Are there too many toys in your child’s room that are being ignored? How about the living room, family room, garage, basement, or attic? Do you have storage bins full of perfectly good toys that your kids have lost all interest in? Can’t imagine buying all new ones every birthday and holiday season? Toys are expensive. You might have under-utilized capital gathering dust in those tubs and closets. Put it to work!
With so many Americans unemployed or underemployed, the practices of bartering and trade have enjoyed a resurgence. Parents have also had to find new and creative ways to provide for their children’s needs. Enter toy swaps, or toy exchanges. You’ve already paid for these toys; taxes and tariffs are already paid. They’ve been gently used, then abandoned or outgrown. Why not trade them with parents whose kids are at a more appropriate age? You get to network with fellow parents. Your kids get new toys. Your house gets de-cluttered. Leftovers go to charity. Everybody wins.
While there are a number of online toy exchanges, such as ToySwap.com, ThredUp.com, and SwapMamas.com, organizing a local community toy swap can be very rewarding. One benefit of holding your own is that you can make it as small or large, as simple or involved, as you want. Email a few friends. How many families would be willing to participate? A small gathering could be held in someone’s home. Done before the holidays, a casual get-together could also double as a gift-wrapping party afterwards. But a larger effort should be located in a meeting space like a church, community center, or firehouse. Many shopping malls offer inexpensive conference space. Use your imagination. A local park, or even parking lot (with the owner’s permission, of course) could serve quite well, weather permitting.
When your kids are at school, identify their unused and ignored toys, and sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s important to set guidelines for everyone. It goes without saying that everything should be either wiped down with a disinfectant cloth or machine-washed. Considerations will have to be made; for instance, toys with missing parts or pieces should not be accepted. All toys should be in working condition. Will you accept violent or war toys? Will the swap be limited to toys, or could baby gear and clothing be included? Be sure your participants get the word early about whatever guidelines you set so they will have time to sort.
Finally, devise some sort of currency system. The simplest way to go is one toy for one toy. If there will be higher-end toys such as bicycles, video games, train sets, etc., then perhaps a 1-2-3 system would be better. Toys could be tagged with a 1 for least expensive, 2 for mid-range items, and 3 for big-ticket toys. Rolls of old-time carnival tickets are available at most party supply companies. Participants arrive with toys and are given an equivalent number of tickets. Parents then “shop” for new toys with their tickets.
Toys should be sorted into loose categories. Common groups could include: Games and Puzzles, Cars and Trucks, Stuffed Animals, Sports Equipment, Dolls and Dollhouses, Baby Toys and Gear, Books, Arts and Crafts, Building Blocks, Electronics/Video Games/DVD’s, Bikes and Scooters. Add or subtract your own as needed.
Believe it or not, you may want to consider leaving your kids out of the toy swap experience. First, they might be upset at the thought of their old toys being re-purposed, even if they haven’t touched them in months. If they’re not being played with, they won’t be missed. (I keep thinking of the toys in the Toy Story series of Pixar movies, where, more than anything, the toys wanted to be played with.) Second, kids let loose in a roomful of toys would create a huge distraction, as they will want to play with all the toys right then and there. Third, keeping them out of the loop allows you to surprise your children with their new toys! On the other hand, including them allows them to pick out their new toys themselves, increasing the chances of them getting something they actually want.
Jane Schmoll, Family Matters Coordinator at the San Diego LGBT Community Center, says, “The Center’s Family Matters toy and clothing shops are very popular. The families that participate are always happy with the great items that they find and they feel good about taking part. The swaps find new homes for perfectly good clothes and toys that weren’t being used, and help everyone stretch the family budget a little further at the same time. Then any items that are left over are donated to other local charities.”
Have a plan for leftover toys. Undoubtedly, some will be abandoned. Once people bring them, they understandably won’t want to take them back home again. Many worthwhile charities would be thrilled to accept clean, free toys. Preschools and daycare centers always need toys, and so do children’s hospitals, Child Protective Services, and homeless shelters.
Don’t forget to have fun. Thank everyone for participating. We all have the same goals: to save money, get rid of clutter, and support charities. Toy swaps or exchanges are a fun, economical way to achieve all three goals, plus meet new friends!
DID YOU KNOW?
Americans spent about 21.9 billion dollars on toys in 2010. More detailed data can be found here.
Members of the Toy Industry Association, Inc. are committed to protecting the environment and considering the environmental impact of their products. To learn more about TIA’s mission of conservation and efficient use of natural resources, click here.
In order to protect children from lead poisoning, the U.S. banned the use of lead paint on toys and furniture in the late 1970’s. China, which produces most of the toys bought in the U.S., signed an agreement in 2007 to prohibit the use of lead paint on U.S.-bound toys. Learn more by clicking here.
Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at http//:kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally. We all have to share this planet together; let’s figure out the best ways possible!