If any of the following statements apply to you, it’s best that you keep reading:

  • There is at least one box and/or bag of size 12-18 clothes in your hall closet… and your child is six-years old.
  • You’ve been promising to send a box of hand-me-downs to the newest little cousin in your family since you saw her at Christmas.
  • You have forgotten about the last three consignment store appointments that you’ve booked. And, they’ve blacklisted you.
  • Those frilly pink dresses that you were saving for child #2 just don’t look that great on your son.
  • The last time you tried to get a pair of pajamas for your little guy, it took you, your neighbor, and your garbage man to get the overstuffed drawer closed again.

It’s time to take a new approach to cleaning out your kids’ closets. Grab your mama friends or other families from preschool and throw a clothing exchange! Not only will you get their closets and drawers cleaned out, but you’ll get a chance to hang out and ohh-and-ahh over cute duds with your friends for a couple of hours. Sounds like a win-win to us!

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Getting Started
A clothing exchange isn’t necessarily something that you throw together – while it’s not complicated to host, it will work best if you are intentional about the way it works. Start by creating a guest list. Reach out to families you know to see who might be interested in joining – you’ll need families who are going to bring clothes for all different ages (if you only invite families with kids who wear 3T, you’ll only get all 2T hand-me-downs, which everyone is already growing out of!). Make some minimum requirements about how many items each guest is required to bring – 10 is a good number to get started – as well as a maximum number, to avoid your friends showing up with U-Haul trucks full of clothes! Make sure that you remind guests that all items need to be in good condition, stain-free and clean. A couple of last important pieces of advice, when planning – make sure your guests know that you’ll be starting promptly at a specific time. Also, if possible, plan your clothing exchange when your kiddos are at school, or during the evening, post-bedtimes – we love our kids, but we all know what shopping like them is like.

Create a System
Once you have a solid guest list, think about how you want to run your clothing exchange. Do you want to do an item-for-item exchange, where each guest can take home as many items as they contribute? Or, would you prefer something a little looser and more casual, where each guest takes home an equal amount of items? If you choose the former, grab some colored dot stickers – like the ones they use at garage sales – to use at the exchange. As each person drops off their items (see below!), give them that number of stickers in return. For example, if they bring 10 items to the exchange, they get 10 stickers to use on items. Have each guest write their initials on their stickers, to avoid any confusion or mix-ups – goodness knows that the last thing you need is two mothers fighting over one pair of size 18-24 month jeggings!

To avoid a free-for-all at your house (Why are we picturing moms climbing over each other to grab that coveted pair of Uggs that someone brought to the exchange? You wouldn’t do that? Would you?), have rounds of clothes picking. Start the exchange by letting the guests browse the items… without placing their stickers. Then, let everyone work their way through, placing their stickers on items they’d like to take home.

Have items that multiple guests have fallen in love with? After everyone has placed their stickers, do quick drawings to pick a winner for each of those items – it’s fair and easy to do quickly!

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Prep Makes Perfect
To make sure things run smoothly, have your guests drop off their items a couple of days before the event. Give them their stickers to use at the exchange and then get organizing! Sort the clothes by size and by gender, then designate different areas in your living room, dining room or home for the groups to be displayed. You don’t need to have clothing racks, ala Barney’s, to make this work – fold lay out the 12-18 month boy clothes on one couch and the 12-18 month girl clothes on the other. Lay 2T dresses on your (clean) dining room table. Line up shoes on your cleared off mantle. No need to fold the items – laying them out neatly will be fine – they’re going to get rummaged through pretty quickly!

Donate and Done
Make it clear to your guests that any unpicked items, at the end of the exchange, will be donated to charity. Pick one, in advance, that accepts clothes for babies and children — some will even pick up donations at your home! If throwing clothing exchanges starts to become a regular event for you and your friends, consider having each family who participates make a small donation to that same charity — $5 for a bag full of new-to-you clothes, in the name of charity, is still quite a steal and if you have 20 families participate, that’s a quick $100 you can donate, along with any leftover clothes. And don’t forget, the real winner in all of this is your clean, empty closets!

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Don’t forget the best ingredient…
… the fun! While there’s certainly a functional reason behind throwing a clothing exchange, there’s also no reason why you can’t have a good time while doing it! Use it as a chance to catch up with your other mama friends or the parents from preschool who you only get to say a quick hi/bye to when you’re buzzing in and out of school. Host some small bites to snack on (easy, finger food is best!) or ask each guest to bring something to share – add some drinks and you’re set.

Have you ever hosted a clothing exchange? Or been a guest at one? Give us some need-to-know tips in the comments below!

— Katie Kavulla

Photos via Flickr by storebukkebruse, FeatheredTar,