Charging ahead of time: requiring people to ‘register’ and pay ahead of time may help increase attendance. I have worked in ticketing before, and whenever someone hosted a free event, it was always recommended to ‘oversell’ the event because ‘x’ amount of people don’t show up.
For example, if a venue held 150 people, we would recommend selling 200 tickets because it was normal for 50 people to not show up.
However, if there was a fee for an event, even just $5 or under, the chances of more people attending would increase a ton.
Donation: If you don’t want to charge but still want to try and recoup some of the costs, you could consider asking for a donation to go towards the room rental, snacks, [insert item here]. You may be surprised by how much you get. This would allow the event to be accessible for everyone.
Early bird access: Another way you could charge would be to charge ‘x’ amount for ‘early bird’ access. Meaning, anyone with an early bird ticket could arrive an hour before the main event start time. The other ‘tickets’ would be free.
How much to charge?
This is the ultimate question, and one that I think depends on your upfront costs and how much you can cover on your own and how accessible you want the event to be (in terms of everyone being able to attend no matter financial status). I personally wouldn’t charge more than $5 for the cost of living in my location, but I think it depends on a lot of local factors. Use your best judgement. You can even talk to friends and neighbors in the community to bounce ideas off of.
Snacks are of course not necessary, but I wanted to have a fun, relaxing experience for my friends and I to just hang out. It wasn’t anything fancy – just a couple of salty treats and a couple of sweet treats thanks to my baker friend!
As I mentioned above, ask everyone to bring a small snack to share, and you’re bound to have a great spread!
Community tip: To help keep costs reasonable, you could ask a few trusted friends/neighbors/family members to bring a couple of snacks (depending on the size of group attending). Otherwise, you could reach out to local restaurants, grocery stores, and small food-related businesses in your area and ask for donations in exchange for free advertising (make sure you create a thank-you flyer to put by the snacks during the event with the company and their info.) You may be surprised how many items you’ll receive!
To make your event low waste – opt to have reusable or compostable dishes, beverages in cans or mugs, and have a compost bin ready for any napkin or food waste.
Come up with some rules around the types of toys accepted, and also rules for during the swap.
Accepted toys/toy collection:
- What condition should the toys be in? Are toys with missing or broken pieces allowed? For mine, I asked attendees to bring toys that were in good condition for the swap, and if they had others, they could bring them, but they would be on a separate table. For those toys, no swap was necessary; anyone could take items from that category.
- When do toys need to be delivered to the swap location? Since it was at my house and only about eight people or so, attendees could bring toys as they arrived for the event. We waited to start the swap until everyone arrived. If you’re hosting a large community event where setup may take a while, you may need to arrange early delivery so you have time to set everything up.
- Will you accept toys at the event, or do they all need to be delivered prior?
- How many toys do attendees need to bring?
- Are attendees allowed to pick any unclaimed toys that they provided back up after the swap is over if desired?
- Will you have a 1:1 swap (meaning for every toy someone brings they get to take home a toy)?
- Will you offer different toy levels (ex: someone brings a bike. They’re probably not going to want to bring home a book)
- How will you ‘police’ your swap rules?
For my swap, I gauged how people would feel with the discrepancy between larger ticket items and smaller ones. This worked for me because I knew everyone so we could have an honest conversation about it. In my case, my friends were just happy to be getting rid of stuff and didn’t mind.
If you’re hosting a large community event, you may want to offer tickets for each toy someone brings 1:1 – meaning for every toy they bring they get a ticket to redeem for another toy. You could have a ‘check out’ station (remember I talked about recruiting helpers?) and have someone check that people are only taking the number of toys for tickets they have (aka toys they brought).
If you want to incorporate toy value, you could create different price levels and assign each price level a different color ticket.
$1 – $10 – red
$11 – $20 – orange
$21 – $30 – green
$31 – $40 – blue
$41 – $50 – purple
Over $50 – white
When someone brings in a toy, someone on ‘staff’ can access the value and assign a ticket to each item. That person can then redeem that ticket for a like priced item or lower.
This option would require significantly more helpers and coordination, but could help keep things fair if hosting a large group.
The important thing is, once you’ve established your swap rules, make sure to communicate those on the invite so people know what they’re getting into ahead of time. Even though I thought I put a lot of detail into my invite (see example below), I still got a lot of questions from my friends – which was a good thing!
After you’ve picked out a location and date time, it’s time to send out the invites and start promoting. I kept things waste-friendly and simple by creating a Facebook invite, but you can do it however works best for your potential attendees.
Community tip: Reach out the same groups you initially put feelers out to at the very beginning: local Facebook community pages, Nextdoor, local moms groups, and Meetup. You could even make flyers and put them up at local restaurants and coffee shops. If you’re doing a community event, it’s important to make sure you share online more than once, because not everyone will see your posts the first, second, or even third time.
Swap party invite wording
I hosted my swap at the beginning of December, right before the winter holidays. I wanted to make it an easy way for attendees to get one or two gifts in place for their kids, and I created a one-stop shop by asking attendees to also bring excess wrapping paper so we could wrap the gifts right then and there! Notice how I spelled out how the swap would work right in the invite.
Here is the exact wording I used:
“What: You’re invited to a toy swap!
When: Sunday, December 8 from 4 – 6 (stay for all or part of the time. The actual swap will begin once everyone has arrived)
Everyone brings 1-2 used toys in good condition from your house that your kids no longer play with (you can bring more if you have more). In addition, you can also bring movies or books. Please bring them with you the afternoon of the event.
Each person who brings toys to swap will get to go home with 1 – 2 new to them toys.
Any extra toys not reclaimed by their original owner will either be offered to attendees, or I will donate them to the toy library or another local organization.
If the toy you brought does not get claimed, you are welcome to take it back before they are offered up to attendees/donated.
The toys in this swap will mostly be tailored to ages 5 and under.
Holiday special: I will hold a space for a wrapping station, so any toys, books, or movies you swap for can easily be wrapped up before heading home. To help with the wrapping station, please bring any extra wrapping supplies you have to share (bags, tissue paper, wrapping paper, boxes to wrap in, etc). ***If anyone could bring a pair of scissors that would be helpful as well as I only have one. I’ll stock tape.
I’ll have a couple of snacks but if anyone wants to bring something to share that would be most appreciated!”
Because it was a Facebook invite, people just RSVP’d through the platform. If that wasn’t the case, I would have included RSVP information as well.
The day of the event is here, and you need to decide how you want to display the toys! As I mentioned earlier, I set up three tables for all of the toys. Because I didn’t separate by age or value all the toys just went wherever. However, if you’re splitting up by age or value, you’ll want to make sure you have enough tables and areas to fit everything (and still allow for people to have room to walk around).
The fun part! Let the swapping commence!
For my event, we just hung out and waited until everyone arrived – which made things easy.
Community tip: If you’re hosting a large event – assuming everyone has dropped off their toys before the start, you can have the event start at 3pm, for example, but the actual swap start at 3:15. That will allow for everyone to get in the door and get settled before the actual swap.
At the swap I hosted, we just all went for it at once. However, you could stagger times based on certain criteria, for example.
Related post: 19 Ways to Prevent Food Waste With Kids
If people bring more toys than the required amount, or don’t swap for the equivalent of all the toys they brought, you’ll likely have leftover toys. Make a plan on what you want to do with them: donate them to a local shelter, to a family or two in your local community, etc. I donated the leftovers to our local toy library.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have a plan beforehand to make things easier.
Broken toy recycling through Terracycle
Terracycle has a recycling program for broken toys. This may be something to consider as a bonus for attendees, and as an option for toys that get ‘donated’ that may be broken or break during the swap.
The box does cost money, so this may be something to take donations for if you decide to go this route. You could donate it to a local school, daycare or other kid-centered place in your community if it doesn’t get filled after the swap.
You can find more information on the box here.
Hosting a swap not your thing? No worries! There are other ways to swap toys without the event piece.
- Toy Swap: An app that connects those wanting to swap toys with each other. Bases toy value on credits. Download for Android or Apple.
- KidsTrade – Trade with Friends: An app that allows kids to trade with other kids. Kids set up the trade, and parents approve before anything is final. View it on Apple.
- Toy Around – Singapore-based. An app that allows you to swap/buy/sell toys. Find it on Apple.
Of course you can always just swap with a friend or neighbor! You can also do your own swapping by putting away half of your kids’ toys, and quarterly or twice a year swap them out for the current toys.
Other swap ideas
Community swaps are not limited to toys! You can do anything.
Here are some ideas:
- Clothes (kids, adults)
- Outdoor gear
- Household goods
- Garden seeds
- Garden equipment
The tips described in this post would also apply to any of the swap topics above.
Have you ever hosted a swap? What tips do you have?
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?
Love the thorough instructions! I’ve had some really good experiences with swaps (for both toys and other household items).
That’s awesome! They can be so much fun.
What a great idea! Ive never hears of these but love the idea of giving it a try! Thanks for the ideas!
I’d love to hear about it if you do!
Such a smart idea! Thanks for the tips. I had no clue there were toy swap apps!
They’re so fun!
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